When will another starting pitcher enter the Coop?
If you’ve been following all the updates in recent weeks, you weren’t surprised at all by Tuesday’s announcement that Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz all were elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. And all deservedly so. Craig Biggio, too. While Biggio doesn’t do as well in those old-fashioned Wins Above Replacement tables as you might guess, he certainly checks a bunch of the boxes that Hall of Fame voters have historically appreciated. Which made his election just a matter of time, absent any concrete reports of drug use.
It’s incredibly difficult, now and always, to elect five candidates, so it’s hardly any surprise that Mike Piazza fell short. But he fell only 28 votes short. Considering that Ken Griffey Jr.’s the only top-notch candidate joining the ballot next year, Piazza seems something like a lock the next time around.
Unit, Pedro, Smoltz, Junior, Piazza … that’s a pretty damn good haul for just two years, and it’s hard to argue that the process isn’t working, at least for all these worthies.
Still, it’s a little disheartening to see how little support Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina have received, since both were arguably better, more valuable pitchers than John Smoltz.
Which isn’t to take anything important away from Smoltz! When you combine his regular-season record with his tremendous postseason numbers – 15-4 and 4 saves, with a 2.67 ERA in 209 innings – he’s obviously well-deserving of this honor. We’ve never really come up with any sort of consensus about this, but don’t you think it’s reasonable to double-count October? At least? Well, that would give Smoltz two more outstanding seasons atop an already outstanding career. In fact, it might well push him just an inch past Schilling and Mussina.
But just an inch.
Which is hardly enough distance to justify Smoltz getting 455 votes … Schilling getting 215 … and Mussina 135.
What we might hope is that with Johnson and Martinez and Smoltz now off the ballot, the voters will actually consider Schilling and Mussina on their own merits. Because for quite a few years ahead, if you’re going to vote for starting pitchers and you’re not going to vote for Roger Clemens, you don’t have many attractive choices. As far as I’m able to see, here are the starters on the future ballots, ranked by their career W’s — since you’re simply not going to be considered by the voters without winning a lot of games — and with a) some projected wins for Tim Hudson and Bartolo Colon, and b) projected first years of eligibility for guys not already on the ballot:
269 Moyer (2018)
256 Pettitte (2019)
230 Hudson (2021)
215 Colon (2021)
203 Halladay (2019)
200 Wakefield (2017)
Now, I do realize that most voters pay approximately zero attention to Wins Above Replacement – the latest results make that abundantly clear – but just for fun, here are bWAR for those same guys (again, with projections for Hudson and Colon):
This makes Schilling look even better, but now’s probably the time to mention his 11-2 record, 2.23 ERA, and one bloody sock in postseason games. I do suspect that Schilling’s window might close in 2019, because superficially his numbers aren’t particularly better than Pettitte’s. Pettitte won 40 more games than Schilling in the regular season, and 8 more in the postseason. And even though Schilling beats Pettitte in almost every qualitative measure, the fact that neither pitcher ever won a Cy Young Award – Pettitte’s actually got exactly as many top-five finishes as Schilling – will be considered an equalizer by some voters.
What’s more, we shouldn’t discount the possibility that no starting pitcher’s going to be elected to the Hall of Fame for a long, long while. Because if not any of these guys, then whom? CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander are the only active pitchers who are remotely close to being viable candidates – actually on the ballot, I mean, since Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw are still young men – and Verlander in particular’s got a lot of work to do still.
So, we’ll see. Maybe the absence of Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez on the ballot will draw the veil away from the eyes of the voters who simply haven’t been able to recognize the greatness of slightly lesser pitchers. Or maybe not. When Bert Blyleven has to wait for 14 years, we must assume that nearly anything is possible. However nonsensical.