Hall of Fame 2018: Voting Primer (2/9)

Hall of Fame 2018: Voting Primer (2/9)

The Hall of Fame class of 2018 will be announced on January 24, 2018. In the meantime, I’m going to spend my Sundays going over the 33 players on this year’s ballot. I’ll include what the argument for inclusion is for each player and what the argument against their inclusion might be. I’ve tried to group the players together in the most reasonable manner. In the comment section, I’d love to hear if any of the players have your vote or you’re at least considering them. Thanks!

Brad Lidge
8.2 bWAR, 11.6 fWAR
First year on the ballot

Consider this: From 2004 until 2010, Brad Lidge nailed down 221 saves with a 3.21 FIP. He went to a pair of All-Star Games, received Cy Young votes twice, and finished with a 2.18 ERA in 45.1 postseason frames, including 18 saves.

But there’s this: Never led the league in anything. The seven-year peak I referenced amounted to 10.0 fWAR, eighth among relievers at the time. He even finished sixth during that time frame in saves. Lidge was a nice reliever on some good teams, but compared to his peers, he was still a step below. Outside of his seven-year peak, Lidge had one good season of middle relief and a lot of injuries before being released after a comeback attempt with Washington in 2012 ultimately failed.

Jason Isringhausen
13.2 bWAR, 11.2 fWAR
First year on the ballot

Consider this: Once one of the game’s top pitching prospects, “Izzy” finally found major league success following a 1999 trade to the A’s. From 2000 to 2007, he picked up 272 saves with the A’s and Cardinals. Twice an All-Star, Isringhausen saved eleven games over 23 postseason outings with an ERA of 2.36. After the only blown save of his postseason career in the 2004 NLCS in Game Six, he came back the next night to set the Astros down in order to propel the Cards to the World Series.

But there’s this: Similar case to Lidge. Izzy took home just one saves title and wasn’t nearly as dominant as his peers – though only two pitchers saved more games during his peak years than Izzy. For a number of years, he was always good, never elite.

Kerry Wood
27.7 bWAR, 23.7 fWAR
First year on the ballot

Consider this: A dominant starter from 1998-2004, Wood later resurfaced as a solid reliever, saving 54 games between 2008-09. Struck out 27% of all of the batters that he faced in the majors, which is in the top ten all time for pitchers who have thrown at least a thousand innings. Only eleven other pitchers have threw a thousand innings and have a lower batting average against. Four times in his career, he eclipsed the 200-K mark, including a career-best 266 in 2003.

But there’s this: Wood’s a fun guy to talk about because it’s all about what could have been. We’re talking about a guy who posted 20.4 fWAR in his first six seasons. But then the injuries hit and the greatness that Wood had was effectively gone. He doesn’t have the starting numbers or the relieving numbers to stay on this ballot.

Billy Wagner | Topps Baseball Card
Billy Wagner
28.1 bWAR, 24.1 fWAR
Third year on the ballot

Consider this: Since 1920, ten pitchers have an ERA and a FIP under 3.00 (min. 900 innings). only two have an ERA and a FIP under 2.75. There’s Clayton Kershaw and Billy Wagner. Pretty decent duo there. Wagner was a seven-time All-Star, saved 30 or more games nine times, and struck out a third (33.2%) of all batters he faced in the major leagues. Wagner reached the century mark in strikeouts four times during his career, including his final season. Speaking of that one year with Atlanta, he remained one of the game’s most dominant pitchers, nailing down 37 saves and a 2.10 FIP at the age of 38.

But there’s this: The problem with Wagner is a somewhat out of his control (people’s perceptions of saves/closers). However, what was in his control to some degree was his postseason numbers and they aren’t good. He only blew one out of four opportunities, but a 10.03 postseason ERA is a bit glaring for voters. I grant you that a small sample size like the postseason shouldn’t be valued so highly, but this is the Hall of Fame voters we’re talking about. The other issue for Wagner is the lost years. He missed half of 2000, only saving six games. He would also be on the shelf for most of 2009. Give him his average (34 saves x 2 – 6) for that and you bump up his 422 career saves to he’s closer to 500 saves with 484. Wagner was dominant, no doubt, but voters look at things like postseason success and big milestone stats. These may be the things that keep Wagner out.

Trevor Hoffman
28.4 bWAR,
Third year on the ballot

Consider this: It would be shocking to see Hoffman miss out on induction this season. Last year, he missed the 75% threshold by 1%. A seven-time All-Star, two-time Cy Young runner-up, and the former holder of the career saves mark, Hoffman hits a lot of the marks Hall of Fame voters are looking for. He saved 601 games during his 18-year career that notably began when the Marlins selected him in the ’92 expansion draft and traded him the next summer to get Gary Sheffield during the Padres’ fire sale. Sixteen years later, he had rewrote many of the Padre record books and some of the majors’ record books as well. Known for his amazing changeup, Hoffman had a 2.87 ERA and 3.08 FIP during his career and struck out 26% of all opposing batters next to just a 7% walk rate.

But there’s this: The only thing that could hold Hoffman out if a voter doesn’t value saves that strongly. The problem with the closer position in general is that it’s still evolving. We have a good idea that 3,000 strikeouts means something. We know that 3,000 hits means something. Does 600 saves mean something? Most would say yes, but we also used to think that 300 saves meant something. Now, the club has 28 members with another, Craig Kimbrel, nine away from making it 29. If anything else could hurt Hoffman, it’s the bloated ballot. With 12 players on the ballot with a career 60 bWAR and many of them with six or more years on the ballot already, there are just too many choices to pick without getting to the closers. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see the Hall of Fame relievers club not growing from five to six this season.

Let me know in the comments if any of these five closers have your consideration or have already secured your vote. Next week, I’m going to look at six starters who probably don’t have much of an argument.

Previous Primers

1. Position Players With Little Chance

5 Comments

I love baseball. I have since I was 5 years old. I will either watch or listen to every Braves game each season, much to the dismay of my wife of 21 years. I read articles, write a few, discuss on line and in person everything I know and believe about the game. The one thing that I absolutely cannot get interested in is the Hall of Fame. I haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly what it is that turns me off about it, though. Anyone else having this feeling about it? No offense, Tommy, I love your work, I am just extremely fatigued by the notion of the HOF and the voting…

Oh, well, at least this isn’t a nine-part series or anything….

Just kidding. I get where you are coming from. I don’t share the belief, though I can say the Hall of Fame has been very frustrating of late. Thanks for reading, though. Luckily, we’ll have a lot more material this winter unrelated to the Hall of Fame.

Lol, not gonna please everyone all the time, Tommy. Keep doing you, just a random observation on my personal feelings. Some folks seem to live and die by it. I think the tipping point was John Schuerholz. As much coverage as that guy got for going into the HOF you’d have thought he personally won 3 WS on the field as a player. Guess I’m just exhausted, and I get another year of it with Chipper Jones, who I love as a player, while I shake my head at my childhood hero Dale Murphy on the outside looking in..

I have a special soft spot for relievers, especially closers, having served as my summer league team’s closer for a few years towards ending portion of my time playing baseball as conditioning requirements to start games was no longer part of my lifestyle.

I love me some Billy Wagner. Little guy compared to his peers, threw with an unorthodox motion, brought the heat knowing you couldn’t hit it and about as stoic as an on-mound pitcher could be. He embodied every stereotype I imagined a reliever could have to be effective one way or another. Then there were the results. Boy were those results amazing. Wagner was just about as dominant as any reliever could possibly be. Sure, he missed a couple of years with arm issues, but that was over a 15 years span, and who doesn’t miss time with arm issues in this era of “give it all you got” throwing? I’m sure a lot of relievers and players in general would have killed to have health records like that.

And the wicked thing is that he walked away from the game still performing at an elite level–which I feel was important to Billy. He didn’t want to deteriorate and slowly waste away like Trevor Hoffman eventually did and like how many players in generally do. But still. He left the game while he was throwing 96mph….on average. You have to believe that he had at LEAST another season or two in him as a top level closer. Maybe 3 or 4 if he really wanted it, and maybe many more years LOOGYing if he was intent on extending his career to pad strike out numbers, etc.

I’m not sure whether I would vote for Billy or not if I had HOF votes that counted, but he certainly did some special things on the baseball field when a lot of people in life probably told him he couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to. While that may not be worthy of a Hall of Fame induction, that certainly is worth something, even if it’s just a damn lot of respect.

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