Reexamining David Cone’s Hall of Fame Case

Hall of Fame voting can be very inconsistent at times. For example, we have seen Lou Whitaker (75.1 WAR) and Willie Randolph (65.9 WAR) both get five percented from the ballot on their first appearance while we have seen Ryne Sandberg (68.0 WAR) inducted on his third ballot, and Roberto Alomar (67.1 WAR) inducted on his second ballot. Those same inconsistencies apply to other positions as well as we saw with this most recent Hall of Fame induction.

This past weekend, Roy Halladay was inducted on his first year on the ballot. In 16 Major League seasons, Halladay was 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA, 1.178 WHIP, 1.9 BB/9, and a 6.9 K/9. He would have a stretch of his career where he was as dominant as any pitcher in the game wining two Cy Young Awards and finishing in the top five seven times. From an advanced statistics perspective, he had a 64.3 WAR, 131 ERA+, and a 3.39 FIP.

Behind the numbers, there are a number of great starts and stories with him. Perhaps there is no bigger start than his first ever postseason start where he threw a no-hitter for the Phillies in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds. You could also argue for his perfect game against the Marlins. Between the moments, the numbers, and the awards, it was determined Halladay was a first ballot Hall of Famer.

When you look at David Cone‘s career, he was not far off from Halladay.

Cone would pitch 17 seasons with the 17th season being a five game stint with the 2003 Mets. In his career, he was 194-126 with a 3.46 ERA, 1.256 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, and an 8.3 K/9. While never seen as quite the dominating starter Halladay was over his career, Cone would win the 1994 American League Cy Young, and he would have five top five finishes in his career. From an advanced statistics perspective, Cone had a 62.3 WAR, 121 ERA+, and a 3.57 FIP.

Looking at Halladay and Cone, the numbers would indicate Halladay was the better pitcher. However, the separation is not as great as the Hall of Fame voting indicates. Whereas Halladay was a first ballot Hall of Famer, Cone would only receive 3.9 percent of the vote in his first and only year on the ballot. This would certainly suggest a lack of appreciation for what Cone accomplished in his career.

Cone is only one of 21 pitchers to throw a perfect game. He was as big a big game pitcher as there ever was. In the World Series, Cone has a 2-1 record with a 2.12 ERA. When his teams faced elimination, Cone made two starts. The first was a complete game gem against the Dodgers in Game 6 of the 1988 NLCS. The second was against the Mariners where he departed the game with the teams tied in the eighth. In those elimination games, he was 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA.

In his postseason career, Cone would make five starts with his team behind in the series. In those five starts, Cone was 4-0 with a 2.10 ERA. This includes his aforementioned complete game gem in the 1988 NLCS as well as his out-dueling Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in the 1996 World Series to get the Yankees back into that series and eventually win it. On that front, Cone has five World Series rings in his career. That’s one for each All Star appearance.

Considering the Hall of Fame is about honoring the best of the best, you can make the argument there is room for a pitcher like Cone who as at his best on the biggest stages. Looking at his numbers when the chips were down, there is maybe a handful of pitchers you would want over him. If Cone faced any of them, he would give them all he had.

With the understanding it’s not just postseason moments and World Series rings, going back into the numbers, Cone fares well against Hall of Famers. His 62.3 WAR ranks ahead of Hall of Famers like Juan Marichal, Early Wynn, Jim Bunning, and Whitey Ford. Looking at his peak, his 43.4 WAR7 ranks him ahead of Hall of Famers like Mordecai Brown, Don Sutton, and Jack Morris, and his 52.8 JAWS rates him ahead of Hall of Famers like Sandy Koufax, Dizzy Dean, and Bob Lemon.

His 121 ERA+ ties him with Don Drysdale, and it has him ahead of Warren Spahn, Bert Blyleven, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan and Glavine. His 2,773 strike outs is 24th best all-time, and it has him ahead of Hall of Famers like Christy Mathewson, Koufax, Halladay, and Catfish Hunter.

He has more complete games than more recent Hall of Famers like John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez. He has more shutouts than Halladay, Pedro, and Smoltz. In terms of WPA (wins probability added), Cone is 52nd all-time among pitchers. His 25.42 mark rates him ahead of Hall of Famers like Lefty Gomez, Dean, and Phil Niekro.

Looking back, it is very likely Cone’s failure to reach 200 wins hurt him. After all, the average Hall of Fame pitcher has 246 wins, and there are just 11 Hall of Fame starters with fewer than 200 wins. It should also be noted a decade later there is fundamentally different emphasis put on the importance of the win, and with that newer perspective it may be time to reevaluate David Cone’s career.

Upon further review, it may be reasonable to determine Cone still falls short. In all honesty, his career may be the ultimate borderline case. However, it is also a much stronger case than a player who had received just five percent of the vote. Certainly, his all-time rankings in the aforementioned categories, his postseason performances, and his perfect game does deserve a fresher look. Hopefully, sometime in the ensuing years we see the Veteran’s Committee (or whatever it is called now) take another look at Cone, and upon a further examination, we may see him get inducted into the Hall of Fame.


20 Replies to “Reexamining David Cone’s Hall of Fame Case”

  1. Jeff’s Weave says:

    I used to like David Cone.
    I wish the Yankee lifer well.

    I see a contract available.
    Maybe they will take Cano in a swap.
    He is 33, his dWAR is worsening and might be a bigger issue than Cano not able to bend as before yet I fantasize to do this swap.
    It would never happen, nor can anyone suggest it with a straight face.
    The six grader in me.

    1. metsdaddy says:

      You’re dreaming if you think anyone would take Cano’s deal or that the Rockies are looking to just dump Blackmon’s contract

    2. Blair M. Schirmer says:


      Interesting idea. Ryan McMahon at 2B in Colorado isn’t good, but he’s young, cheap, and improving. But let’s say the Rockies want to get rid of him and have an opening at the bag for Cano, if Cano can still play. Blackmon is owed 4/74 after this year. Cano is owed 4/81. Cano looks toasty, while Blackmon was worth 0.8 last year and 1.3 WAR this year, or close to 2.0 WAR if we pro rate him to a full 2019 season. (Fwiw an AL team should jump on him–he can still hit, a lot. It’s fielding that’s killing his value. What was Colorado “thinking” with that deal??? And they signed Daniel Murphy for at least 24m when CJ Cron was available for 5m???)

      Clearly, though, Blackmon still has some value while Cano is much more suspect. Blackmon in the NL is at best a borderline starter and almost certainly a backup in the last 4 years of his deal if he can play at all. Is he worth 30m at this point? 20m? Less? Meanwhile Cano is worth zip (if the season ended tomorrow he’d get a minor league deal, maybe 2m?) and he’s owed 7m more than Blackmon. —I think the Mets would have to send one of Nimmo or Rosario or Smith, maybe, to get the Rockies to take Cano in return for Blackmon. It would be a strange gamble for both teams. Blackmon’s a Rockies lifer and fan fave, while if the player the Mets sent to make up the difference turned (back) into anything, Wags would look even worse than he does now.

      It’s a hard deal to win and a great way to look terrible if you’re a GM, which is why I think we don’t see more of these exchanges of old veterans signed to big deals.

    3. metsdaddy says:

      You’re dreaming if you think anyone would take Cano’s deal or that the Rockies are looking for a bad contract swap you’re dreaming

      1. Blair M. Schirmer says:

        If the Rockies could they’d deal Blackmon away tomorrow for a bag of balls. Given that, now it’s just a matter of details.
        If the Mets could, they’d deal Cano away tomorrow for a bag of balls. Given that, now it’s just a matter of what else goes in to the respective bags of balls to make the scales balance.

  2. Gothamist says:

    Those Cone trades were great. Ed Hearn, Jeff Kent, who else.

    Hey, if the Mets can not find their own prospects in the Caribbean then WHY NOT trade with a team who needs a starter who does with their eyes closed.



    Deivi Garcia, Jonathan Loaisiga, Luis Gil, Albert Abreu. Estevan Florial

    The Mets and Yankees are talking this week.

    1. metsdaddy says:

      The Mets stole Cone from the Royals, and they flipped him for another borderline Hall of Famer in Kent.

      Of course, they screwed that up by trading Kent for Baerga.

      1. Blair M. Schirmer says:

        Brutal trade. Baerga was having a down year so the Mets pounced. Or, “pounced,” when in fact they were the ones in the trap. After he got to San Francisco did Kent partake of Barry’s magic Pomegranate Extract Delight? I remember Bill James liked Kent when the Mets got him, but he only really peaked once he went to SF, with his first great season coming at age 32.

        Does that ever happen any more? Can’t think of anyone who first truly excelled at that age in the era of strict testing.

        The Indians gave up a lot including Kent to get Matt Williams, who was pretty good with them for a season, but they dumped him off that offseason for Travis Fryman. Must have been some behind the scenes stuff?

  3. Blair M. Schirmer says:

    For fun I wrote this after reading your first two paragraphs–it makes sense that Halladay would be the central comparisons, given induction ceremonies.

    It’s a great choice of comparisons for what it illustrates. Halladay seems to me to be clearly in, but not by a lot due to his short career, so he helps shine a light on the guys who are clearly a little less good–maybe just less good enough not to warrant inclusion.

    The interesting thing is that Halladay’s better in pretty much every meaningful area versus his contemporaries than Cone is. He led the league in meaningful categories (stuff like wins in a season, CG, etc) around 3x as often as Coney. Halladay picked up 3x as many Cy Young Award shares as Cone. Halladay’s ERA+ at 131 was significantly better than Cone’s 121. When we’re getting near the borderline of HOFers, those are big differences, especially the last two.

    As a peak voter (ahem–if I had a vote), I notice that both pitchers packed their punch into the 13 seasons where they have more than 100 innings to give.

    Halladay’s 5 best seasons by WAR: 8.8, 8.6, 8.1, 7.3, 6.9
    Cone’s 5 best seasons by WAR: 7.2, 6.9, 6.7, 5.5, 5.1

    That’s a significant difference. Those are the seasons that drive a team towards the postseason, and Halladay’s were a win or two better. That matters.

    My personal benchmark for pitchers in the modern era is 3000 innings with an ERA+ at 125 or higher. That’s a good-length career where the pitcher was 25% better than the league average. It happens to coincide with guys we “know” belong, whereas the pitchers who don’t reach these two marks usually don’t seem to warrant inclusion. I know that’s kind of a vague, intangible benchmark, but like, say, 60 WAR as when you start to consider a player while 65 WAR means he’s very probably in the Hall, at least it gives us some standards, a starting point around which to consider.

    Both pitchers miss the 3000 inning mark, but Halladay, while a full season short at 2749.1 innings, total, more than makes up for it in quality. A 131 ERA+ is huge. Among active players only Kershaw, deGrom, Sale, Kluber, and Scherzer tie or beat it, while Cone’s 121 ERA+ has a total of 14 pitchers who match or exceeed it, including at 121 non-HOF guys like Gerrit Cole and Johnny Cueto.

    All-time, Halladay’s ERA+ of 131 puts him t39 with HOFers Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax, while Greg Maddux is at 132. Cone’s ERA+ of 121 puts him t104 with 15 guys (13 eligible), of whom only Don Drysdale and Clark Griffith are in, and it took both 600-700 more innings than Halladay to get to similar WAR totals.

    Cone was a terrific pitcher, but just out in my book by these measures. Halladay was clearly better (if not by a lot), and just in.

    == After reading: Could not agree more that Cone warranted prolonged consideration. That he was with the ‘one and done’ crowd is a flaw in the Hall’s system. And it just might be that the case you make for his postseason worth along with his WPA that puts him over. He’s certainly about as close as close gets.

    1. metsdaddy says:

      I think the one and done is a policy which needs revamping. I’d like to see players stay on the ballot for a minimum of three years.

      1. Blair M. Schirmer says:

        Solid idea. It allows a player’s advocates to make the case, and for an extended public conversation to take place if warranted.

        Familia at 3/30m was still wrongheaded, though. Since the injury his results were not back to his 2014 to 2016 peak. If anything he’d established a new, comparatively modest level of performance. He certainly was no longer in Britton’s class, or even Ottavino’s. Instead, Familia had all of one good year to even being to suggest he was recovered, and the Mets were buying his post-prime age 29 to 31 seasons, the start of his decline phase, in an era where reliever volatility is well understood.

        The idea that the big city blues is a thing has never really been proven, fwiw. There is the very rare player, let’s call him “Ed Whitson” who really does seem to struggle because NYC’s something or other bothers him (as opposed to pitching at career norms in other stadiums despite being in front of 40,000 fans all screaming at him to fail), but for the most part it’s players who have down years (when probably 1/3 of all baseball seasons appear to be down years) after coming to NYC who are then *interpreted* to have faltered because of New York because sportswriters love a narrative and because they’ll be fired if they write, “yup, as you might expect, 2 of the Yankee’s 7 FA pickups are struggling this year. That’s about what you’d expect from FA pickups. Nothing to see, in other words. In other non-news…”

        1. metsdaddy says:

          The Familia deal was fine, and given what we see year-to-year with relievers, we may very well see him return to his previous form. I’d also argue signing Familia was less of a risk than signing Ottavino or Britton.

          1. Blair M. Schirmer says:

            I like to think I’m open-minded. How were Ottavino and Britton less risky?

          2. metsdaddy says:

            Ottavino and Britton were more injury prone, and they are both older. In terms of Britton, he didn’t quite have the same stuff since his return from injury.

            Ottavino has a career year at 32 which included a poor second half.

          3. Blair M. Schirmer says:

            I’m constrained to note that wrt 2018 Ottavino pitched more than Familia. Wrt 2017 and 2018 combined, Ottavino pitched more than Familia. From 2016 through 2018 Ottavino pitched only 16 innings fewer than Familia, or an average of 5 innings per season. I’ll give you 2015 but in terms of 2019 that year almost completely disappears over the horizon of projectability.

            As for Britton, Familia beats him for IP in 2018 but not in 2017, and for 2014 through 2016 their durability is similar–the problem for Familia fans is that Britton completely outclasses him during that stretch, with an ERA+ of 299 (!) and a FIP of 2.40 versus Familia’s 171 and 2.77. As for career ERA+, the difference between Ottavino and Britton, compared with Familia, is the difference between Jacob deGrom and Johnny Cueto.

            That the salaries of the three ranged from 9m to 13m AAV meant none were really out of reach for the Mets, and given the clear dropoff from his peak results, Familia would have been my last pick of the three. Britton’s IP had slipped but he was considered healthy and he was still getting significantly better results than Familia, while Ottavino’s 2018 was actually his peak season, with an ERA of 2.40, a WHIP under 1.00, and FIP of 2.74–pitching with a home park in Colorado. That and his being 4m per year cheaper than Britton had me gambling on Ottavino. We’ll see. 2-1/3 years to go.

    2. Matthew Harris says:

      I agree Cone was a lot more worthy of the HOF than being a one-and-doner would suggest.

      Another underappreciated player who was also one-and-done despite finishing his career with 68.3 bWAR is Kenny Lofton. He didn’t have much power but he hit for average (.299 career), got on base (.372 OBP career), played excellent defense at centerfield, and was a threat to score every time he got on base.

      1. metsdaddy says:

        Kenny Lofton is a great example of an overlooked player

  4. John Brock says:

    I think it’s a huge oversight during the one and done period that a pitcher of David Cone’s repertoire has not been reconsidered for the HOF. So very little importance IMO is that he I one of a handful of pitchers both with Cy Young and a perfect game. I hope the hall’s veterans committee or whatever they are called gives him another hard look and realizes that he has as good or better career stats then quite a few pitchers that were inducted

    1. metsdaddy says:

      I like the Cy Young/perfect game note. It may not make him Hall of Fame worthy in and of itself, but it’s a good note.

Comments are closed.