At the HoME, we absolutely see relief pitching as valuable. Relievers, not so much. Pitching 60-70 innings every year just won’t let players accumulate much value. In all, the HoME has just one relief pitcher in it, Goose Gossage. Two, I suppose, if you want to count Dennis Eckersley. For the real second guy, we’ll have to wait for Mariano. In other words, we haven’t given credit for lofty save totals, nor have we looked at ninth inning dominance as much as some others may.
The Hall of Fame is different. Hoyt Wilhelm is a very defensible selection. But they’ve also enshrined Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter. Yuck! And on the ballot this past season were Lee Smith, who once looked like he was going to get in, Billy Wagner, who got more love than I would have expected, and Trevor Hoffman, who many say is a lock in the next few years.
As we continue with our occasional Hall Logic series, today we’re going to look at those three relief pitchers. Our disposition regarding those three, as you might expect, is what the kids call a hard pass. In other words, complete rejection. Not one of them is even close for either of us.
But, as has become all too clear as we proceed with our analysis, we’re not the Hall voters. They think differently. And with the help of Ryan Thibs, we know how more than 300 of them think. It’s with that thinking in mind that I offer this edition of Hall Logic.
The first thing we should explore is just how our friends in the BBWAA cast their ballots.
Public Overall Hoffman 66.6% 67.3% Smith 31.8% 34.1% Wagner 9.6% 10.5%
All did better among those who don’t reveal their ballots, Smith did a lot better. Conventional wisdom among folks who write the stuff like we do at the HoME is that those who don’t reveal their ballots are more likely to be away from the game than those who do. And those who are away from the game, perhaps, haven’t yet caught on to the notion that saves aren’t a spectacular measure of greatness. So it’s no surprise that the private voters cast ballots for closers more than public voters did.
And we know for whom they cast those ballots.
All three 13 Two 89 One 119 Zero 90 Hoffman and Smith 77 Hoffman and Wagner 12 Smith and Wagner 0 Hoffman only 105 Smith only 9 Wagner only 5
So what we see is that if you liked Hoffman, you tended to like relievers a decent amount, which is no surprise.
Those who put all three relievers on their ballots averaged over 9.2 slots per ballot, which also shouldn’t be a surprise. You may have heard that it was a pretty packed ballot, after all. For some unknown reason, this group loved Tim Raines too. All but one added him. Raines is an analytics darling, while relievers certainly aren’t. They also voted for Jeff Kent, Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, and Edgar Martinez a lot more than the body as a whole did. In other words, they voted against the steroid guys. Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sheffield, Sosa – and Piazza – fared quite a bit worse with these guys than with voters in general. But we’re talking only 13 voters here. Let’s explore the ballots of those who voted for two relievers.
Again, there were 89 public voters who chose two relievers. And this group averaged 8.8+ names per ballot. Among the strangest ballots were those of Juan Vené, Ann Killion, and Mike Waldner. They all voted for Hoffman, Smith, and Griffey. Vené, a guy who’s become known for screwy ballots, added Piazza. Killion added Raines. And Walder added Jeff Kent. That’s it. The two-reliever voters were really supportive of Edgar Martinez (10.5 percentage points more than the voting body as a whole). They were also more supportive of Jeff Bagwell (by 7.1 percentage points) and of Tim Raines (by 5.5 percentage points). Consistent with their three-reliever brethren, they really disliked Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. And they were against Curt Schilling. I don’t understand the support for Edgar and Raines. The best I can say is that when people do strange things, like supporting Lee Smith for the Hall, you can’t always follow other logic they use.
Of the 119 voters who chose one reliever, their ballots were more in line with the masses than either of our other two groups. But there were still some surprises. Curt Schilling received 11.2 percentage points of support more from this group than from voters overall. And Mike Mussina’s number was 6.6 percentage points. They’re the two pitchers many hold up as examples of how crazy it is to vote for one of our relief friends. Seriously, if you were starting a team and could have the career of Mike Mussina or that of Trevor Hoffman, would anyone choose Hoffman? Some voters did, clearly, but it’s also true that voters who liked a reliever (but not more than one) also liked Mussina and Schilling. They also like Jeff Kent and didn’t like Larry Walker. Go figure.
And how’s this for odd – the group that supported only Lee Smith would have elected Smith, obviously, and three other guys. One, of course, is Ken Griffey Jr. Another is a surprise, Tim Raines. And the final is a bit of a shocker. It’s Alan Trammell. Maybe it’s a generational thing? There were only two voters who supported Smith alone among relievers who didn’t vote for Alan Trammell too. One of those voters had an excuse; his ballot was a load of crap. Paul Sullivan voted for only Smith, Griffey, and Raines. He really didn’t explain his reasoning much in his column. Bagwell never felt like an all-time great to him. Hoffman doesn’t deserve to go in before a guy who was the all-time saves leader from 1993-2005. And steroids.
Anyway, back to our voters. There were a bunch of voters who chose none of the relievers. That’s the way we’d have gone at the HoME too. But those voters come in all shapes and sizes. Some are stubborn (insert your own term/terms here) like Marty Noble and Murray Chass. Some offered the best ballots by the membership. Overall, these voters marked 7.8+ names and supported Bonds, Clemens, Mussina, Walker, Trammell, and Schilling a ton more than those who voted for one or more relievers.
So I was wondering what would have happened if we eliminated all voters who put even one reliever on their ballots. Well, Griffey and Piazza would still have been elected. But rather than fall just short, Bagwell and Raines would have gotten in too. Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling all would have been over 60%, and Mussina would have been very close to that level.
I don’t support a litmus test for voters, like eliminating those who support someone about as valuable as Mark Gubicza or Claude Osteen, but the Hall might look a lot more like I want if there were such a test.