Trevor Hoffman Should Not Have Been Inducted Into The Hall of Fame
With Trevor Hoffman being inducted into the Hall of Fame, he now becomes just the sixth reliever ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Considering Hoyt Wilhelm, Rich Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Rollie Fingers were relievers of a far different mold, and Dennis Eckersley had a career as a starting pitcher before becoming a one inning closer, Hoffman becomes a unique Hall of Famer in that he is now the first ever pure closer to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
With him being inducted, the question needs to be asked why it was him and not one of the other closers who proceeded him.
The first answer that will probably be injected as a reason is the fact Hoffman accumulated 601 saves. At the time of his retirement in 2010, it was the record for most saves by a relief pitcher. In reality, he had the record beginning in 2006. The question that naturally follows from this is why is this now relevant?
It would seem odd to put 600 saves into a category with 3,000 hits, 500 homers, or 300 wins as those marks evolved over time. The modern one inning reliever is something that arguably has only been around since the 1980s with Tony La Russa‘s use of Eckersley leading the charge. Yes, at the time of his retirement, he had the most all-time, and he was 123 ahead of the highest retired closer.
That closer was Lee Smith. What is interesting about Smith was he battled Jeff Reardon late in Reardon’s career for the most saves of all-time. The year after Reardon retired, Smith passed him and the lapped the field. At the time Smith retired in 1997, he had the all-time record with 478 saves, and he would hold the record for most saves in baseball history for 10 years. Like Reardon, Hoffman would lose the title the year after he retired.
Speaking of Lee Smith, he is an interesting parallel for Hoffman, especially with both pitchers pitching 18 years and making seven All Star teams.
In Smith’s career, he was 71-92 with a 3.03 ERA, 478 saves, 1,251 strikeouts, 1.256 WHIP, and an 8.7 K/9. He led the league in saves four times, led the league in games finished three times, and won three Rolaids Relief Awards. From an advanced metrics standpoint, he had a 132 ERA+, 29.6 WAR, 21.1 WAR7, and a 25.4 JAWS.
In Hoffman’s career, he was 61-75 with a 2.87 ERA, 601 saves, 1,133 strikeouts, 1.058 WHIP, and a 9.4 K/9. He led the league twice in saves, never led the league in games finished, and won two Rolaids Relief Awards. From an advanced metrics standpoint, he had a 141 ERA+, 28.4 WAR, 19.6 WAR7, and a 24.0 JAWS.
In some areas, Smith is better, including WAR, WAR7, JAWS, strikeouts, and relief awards. In others like ERA, ERA+, WHIP, and K/9, Hoffman is better. Generally speaking, Hoffman and Smith are about equally as valuable as one another. We only get to a true separator between the two relievers when we discuss saves.
Hoffman blows Smith out of the water there, but that’s not too dissimilar how Smith blew other contemporaries out of the water during his playing days. He was 1-2 with Reardon much like Hoffman was with Mariano Rivera.
It would seem from a pure value standpoint, if Hoffman is inducted, then so should Smith. However, we really know the end game was the amount of saves.
That’s why we won’t see Billy Wagner follow suit despite his having a much better ERA+ (187), more strikeouts (1,196), a higher K/9 (11.9), WAR7 (19.9), and having made the same JAWS and making the same number of All Star teams.
It’s also why we didn’t see John Franco get inducted into the Hall of Fame. Sure, we can mock Franco all you like, but he has had the record for most saves by a left-handed pitcher since 1994, which is a record that has lasted for 23 years and does not appear of being eclipsed any time soon.
It should also be noted Franco led the league in saves three times, games finished two times, made four All Star teams, and won two Rolaids Relief awards. This means Franco led the league in saves and games finished more times than Hoffman, and he won just as many relief awards. His WAR (24.2), WAR7 (15.7), and JAWS (19.9) do trail Hoffman, but then again, we’ve learned this isn’t really about value.
It’s about total saves with the new bench mark apparently being 600 saves. It is good that it’s a high bench mark, but at the end of the day, it seems odd this isn’t about greatness, value, or dominance. Rather, it’s about an arbitrary number decided upon because Hoffman just felt like a Hall of Famer.