John Franco Hall Of Fame Case
In 2011, John Franco had his first and only year on the Hall of Fame ballot. After garnering just 4.6% of the vote, he was five percented off of the Hall of Fame ballot. Had he received just three more votes, he could have stayed on the ballot one more year, and we could have seen what, if any, momentum could have been made towards getting him inducted into the Hall of Fame.
At the time, you could understand why Franco did not last long on the ballot. After all, Lee Smith, who retired as the all-time saves leader, had only received 45.3% of the vote in his ninth year on the ballot. At the same time, any and all things relievers had done over the 70s, 80s, and 90s were being completely dwarfed by Mariano Rivera. For an electorate still widely holding onto a feel approach, you could see why Franco didn’t feel like a Hall of Famer.
However, times change. Since Franco fell off of the ballot, we have begun to see a standard emerge for the induction of relievers into the Hall of Fame. When you start to break some of them down, you see Franco belongs in the Hall of Fame.
To start, we should denote the relievers who have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame are Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage, Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, and Mariano Rivera. Looking at the group, Eckersley was the first pure one inning closer inducted, and we have to move forward to Hoffman’s induction for the one inning closer who did not have a stint as a starting pitcher.
To determine how Franco matches up with these relievers, we should first look to Franco’s career stats. In parenthesis is where Franco stacks up against the eight relievers already inducted into the Hall of Fame:
- Saves 424 (4)
- Games Finished (4)
- ERA 2.89 (6)
- ERA+ 138 (4)
- WAR 23.4 (9)
- WAR7 15.3 (9)
- JAWS 19.4 (9)
Starting with the clear negative, Franco does not have the advanced WAR stats to make a clear and distinct case why he should belong with the eight members already inducted. On that note, relievers as a group fall well short of the already established Hall of Fame WAR standards.
Looking at position players and starting pitchers, catchers have the lowest average WAR among Hall of Famers. That WAR is 53.6 which is significantly higher than the 39.1 WAR for the average Hall of Fame closer. If we were to hold tight and fast with the WAR standard, with the exception of Eckersley and Rivera, all closers would fall short. To a certain extent that makes a WAR predicated arguments on closers somewhat flawed.
Really, when you break it down, closers appear to be the ultimate in compilers getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. Hoffman was the classic example of that. Despite his not being as good as a closer as Smith in terms of ERA+, Hoffman was inducted by the writers, and Smith had to wait for the Veteran’s Committee.
One interesting thing about Hoffman was he only led the league in saves twice, and he never led the league in games finished. Notably, Franco led the league in saves three times, and he led the league in games finished twice. Like Smith, Franco falls short of Hoffman’s save totals. However, no left-handed reliever has accumulated more saves than Franco.
Since 1994, Franco has led all left-handed pitchers in saves. That’s two more saves than Billy Wagner, who is getting increasing support for the Hall of Fame. It is also 66 saves more than Randy Myers who has the third most saves among left-handed relievers.
Looking at the overall saves picture, Franco is fifth all-time in saves. Looking at the active closers, the soon to be 32 year old Craig Kimbrel has 346 saves putting him 78 saves behind Franco. At a minimum, that means Franco will remain in the top five for at least a few more years. If Kimbrel’s knee and elbow problems from the 2019 persist, he may never get there.
When we look across the history of baseball, putting aside the steroids caveat which impacts players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, any player in the top five in a major statistical category is in the Hall of Fame. In fact, it goes much deeper than that. Taking out the steroid players and the ineligible ones like Pete Rose, it is really players in the top 10 to 20 in significant statistical categories are in the Hall of Fame.
Then, there is Franco. He has been in the top five all-time in saves for well over 30 years now. It appears he will remain there for another 10 years. He will likely remain there much longer than that, and he will likely be atop the left-handed reliever all-time saves list for nearly a century.
Like Harold Baines, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee, Franco did not seem like a Hall of Famer in 2011. Nearly a decade later, he still may not feel like a Hall of Famer. However, with each passing year his left-handed saves record stands and each year he remains in the top five all-time in saves, we may soon feel like someone who has more saves than literally tens of thousands of relievers belongs in the Hall of Fame.