A couple of days ago MLB.com’s Will Leitch put together a list of each team’s missing Hall of Famer – as he states it, “every team’s best player who isn’t in the Hall of Fame.” Before reading any of it, I predicted that it would be atrocious, much like the lists we’ve seen over the years at ESPN. To my surprise (and I must admit disappointment it wasn’t that bad. Still, I thought that it was flawed, and I thought we at the HoME could better. So we endeavored to do just that. Today and Monday, we’ll look at all 30 major league teams and the best player from each who’s not in the Hall of Fame.
By Leitch’s rules, we’re looking at team most associated with a particular player. This subjective measure works quite well for me. For example, I most associate Fernando Rodney with the Rays because of his incredible 2012 season there, or perhaps it’s because I saw him in a Baltimore hotel bar after a game that year. Dave Roberts had over 3000 trips to the plate as a major leaguer, just 101 of them for the Red Sox. But his 2004 stolen base in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Yankees makes him a Bostonian forever, at least in my mind.
Other rules of Leitch’s are reasonable, such as no active players and none who haven’t had a ballot appearance yet.
So in Leitch’s order, here are my picks. Think along with me and comment below if you agree or disagree.
Leitch’s call: Dave Steib
HoME call: Hell yeah it’s Dave Stieb, one of the more underrated pitchers ever. What if a couple of those near misses turned into no-hitters? For those who don’t remember, Stieb pitched an incredible final week of the 1988 season. On September 24, Julio Franco broke up a no-no with two outs in the ninth. Then in Stieb’s final start, Jim Traber did the same. The pain continued in 1989. Stieb was perfect through 8.2 on August 4 against the Yankees. Then a double by Roberto Kelly ended the bid for perfection. A Steve Sax single ended the shutout. One that people likely forget was four starts later against the Brewers. Stieb hadn’t allowed a hit through 6.2. A Robin Yount grounder to third ended things, and Stieb didn’t allow another hit all day. At least it wasn’t soul-crushing like the other three starts over the previous year. A year later, September 2, Stieb no-hit the Indians. One no-hitter. Imagine if he had four or five. Imagine how we’d look at his career differently if it weren’t for four batters.
Leitch’s call: Mike Mussina
HoME call: Leitch is right. Mussina started with, pitched two more years for, and pitched 450+ innings more for the O’s than the Yanks. He’s an Oriole, and he belongs in. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. I think it’s going to happen this year. It’s sure going to be close.
Leitch’s call: Fred McGriff
HoME call: Let’s start with McGriff being impossible. Maybe he’s a Blue Jay, maybe he’s a Brave. Whatever the case, he certainly isn’t a Ray. The right call is that there’s nobody even remotely deserving of this distinction, but naming nobody would be against the rules. For whatever reason, I consider Lou Piniella a Ray. Maybe he’s a Mariner. Maybe he’s a Yankee. He won a World Series as a Red. And he was Rookie of the Year with the Royals. But he’s a Ray to me. It doesn’t matter though. Managers shouldn’t count here. So I’m going with Aubrey Huff. First and foremost, he’s a Ray. Second, he holds their all-time single-season records for hits, total bases, doubles, extra base hits, and intentional walks, all in 2003. He’s also the only eligible Ray on the team’s single-season RBI list. I think he’s the all-time leading eligible Ray in WAR. Julio Lugo? He’s not a Ray, right? I’ll take Huff over Matt Garza.
Leitch’s call: Roger Clemens
HoME call: I don’t know. As a Red Sox fan, I don’t want to claim Roger. But Leitch is right. I can’t make a non-foolish argument for any other player.
Leitch’s call: Don Mattingly
HoME call: I like Mike Mussina a lot more, but he can’t be most associated with two teams. Roy White is also in the HoME, and there’s no team with which he’s more closely associated than the Yankees. But I think this is an easy enough call, and it’s not Don Mattingly. It’s a player from a generation earlier who was just about equally beloved, Thurman Munson. While Munson beats him by less than four career WAR, he was clearly a better among catchers than Mattingly was among first basemen. I rank Munson 16th behind the plate, and I feel pretty confident he’s in the top-20. Mattingly, on the other hand, is 49th at first base and almost certainly outside the top-40. Regarding Munson, for those interested in silly trivia-type items, the 1970 Rookie of the Year and 1976 MVP never reached 30 doubles, never topped 20 homers, yet reached 100 RBIs on three occasions.
Leitch’s call: Kenny Lofton
HoME call: I really thought about Manny Ramirez for a bit. And I landed on him being an Indian despite an extra 116 games for the Red Sox. Leitch is right though. It’s Lofton – criminally underrated and absolutely deserving of a plaque. So what makes Lofton so underrated? I think it’s a few things. First, he played between 20 and 129 games for TEN different teams. In that regard, he could be considered his generation’s Bobby Bonds in a way. I think it’s defense as well, in that his wasn’t appreciated. He was a contemporary of both Ken Griffey and Jim Edmonds, both of whom I bet you can see making spectacular catches. I don’t have such particular memories about Lofton. And finally, there’s the center field thing as a whole. That position has to be more top-heavy than any other, skewing our perception of all center fielders below the group containing Mays, Cobb, Speaker, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Griffey. Lofton, Edmonds, Andruw Jones, Jimmy Wynn, Willie Davis, Paul Hines. HoMErs, all of them. Yet none are in the Hall.
Leitch’s call: Bret Saberhagen
HoME call: I wanted Leitch to be worse at this. He’s right. Bret Saberhagen was at least somewhat misunderstood when he played. He had the not-totally-incorrect reputation of following great seasons with poor ones. I say that’s not totally incorrect because he did have great seasons By BBREF WAR, he put up 7.2, 8.0, and 9.7 in 1985, 1987, and 1989 respectively. But the seasons following those were anything but poor – 2.0, 3.8, and 3.6. That’s an average of 3.1+ WAR. Saberhagen played for 16 seasons. Had he averaged the same numbers he averaged in those “poor” seasons for an entire 16-year career, he’d have totaled 57.6 career WAR, the same number as Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg and more than Whitey Ford, George Sisler, Luis Aparicio, Bill Dickey…. You get the point.
Leitch’s call: Lou Whitaker
HoME call: Yes!! I don’t know when it happened or why, but though I prefer Bobby Grich, Whitaker has replaced him as the 2B who I most want to get into the Hall. I think it’s the induction of Alan Trammell that makes me so disappointed that Whitaker isn’t in. In 1994’s The Politics of Glory, Bill James “predicted” that Whitaker and Trammell would be inducted together in 2013. I should have happened.
Leitch’s call: Kent Hrbek
HoME call: The first name that came to mind was Tony Oliva, and he’s preferable to Hrbek. I thought about Joe Judge as well. On the mound, there’s Jim Kaat, Camilo Pascual, and Brad Radke. But I’m going with Johan Santana, and I feel pretty confident this is the right call. He’s clearly a Twin, and he’s the only one mentioned who likely belongs in the Hall. If you’re reading this, you likely saw Santana pitch. And if you saw Santana pitch, you likely saw him dominate. He won three ERA titles, three strikeout titles, three ERA+ titles, and two Cy Young Awards. He pitched within the last decade, yet he’s nearly forgotten in many circles. Why? That’s a real question. Correct me or explain in the comments. It’s not that he won just 139 games. Perhaps that’s why he dropped off the Hall ballot so quickly, but it’s not why he’s forgotten. It’s not that his career fizzled so quickly. We remember guys with really disappointing endings. It’s not that he stunk as a Met as many free agents seem to. He won an ERA title there, made an All-Star team there, and averaged over 5.2 WAR per season as a Met before injuries struck. Is it that he’s not Pedro Martinez or Clayton Kershaw? I don’t buy that. I also don’t buy playing in Minnesota. That didn’t seem to hurt Kirby Puckett any. And he never averaged 7+ WAR over a five-year span. What the heck?
Leitch’s call: Eddie Cicotte
HoME call: Though Leitch correctly mentions that Jackson played for the Indians more than he did for the White Sox, it’s clear that we remember Shoeless Joe Jackson from his time on the White Sox, not the Indians. He’s the right call here.
Leitch’s call: Bobby Grich
HoME call: The Angels actually have a few good choices. I like Jim Fregosi more than most, and if we believe the last couple of decades are underrepresented in the Hall, we should all like Chuck Finley more than history has. Still, Grich is a good call. And in spite of my Tiger comment above, I will forever heart Bobby Grich. By the way, our hero was hit 20 times in 1974 but never more than eight in any other season. Do you think it’s possible that he started leaning into pitches that year and stopped because he figured out it hurt to do so? I know it’s almost certainly just coincidental, yet I’d like to hear what he has to say about it. Could be a fun story.
Leitch’s call: Jose Cruz
HoME call: I’m simply stunned that Leitch didn’t take Cesar Cedeño. But he’s right to have chosen Cruz, a better player by just a tad. This is a fine time to reiterate that Leitch did more than an acceptable job with his list. Some calls are debatable, a couple are silly, but most are quite good. I remark on that again because it’s not at all what I’d expect from a mainstream guy. Also, I not-so-secretly believe he forgot Cedeño.
Leitch’s call: Mark McGwire
HoME call: I like Bert Campaneris, Bob Johnson, Wally Schang, and Sal Bando in addition to McGwire. I want to disagree with Leitch, and by a nose I will. I’m taking HoMEr Wally Schang by the slightest bit over HoMErs Johnson, Bando, and McGwire. I rank Johnson 16th in left field, Bando 22nd at third base, and McGwire 26th at first base. However, I rate Schang as 15th behind the plate, though it’s close enough that none of the choices are wrong. So now’s time for a little more on Leitch, or more accurately, about his job. If he wrote about the likes of Wally Schang with any consistency, he’d lose that job. I think about things like that when I read lists like his. Deep in the recesses of what constitutes my brain, I vaguely recall a FOX Sports directive of many years ago that their announcers not talk about dead players. At the time, I found it offensive, insulting, and unnecessarily constraining. Today, I have a bit of a different opinion. MLB.com wants clicks. The average person visiting that site has no clue who Wally Schang is and isn’t very interested in finding out. But they are interested in Mark McGwire. McGwire is easy to digest; Schang takes work. Anyway, though I don’t agree with Leitch’s call here, he’s not wrong.
Leitch’s call: Edgar Martinez
HoME call: Obviously. It’s nice that Edgar’s visage will be struck in bronze this year. The most beautiful right-handed swing ever? It has to be close.
Leitch’s call: Rafael Palmeiro
HoME call: Let’s start by agreeing with Leitch that Palmeiro is a Ranger. Also, he’s deserving of induction based on his numbers alone. Still, I prefer Buddy Bell. Though Bell played 29 more games and came to the plate 57 from times with the Indians, he was a better player as a Ranger. However, there’s also the matter of Kevin Brown. Brown had his most value as a Dodger, and he had two great seasons as a Marlin. But he pitched 50 more games for the Rangers than for anyone else, and he threw more than 400 innings there than anywhere else. Ugh! It’s such a tough call. But since Brown wasn’t great as a Ranger, I’m going call him a Dodger and place Buddy Bell here.
That’s it for the American League. On Monday we’ll check out the missing Hall of Famers from National League teams.
Eric and I work quite a bit to tweak our numbers, so forgive me if I can’t remember exactly when Andy Pettitte fell a few spots for him. I do, however, remember how I felt. Somewhere between relieved and elated. See, I have Pettitte on the wrong side of 100, and Eric one had him in an area that he’d garner an easy enough vote. Couple those facts with the truth that I possess an inappropriate amount of dislike for the guy, and you understand my relief.
Yes, I admit that I have a huge anti-Pettitte bias. As you might know, I’m a Red Sox fan. Even more than that, I’m a fan of logic. And I really hate hypocrisy. Pettitte and Pettitte fans push all of my buttons. First, the guy has five rings for the Yankees, so that’s one strike against him. In terms of logic, I always understood that Pettitte was very good. But the whole narrative about somehow intimidating adult humans by pulling his hat way down made me wild, especially since Pettitte intimidated approximately nobody. Since 1990, there have been 36 pitchers to throw at least 2500 innings. Pettitte is 20th in K/9. That’s not intimidating; it’s average. By the way, he’s 32nd on the list in HBP. Get outta here with that intimidation garbage! Strike two. And finally, we have the hypocrisy, at least as I see it. There are many, many guys who have had their baseball reputations tarnished because of PED use, or even whispers thereof. Not Pettitte, or so it seems, even though he admitted using HGH. That’s strike three – not because of HGH use – but my perception of hypocrisy surrounding him (oh, and his ranking). He’s out.
When he’s eligible for the HoME, we’ll see how things shake out.
[MAPES+], [CHEWS+], [1B, 1-20], [1B, 21-40], [2B, 1-20], [2B, 21-40], [3B, 1-20], [3B, 21-40], [SS, 1-20], [SS, 21-40], [C, 1-20], [C, 21-40], [LF, 1-20], [LF, 21-40], [CF, 1-20], [CF, 21-40], [RF, 1-20], [RF, 21-40], [P, 1-20], [P, 21-40], [P, 41-60]
If you haven’t already, you’ll notice a pattern where Eric ranks recent pitchers more favorably than I do right now, which is why he discussed Sabathia a week ago. It’s an innings thing, largely. Anyway, Sabathia has had one hell of a run. Even now, at age 37, he’s taking the ball basically every fifth day and pitching pretty well. Still, 37 is a large number as baseball ages go, and from ages 33-35 he accumulated just 0.48 WAR based on my conversions. Not much more should be expected of him. I could see the Yankees winning the World Series this year and Sabathia hanging ‘em up. Or maybe he pitches a final time in 2019. Let’s say he finishes with 1.5 WAR this year and 1.0 next. That would put him past Rucker, Hershiser, Cooper, and Johan. Of course, he may struggle in the second half and finish at 0.5 and then post -0.8 next year. Even then, he’d fall only behind Appier. I think we’re looking at a future HoMEr here.—Miller
It sure seems like King Felix is no longer royalty. In 2014, he took second in the Cy Young Award vote, 10th in the MVP balloting, and made his fifth All-Star team in six years thanks to an AL-leading 2.14 ERA (170 ERA+), Fifteen victories, and 6.4 WAR. At age 28, he sat atop the throne. Then came injuries that nicked away at his durability and his effectiveness. This chart tells the story all too well:
YEAR AGE IP ERA+ WAR ========================= 2014 28 236 170 6.4 2015 29 202 108 4.5 2016 30 153 106 1.4 2017 31 87 97 0.8 2018 32 95 78 -0.5
At this point, Hernandez is no longer even an innings eater. He’s actively sabotaging the Mariners’ bid for the AL West. He’ll likely finish this season as a Mariner and probably next season too. Then the M’s will decline his 2020 option. It’s an open question right now whether the team would be better off with Felix Heredia instead of Felix Hernandez. OK, that’s obviously an exaggeration, but Hernandez has turned into a liability. Is there any hope? Yes. As of June 30th, his previous five starts have resulted in to three quality starts, one five inning/two-run start and one stinker for 3.41 ERA in 29 innings. He’s struck out 25, walked just seven, and allowed only 2 homers during this stretch. Is he fixed? I don’t think so, not until we see a couple months of this kind of pitching.
Even if Hernandez returns to effectiveness, there’s not yet reason to believe he’ll return to the throne. At age 32 with 2,600 innings, he may simply have too much mileage on that golden right arm to ever dominate again. Even so, he’s not that far away from post-career glory. He’s already standing astride the in/out line. Even two or three years of average pitching will nudge him over it.—Eric
Remember Folgers Crystals? Folgers would stick a camera in a potted plant near a table at Château de Maison and roll tape while a polished, Reaganesque actor told unsuspecting diners from the pearls-and-cufflinks crowd that the after-dinner coffee they’d been served was actually Folgers Crystals. We could see the incredulity on their faces at learning that Folgers had duped them into drinking its hoi polloi concoctment and not whatever other thin, watery instant coffee the restaurant usually hypercharged them for. I’m going to do that to you now. Which of these fellows, ranked by games started, is Cole Hamels?
GS IP ERA+ pWAA pWAR ============================== A 402 2659 126 36 61 B 402 2595 121 31 55 C 398 2560 123 37 59 D 392 2598 122 28 52 E 378 2460 124 34 54 F 371 2563 126 37 59
Four of these pitchers, including Hamels, are active. The other two are members of the Hall of Miller and Eric. If you guessed that Hamels is (E), you win a free tablespoon of Folgers Crystals and a teaspoon of Cremora to go with it. The other guys? (A) is Justin Verlander; (B) is Kevin Appier, HoMEr; (C) is Zack Grineke; (D) is Felix Hernandez; and (F) is Bret Saberhagen, HoMEr. Without all my fancy adjustments for usage and stuff, Hamels still hangs in there just fine with these big guns. Toss in an outstanding post-season run in 2008 and a decent bat, and the fact that Hamels is only 34 and has time to add to his resume, and you’re looking at an excellent HoME candidate.—Eric
Kevin Appier of course. Eddie Rommell too. But I want to talk about the presence of Tim Hudson on the borderline. No, he was never great. Still, he was a high quality arm for many years. Most impressively, at least to me, he had nine seasons of at least 3.5 (rounded) WAR. For reference, there were only 29 pitchers last season who reached that level on the mound. Some might move ahead or behind him once we include work at the plate, but you get the point. By the way, HoME pitchers without at many comparable seasons include Ed Walsh (7), John Clarkson (7), Amos Rusie (8), Wes Ferrell (8), Carl Hubbell (8), Hal Newhouser (7), Bob Feller (7), Joe McGinnity (6), Juan Marichal (7), Rube Waddell (7), Dazzy Vance (8), Jim Bunning (8), Three Finger Brown (6), Old Hoss Radbourn (7), Urban Shocker (8), Red Faber (6), Red Ruffing (8), Tim Keefe (7), Bret Saberhagen (8), Sandy Koufax (6), Johan Santana (8), Orel Hershiser (7), Kevin Appier (8), Bucky Walters (7), Chuck Finley (8), Don Sutton (7), Goose Gossage (7), and Pud Galvin (7). That’s 42% of all pitchers in the HoME. Without question, Hudson deserves a conversation.
I’m going to propound Mark Buehrle here, at least on my side of the ledger. Though, toward the very end of his career, “Future Hall of Famer” and “Mark Buehrle” found themselves in the same sentence more than a few times, the idea never gained steam the way Adrian Beltre’s case did. That’s because Buehrle packed it in after age 36, after 493 starts, 3283 innings, and 16 seasons. Buehrle clicked along like a metronome, 13 to 16 wins, 200 to 230 innings per annum. Had he continued on, he might have reached 250 or even 270 wins and 4,000 innings. Buerhle was the ultimate soft-tossing lefty. His fastball was slow, everything he threw had a bend to it, and usually it broke downward too. He fielded his position amazingly well, and he had one of the very best pickoff moves in the game. He tossed a perfecto and another no-no for good measure. Like the aforementioned Tim Hudson, he was annually very good, rarely if ever poor, and hardly ever a-maz-ing. He’s more in the Don Sutton camp than the Ed Walsh camp, for sure, and he’s got a little more under the hood in my eyes than Sutton did. Buehrle racked up 30 WAA in 3283 innings. Sutton totaled 23 in 5282 innings. So this is not an extreme long-and-low case like Sutton’s, but the eerie consistency of Buehrle’s career feels a little like a novelty, and the lack of a dominant season nor the impression of dominance leaves him susceptible to underratedness. I suspect he’ll get one-and-doned by the BBWAA, which will be a real shame.—Eric
While Miller and I have a 24-slot gap between us for Burleigh, we have a 34-slot gap for Buehrle. Sorry, I just can’t resist.—Eric
I rank Ted Breitenstein #61, while Eric has him at #132. Huge difference! However, I’m not close to fighting for his inclusion in the HoME. I put Charlie Buffinton at #65, which is fifteen spots ahead of Eric’s ranking. Again though, I’m not advocationg one iota for his HoME inclusion. Same deal with the gap of 26 rankings for Nap Rucker, the gap of 23 ranking for Babe Adams, and the gap of 24 rankings for Burleigh Grimes. One area where we agree is on our individual and collective need to evolve. And that I have in terms of reliever leverage. Eric ranks Dizzy Dean at #62 and 4% over the in/out line. I now rank him #78 and 4% below it. A guy who’s only 4% below the line is certainly worthy of discussion for me. You’ll kindly not let Eric know that he also has Pettitte 4% over, while I have him 4% under. Thank you.—Miller
Eddie Rommel and Dizzy Dean vaulted into contention for me when I added a level of relief leverage to my pre-1946 rankings. There are two main issues here. First, I don’t know if my leverage factor makes sense. Second, even if it does, I don’t know the actual leverage for either Dean or Rommel. The truth is that they’re both in contention for the HoME now, so I have to try to figure those things out.—Miller
Eddie Rommel is something of a WAR darling, and until we get leverage-based WAR that more fully assesses his relief work, I’m standing pat on him. Especially because Rommel didn’t pitch as well in relief as he did when starting, and that’s the opposite of how it’s supposed to work. Dean on the other hand, is a little different story. Connie Mack used Chief Bender as an ace closer back in the deadball era. He didn’t really use Rommel that way, mostly because he had some fella named Lefty Grove around. Rommel never led the league in saves, finished in the top 10 only six times and only twice in the top five. Grove, on the other hand, finished in the top ten in saves every year from 1926 (his second with Mack) until 1933 (his last). He led the AL once, finished third twice, fourth twice, and fifth once. Grove notched only four saves in his eight years in Boston pitching in relief only 14 times. From 1920 to 1933 (Rommel’s rookie season to Grove’s last season in Philadelphia), Grove finished third in saves in the majors (50, trailing Jack Quinn by one and Firpo Marberry by 45). Rommel finished tied for sixth (30, trailing Wilcy Moore by 19, Waite Hoyt by 9, and tied with Sarge Connally whom I’ve never actually heard of until right this moment). Not so sure that helps Rommel’s case much. Meanwhile, Dizzy Dean was used exactly like Grove. From 1933 to 1936, Old Diz finished second, second, fifth, and first in saves. He saved just one more game after that, ever. From 1932–1936, his 30 saves led all of baseball.
So once we get leveraged WAR for these times, Dean will probably look better on BBREF than now. Hard to say whether Rommel will or not, but I kinda doubt he’ll make significant jump. In either case, I think we are right to continue thinking about them deeply and to continue saying no to them until their circumstances become a little clearer.—Eric
In a week, it’s pitchers 81-100.
We hope this series is fun for you, and by the looks of it, a great many of you are enjoying it. The best thing, I think, is to look at our rankings versus yours. See where you think we’re missing something, or perhaps learn from something we bring up.
If we’re doing the right thing, this is the type of thing that’s going on. I know it’s going on internally. This week’s lists won’t look too different from each other, but the lists next week were going to be a mess. When our rankings differ by a lot, I try to look for the reasoning. Years ago, it was sometimes something as simple as a data entry error. Today, it’s more a difference of opinion on how to rank players, which is totally fine by me. What’s less fine is when one of us is making a smart decision that the other isn’t making. That had been the case on the mound. Simply, Eric was offering leverage credit to relief pitchers in a reasonable way. I was ignoring such leverage. And as a result, my numbers for some pitchers prior to 1946 were deflated. Since, I’ve adapted by systems to be more in line with Eric’s – really, to be more in line with what I think makes sense. So before we get to today’s rankings, I want to share with you our top-40 with my adjustments. Nothing big, but we always sweat the small stuff at the HoME.
Moving on. All posts in this series are here for your convenience. Enjoy our next 20 pitchers.
[MAPES+], [CHEWS+], [1B, 1-20], [1B, 21-40], [2B, 1-20], [2B, 21-40], [3B, 1-20], [3B, 21-40], [SS, 1-20], [SS, 21-40], [C, 1-20], [C, 21-40], [LF, 1-20], [LF, 21-40], [CF, 1-20], [CF, 21-40], [RF, 1-20], [RF, 21-40], [P, 1-20], [P, 21-40]
Greinke is a fascinating pitcher, and historically unusual. A large portion of his pitching value is tied up in his 2009 and 2015 seasons. Also, he’s a pretty nice hitter for a pitcher. What I’m saying is that I don’t love the idea of using comparable pitchers to project him moving forward because there just aren’t many truly comparable careers. So I’ll do what any good prognosticator does, I’ll guess. Greinke is 34 this year, and he’s off to a good enough start on the mound and a very good one at the plate. Yeah, there I go again, thinking rationally about a pitcher about whom I can only guess. Giving him seasons of 5, 3, 2, and 1 WAR seems reasonable enough. And if he were to do that, he’d jump up to #30 in my rankings, between Hal Newhouser and Bob Feller. To me, he’s a Hall of Famer already. With those seasons, he’d be in the upper half of HoME pitchers. But is he seen that way? I don’t think voters are going to love him. [Looks at BBREF]. Yeah, he’s south of 180 wins as I type this. He’s going to have trouble.—Miller
I love that Verlander went from amazing to fork-tender to amazing. Miller and I came close to writing him off, wondering between ourselves whether he would wind down and never quite get back to average, let alone excellent. Well, he did. It’s not as though he’s stopped either. He’s already this year pushed past fellows on my list such as Juan Marichal, Jim Bunning, and Don Drysdale. He could even bust into the top-40 this year if he continues to pitch insanely well. Now, Verlander is 35 this year, and we thought at this age Roy Halladay would be great forever. He wasn’t, and Verlander’s career could go at any moment. It takes just a tweak of some muscle or a small drop in velocity for a career to go south in a hurry. If Verlander declines gracefully, he could make the top 30ish.—Eric
With the caveat that he’s already begun to regress some, the 2018 version of Justin Verlander may be the best one we’ve seen. This from the 2011 AL MVP and a guy who already has two 8 WAR seasons. This is amazing, not just because he’s 35 now, but because he looked like he was kind of washed up in 2014 and 2015. Like with Greinke, I don’t know quite what to do with him. Let’s give him 8 WAR this year, then a pretty steep decline to 5, 3, and 1.5. That feels reasonable enough to me. And if it happens, he shoots up to #25 all-time, right between Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina. Unlike Greinke, I think the voters will love him. Of course, I’m not sure why.—Miller
Carsten Charles has walked the tightrope for two-and-a-half seasons. His ERA has beaten his FIP by 35 points, 80 points, and 99 points from 2016 through June 19th of 2018. There’s a little smoke and mirrors here. On the one hand, his home parks have played at about a 103 park factor in those seasons. But as a lefty, Sabathia doesn’t face the same problem that a righty would in New Yankee Stadium with its short porch in right field. CC has also benefited from average to excellent defense behind him. Overall, while his ERA this year is 3.30 at this writing, he’s only managed a single RAA above average. Also playing against the big lefty? His own durability. Injuries have cut down his ability to go deep into games. From age 20 to 32, Sabathia appeared 415 times, all starts, pitched 2775.33 innings, an average of 6.69 per start. Since then, he’s averaging about an inning less a game (5.73). Unsurprisingly, CC is striking out about one fewer batters per game than in his prime. He’s issuing about one-half a walked more per game. He’s giving up a half a homer per game more than during his peak. That’s aging for you, especially when you’re a big-bodied guy throwing all that weight around with max effort. On the other hand, he remains at least an average pitcher and sometimes a very good one. I don’t know how much further he can climb in his decline years. Probably not much. I’d be surprised if he made the top 50, especially since reports have filtered out suggesting he may retire at the expiration of his current contract.—Eric
I think they diverge in a lot of places. Mariano is my top ranked reliever by far, yet he’s only 42. I suspect that most of the closer-loving world would place him in the top-20, if not the top-10. Then there’s David Cone. Just try convincing someone he was as good as John Smoltz. If he was so good, how come he didn’t win 200 games? If he was so good, why wasn’t he an elite closer for three years? Blah, blah, blah. And of course, there are those 70s pitchers, Rick Reuschel and Luis Tiant, both clearly Hall-worthy, yet one completely and the other largely ignored. Even I’ve kind of ignored Looie, and that’s a shame. At least it’s in favor of Reuschel. Tiant was the classic underrated player in my mind. Stop me if you heard these things before. He wan’t seen as great when he was young, never winning more than a dozen games until he was 27. Then he had his breakout season obscured of 1968 by Denny McLain and Bob Gibson. Subsequently, it’s been obscured by history. It’s as if 1968 is the Coors Field of seasons. Anything that happened that year can be diminished with the mere mention of some outlying numbers. He also had a mid-career dip when he went 17-30 over three years. He jumped from team to team, playing for six in his career. And he hung on too long, posting an ERA+ of just 82 over his final three campaigns. Oh, and he played at the same time as Seaver, Carlton, et al. The guy seemingly had everything going against him. On a positive note, he’s beloved in Boston and I suspect throughout the baseball world, at least among those with good memories. With the right composition, I could see an Era Committee voting him in one of these days.—Miller
Thirty years ago, when I was learning the history of our game, Bob Feller was a living legend. Only the war had stopped him from reach 300 wins and breaking Walter Johnson’s strikeout record. There was that famous old film of a motorcycle speeding by at 90 MPH while Feller threw a baseball that hit its target as the bike crossed the same plane. Appreciation of Feller had probably reached its apogee about a decade before that, but as a pup I had a clear impression of his greatness. Today I report ranking him a mere 42nd in my rankings. Hey, it’s just my opinion, but I think the war didn’t prevent him from winning 300. Instead it allowed him to win 266. Feller shouldered an incredible workload. Since the introduction of the lively ball in 1920, Bob Feller leads all pitchers during their age-seventeen season with 62 innings. He leads all eighteen-year-olds (148.67), all nineteen year-olds (277.67), all twenty-year-olds (296.67), all twenty-one- year-olds (320.33), and all twenty-tow-year-olds (343). The only reason he doesn’t lead 23 year-olds is because he was off fighting the Axis powers for most of the next four years. He returned to finish out the 1945 season then pitched a full year in 1946. That year, you guessed it, he led all twenty-seven-year-olds since 1920 in innings pitched with 371.33. In 1947, he did not lead all twenty-eight-year-olds since 1920 in innings, but he did lead all of MLB that year with 299. The next year he threw 280.33, and his ERA+ dropped from 130 to 114. He was never a great pitcher again. Overall, he went 108-79 in 266 post-age-28 starts with an ERA+ of just 106 and a strikeout rate about half of what it was through age 28. He was not a Pat Rapp innings eater, but he probably wasn’t a number two starter either, certainly not for a good team. My hypothesis: Feller’s pitching musculature was probably saved from the specific kind of wear and tear that grinds down a career. It might have had a chance to even heal just a little since he wasn’t throwing top-level, pressure-packed innings every three or four days (he threw very little in the service). But once he returned, the clock started ticking again, and all that early work caught up to him. How could it not? He had back, shoulder, and arm problems in the late 1940s and was reduced to a Sunday starter by the early 1950s. It’s pretty easy to imagine that had Feller continued throwing all those pitches at ages twenty-three, twenty-four, and twenty-five, he might have never made it to age twenty-nine. But we didn’t understand all of this thirty years ago. We could know that he had some injuries but not how badly they may have hurt his career. We could know he threw an impressive number of innings but not that they probably had residual, cumulative effects. Now we know a lot more, and the shape of his career makes a lot of sense, even if it loses a tiny bit of its sparkle.—Eric
Speaking of Feller, we have a pretty good gap there with Miller being the bigger fan than I. But a bigger gap exists with John Smoltz. I’ve got him at #31, Miller at #50. I suspect that the difference has to do with my compadre having a strong peak orientation to his sifting system than I do. Smoltz is many things, but a high-peak pitcher is not one of them. While he does have five seasons above 5 WAR when I make all my little adjustments, he has but one above 6 WAR (7.5). So, I’m looking at a really solid prime and Miller’s looking at a low peak. That’s a sensible difference of opinion. That doesn’t explain why we see Red Ruffing differently. Miller’s got him ten or so slots above my ranking. But it might well explain why Miller has Charlie Buffinton 20 spots higher than I do. Well, that and I take a lot of the stuffing out of the 18th Century pitchers.—Eric
I think it’s Clark Griffith. I rank him #43, and Eric doesn’t even put him on this week’s list. Or next week’s. My ranking suggests I should have pushed hard for his HoME candidacy, while Eric’s says he should have pushed back. The truth of it is, I didn’t push for Griffith, the player, because I thought his era was already well enough represented on the mound with hurlers I preferred. Happily for me, the pitcher/manager/owner, Clark Griffith found his HoME as a combination candidate.—Miller
Are there any players who MAPES+/CHEWS+ might overrate or underrate?
I always worry about how my system treats relievers, so maybe Mariano should rank higher. And maybe my older dudes like Griffith, should be lower. But I don’t think there are any shockers on this list. They all seem reasonable enough to me.—Miller
Actually, there is a shocker on this list: Urban Shocker. (Oh, that was amazing.)
I concur that relievers are problematic. It’s a theoretical worry, in particular. It’s amazing to me that Mariano Rivera threw 60 or 70 innings a year for twenty years and ends up among my top forty pitchers. It’s not that leverage or chaining are the issue. Instead it’s more about what we might call “degree of difficulty.” Recently Kevin Cash started Sergio Romo because the first inning is when the offense is guaranteed to have its offense set up the way it wants. Then Romo is removed after three or six outs because, wait for it, he doesn’t have a deep enough repertoire to go through a lineup twice without getting crushed the second time through. This is a fundamental concern I have with relievers from the last thirty years: We multiply run prevention due to its in-game importance, but we do not ding it for the fact a half-decent relief pitcher enters with everything in his favor. Consider:
Mariano Rivera had a devastating cutter. Would it have been so devastating if a batter saw it twice or thrice a game? I doubt it. Especially since Rivera basically chucked his other pitches and relied almost exclusively on the cutter. If he’d been forced to mix in other pitches, could he have been effective?
The question is whether we should adjust for degree of difficulty. I suspect that the analytical community has consensus around the idea that we should not. I’m not entirely sure they are wrong, but I am also not sure that they are right. Context is everything, and the only context we are looking at currently are very specific in-game situations whose context runs far deeper for relievers than for any other player on the field. If we use a Win Probably Added approach, then relievers seem hugely productive, but we completely ignore that they are used more electively than any other kind of baseball player, and that seems like a big chunk of context that should be accounted for.—Eric
Next week, it’s pitchers 61-80.
An expansion team in 1977, it took until 1982 for the Blue Jays to not finish last. But by 1985 they made the playoffs, and they won the World Series in 1992 and 1993. By now, they’re getting to a point where they’re almost at .500 as a franchise, which is no easy task for a team that was more than 150 games under just three years in.
For whatever reason, Dave Stieb and his 57 Blue Jay WAR made four starts for the White Sox in 1993. Roy Halladay had his best years in Philadelphia. Jose Bautista was all over the place before finding a home up north. Tony Fernandez was shipped to the Padres in the McGroff/Alomar/Carter deal, and he played for five teams on top of that. Carlos Delgado was a Marlin and a Met. Jimmy Key was a Yankee and an Oriole. The list keeps going with one guy after another who played for other teams. When I got to Lloyd Moseby and his 25.9 WAR as a Jay, I thought I had my first honoree. Nope. I guess I blocked out his two years in Detroit. Even though Ernie Whitt, #21, had negative combined WAR at his three other stops, those 294 trips to the plate still count. This is not going to be a pretty Rushmore.
Kevin Pillar: Yep, the defensive whiz is the single best player ever to play for the Jays and only the Jays. At 12.1 career WAR, he’s only tied for 24th among Blue Jay offensive players. Yet, he’s the only one not to play elsewhere. Pillar can’t hit, as his -39 career Rbat shows, but his 65 Rfield shows that he’s a great defender. Of course, it’s only a matter of time until he plays for another team.
Marcus Stroman: It has taken Stroman just 95 career games to reach 10.9 career WAR and become the best Blue Jay hurler ever not to play for another team. Promising in 2014, injured in 2015, struggling in 2016, it was 2017 during which Stroman became a star. He has plenty of time to move from his tie for 15th among Jay pitchers all-time. If he comes close to repeating, he’ll be in the top-10 after 2018.
Luis Leal: From 1980-1985, Leal was about a league average pitcher, finishing his relatively unknown career with a 51-58 record and 10.8 WAR. For a bit of trivia, he was the starter when Len Barker pitched a perfect game for the Indians in 1981.
Ricky Romero: For a minute there, it seemed like Romero might turn into something. Through three years in the major, he had 42 wins and 11.6 WAR. Things went south at some point in 2012 though. There was no injury. It’s just that his mediocre K rate dipped and his dangerously high BB rate rose. Those events in combination made a baseball career unsustainable. He didn’t pitch again in the majors after 2013 and has just 9.7 WAR to show for his career.
Dave Stieb: With nine Blue Jay WAR on Halladay, Stieb is the best player in Jay history, and it’s not really close. Because he never won more than 18 games in a season and only won 176 in his career, he is an incredibly underrated pitcher. But at his 1982-1985 peak, he was far and away baseball’s best pitcher with 29.4 WAR. The only other hurler in the game within ten WAR of Stieb over those four seasons was Mario Soto at 22.2. And if we expand our range of seasons to 1980-1985, again, Stieb leads all of baseball, and he leads all but Steve Carlton by more than ten WAR. How about we expand some more. From 1979-1990, a period of twelve years, Dave Stieb posted 55.7 WAR. Roger Clemens is next at 46.3. Then Bert Blyleven at 41.3. Not a single other pitcher is within 17 WAR. Last one – since 1974, Stieb is fifth among AL pitchers in WAR.
Jose Bautista: He was nothing before he became a Blue Jay. Then in 2010 he exploded for an MLB-leading 54 homers. He’s hit over 200 more since then and made six straight All-Star teams. Whether it’s the 2015 playoff bat flip or the possibly related punch he took from Rougned Odor, Jose Bautista is who I think of when I think of the 21st century Blue Jays.
Tony Fernandez: Fourth on the Jays all-time WAR list, Fernandez makes the Toronto Rushmore because he put up 37.3 WAR in 1450 games with the Jays but only 7.7 in over 700 games elsewhere. Of course, if he never left Toronto, what’s below would not have happened.
Joe Carter: That’s right. On an analytics-oriented blog, we pay tribute to Joe Carter with a place on the Blue Jay Mount Rushmore. In his seven years in Canada, Carter averaged 29 HR and 105 RBI. He also averaged less than 1.2 WAR. He had a mediocre power bat and an incredibly important lineup spot. That explains the runs batted in. Check out the .308 on base percentage in Toronto and the 104 OPS+ for signs that he really wasn’t a very good player. Oh, but he did hit a home run, one of the most famous in baseball history, to get his face etched on this fake edifice. With the Jays trailing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning of the sixth game of the World Series, Mitch Williams walked Rickey Henderson, induced a fly out from Devon White, and gave up a single to Paul Molitor to set the stage for Carter. Tom Cheek called it. “Touch ‘em all, Joe. You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life.”
Our final Rushmore installment, the Washington Nationals, is next week.
Last time out, we looked at how a bunch of hitters we advocate for who might appear on upcoming Modern Game and Today’s Game ballots looked from a more traditional-stats point of view. We ranked them at their position in a battery of counting and simple average stats. Today we turn to the moundsmen. Same idea, different figures. But I’m going to add one twist. I’m going to compare to all Hall pitchers then to those whose careers started after World War II (plus a couple guys who started a couple years before it). Starting pitching is different enough after the war that we need to account for those fundamental usage changes.
W L PCT G GS CG SHO IP K ERA WHIP ====================================================================== TOTAL 169 137 .552 414 402 34 12 2595 1994 3.74 1.29 ALL RANK 60 12 49 57 48 63 63 59 34 62 49 POST-WAR RANK 25 5 19 25 24 26 26 25 24 26 23 AVERAGE ALL RANKING = 51st AVERAGE POST-WAR RANKING = 23rd
Appier was overlooked during his career thanks to being on lousy teams. That cost him wins and exposure. And like most of the guys we’re about to talk about, the decline in games started and innings pitched leaves his looking underwhelming. The analytics case is more subtle and there’s no way to turn what you see above into a convincing argument for the winswinswins crowd who thought that real men didn’t come out of a game and that pitchers with ERAs over 3.00 weren’t any good. Actually, I should be careful about say that. Basically, the VC doesn’t elect anyone, and especially not pitchers. Do you remember the last MLB pitcher the VC honored? Probably not because it was 20 years ago, and his name was Jim Bunning. During that time, many have complained about the BBWAA’s tightness around pitchers. They’ve elected nine:
That’s about one to two less than we’d figure given the overall composition of the Hall, but also far less than is likely apt given that we’re now electing from a larger pool of players thanks to multiple expansions. Anyway, not electing even one pitcher in 20 years makes me think I shouldn’t have even bothered writing this post.
W L PCT G GS CG SHO IP K ERA WHIP ========================================================================== TOTAL 211 144 .594 486 476 72 17 3256 2397 3.28 1.22 ALL RANK 50 18 34 47 36 60 61 47 23 48 39 POST-WAR RANK 23 6 12 22 19 23 24 22 18 18 20 AVERAGE ALL RANKING = 42ND AVERAGE POST-WAR RANKING = 19th
With Brown we again see the trouble that contemporary pitchers face. Kevin Brown was absolutely one of the best pitchers of his generation, and his career by years was pretty normal. But with such lower usage for starters and with such higher batting totals in the 1990s and early 2000s, Appier, Brown and others get the double whammy. This is a big part of why only the no-brainer pitchers are making it right now.
W L PCT G GS CG SHO IP K ERA WHIP ======================================================================== TOTAL 194 126 .606 450 419 56 22 2898 2668 3.46 1.26 ALL RANK 58 7 26 54 45 60 61 56 17 55 46 POST-WAR RANK 25 4 9 25 23 23 24 23 15 24 22 AVERAGE ALL RANKING = 44th AVERAGE POST-WAR RANKING = 20th
Another log on the 1990s/2000s context fire. It’s clear why the BBWAA passed over Cone as well. Didn’t have the wins (under 200, gasp!). We should take this moment to understand something really important. The generation of the 1960s/1970s produced six 300 game winners as well as a 287 game winner, a 284 game winner, Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal, Sandy Koufax, and Bob Gibson. Seems amazing that so many great pitchers emerged at once! Maybe. And maybe the second deadball era of the 1960s had a lot to do with it. Gibson hung a 1.12 ERA on the league in 1968. Think about how different that is from today (even with the high strikeout rates) let alone the pinball 1990s and 2000s when David Cone was in his prime. Kevin Brown, for example, compares favorably to Juan Marichal relative to their respective peers. Brown compared to Maddux is like Marichal compared to Seaver.
Let’s take this one step further. As we noted above, the BBWAA has elected Smoltz, Maddux, Glavine, Pedro, and The Big Unit from the 1990s–2000s cohort of pitchers. Among them, Smoltz is clearly in a second tier, but because of the sweet taste of saves, he got some kind of special dispensation. So let’s make a little map:
PITCHERS LATE 1970s–EARLY 2000s W PCT ERA IP RESULT ============================================================== Tier One (6) Clemens 354 .658 3.12 4917 On Ballot yr 5 Glavine 305 .600 3.54 4413 Elected yr 1 Johnson 303 .646 3.29 4135 Elected yr 1 Maddux 355 .610 3.16 5008 Elected yr 1 Martinez 219 .687 2.93 2827 Elected yr 1 Smoltz 213 .579 3.33 3473 Elected yr 1[154 SV] Tier Two (4) Brown 211 .594 3.28 3256 <5% yr 1 Mussina 270 .638 3.68 3562 On Ballot yr 4 Schilling 216 .597 3.46 3261 On Ballot yr 5 Tier Three (9) Appier 169 .552 3.74 2595 <5% yr 1 Cone 194 .606 3.46 2899 <5% yr 1 Finley 200 .536 3.85 3197 <5% yr 1 Guidry 170 .651 3.29 2392 <5% yr 9 Hershiser 204 .576 3.48 3130 <5% yr 2 Not elected by VC Morris 254 .577 3.90 3824 Not elected after 15 yrs Saberhagen 167 .588 3.34 2563 <5% yr 1 Not considered by VC Stieb 176 .562 3.44 2895 <5% yr 1 Not considered by VC
I could have included a couple others. Maybe you have Mussina in Tier One or Smoltz, but based on the way the BBWAA has voted so far (steroids and Kevin Brown’s bad attitude aside), this is a reasonable assessment of how they’ve looked at it so far.
Now here’s that prior generation with all the big winners.
PITCHERS LATE 1950s–EARLY 1980s W PCT ERA IP RESULT ========================================== Tier One (6) Seaver 311 .603 2.86 4783 Elected yr 1 Carlton 329 .574 3.22 5217 Elected yr 1 Ryan 324 .526 3.19 5386 Elected yr 1 Koufax 165 .655 2.76 2324 Elected yr 1 Gibson 251 .591 2.91 3884 Elected yr 1 Palmer 268 .638 2.86 3948 Elected yr 1 Tier Two (6) Hunter 224 .574 3.26 3449 Elected yr 3 Marichal 243 .631 2.89 3507 Elected yr 3 Niekro 318 .537 3.35 5404 Elected yr 5 Jenkins 284 .557 3.34 4501 Elected yr 3 Perry 314 .542 3.11 5350 Elected yr 3 Sutton 324 .559 3.26 5282 Elected yr 3 Tier Three (10) Blue 209 .565 3.27 3343 Not elected after yr 4 Blyleven 287 .534 3.31 4970 Elected yr 14 Bunning 224 .549 3.27 3760 Elected by VC Drysdale 209 .557 2.95 3432 Elected yr 10 Kaat 283 .544 3.45 4530 Not elected after 15 yrs & VC John 288 .555 3.34 4710 Not elected after 15 yrs & VC Lolich 217 .532 3.44 3638 Not elected after 15 yrs & VC Tiant 224 .571 3.30 3486 Not elected after 15 yrs & VC Wood 164 .513 3.24 2684 Not elected after yr 6 [57 SV]
Despite about two-thirds or so the number of teams in the league, the older generation includes more pitchers in Tiers Two and Three who received substantial support, being either elected or at least, on the ballot for a very long time, or still kicking around the VC ballot. In the more recent group, Tier Two has fewer pitchers than the previous generations and even more interestingly, the more modern Tier Three pitchers have received virtually no support at all. A mere fraction of what the older guys got. The BBWAA has failed to adjust to the new reality, and the VC has done no better.
W L PCT G GS CG SHO IP K ERA WHIP ======================================================================== TOTAL 200 173 .536 524 467 63 15 3197 2610 3.85 1.38 ALL RANK 55 28 58 42 38 60 63 48 17 63 63 POST-WAR RANK 25 11 24 19 20 23 26 22 15 26 26 AVERAGE ALL RANKING = 49th AVERAGE POST-WAR RANKING = 22nd
We elected Finley, and he’s probably the guy who defines where the borderline starts for me. A 3.85 ERA and 1.38 WHIP is what the 1990s AL does to a guy. But I’ve beaten this horse into and out of its seventeenth life.
W L PCT G GS CG SHO IP K ERA WHIP ========================================================================= TOTAL 204 150 .576 510 466 68 25 3130 2014 3.48 1.26 ALL RANK 54 18 40 44 38 60 59 50 33 55 46 POST-WAR RANK 25 6 14 20 20 23 23 23 23 24 22 AVERAGE ALL RANKING = 45th AVERAGE POST-WAR RANKING = 20th
You can certainly spot Hershiser some extra credit for his fantastic 1988 post-season, Hall voters are very fond of October heroics. Orel was clearly on his way to a Hall of Fame career until his arm turned to hamburger. So there’s two ways to look at the question of this generation of pitchers. Either these guys are all just missing or more mediocre than their predecessors, or they are all guys pitching under the same difficult conditions.
W L PCT G GS CG SHO IP K ERA WHIP ========================================================================= TOTAL 214 191 .528 557 529 102 26 3548 2015 3.37 1.27 ALL RANK 48 35 61 36 25 59 57 41 33 54 48 POST-WAR RANK 22 13 25 18 15 22 23 18 23 23 23 AVERAGE ALL RANKING = 45th AVERAGE POST-WAR RANKING = 21st
Here’s the imperfect storm.
It’s no one thing that conspired to hide Rick Reuschel’s excellence, it’s everything. But that’s not visible enough in his raw numbers to likely ever help him get a bronze likeness.
W L PCT G GS CG SHO IP K ERA WHIP ======================================================================== TOTAL 167 117 .588 399 371 76 16 2562 1715 3.34 1.14 ALL RANK 60 7 36 58 52 60 62 59 44 51 17 POST-WAR RANK 25 4 13 25 24 23 25 25 25 21 6 AVERAGE ALL RANKING = 46th AVERAGE POST-WAR RANKING = 20th
I’m losing hope just writing this post.
W L PCT G GS CG SHO IP K ERA WHIP ========================================================================= TOTAL 176 137 .562 443 412 103 30 2895 1669 3.44 1.25 ALL RANK 60 12 45 55 46 59 51 57 46 55 43 POST-WAR RANK 25 5 16 25 23 22 23 23 25 24 20 AVERAGE ALL RANKING = 48th AVERAGE POST-WAR RANKING = 21st
Ah hah! The pitcher of the 1980s! Stieb probably was, and it’s a shame he didn’t play in a bigger market, that his team was abysmal in the early stages of his career, and that a strike year ate into one of those years as well. He did have a moustache, but it wasn’t as cool as Jack Morris’.
Speaking of whom, when I run him through this same routine, we get a guy who averages 40th among all pitchers and 18th among post-war pitchers. In the latter case, it’s all the bulk stats, not the quality stats. His ERA would the worst and his WHIP third from worst, but the only one of his career numbers that would register as above average is his losses, 13th.
W L PCT G GS CG SHO IP K ERA WHIP ========================================================================= TOTAL 229 172 .571 573 484 187 49 3486 2416 3.30 1.20 ALL RANK 44 28 43 33 31 50 21 42 23 49 35 POST-WAR RANK 19 11 16 17 17 15 11 19 18 19 19 AVERAGE ALL RANKING = 36th AVERAGE POST-WAR RANKING = 17th
If Luis Tiant were placed on the Modern Day ballot, he’d be pretty close to an average Hall of Fame pitcher and reasonably close to an average post-war pitcher.
So what we see here is that none of these pitchers would look good on paper to Hall voters of any stripe, but especially the VC who are even stingier than the BBWAA. I see little if any reason to believe that change is coming in how they evaluate players, let alone in the composition of that electorate. It’s still going to be Hall players and Spink winners who haven’t made the adjustment. Maybe in ten years when 1990s/2000s players and scribes come to dominate those proceedings, things will change. For now, don’t count on it.
Last November we took a look at the HoME in comparison to other Halls. And today, as we approach our final election at the Hall of Miller and Eric, it’s time to review and in a way, reflect. We’re going to look at those Halls once again as our project comes to a conclusion. We undertook this project because the Hall of Fame is a mess. But in the process of our review and our evisceration of Hall voters, we’ve realized just how much agreement there is as far as the experts at the Hall of Fame, Hall of Stats, Hall of Merit, and Hall of Miller and Eric are concerned.
There’s agreement, but there’s plenty of disagreement too. We’ll discuss both in this post.
As I guess we should have expected, there’s tremendous agreement among the four Halls. In two days, once our 2015 election is complete, each of the four Halls will have elected 137 of the same players. We agree on Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth, of course. And we also agree on guys close to the borderline like Jimmy Collins, Whitey Ford, and Zach Wheat. Overall we’re unanimous on 63.7% of players in the HoME, which I think is a pretty decent percentage.
We can add eight names to those on whom we agree if we only consider talent. The Hall of Fame hasn’t elected Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Rafael Palmeiro, or Mark McGwire, though the rest of us have. Suspension, steroid use, or steroid suspicion has kept their bronze busts from being hung in Cooperstown. If they were all elected, the other Halls would match 67.4% of those in the HoME. Basically, we have unanimity in terms of talent on more than 2/3 of the HoME.
There are 28 more players who have been inducted into the Halls of Stats, Merit, and Miller and Eric but not the Hall of Fame. That means there’s 80.5% agreement among those three Halls. Is there a certain type of player on whom the Hall of Fame has fanned? Sure is!
Joe Torre, 1960-1977
Dick Allen, 1963-1977
Jimmy Wynn, 1963-1977
Reggie Smith, 1966-1982
Graig Nettles, 1967-1988
Ted Simmons, 1968-1988
Darrell Evans, 1969-1989
Bobby Grich, 1970-1986
Dwight Evans, 1972-1991
Keith Hernandez, 1974-1990
Willie Randolph, 1975-1992
Lou Whitaker, 1977-1995
Alan Trammell, 1977-1996
The Hall hates hitters from the 1970s, specifically hitters who were active in 1977, it would seem. And they also hate pitchers with low win totals.
Curt Schilling, 216
Rick Reuschel, 214
Kevin Brown, 211
David Cone, 194
Dave Stieb, 176
Bret Saberhagen, 167
Others they’ve whiffed on have been old guys like Charlie Bennett, Jack Glasscock, Bill Dahlen, Sherry Magee, and Wes Ferrell. They’ve also failed on hitters like Ken Boyer, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, and Larry Walker.
Here’s the whole group.
HoME, Stats, and Merit (no Fame) Dick Allen Charlie Bennett Ken Boyer Kevin Brown David Cone Bill Dahlen Darrell Evans Dwight Evans Wes Ferrell Jack Glasscock Bobby Grich Keith Hernandez Sherry Magee Edgar Martinez Graig Nettles Tim Raines Willie Randolph Rick Reuschel Bret Saberhagen Curt Schilling Ted Simmons Reggie Smith Dave Stieb Joe Torre Alan Trammell Larry Walker Lou Whitaker Jimmy Wynn
The Hall of Merit also leans away from 1970s hitters and low-win pitchers.
HoME and Stats (no Fame or Merit) Kevin Appier Sal Bando Buddy Bell Barry Bonds Willie Davis Chuck Finley Orel Hershiser Bob Johnson Jeff Kent Kenny Lofton Thurman Munson Mike Mussina Gary Sheffield Urban Shocker Sammy Sosa Luis Tiant
And the Hall of Merit leans away from early hitters (and 11-time All-Star catchers).
HoME and Merit (no Fame or Stats) Ross Barnes Bill Freehan Paul Hines Jimmy Sheckard George Wright
By getting it right, I mean voting for a player the HoME supports that either the Hall of Stats or the Hall of Merit doesn’t.
It’s hard to say there’s a specific type of player on whom the Halls of Fame and Merit agree with us but Stats disagrees. But it’s clear they’re not home run hitters.
HoME, Fame, and Merit (no Stats) Roy Campanella Max Carey Rich Gossage Billy Herman Willie Keeler Bid McPhee Joe Sewell Monte Ward
There are only three players we’ve agreed with the Halls of Fame and Stats on but not the Hall of Merit. And John Smoltz will likely be in the Hall of Merit soon enough.
HoME, Fame, and Stats (no Merit) John Smoltz Joe Tinker Vic Willis
And there are just two who have reached the HoME and Hall of Fame but neither of the others, both defensive stars.
HoME and Fame (no Stats or Merit) Dave Bancroft Harry Hooper
Below are a few charts of players elected by at least two of the Halls but not elected by us. This first one is where we stand alone by rejecting the player.
Fame, Stats, and Merit (no HoME) Jake Beckley Larry Doby Harmon Killebrew Joe Medwick Willie Stargell Hoyt Wilhelm
These next two have two Halls in agreement but not with the HoME. Both groups are pretty interesting.
Fame and Merit (no Stats or HoME) Earl Averill Roger Bresnahan Bobby Doerr Rollie Fingers Nellie Fox Hughie Jennings Joe Kelley Ralph Kiner Bob Lemon Eppa Rixey Edd Roush Enos Slaughter Sam Thompson
Stats and Merit (no Fame or HoME) Will Clark Clark Griffith Billy Pierce
The following charts list the players who are in only one of the Halls. Notice how many are in the Hall of Fame without the support of any other group.
Hall of Fame Only Luis Aparicio Chief Bender Lou Brock Jim Bottomley Orlando Cepeda Frank Chance Jack Chesbro Earle Combs Kiki Cuyler Dizzy Dean Hugh Duffy Johnny Evers Lefty Gomez Burleigh Grimes Chick Hafey Jesse Haines Waite Hoyt Catfish Hunter Travis Jackson Addie Joss George Kell George Kelley Chuck Klein Tony Lazzeri Fred Lindstrom Ernie Lombardi Heinie Manush Rabbit Maranville Rube Marquard Bill Mazeroski Tommy McCarthy Herb Pennock Tony Perez Kirby Puckett Jim Rice Sam Rice Phil Rizzuto Ray Schalk Red Schoendienst Bruce Sutter Pie Traynor Lloyd Waner Mickey Welch Hack Wilson Ross Youngs
I’m not going to beat a dead horse, but the thing the players above have most in common is that they’re just not that great.
Hall of Merit Only Pete Browning Bob Caruthers Cupid Childs George Gore Heinie Groh Stan Hack Charley Jones Charlie Keller John McGraw Cal McVey Minnie Minoso Dickey Pearce Lip Pike Hardy Richardson Al Spalding Joe Start Harry Stovey Ezra Sutton
Guys in the Hall of Merit but none of the other Halls are almost exclusively older players. Of the seventeen, thirteen of them played before the mound moved in 1893. At the HoME, we’d say they’ve over-filled that era.
Hall of Stats Only Babe Adams Tommy Bond Charlie Buffinton Cesar Cedeno Eddie Cicotte Tommy John Chet Lemon Jim McCormick Tommy Mullane John Olerud Jack Quinn Gene Tenace Robin Ventura Wilbur Wood
Nine of the fourteen guys in the Hall of Stats but no other Hall were pitchers. Generally, they’re older pitchers. Of the hitters, not one played before 1969.
Hall of Miller and Eric Only Jose Cruz Art Fletcher Tommy Leach Tony Phillips Wally Schang Bobby Veach Bucky Walters Roy White
The thing that HoMErs have in common, generally, is that they played spectacular defense, particularly as rated by DRA.
Overall this has been quite an exciting project. We hope you’ll check out our last election on Friday and our last set of obituaries on Monday.
In many ways our 2004 election, our 44th overall, was predictable. Vegas odds were near 100% that Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley would go in. And unless our bodies were inhabited of ghosts of BBWAA members past, Dave Stieb was a sure thing too. However, it’s the vote for Jose Cruz on his eleventh ballot that has odds makers scratching their heads a little bit.
See, Cruz isn’t in any of the Halls we follow, so he joins Tommy Leach, Bobby Veach, and Bucky Walters as four HoME members whose greatness hasn’t been recognized by others. We realize that his era remains underrepresented within our hallowed halls, and we saw room remaining in left field. Those two things combined with consistent excellence merits Cruz a vote.
With his election in addition to the three newbies to the ballot, the HoME now contains 177 of the greatest players in history, and there are only 38 spots remaining through our 2015 election. That means almost 35% of the remaining 109 players we’ll consider will one day reach the Hall of Miller and Eric.
Let’s look at our 2004 votes.
Miller Eric 1 Paul Molitor Paul Molitor 2 Dennis Eckersley Dave Stieb 3 Dave Stieb Dennis Eckersley 4 Pud Galvin Jose Cruz 5 Sal Bando 6 Jose Cruz
Paul Molitor: “The Ignitor” isn’t the first designated hitter elected into the HoME; over two dozen HoMErs have some experience at that “position.” But he’s the first player we’ve elected whose primary position is DH. Molitor was actually a decent defensive player who just couldn’t play the field and stay healthy simultaneously. But he could always hit. As a hitter, Molitor was something of a Derek Jeter prototype. A righty infielder who hit over .300, drew his walks, had a little pop, and ran the bases effectively. This comparison shows it well:
AVG lgAVG BABIP BB% lgBB% ISO lgISO MOLITOR .306 .264 .326 9.0 8.6 .142 .074 JETER .310 .269 .350 8.6 8.6 .130 .090
Mollie led the AL in runs and hits three times each. The seven-time All-Star and member of the 3000 hit club also won a 2B and a 3B title. In 1987 Molitor put together a 39-game hitting streak. In 1982 he was excellent in a World Series loss to the Cardinals, and then he hit .500 and won the MVP as his Blue Jays topped the Phillies in 1993. Molitor played seven years like an All-Star and another four at 4+ WAR. As the only player ever with a .300 average, 3000 hits, 500 steals, and 200 homers, he’s a very easy selection for the HoME.
Dennis Eckersley: Eck is one of our most interesting candidates ever. His motion, coming somewhere between half and three-quarters, was very deceptive, especially because he hid the ball behind his body well and relied on a late-breaking slider. There’s little doubt that he’s in the Hall of Fame because of his excellence as a reliever from 1987 through the end of his career. However, he’s in the HoME more because of his work as a starter from 1975-1986. He won 197 games and saved 390. He made two All-Star teams as a starter and another four out of the pen. In 1992, he won seven games, saved 51, and was named the AL MVP and Cy Young. He and John Smoltz are the only two players in the game’s history with 150 wins and 150 saves. Whether you think he’s a starter or a reliever, he’s one of the 50 or so best pitchers ever and very deserving of HoME induction.
Dave Stieb: It’s simply comical when someone other than Stieb is called the best pitcher of the 1980s. He was worth 10 wins more than any other pitcher for a decade. And he was worth 18 more wins than a certain pitcher who received a ton of Hall of Fame support. Stieb didn’t win as many games as some of his contemporaries, only 176 in all, but his WAR numbers are impressive indeed with three or four years of 7-win value. There are only 35 other pitchers in our data set with four such seasons. And of those, only 20 still best Stieb by their eighth best season. That’s one heck of a prime for any pitcher, regardless of the number of games he won. Of those 20 pitchers, all but one – Roger Clemens – is already in the Hall of Fame. Pretty good company. Of note, in his last two 1988 starts, here and here, he had no-hitters broken up with two out and two strikes in the ninth. Those were the second and third of four times he lost a no-hit bid in the ninth. He eventually pitched a no-no against Cleveland two years later. How many eligible 7-time All-Star pitchers are not in the Hall of Fame? Just four: Stieb, Billy Pierce, Camilo Pascual, and Lee Smith. And Stieb is noticeably better than these other guys. Stieb led the AL in pitcher WAR in 1982, 1983, and 1984. He was 2nd in 1985. He was 3rd in 1981. That’s an amazing run of dominance. You know who had a run like that? Sandy Koufax: 2nd in 1961, 1st in 1963, 2nd in 1964, 4th in 1965, 1st in 1966. Just sayin’ is all.
Jose Cruz: It’s taken us a long time to think through Cruz. There are two things that hinder analysis of his career. One is that he blossomed late, though it’s an open question whether the Cards handled him poorly early on. More important, the Astrodome distorted his statistics drastically. A corner outfielder, Cruz never topped 17 homers. He never hit higher than .318. He never slugged .500 or rolled up a .400 OBP. He never drove in 100 or scored 100. He never topped 200 hits or 40 doubles. He led the league only three times: once in hits (189 in 1983) and twice in sac flies. It was all the Astrodome. Here’s Cruz’s lifetime home/away splits:
G R H 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG Home 1166 497 1094 189 61 59 .289 .366 .418 Away 1187 539 1157 202 33 106 .280 .344 .422
Pretend for a moment that the away numbers represented his true abilities. The dome took away about 50 homers and a dozen doubles and replaced them with 28 triples. If we simply doubled his road figures, he’d have finished with about 2300 hits, 400 doubles, and 212 homers. Of course, most batters do better at home than on the road. It’s not difficult to imagine Cruz doing better than those figures.
The Astrodome had another effect on Cruz as well. He had good speed, especially for a left fielder, which played up on the dome’s Astroturf surface. DRA rates him as a plus-plus defender. The problem with that from a perception standpoint is that no one really sees it. They see his batting stats and shrug but they don’t see all the runs saved with the glove. It’s a nasty double whammy for Cruz.
That said, Cruz was not a peak sensation. He played well year in and year out but never had that one glorious season that everyone remembers. I suppose the Astrodome wouldn’t let him. But he strung together a long succession of good seasons. Given the lack of depth we have so far as we try to avoid replicating the errors of the Hall in forgetting about the 1970s and 1980s, he’s a fine addition to the HoME. We could have taken the easy route and gone for Joe Kelley (yet another 1890s guy) or Joe Medwick (yet another 1930s guy) or Willie Stargell (with his abominable glove and relatively short offensive peak). This is a more thoughtful selection.
Two more solo votes from Miller, so we have a couple of explanations.
Pud Galvin: He won a billion games and pitched three billion innings. That’s the basic argument.
Sal Bando: Bando is quite a bit like Jose Cruz for three reasons. First, he played during an under-represented era. Second, there’s room remaining at his position. And third, I prefer him to his competition – Heinie Groh. The difference between Bando and Cruz, is that the third sacker could lay claim to being the game’s best player for a period of time, and Cruz couldn’t.
That’s it for our 2004 results. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those elected and to see plenty more information about the HoME.
Not long ago when Eric and I were discussing Whitey Ford, I mentioned something like Ford was the best pitcher in the American League for an eleven-year span. Surely if you’re the best pitcher in your league for a decade, you belong in the Hall of Miller and Eric. Or do you? Since I was offering the argument, I thought I should at least make sure I believed it myself. And it turns out I don’t. From 1976-1986, the best pitcher in all of baseball was Ron Guidry. He was also the best if we add another year. So for a dozen seasons, there was no better pitcher in the game than Louisiana Lightning himself. But we understand Ron Guidry’s career. Such a run isn’t at all sufficient to make him a no-brainer HoMEr, so Ford’s lesser run shouldn’t be enough to overcome Eric’s pretty persuasive data that suggests Ford is right near the borderline.
Having the list of every pitcher who was baseball’s best over an eleven-year run got me to thinking. Who were baseball’s best pitchers every five years? How about every twenty-two? There was only one way to find out, at least as far as I knew. Open up a spreadsheet, go to Seamheads.com, and do a ton of work. Luckily for you, my work is your reward. I found the best pitcher in 1871, then from 1871-1872, then from 1871-1873, and straight through to 1871-2013. Then I found the best pitcher in 1872, then from 1872-1873, and so on. You get the point, right?
I don’t think I’m uncovering anything groundbreaking here, but I did come up with 10,296 names. Those names are the best of the best, like Cy Young, who was listed 2,549 times. And they were guys who were good for only a short period, like Hal Carlson, who was the best pitcher in baseball by WAR in 1926 and from 1925-1926. In case you’re wondering, I wasn’t familiar with him either.
Below is a chart, a big long chart, with every pitcher whose name came up even twice in my database (ranking, pitcher, number of periods leading baseball in WAR). Take a look, and then I’ll make some comments.
1 Cy Young 2549 2 Walter Johnson 2206 3 Roger Clemens 1216 4 Tom Seaver 1102 5 Lefty Grove 856 6 Warren Spahn 674 7 Bob Gibson 174 8 Kid Nichols 112 9 Tim Keefe 108 10 Hal Newhouser 90 11 Randy Johnson 85 12 Bert Blyleven 65 13 Christy Mathewson 62 14 Bob Feller 61 John Clarkson 61 16 Jim McCormick 60 17 Phil Niekro 57 18 Don Drysdale 56 19 Greg Maddux 50 20 Robin Roberts 47 21 Pedro Martinez 43 22 Dave Stieb 42 Tommy Bond 42 24 Roy Halladay 40 Dazzy Vance 40 26 Pete Alexander 37 27 Bucky Walters 27 28 Johan Santana 25 29 Al Spalding 22 30 Steve Carlton 17 31 Urban Shocker 16 32 Old Hoss Radbourn 15 Sandy Koufax 15 34 Ed Walsh 13 35 Juan Marichal 10 36 Dwight Gooden 10 37 Rube Waddell 8 38 Amos Rusie 7 Carl Hubbell 7 40 Jim Bunning 6 Red Faber 6 42 Clayton Kershaw 5 CC Sabathia 5 Curt Schilling 5 Wes Ferrell 5 Gaylord Perry 5 Justin Verlander 5 Ron Guidry 5 Silver King 5 50 Camilo Pascual 4 Bob Caruthers 4 Cliff Lee 4 Dizzy Dean 4 Dizzy Trout 4 Early Wynn 4 Jim Devlin 4 Joe McGinnity 4 Stan Coveleski 4 59 Bobby Mathews 3 Fergie Jenkins 3 Mort Cooper 3 Ned Garver 3 Ted Lyons 3 Wilbur Wood 3 65 Bob Lemon 2 Frank Tanana 2 Hal Carlson 2 Jim Palmer 2 Jim Whitney 2 Jose Rijo 2 Mel Parnell 2 Zack Greinke 2 74 47 tied at 1
There’s a lot more that can be said about the chart, no doubt. Hopefully I’ll use parts of it in future conversations to help to establish who belongs in the HoME. But for now, I’m happy to know that eleven seasons as the best in your league isn’t enough by itself to earn my vote.