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.
Last year, when contemplating who should be inducted into the Hall of Fame, I ultimately determined Edgar Martinez fell short. Ultimately, the crux of the argument was due to the scarcity of DHs even available for Hall of Fame voting, it was hard to create a standard. As a result, Frank Thomas, the only player in the Hall of Fame who spent more time at DH than in the field became the standard upon his election. As Edgar was not the DH Thomas was, he should fall short of election.
Since that time, the IBWAA had decided to induct Edgar in what amounts to their own straw poll, and we have seen a groundswell of support of voters to induct him into the Hall of Fame. Whether he does in fact get elected today remains to be seen, but at a minimum, it led to rethink how to approach Edgar’s Hall of Fame candidacy.
Ultimately, I decided that since a DH is just a hitter, Edgar should be looked upon as a hitter only first. After collecting all that information, we can then make the determination about whether he was a good enough hitter to be in the Hall of Fame based upon his hitting alone.
The Steroids Era has blurred this somewhat, but we do know that there are certain magic numbers that get you into the Hall of Fame. On the offensive side, those numbers are 3,000 hits and 500 homers. With respect to both, Edgar not only falls short, but he falls well short. In fact, he “only” had 2,247 hits and 309 homers.
Considering he averaged just 125 hits a year and 17 homers a year, he was going to need another six years to get to 3,000 hits and 11 years to get to 500 homers. So from the magic number standpoint, we know Edgar falls well short.
Lesser Known Magic Numbers
To be fair to Edgar, he was not a home run hitter, and you do not have to be a home run hitter to be a truly great offensive player. To that end, further examination is due to determine if he has the numbers in other categories that are worthy of Hall of Fame induction. For the sake of brevity in this section, the bars set are for all players eligible for the Hall of Fame who have not been implicated by PEDs.
Runs – Putting Johnny Damonaside for the moment as he is on the ballot, every player with more runs scored than Cal Ripken, Jr.‘s 1,647 runs scored has been inducted. Edgar only has 1,219 runs scored.
Doubles– Again Ripken is the bottom line standard with his having hit 603 doubles. Edgar falls short of this mark with his having hit 514 doubles.
RBI– Every player with more RBI than Ernie Banks‘ 1,636 RBI is in the Hall of Fame. What’s interesting is Harold Baines, a career DH himself, was next on the all-time RBI list with 1,628. Edgar finished his career with 1,261 RBI.
Walks – Walks are not as forgiving a category as the others as the Hall of Fame voters have not really rewarded that as a skill, at least not to the extent of the balls in play categories. Thomas and his 1,667 walks is the floor, and Edgar again falls well short with 1,283 walks in his career.
BA -Like Walks, batting average is a bit unforgiving with Babe Ruth and his .342 setting the low water mark. Edgar again is well short with a .312 batting average.
OBP – This is where Edgar’s best case is. Everyone with a higher OBP than Dan Brouthers and his .423 OBP are in the Hall of Fame. However, if you remove Max Bishop, who played from 1924-1935 from the equation, that number drops to Stan Musial and his .417 OBP. With Edgar having a .418 OBP, he meets the criteria of this adjusted standard.
SLG – For this one, some allowances need to be made as Larry Walker, Jim Thome, and Vladimir Guerrero remain on the ballot. Another factor is Albert Belle and his .565 SLG is an outlier not being good enough for induction is an outlier. Otherwise, the bar would be Rogers Hornsby and his .577 SLG. Making those allowances, the new mark is Ralph Kiner and his .547 SLG. Edgar again falls short with a .515 SLG.
Looking at these numbers, Edgar misses the bottom line standard on all of them. In reality, he misses the mark by a big margin for most of them. If we tweak the numbers, his OBP is the only one that matches. It’s certainly impressive, but for a player whose sole job was to go out there and hit, it is really difficult to argue that one truly elite Hall of Fame level skill is enough to merit induction.
As time passes by, we get smarter, and we learn new and better ways to evaluate hitters other than just their traditional back of the baseball card stats. As we know, it is easier to hit in some parks than others, and as a result, we need statistics that adjust accordingly. For a number of factors, including their goal of synthesizing a number of park and league neutral factors to derive an overall hitter value, I decided to use OPS+ and wRC+ for an advanced statistical analysis.
OPS+ If you look at the players eligible for the Hall of Fame and not tainted by steroids, Ty Cobb and his 168 OPS+ was the lowest “magic number” mark. You could even push it down to 163 as Jimmie Foxx had that mark, but it should be noted he is tied with Pete Browning, who was not inducted into the Hall of Fame. Edgar falls short of this mark again with his 147 OPS+.
Now, if we were to focus solely on modern players and just focused on those players who played over the last 50 years, the OPS+ threshold doesn’t really move as Dick Allen with his 156 mark was not inducted into the Hall of Fame. However, Willie Mays and Thomas were. So, if we were to treat Allen like an exception, that mark would move to Willie McCovey and Mike Schmidt, whose career OPS+ is 147, which as we know is Edgar’s career mark.
If we are making a case here for Edgar, which is what we are searching to do, it should be noted by this metric alone, he is tied for 42nd on the list.
wRC+Again, Dick Allen is the major impediment here as his 155 wRC+ was not sufficient for Hall of Fame induction. That would make Tris Speaker and his 157 wRC+ the standard bearer. Edgar and his 147 wRC+ falls well short of that mark.
If we were to make the same allowances that were made for the OPS+ mark, the threshold would move to the 145 wRC+ posed by McCovey, Willie Stargell, and the presumed to be inducted Thome. Edgard has a higher mark than that.
Another factor in Edgar’s favor here is his 147 wRC+ ranks 33rd best in the history of baseball.
If we are going to discuss advanced metrics, we have to discuss WAR. In reality, the WAR required for Hall of Fame induction is a moving target. The high water mark is the 73.9 average for starting pitchers and the 40.6 average for relievers. Putting pitching aside, the high water mark is the 73.2 WAR average for right fielders and the 53.4 average WAR for catchers serving as the low water mark.
Certainly, Edgar falls within all of those parameters with a 68.3 career WAR. In fact, that mark puts him tied for 112th all time. That’s ahead of first ballot inductees like Ivan Rodriguez(68.4) and Ernie Banks (67.4). However, it also puts Edgar behind players never inducted into the Hall of Fame like Lou Whitaker (74.9) and Bobby Grich, both of whom were five percented in their first year of the ballot and were not inducted in the most recent Veteran’s Committee vote.
Overall, Edgar is 112th, which puts him well below some Hall of Famers, but it does put him ahead of many others. The same goes for people not in the Hall of Fame.
Revisiting The Frank Thomas Argument
As of today, the DH position has only been in existence for 44 years thereby making it the newest position in all of baseball. In the brief history of the DH, we have seen it used in a variety of ways. It has been used as a spot for an aging veteran, and we have seen it used for a rotating spot to give players a rest. Of course, with players like Edgar, we have seen it go to good hitters.
As of this moment, there is only one player in the Hall of Fame who spent more time at DH than in the field. That player was Frank Thomas. In his career, Thomas hit .301/.419/.555 with 495 doubles, 521 homers, and 1,704 RBI. He had a 73.7 WAR, 45.2 WAR7, and a 59.5 JAWS. If we are looking to create a standard to induct a DH, he’s it.
Edgar falls short having a lower OBP and SLG with significantly fewer homers and RBI. His 68.3/.43.6/56.0 all fall well short of the numbers Thomas put up.
If we are going to look at Edgar just among hitters, we also need to take other things into consideration. Despite being just a DH, which is effectively a part-time player, Edgar only played over 150 games in just three seasons. To be fair, we should make that four with him leading the league in games played in the shortened 1995 season. Still, he was a DH that could not stay on the field.
Despite the current narrative that Edgar is the best DH ever, he really wasn’t as Frank Thomas was. Moreover, Edgar wasn’t recognized as such in his playing days. During his career, Edgar only won five Silver Sluggers and made just seven All Star teams in 18 years. I know his name is on the American League award for DHs, but that doesn’t mean he was the best DH ever or even of his era.
One other argument I’ve seen is Edgar not playing the field helped his team. Sure, his being utilized the best possible way was a benefit to the Mariners. However, it’s hard to argue that is was also beneficial the Mariners had players like Mike Blowers, Russ Davis, David Bell, Jeff Cirillo, and Scott Spiezio at third base.
From this analysis, it is pretty clear that if you want to make a case for Edgar Martinez as a Hall of Famer, you certainly can. He was certainly a very good hitter in his career, and based upon what metric you chose to use, he was among the best hitters in any particular category. However, the question ultimately is whether he was a good enough hitter that we can overlook his never really playing in the field.
For me, the answer is no.
Right now, the standard for a DH is Frank Thomas, and Edgar falls well short of that. He also did not put up anywhere near 3,000 hits or 500 homers. You literally have to move the floors for any other statistical category for Edgar to be above the proverbial red line. Worse yet, he was a DH that was not able to play over 150 games a season. That’s a problem when you’re looking to induct a one-dimensional player.
No, it won’t be a travesty when and if Edgar is elected into the Hall of Fame. However, it will ultimately be the wrong decision.
With the Hall of Fame results to be released tomorrow, this is my official IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. Unlike the BBWAA, the IBWAA has a 15 player limit, and the IBWAA will not continue voting on a player after they have reached the 75% threshold. That remains true even if the player remains on the BBWAA ballot. This year that applies to Vladimir Guerrero (who I voted for last year and would’ve again this year) and Edgar Martinez.
CF Andruw Jones
Stats: 17 seasons, .254/.337/.486, 1933 H, 383 2B, 36 3B, 434 HR, 1289 RBI
Advanced: 62.8 WAR, 46.4 WAR7, 54.6 JAWS
Awards: 5x All Star, 10x Gold Glove , Silver Slugger
With the average Hall of Fame center fielder having a 71.2 WAR/44.6 WAR7/57.9 JAWS, the one thing that stands out to you is Jones had about as good a seven year stretch of baseball than any center fielder in the history of the game. Really, it was a tremendous nine year stretch of his career where he completely dominated.
From 1998 – 2006, Jones average season was .270/.347/.513 with 35 homers and 104 RBI. In addition to being a middle of the lineup hitter during this stretch, he won nine consecutive Gold Gloves. It goes a long way towards explaining how he put up 54.5 WAR during that stretch. There are few center fielders who have dominated the sport on both sides of the ball for as long as a stretch as this.
There are some other finer points to consider with Jones. Every Hall of Fame eligible center fielder who has hit at least 400 homers is in the Hall of Fame. Every Hall of Fame eligible outfielder that has won at least 10 Gold Gloves has been elected to the Hall of Fame. With Jones joining Willie Mays and Ken Griffey, Jr. as the only center fielders to hit over 400 homers and win 10+ Gold Gloves, he should also join them in the Hall of Fame.
Stats: 19 years, .303/.401/.529, 2726 H, 549 2B, 38 3B, 468 HR, 1623 RBI
Advanced: 85.0 WAR, 46.6 WAR7, 65.8 JAWS
Awards: 1999 MVP, 2008 Batting Title, 8x All Star, 2x Silver Slugger
When it come to Chipper, the question isn’t whether he’s a Hall of Famer, but rather how high should he rank on the list of all time third baseman. With the exception of triples and stolen bases, he is in the top 10 in every offensive category at the position with him being ranked second in runs and RBI and third in homers. No matter what statistic or measurement you look at, Jones is going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Stats: 17 years, .290/.356/.500, 2461 H, 560 2B, 47 3B, 377 HR, 1518 RBI
Advanced: 55.2 WAR, 35.6 WAR7, 45.4 JAWS
Awards: 2000 MVP, 5x All Star, 4x Silver Slugger
When looking at the newer parameters of WAR, WAR7, and JAWS, Kent falls well short of meeting Hall of Fame induction standards as the average Hall of Fame second baseman has posted a 69.4/44.5/56.9. Really, Kent only comes close on the JAWS, but it’s not really that close. Even with him falling short there, he still deserves induction into the Hall of Fame.
Looking at Kent’s career, you can make the argument this side of Rogers Hornsby, he is the best offensive second baseman in Major League history. Certainly, you can make the case he’s the top slugger with him being the all-time leader in homers for a second baseman and second all-time in slugging. In addition to that, he’s fourth all-time in doubles and third highest in RBI.
Every Hall of Fame eligible second baseman who has at least 445 doubles is in the Hall of Fame. Every Hall of Fame eligible second baseman with at least 252 homers is in the Hall of Fame. Every Hall of Fame eligible second baseman with at least 1200 RBI is in the Hall of Fame. Every Hall of Fame eligible second baseman who has slugged at least .470 is in the Hall of Fame. Well, that’s true for everyone except Kent, who is still awaiting induction.
One last note on Kent. He is just one of 10 second baseman to ever win the award. With the exception of Dustin Pedroia, who is still active, Kent is the only one of these players not in the Hall of Fame. That should change as Kent certainly has merited induction.
Stats: 10 years, .282/.360/.462, 1253 H, 249 2B, 12 3B, 175 HR, 760 RBI
Advanced: 21.3 WAR, 21.3 WAR7, 21.3 JAWS
Awards: 2x All Star, 2009 World Series MVP
A more detailed analysis of Matsui’s Hall of Fame case was previously published. To put it succinctly here, as a professional, Matsui hit .293/.387/.521 hitter with 2,655 hits, 496 doubles, 508 homers, and 1,654 RBI. If that all happened in the United States, he would be a no-doubt Hall of Famer. However, due to the collusion and gentleman’s agreements between MLB and NPB, Mastui was never going to get the chance to spend his entire career in the MLB. He should not be penalized for that.
Stats: 19 years, .284/.377/.509, 441 2B, 24 3B, 493 HR, 1550 RBI
Advanced: 52.4 WAR, 35.8 WAR7, 44.1 JAWS
Awards: 5x All Star, 1994 All Star Game MVP, 3x Silver Slugger
If McGriff only hit seven more home runs in his career, we would likely not be having this conversation because before the Steroid Era, hitting 500 homers was an automatic ticket into the Hall of Fame. Perhaps knowing this, McGriff held on until he was 40 to try to get those homers. It is a testament to him he was a productive hitter before his age 40 season.
Looking at all the numbers, it is fair to say McGriff has fallen short of 500 homers because it is assumed he was a clean player in another wise dirty Steroid Era in baseball. He fell short because the players struck in 1994, which was when he was in his prime.
But looking at his advanced numbers, McGriff really falls short because of his defense. That seems odd at a time when voters are pushing to elect Edgar Martinezto the Hall of Fame. But that’s a debate for another day. What is up for debate is his -18.1 dWAR and how reliable the defense metrics are, especially at first base, and whether those numbers can reliably be used to keep someone out of the Hall of Fame. With the advent of DRS and UZR, it could be well argued dWAR is not reliable enough.
There’s some other considerations at play. With the exception of Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, both of whom have taken PEDs, every Hall of Fame eligible first baseman with at least 490 homers is in the Hall of Fame. The same goes for first baseman with at least 1,520 RBI. Also, with the exception of players who are known to have used PEDs, every eligible first basman with at least 1,300 walks is in the Hall of Fame.
In addition to the regular season numbers, it should be noted McGriff was at his best when the stakes were at their highest. For proof of that look no further than the 1993 season when he helped the Braves overcome a nine game deficit in the NL West.
But it’s more than the tangential evidence there. As previously noted, McGriff bettered his career numbers with RISP, RISP with two outs, and high leverage situations. Combine that with McGriff being an excellent hitter in the postseason (.303/.385/.532) with him putting up extraordinary World Series numbers (.279/.385/.605), and there is more than enough to make up for the fact McGriff never got those last seven homers . . . that is unless you want to count his 10 postseason homers.
Stats: 270-153, 3.68 ERA, 2813 K, 1.192 WHIP
Advanced: 83.0 WAR, 44.5 WAR 7, 63.8 JAWS
Awards: 5x All Star, 7x Gold Glove
Given his being healthy throughout his entire career, and his coming off his only 20 win season, it does make you wonder why Mussina didn’t stick around long enough to get to 300 wins. Arguably, he was 2 – 3 years away, and it would have only taken him until his age 41 season to get there. Unfortunately, he didn’t stick around, so we have to have a more nuanced debate with his not reaching a magic number.
Now, the thing that really sticks out with Mussina is his career 3.68 ERA. If he was indeed inducted, that ERA would be the third worst ERA by a starting pitcher with only Red Ruffing and Jack Morris. Ruffing was only elected in a special runoff election after his time on the ballot expired, and Morris was inducted by the Veteran’s Committee.
However, lost in that ERA is the circumstances surrounding it. Mussina not only pitched in the Steroids Era, but he also pitched the majority of his career in a hitter’s park like Camden Yards. That’s where Mussina’s 123 ERA+ comes into account. That mark matches Juan Marichal and puts him just ahead of Hall of Famers Eddie Plank, Bob Feller, and Don Drysdale.
There are some more considerations as well. Aside from Roger Clemens and his complicated case, Mussina and Mickey Lolich are the only eligible pitcher with at least 2800 strikeouts not in the Hall of Fame. Mussina and Tommy John are the only pitchers with 270 wins and over 2,000 strikeouts not in the Hall of Fame. Mussina is the only pitcher with 270 wins and at least 2,300 strikeouts not in the Hall of Fame.
Combining that with his having a higher WAR, WAR7, and JAWS than the average Hall of Fame pitcher (73.9/50.3/62.1), and Mussina is well worthy of induction.
Stats: 17 years, .281/.364/.490, 2077 H, 517 2B, 43 3B, 316 HR, 1287 RBI
Advanced: 70.0 WAR, 43.5 WAR7, 56.8 JAWS
Awards: 1997 Rookie of the Year, 7x All Star, 8x Gold Glove, Silver Slugger
If we were basing it just off the WAR, WAR7, and JAWS, then Rolen would be an easy Hall of Famer as his marks surpass those of the average Hall of Fame third baseman (67.5/42.8/55.2). However, judging from the voting on Rolen, many aren’t. Instead, we hear many knock Rolen for not being that great, for being a complier, etc.
Looking at the criticism of Rolen, you begin to really understand why there are fewer third baseman in the Hall of Fame than at any other position.
Lost in any criticism was Rolen was a truly great defensive third baseman. That’s evidenced by his three Gold Gloves that only trail Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt at the position. He wasn’t Robinson with the glove, no one is, but he was a better hitter (122 OPS+ to 104 OPS+). He wasn’t Schmidt with the bat, no other third baseman was, but Rolen was a better fielder than Schmidt (20.6 dWAR to 17.6 dWAR). And you can certainly argue Rolen deserved more Gold Gloves with his being a better defender than players like Ken Caminiti and Mike Lowellwho won the award during Rolen’s prime.
Ultimately, Rolen did not have the bat that screams Hall of Famer, but he still had a 122 OPS+, which would rank him tied for eight amount the 16 third baseman already inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Overall, Rolen had a long and great defensive career, and he was better at the plate than how he is viewed upon by current writers. With his defense and advanced stats, Rolen merits induction into the Hall of Fame.
Stats: 20 years, 216-146; 3.46 ERA, 3116 K, 1.137 WHIP
Advanced: 79.9 WAR, 49.0 WAR7, 64.5 JAWS
Awards: 6x All Star, 1993 NLCS MVP, 2001 World Series MVP
As we all know Schilling is not doing himself any favors with his being a lightning rod in an post playing days, which includes his tweets about lynching the media. However, even with all that he does to shoot himself in the foot, it is still a matter of when and not if he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame.
When compiling the list of the greatest postseason pitchers of all-time, Schilling is on that short list with pitchers like Bob Gibson. In the postseason, Schilling was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and a 0.968 WHIP. There are many things you can take away from Schilling’s postseason career – striking out the first five Braves he faced in the 1993 NLCS, pitching three games in the 2001 World Series, the bloody sock, and breaking the Curse of the Bambino.
All of those were great, but consider that in Schilling’s postseason career, he pitched in four elimination games. His team won all four of those games with Schilling going 3-0 with a 0.34 ERA. Schilling allowed no more than two earned in any game, pitched at least seven innings in each start, had two complete games, and one five hit shutout. Basically speaking, if your life was on the, you wanted Schilling on the mound.
But Schilling was more than postseason greatness. He has the best strikeout to walk ratio of anyone ever eligible for the Hall of Fame. He is 15th all-time in strikeouts, and everyone not named Clemens, who has 3,000 strikeouts is in the Hall of Fame.
He has the advanced stats to be inducted as well with his WAR and JAWS being higher than the average Hall of Fame pitcher (73.9/50.3/62.1). His 127 ERA+ ties him with Tom Seaver and Gibson and puts him ahead of pitchers like contemporary and fellow big money pitcher John Smoltz.
Simply put, Schilling was a great pitcher well deserving of induction into the Hall of Fame regardless of whatever trouble he has created in his post playing career.
Stats: 22 years, .276/.402/.554, 451 2B, 26 3B, 612 HR, 1699 RBI
Advanced: 72.9 WAR, 41.5 WAR7, 57.2 JAWS
Awards: 5x All Star
With the Steroids Era, the fascination with 500 homers has certainly gone by the wayside. In fact, of the 27 sluggers in the 500 Home Run Club, 12 of those players played during a time tainted by the steroids era. Many will point out how McGwire, Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, and Gary Sheffield have not been inducted as proof positive of 500 homers not meaning the same thing anymore.
However, it could also be argued that doing it clean means all the more. In fact, hitting 600 clean is even more astounding. Given Thome never being implicated, he would certainly fall in that astounding category.
Really, you would be hard pressed to find a reason not to put him in. His advanced stats are those of a Hall of Fame first baseman. Even if you were to argue he played a lot of time at DH, it was really only 32% of the time. Moreover, Thome hit 407 homers when he wasn’t a DH. That alone would put him in the Top 20 among all-time first baseman. As it stands, with the extra 205 homers, he’s second best all-time among players whose primary position was first base.
Overall, Thome was the epitome of a slugger, and he should be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Stats: 17 years, .313/.400/.565, 471 2B, 62 3B, 383 HR, 1311 RBI
Advanced: 72.6 WAR, 44.6 WAR7, 58.6 JAWS
Awards: 1997 NL MVP, 5x All Star, 7x Gold Glove, 3x Silver Slugger, 3x Batting Title
One of the main reasons Walker is not in the Hall of Fame already is because there remains a double standard regarding his candidacy. Many a writer is willing to look the other way on steroids use, but will hold playing in Coors Field against Walker despite his legally playing there. It’s also despite the fact his numbers are good enough regardless of his years at Coors Field.
For example, Walker has a 141 OPS+ and a 140 wRC+. Both OPS+ and wRC+ stabilize offensive statistics for the park and league a player plays his games. For every number above 100, that player is that much better than the league. Using Walker as an example, he was 40% better than the average player during his playing time.Those numbers put him ahead of Hall of Fame right fielders like Reggie Jackson, Al Kaline, Tony Gwynn, Roberto Clemente, Dave Winfield, etc.
The Reggie Jackson parallel is an interesting one. If you were to buy into Walker being a Coors Field creation, consider he hit .282/.372/.501 away from Coors Field (h/t CBS Sports). Reggie Jackson, who was a no-doubt first ballot Hall of Famer, hit .262/.356/.490, and Reggie didn’t win any Gold Glove Awards. Walker’s non-Coors slash line would compare favorably to a number of other Hall of Fame right fielders as well.
The point being is Walker wasn’t Coors Field creation. Rather, he was a great hitter who played great no matter what ballpark he played. Ultimately, Walker was a great hitter, fielder, and he was a great base runner. He could do it all, and players that can do it all belong in the Hall of Fame.
Baseball can be cruel. For proof of that you need look no further than Johan Santana.
If two or three things reasonably happened, he’s a Hall of Famer instead of his teetering around the 5% thereby forever falling off the ballot.
The biggest issue is his shoulder injury that ended his career.
In 2012, it seemed like he was back. Through 11 starts, he was 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA, 1.029 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, and a no-hitter under his belt.
After that no-hitter, his effectiveness waned, and his shoulder issues reemerged. Although he’s tried to comeback, it hasn’t happened.
Now, he’s on the Hall of Fame ballot with the hopes that people will look at him as his generation’s Sandy Koufax.
For the uninitiated, Koufax was elected into the Hall of Fame largely because voters completely disregarded the first seven years if his career and instead focused on the five brilliant years to end his career.
During that five year stretch, Koufax’s average season was 22-7, 1.95 ERA, 0.926 WHIP, and a 9.4 K/9. He’d win three Cy Youngs with a 167 ERA+ and 2.00 FIP. To put it succinctly, he was great.
So great, that he amassed 46.6 of his 53.2 WAR. Again, the first seven years of his career weren’t great.
Like Koufax, Santana got off to a slow start to his career. This was partially due to his being a 21 year old Rule 5 pick who went straight from Single-A to the majors.
It took two years for Santana to figure things out and five before he would find his dominant form. Like Koufax, when he found it, he was probably the best pitcher in the game.
In his own five year stretch (2004 – 2008), Santana’s average season was 17-8, 2.82 ERA, 1.022 WHIP, and a 9.3 K/9. He’d win two Cy Young Awards while amassing a 157 ERA+ and a 3.21 FIP.
Santana would amass 35.4 out of his 51.4 career WAR during that stretch.
Now, Santana did accumulate more career WAR, but his period of domination did fall well short of Koufax.
It’s noteworthy that Koufax and Santana fell short of typical Hall of Fame standards.
As published on Baseball Reference, the average Hall of Fame pitcher amassed a 73.9 WAR, 50.3 WAR7, and a 62.1 JAWS. Again, Koufax and Santana fall short of this:
- Koufax 49.0/46.1/47.5
- Santana 51.4/44.8/48.1
Looking at these numbers, Koufax and Santana are close, really close. Still, there are two major distinctions between the two.
The first has already been discussed at length with Koufax’s five year peak being better than Santana’s.
The next is the postseason. In Koufax’s postseason career, he won two World Series MVP Awards. Overall, he made seven starts and one relief appearance going 4-3 with a 0.95 ERA, 0.825 WHIP, and a 9.6 K/9.
Conversely, Santana struggled in his 11 postseason appearances (five starts). Overall, he was 1-3 with a 3.97 ERA, 1.324 WHIP, and an 8.5 K/9.
No, Santana should’ve be punished for relatively poor postseasons. However, when your numbers fall short, you need something else, like great postseasons, to put you over the top.
Is that what put Koufax in? Partially.
Koufax always had narrative working for him. He didn’t start Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it conflicted with Yom Kippur. Koufax would still pitch three games in that series going 2-1 with a 0.38 ERA winning Game 7 with a complete game three hit shutout. He did that on just two days rest.
Koufax was also brilliant in 1966, winning a Cy Young in his final season. He’d go out on top with voters remembering him at his best.
Santana left us broken. In his final five starts, he was 0-5 with a 15.63 ERA. He’s spent the past few years trying to get back into baseball. Overall, we remember him broken and a shadow of what he was.
In the end, Santana was great, and if things broke right, he’d be a Hall of Famer. Sadly, it didn’t happen, and with his peak not being what Koufax’s was, it’s difficult to argue he truly belongs in the Hall of Fame.
There is a former World Series MVP who has hit more than 500 home runs in his career and has not been implicated, whether by test or suspicion, in any PED scandal. Over 20 seasons, the outfielder was a .293/.387/.521 hitter with 2,655 hits, 496 doubles, 508 homers, and 1,654 RBI.
It would seem a player of this caliber would be a first ballot Hall of Famer, and yet somehow that player has yet to receive a single Hall of Fame vote.
That player is Hideki Matsui.
Now, the aforementioned stats were a combination of the stats Matsui accumulated in his time in Japan and the United States. Admittedly, his stats in the US are not Hall of Fame caliber. In his 10 MLB seasons, Matsui was a good, but not quite great player.
Matsui would retire as a .280/.360.462 hitter with 175 homers and 760 RBI. That’s an MLB career that Matsui should be proud of, but it’s not a Hall of Fame one.
However, that wasn’t his full career. From 1993 – 2002, Matsui would become the premiere power hitter of the Japanese Leagues. He would play 10 seasons for the Yomiuri Giants until he finally reached free agency. Unlike Japanese stars like Ichiro Suzuki or Shohei Ohtani, Matsui was not posted. Rather, he would spend the bulk of his career in Japan.
There are a number of reasons for this least of which NPB rules and a gentleman’s agreement between MLB and the NPB.
As detailed in a 2012 New York Times article, once a Japanese player is drafted by an NPB club, the team has from late October until the end of March to sign a draft pick. There is nothing preventing an MLB team from interceding and signing a player, but due to an unwritten agreement between both leagues, MLB teams do not interfere. If a player goes unsigned, an MLB team can then sign that player without a posting fee. However, and this is important, those players are always signed. As a result, unless posted, a player will spend the first half and most likely the prime of their careers in Japan.
It is really a system set up to benefit both NPB and MLB teams. It allows the NPB to stay more relevant as a league, and it allows MLB teams to take on less risk when signing a player from Japan. However, when you have generational talents like Matsui, they suffer.
No one knows if Matsui would have been a Hall of Fame player if he spent his entire career in the United States. What we do know is if you combine his stats, he most definitely had a Hall of Fame career. However, that will not result in his enshrinement in Cooperstown.
This is not too dissimilar from players who have defected from Cuba. Pitchers like El Duque may have been capable of being Hall of Famers if they were able to spend their entire careers in the US. However, for reasons outside their control, they were kept from competing at the highest level, and therefore robbed of their chance of going to Cooperstown.
Now, there is a precedent for non-MLB players to get inducted into Cooperstown. As we know, the Baseball Hall of Fame has tried to right many of the wrongs of segregation by honoring and inducting Negro League legends like Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson. Players like Satchel Paige, who was not good enough for induction into the Hall of Fame on the strength of his MLB career, were inducted on the strength of their Negro League careers.
We can argue whether it is fair to compare segregation to the cruel Cuban dictatorship or the exclusionary policies of the NPB, which are aided and abetted by MLB. What we do know is like the Negro Leaguers, Cuban and Japanese players have not been given an opportunity to play in the US through no fault of their own, and as a result, they are not going to get their shot at Cooperstown. That is, unless, they are freaks like Ichiro.
When Ichiro is inducted in the Hall of Fame, he will be the first Japanese player elected. Tony Perez remains the only Cuban born player inducted.
By the looks of it, no one will be joining them anytime in the near future, and the major reason for that is their countries will not permit them to compete at the highest level, at least not during their prime. There may not be an easy solution to this, but in the end, it seems that someone like Hideki Matsui, who has had a great professional baseball career, would deserve some consideration for Cooperstown.
He hasn’t, and he won’t. That’s a problem.
I have my Hall of Fame vote scattered through a few posts detailing why I voted for those still on the ballot, who I reconsidered, and who among the the first time candidates I voted. I also explained why I would vote for players already inducted by the IBWAA. Pulling those lists together, here is my ballot:
- Tim Raines
- Jeff Bagwell
- Jeff Kent
- Mike Mussina
- Curt Schilling
- Larry Walker
- Fred McGriff
- Vladimir Guerrero
Also, here is the reason I did not vote for Ivan Rodriguez. In addition to Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek, Billy Wagner, and Trevor Hoffman ultimately fall short in my book.
In year two of Hall of Fame voting, I was more forgiving, and I found room to vote for players like Fred McGriff and Vladimir Guerrero when I would not have voted for them last year. Even with my finding more reasons to vote for different players, there were still some players who just fell short. Here is a quick synopsis on each:
Jorge Posada, C
Stats: 17 seasons, .273/.374/.474, 1,664 H, 379 2B, 10 3B, 275 HR, 1,065 RBI, 20 SB
Advanced: 42.7 WAR, 32.7 WAR7, 37.7 JAWS
Awards: 5X Silver Slugger, 5X All Star
When you are an important member of the Yankees famed Core Four that won five World Series, you are going to get a long look for the Hall of Fame even if you won only four rings with the group.
While Posada had a good career, it is hard to make a Hall of Fame case for him. With the average catcher having a 52.7 WAR, 34.2 WAR7, and a 43.4 JAWS, Posada doesn’t quite measure up. Posada was a good hitter, but was rarely a great hitter averaging just 19 homers and 74 RBI in the 14 seasons he was a regular player. Behind the plate, he was slightly below average throwing out base runners, but his pitching staff did seem to tout his ability to catch a game.
While he does get some extra credit for all the World Series titles, Posada was rarely great in the postseason. In 29 series, Posada only had two series you would consider great. While he doesn’t get penalized for largely uninspired postseason play, he also doesn’t get extra credit for it.
Ultimately, Posada was a good to very good player for most of his career. Unfortunately, he didn’t compile big counting stats, nor was he an advanced statistic darling. With that, he falls just short.
Stats: 15 seasons, .256/.341/.435, 1,307 H, 306 2B, 14 3B, 193 HR, 757 RBI, 25 SB
Advanced: 24.3 WAR, 18.7 WAR7, 21.5 JAWS
Awards: Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, 3X All Star
When you get down to it, the best case for Varitek was he was a member of that 2004 Red Sox team that broke the Curse of the Bambino. Another factor was he was widely regarded as a leader on that team. However, it is really difficult to make a case for a player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame based upon intangibles when he falls so short with the traditional and advanced statistics.
Billy Wagner, RP
Stats: 16 seasons, 47-40, 2.31 ERA, 422 SV, 0.998 WHIP, 11.9 K/9
Advanced: 28.1 WAR, 19.9 WAR7, 24.0 JAWS
Awards: 7X All Star
While there are relief pitchers and closers in the Hall of Fame, we have yet to see the person who spent their career as a modern closer enter the Hall of Fame. For the most part, the closers in the Hall of Fame were multiple inning fireman (Rich Gossage) or pitchers who split time between starting and relieving (Dennis Eckersley).
Looking up and down the list of the closers that have been inducted, it is hard to make a case that any of them were as dominant as Wagner was. He was a guy that came into the game with a high 90s fastball and struck out the side. It’s why his ERA+ is higher than any reliever in or eligible for the Hall of Fame. He amassed 422 saves which is sixth all-time and second among left-handed relievers. No matter how you analyze it, Wagner was a truly dominant and great closer.
But he’s still short of being a Hall of Famer. The average closer in the Hall of Fame right now has a 40.6 WAR, 28.2 WAR7, and a 34.4 JAWS. Wagner falls short of those numbers. Keep in mind once Mariano Rivera is inducted into the Hall of Fame, those numbers are going to go higher. Wagner is a classic case where you could overlook the numbers if there was some postseason dominance. Unfortunately, Wagner was not a good postseason pitcher with him pitching to a 10.03 ERA and a 1.971 WHIP in 14 postseason games.
If you were building a Hall of Fame for closers and other specialists, Wagner is on the first ballot. However, for the Baseball Hall of Fame, he is unfortunately just short.
Trevor Hoffman, RP
Stats: 18 seasons, 61-75, 2.87 ERA, 601 SV, 1.058 WHIP, 9.4 K/9
Advanced: 28.4 WAR, 19.6 WAR7, 24.0 JAWS
Awards: 7X All Star
Basically, Wagner and Hoffman have the same Hall of Fame resume. However, there are two stark differences. In his career, Hoffman saved over 600 games, and at one point was the all-time saves leader. Despite the save totals, Hoffman was nowhere near as good a pitcher as Wagner was. Certainly, if Wagner is not a Hall of Famer, Hoffman isn’t either.
Overall, I have decided to vote for Vladimir Guerrero, Jeff Kent, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, and Larry Walker on my IBWAA ballot. If they were up for IBWAA vote, I would have also voted for Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell while not voting for Edgar Martinez. In looking at Kent, Mussina, and Walker, I went back over their careers, and I re-assessed whether or not I should vote for them. Ultimately, I did. I did the same with players I did not vote for, and as a result, I added one to my ballot:
Fred McGriff, 1B
Stats: 19 seasons, .284/.377/.509, 2,490 H, 441 2B, 24 3B, 493 HR, 1,550 RBI, 38 SB
Advanced: 52.4 WAR, 35.8 WAR7, 44.1 JAWS
Awards: 3X Silver Slugger, 5X All Star
During Hall of Fame voting, many times you will hear about a player being a compiler. There are two ways you can define compiler: (1) someone who put up a number of counting stats over a very good but not great long career; or (2) Fred McGriff.
Arguably, McGriff was never a truly great player. In fact, from a WAR perspective, he only had three seasons that you would rate him at superstar or MVP level. If you take out the partial seasons he played in his first and last year, McGriff averaged a 3.1 WAR. Basically, this means for most of McGriff’s career, he was a very good, but not quite All Star caliber player. In that sense, his five All Star appearances seem right on the money.
Like Guerrero. McGriff’s advanced statistics were held down by his perceived poor base running and defense. Certainly, McGriff was no Keith Hernandez out there. In fact, despite his appearance on the Tom Emanski videos, McGriff was not a particularly good first baseman. Certainly, his .992 fielding percentage was nothing special as far as first baseman go. It goes a long way in explaining why McGriff had a -18.1 dWAR in his career. With that said, I am not sure how reliable that -18.1 figure is.
One of McGriff’s contemporaries at first base was the man who replaced him at first base in Toronto – John Olerud. In Olerud’s playing days, he was considered a very good first baseman who won four Gold Gloves, and in reality, probably should have won more. That notion has been reinforced by some advanced metrics. For his career, Olerud’s dWAR was -2.
When reputation and advanced metrics agree a players is a good defensive player at his position, and dWAR completely disagrees, it gives you pause as to whether the calculation is entirely correct. Assuming McGriff was only half as bad as dWAR suggested, his career WAR would increase to 61.5, which would leave him only 4.4 WAR short of what the average Hall of Famer was. In fact, you could conclude McGriff was a poor first baseman that merited a negative dWAR and still have him reach the average WAR for a first baseman.
Despite all this hand wringing, the fact remains McGriff probably falls short of being a Hall of Famer due to his defense, and yes, defense matters. With that said, there are two other factors which give McGriff the benefit of the doubt.
First, McGriff was a money player that was typically at his best when there was a lot at stake. Using the baseline of his .284/.377/.509 career slash line, here are McGriff’s stats in big situations:
- RISP: .277/.403/.479
- RISP, two outs: .241/.399/.421
- High Leverage: .290/.385/.500
Typically speaking, McGriff was at a minimum slightly better in pressure situations.
Another example of how good McGriff was in pressure situations was the 1993 season. At the time the Braves acquired McGriff, the Braves trailed the San Francisco Giants by nine games in the National League West Standings. Over the final 68 games of the season, McGriff would hit an astounding .310/.392/.612 with 19 homers and 55 RBI. Essentially, McGriff was Yoenis Cespedes before Cespedes was Cespedes. The Braves needed each and every single one of those homers as they finished one game ahead of the Giants in the standings.
Granted, that was just one season. However, McGriff’s clutch hitting was also evident in the postseason. In 50 postseason games, McGriff was a .303/.385/.532 hitter with 10 homers and 37 RBI. His clutch postseason hitting helped the Braves win their only World Series with the vaunted Greg Maddux–Tom Glavine–John Smoltz rotation. In the 1995 postseason, McGriff hit .333/.415/.649 with four homers and nine RBI.
Overall, his postseason play combined with the question marks surrounding the defensive statistics that push his WAR outside Hall of Fame averages is enough for him to get my vote even if it is my the narrowest or margins.
There is one other small factor at play. Anyone who saw McGriff towards the end of his career knew he was sticking around to try to get to 500 homers. At the time, 500 homers was a golden benchmark which led to almost automatic Hall of Fame induction. Well, McGriff didn’t get there as he fell seven home runs short. He fell seven home runs short because he began his career in a de facto platoon with Cecil Fielder. He fell seven home runs short because of the 1994 strike. He fell seven home runs short because there were pitchers juicing while he wasn’t. He fell seven home runs short because he was washed up at age 40. Ultimately, he fell seven home runs short because he just wasn’t good enough to get those seven home runs.
Do you know where he would rank on the all-time home run list with those seven extra home runs? 11th. Do you know where he currently stands on the list? 11th. Ultimately, seven home runs over the course of a 19 year career is about one-third of a home run per season. One-third of a home run per season doesn’t amount to much. If that is the case, seven home runs should not be the line of demarcation between him being a Hall of Famer and him not garnering much support.
With or without the seven home runs, you can justify voting for McGriff who had a good career for almost all of his 19 seasons. He has certainly done enough to justify being inducted into Cooperstown.
- Batting Average .347 – second
- OBP .390 – seventh
- Slugging .595 – first
- OPS .985 – first
- Doubles 47 – first
- Homers 25 – 24th
- RBI 104 – fourth
- Offensive WAR 5.7 – third
- OPS+ 157 – third
- wRC+ 156 – second
The fact that Murphy did this as a second baseman is astounding. You would have to go back all the way to 1975 – 1976 with Joe Morgan to find a second baseman that was the top hitter in the National League. When you are put in the same category as Joe Morgan, you know that Murphy had a special year.
Murphy was also a huge difference in why the Nationals won the National League East this season. Last year’s MVP, Bryce Harper, had a down year by his standards. For example, Harper from a massive 198 OPS+ to a slighly above-average 116 OPS+. When your team’s best player takes a huge step backwards, someone needs to step up, and they need to step up in a big way. Murphy absolutely did that. In fact, Murphy was to the Nationals what Harper was in 2015. Murphy led his team in batting average, OBP, slugging, OPS, OPS+, doubles, homers, and RBI.
Murphy also annihilated his former team, who also happened to be the only real challenge to the Nationals in the division. Murphy had a 19 game hitting streak against the Mets hitting .413/.444/.773 with six doubles, seven homers, and 21 RBI. He was a huge reason why the Nationals were 12-7 against a Mets team they put in their rear-view mirror. Quite possibly, without Murphy, the Nationals do not win the division. Largely because of that, Murphy is my choice for the National League MVP.
Second – Kris Bryant
While Murphy was the MVP, Bryant was probably the best player in the National League as evidenced by him being the league leader in WAR (7.7). Bryant also led the league in runs scored, and his 37 homers were good for third in the National League.
It is also notable with Kyle Schwarber suffering a season ending injury on the second game of the season, Bryant bought in and played anywhere and everywhere Joe Maddon asked him to play. Bryant was not only a good defensive third baseman, but he also proved to be a good left fielder. Overall, he was everything you want in a player.
In reality, he lost out on the MVP as he really wasn’t the most valuable. While the Nationals had a down year from Harper and another injury plagued season from Stephen Strasburg, the Cubs had a loaded lineup and a loaded rotation. It is why they ran away with the National League Central. In reality, even without Bryant, the Cubs run away with the Central. While we can argue whether or not it matters, the fact is that the voting rules (if you are following the BBWAA standard) state they do. With that Bryant finishes second. It’s an extremely close second, but second nevertheless.
Third – Corey Seager
Seager was not only the Rookie of the Year, he was an outstanding player in the National League. He played an outstanding shortstop, and he hit .308/.365/.512 with 40 doubles, 26 homers, and 72 RBI. His 6.1 WAR was the second best from any player that played in the postseason this year. Overall, Seager was a constant on a Dodgers club that faced a lot of adversity and won the National League West.
Fourth – Nolan Arenado
At some point you have to throw standings aside and just admire greatness. Arenado once against proved what a great player he is. Not only is the best defensive third baseman in baseball, he also led the National League in homers (40) and RBI (133). This man is a superstar. The only reason why he is not treated as such is his market and his team consistently failing to compete for a postseason spot.
Fifth – Anthony Rizzo
Rizzo was the second best first baseman in the National League, the second best player in his division, and he was the second best player on his team. Rizzo just had a monster year that saw him hit .292/.385/.544 with 43 doubles, 32 homers, and 108 RBI. Like Bryant, you could remove him from the team, and they still win the Central. Like Bryant, he was a big reason why this team was the most dominant team in baseball.
Sixth – Yoenis Cespedes
Cespedes proved his hot streak with the Mets last year was no fluke as he hit .280/.354/.530 with 25 doubles, 35 homers, and 108 RBI. In games he played, the Mets were 74-58. In games he didn’t play, the Mets were 13-17. His numbers and the Mets record would have been a lot better had he not been hobbled for a quad injury for a good part of the season.
Seventh – Freddie Freeman
Without Freeman having a monster year, the Braves would’ve actually challenged the 1962 Mets for the worst single season record in baseball history. Freeman hit .302/.400/.569 with 43 doubles, 34 homers, and 91 RBI. He very well could have been the best first baseman in all of baseball. By WAR, he was the second best player in the National League all season. Unfortunately, his great season gets lost in what was another poor year for the Braves.
Eighth – Joey Votto
Like Freeman, Votto had a great season lost amid what was a terrible season for his team. Votto hit .326/.434/.550 with 34 doubles, 29 homers, and 97 RBI. In the second half, his OBP was an unbelievable .490. It was a large reason why he led the league in both OBP and OPS+.
Ninth – Christian Yelich
Believe it or not, Yelich was the best outfielder in the National League in 2016 (as per WAR). This season, Yelich took the next step everyone was waiting for him to take in his path to becoming a star. In 155 games, Yelich hit .298/.376/.483 with 38 doubles, 21 homers, and 98 RBI. He did this while playing a solid left field, which for him is a disappointment.
Tenth – Asdrubal Cabrera
Cabrera dealt with a knee issue that was part of the reason why he struggled in the field and at the plate for the early part of the year. Finally, the injury got to the point where he was forced to the disabled list. Right before he came off the disabled list, the Mets were 60-61 leaving them 4.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Worse yet, the Mets were behind three teams for that spot.
From August 19th on, Cabrera was the best hitter in baseball hitting .345/.406/.635 with 11 doubles, one triple, 10 homers, and 29 RBI. Behind his hot hitting, the Mets finished the season on a 27-14 tear soaring to the top spot in the Wild Card race. If not for his hot bat, the Mets may very well have found themselves on the outside looking in come this postseason.
With Clayton Kershaw suffering a mid-season back injury and missing a somewhat significant chunk of time, the National League Cy Young race became wide open. For the most part, the season was very close with many viable choices. Here is my ballot:
1st – Johnny Cueto
Understandably, Madison Bumgarner gets all the publicity with his postseason heroics, but in reality, Cueto was the staff ace for the San Francisco Giants this year, and ultimately the one pitcher who should win the Cy Young Aaward this season.
In 2016, Cueto made 32 starts pitching 219.2 innings while throwing five complete games. Overall, Cueto was 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA, 1.093 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 198 strikeouts, a 147 ERA+, 2.95 FIP, and a 5.7 WAR.
While complete games was the only category Cueto led, his name was spread out all over the National League Top 10 pitching categories. On the season , Cueto finished second in pitcher WAR, fifth in ERA, third in wins, third in win-loss percentage (.783), ninth in WHIP, third in walks per nine (1.844), second in innings pitched, sixth in strikeouts, third in starts, second in shutouts (2), fifth in strikeout to walk ratio (4.400), second in home runs per nine (0.615), second in batters faced, sixth in ERA+, third in FIP, fifth in adjusted pitcher runs (34), fifth in adjusted pitcher wins (3.6), second in WPA (5.0).
More so than any pitcher across the National League, Cueto’s traditional and advance statistics hold up. In an era where going deep into games is a lost art, Cueto led the league in complete games. By the thinnest of margins, Cueto edges out the rest as being the best pitcher in the Naitonal League this season.
2nd – Max Scherzer
Like Cueto, Scherzer was a traditional and advanced statistic darling this season. For the season, Scherzer made 33 starts pitching 223.1 innings. Overall, he was 19-7 with a 2.82 ERA, 0.940 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 277 strikeouts, a 148 ERA+, a 3.16 FIP, and a 6.5 WAR.
Looking over these stats, Scherzer is the National League leader in WAR (for pitchers), wins, WHIP, hits per nine (6.287), inning pitched, strikeouts, games started, and strikeout/walk ratio (5.130). Scherzer was also sixth in ERA, fourth in win-loss percentage (.731), third in K/9, eighth in complete games (1), third in batters faced (877), fifth in ERA+, fourth in FIP, fourth in adjusted pitching runs (35), fourth in adjusted pitching wins (3.8), and fourth in WPA (4.4).
Looking at his numbers as a whole, Scherzer leads in most of the important traditional ones like wins, strikeouts, WHIP, starts, and innings pitched. He is also scattered across the top 10 in the advanced statistics that were created to normalize pitching across teams and ballparks. Overall, he just falls short of Cueto as Cueto was better in run prevention with him having a better ERA, FIP, and WPA.
3rd – Noah Syndergaard
It was a tale of three seasons for Syndergaard. There was the first part of the season where he debuted a 95 MPH slider to go with his 100 MPH fastball that made you wonder how anyone could ever hit him. There was a second part where he was affected by bone spurs in his elbow leaving your wondering if he could finish out the season. The final part was him returning to form.
Syndergaard made 30 starts and one relief appearance (thanks in part to Chase Utley) pitching 183.2 innings. Overall, Syndergaard was 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.149 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 218 strikeouts, 158 ERA+, 2.29 FIP, and a 5.2 WAR.
While Syndergaard did not lead in any of the more traditional statistics, he was the league leader in FIP. He was also the the league leader in HR/9 allowed (o.539). Coupling that with him ranking second in strikeout to walk ratio, Syndergaard was the pitching king of the three true outcomes this season.
In addition to the three true outcomes catergories, Syndergaard also ranks highly in WAR (sixth), ERA+ (third), adjusted pitching wins (seventh), and WPA (tenth). In the more traditional statistics, Syndergaard also rates highly. Syndergaard is third in ERA, eighth in walks per nine, fourth in strikeouts per nine, fourth in strikeouts, and second in strikeout to walk ratio.
Overall, you could justify Syndergaard being named the Cy Young for the 2016 season. However, with Cueto and Scherzer making more starts and throwing more innings, they were more valuable pitchers than Syndergaard was this season.
4th – Jon Lester
When people have addressed the Cubs rotation this season, many have focused on last year’s Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta, or Kyle Hendricks, who is the major league ERA leader. People have overlooked Lester, who has been the most valuable pitcher of the group.
In 31 starts, Lester has pitched 197.2 innings. Overall, Lester is 19-4 with a 2.28 ERA, 0.997 WHIP, 8.87 K/9, 191 strikeouts, 176 ERA+, 3.35 FIP, and a 5.6 WAR. This has been just an outstanding year for Lester, and it is quite deserving of Cy Young consideration.
Like the aforementioned starters, Lester is in the Top 10 in several pitching categories. Lester ranks third in pitcher WAR, second in ERA, first in wins, first in win-loss percentage (.826), third in WHIP, fourth in hits per nine (6.739), eighth in strikeouts per nine, sixth in innings pitched, seventh in strikeouts, fifth in complete games (2), seventh in strikeout to walk ratio (3.898), eighth in home runs per nine (0.911), second in ERA+, seventh in FIP, first in adjusted pitching runs (41), first in adjusted pitcher wins (4.4), and first in WPA (5.2).
With Lester ranking this highly in each of these categories, he could very easily have finished in the top spot in the Cy Young voting instead of fourth. The reason why he is ranked lower than Cueto and Scherzer is that while Lester has a better ERA and is a league leader in wins, he also has pitched fewer innings than those pitchers. While Lester has thrown more innings than Syndergaard, he doesn’t compare to Syndergaard when it comes to the run prevention categories. In reality, it’s splitting hairs, and the way those hairs split leads to Lester being ranked fourth on the ballot.
5th – Jose Fernandez
Honestly, this was a toss up between Fernandez and Hendricks. Both were deserving given there statistics. However, overall, Fernandez was more dominating that Hendricks was this season.
In 2016, Fernandez made 29 starts pitching 182.1 innings. Overall, he was 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.119 WHIP, 12.5 K/9, 253 strikeouts, 137 ERA+, 2.30 FIP, and a 4.2 WAR.
The main case for Fernandez is him leading the majors in strikeouts per nine and having the second best FIP in the majors. In sum, what this means is he was about as dominating a pitcher in the National League this season. He was striking out batters at a higher rate than any other pitcher, and in the hypothetical neutral setting, he was the second best pitcher at keeping runs off the board. Like the aforementioned pitchers he ranked highly in several categories ranking seventh in ERA, fifth in wins, sixth in win-loss percentage (.667), tenth in WHIP, ninth in hits per nine (7.355), second in strikeouts, fourth in strikeout to walk ratio (4.600), third in home runs per nine (0.642), eighth in ERA+, ninth in adjusted pitching runs (23), ninth in adjusted pitching wins (2.4), and sixth in WPA (3.5).
For reasons we are all too familiar, Fernandez wasn’t able to catch up to Scherzer in strikeouts, nor was he able to pitch in more innings to bolster his case. As such the strength of his case was how dominating he was viewed through the prism of the advanced statistics. Looking through that prism, he feel short of putting up the type of season Syndergaard did. As such, he finished behind Syndergaard.