Do you remember that book Don’t Sweat the Small stuff…? Of course you do. It was everywhere. What you may not remember was the subtitle, what came after the ellipsis – and it’s all small stuff. I didn’t believe it then, I read the book, and I don’t believe it now. Sure, we shouldn’t get all riled up over Tim Raines, but when innocent people get shot in the streets, maybe we should. I think if we don’t, we can’t bring about meaningful change.
So people who care about the Hall of Fame get all in a huff about Tim Raines being over-qualified and either taking a decade to make it to the Hall or maybe to fall off the ballot and not being heard from again until his Era Committee gets to review his case. Okay, okay. But even if we think Hall voting is a big deal, not all of it is.
Last week when the BBWAA ballot was announced, one name was conspicuous by its absence. I don’t mean Aaron Rowand, Julio Lugo, or Danys Baez. I’m talking about Javier Vazquez. Now this is a guy who doesn’t deserve to go to the Hall of Fame. He doesn’t deserve a single vote. And I’m of the opinion the nearly $100 million he made playing baseball is enough of a reward for his work in the game. I’m not shedding a tear because Vazquez was left off the ballot. But it has gotten me to think what if. What if things were just a little different? Forget just getting onto the ballot, I’m interested in getting Vazquez into the Hall of Fame.
We know from the difficulties of Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and so many more that wins win the day when it comes to the Hall voters, and at just 165, Vazquez didn’t have enough of those. Among starters, he beats only Addie Joss and Dizzy Dean. Oh, and he’s tied with Sandy Koufax.
In terms of WAR and WAR-related stuff, Vazquez is 138th among pitchers by JAWS and 136th in career WAR. That’s pretty decent, and it’s ahead of Hall of Famer starters Addie Joss, Jack Chesbro, Herb Pennock, Catfish Hunter, Lefty Gomez, Rube Marquard, and Jesse Haines on the career level. So if he were put in the Hall today, he wouldn’t be among the bottom 10% of starting pitchers enshrined for their work in MLB. To be honest though, that says a lot more about the mistakes of the Hall than it does Vazquez.
By the way, if you’re a fan of the way WAR is calculated at Fangraphs, using fielding independent pitching statistics, you think Vazquez is far, far closer to the Hall. He ranks 71st among all pitchers in history by their measure.
What Could Have Been
Can we find him some extra wins? Some extra WAR? The last year Vazquez was in the bigs was 2011. He was just 34. To look for more of what gets a pitcher into the Hall, what I’m going to do is compare him by IP and ERA+ to pitchers since WWII. There are 42 retired pitchers within 100 innings and 5 points in ERA+ of Vazquez during seasons from age 31-34. A bit to my surprise, Vazquez ranked in the top half of this group in wins over those four seasons. And he’s eighth in WAR among the group. To make comparisons, I looked at the careers of those 42 pitchers from age-35 on, when Vazquez was retired, to get a sense of where he might have ended up had he hung around.
Those 42 pitchers averaged 2.6 more seasons, 26 more wins, and 3.4 more WAR. The extra 26 wins would get him past Koufax, but the only other Hall of Famer he’d lap is lefty Gomez. WAR looks a little better though. Adding 3.4 more, he moves from 136th on the list to 117th. That means Bob Lemon and Sandy Koufax also fall behind him.
But let’s say he’s not merely the average of these pitchers. He was in the top 20% in WAR among that group in the previous four seasons, so let’s put him eighth in both wins and WAR in the pretend rest of his career. If that’s where he ranked, he’d add 46 more wins and 7.3 more WAR.
With those wins, he’d sit at 211, into the top-100 in history. Rube Waddell, Ed Walsh, Dazzy Vance, Dennis Eckersley, Jack Chesbro, Rube Marquard, Hal Newhouser, Bob Lemon, Don Drysdale, and Jesse Haines would have fewer. He’d rank 50th in wins just looking at Hall of Fame pitchers. That’ not terrible.
As for WAR, he’d be up to 53.3. That would put him into a tie with Waite Hoyt for 50th among Hall of Famers in that category. Being ahead of 14 Hall starters in WAR is nothing to sneeze at. It would make him a reasonable candidate.
I don’t know what the standard is for getting on the Hall of Fame ballot beyond playing for ten years. And I don’t really care to learn it. The argument about whether or not a guy belongs on the ballot is small stuff indeed. On the other hand, had Vazquez chosen to play a few more seasons, and had he played relative to similar players like he had in the previous four seasons, a real Hall of Fame case could have been made for him. Sometimes it’s that close.