Hall of Fame 2018: Voting Primer (3/9)

Hall of Fame 2018: Voting Primer (3/9)

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!

Kevin Millwood
29.4 bWAR, 46.2 fWAR
First year on the ballot

Consider this: What Millwood did in 1999 was amazing. In just his second full season, he set personal highs in innings pitched, strikeouts, and fWAR. On a team with Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine, it could be argued that Millwood was Atlanta’s best pitcher. That October, he followed up a Maddux loss with a Game 2 one-hitter to win 6-1. He put up a game score that day of 89, better than any postseason effort by the Big Three I just mentioned and Warren Spahn. A few days later, Millwood nailed down a save in the “Walt Weiss Is Superhuman” game. The 24-year-old had made a name for himself as one of the game’s truly great young pitchers.

But there’s this: Millwood would remain a very good pitcher for the next seven years, but the reason 1999 easily stands out for Millwood is that he was never that elite again. He did win an ERA title in 2005 and was fairly durable for most of his career, but was never confused for a rotation leader after the Braves traded him away during the 2002-03 winter meetings. He never pitched again in the playoffs and retired after 2012 with a 4.11 career ERA and 3.99 FIP. The only thing he ranks in the Top 100 all-time in games started.

Livan Hernandez
31.1 bWAR, 34.5 fWAR
First year on the ballot

Consider this: After escaping from Cuba, Hernandez was twice an All-Star and won the MVP of both the 1997 NLCS and ’97 World Series. Of course, Braves fans would point to the ’97 NLCS and his 16 strikeouts and argue that he didn’t actually earn all of them. Also took home the 2004 Silver Slugger. Hernandez was the definition of durable, throwing at least 199.2 innings in ten consecutive seasons, including three straight years in which he led the NL in innings.

But there’s this: Durability isn’t really a Hall of Fame trait, though. In his 17 seasons, he pitched for nine different teams – ten if you are a Nationals fan and ignore the Expos’ days. Ignoring his first cup of coffee, Hernandez had an ERA under 4.00 just six times. After his Marlins/Giants days, he was mostly an innings eater on some poor ballclubs.

Chris Carpenter
34.5 bWAR, 39.1 fWAR
First year on the ballot

Consider this: At his best, Carpenter was one of the game’s finest pitchers. In 2005-06, he finished with 11.3 fWAR with an ERA under 3. After missing two years with injuries, he finished strong with three seasons and a fWAR of 13.6. Unfortunately, injuries got to him again and his career was over after a failed comeback in 2013. He won the 2005 Cy Young award while finishing two more times in the Top 3. Carpenter led the league in ERA in 2009 and in 18 postseason games, he had a 3.00 ERA including a shutout of the Phillies in the 2011 NLDS. Was tremendous in the 2011 World Series, twice beating the Rangers – including in Game 7 on short rest when he allowed just two runs over six gritty innings.

But there’s this: Before coming to St. Louis, Carpenter was just a guy. Over six seasons in Toronto, he was decent during a time of great offense, but never excellent. Injuries shortened his best days in St. Louis, further weakening his case. Unlike most pitchers on today’s ballot, Carpenter was an elite pitcher. He was just wasn’t elite long enough.

Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Zambrano | Jason (delussionalCubsfan) (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
44.6 bWAR, 30.6 fWAR
First year on the ballot

Consider this: He often lost his composure on the mound, but Zambrano was a pitcher who had dominating stuff on any given night he was given the ball. He finished fifth in the Cy Young balloting three times, went to three All-Star Games, and was durable for a number of years. A very talented hitter for a pitcher, he won three Silver Sluggers in four years and finished with 24 career homers. Zambrano hit the 200-K mark twice in 2005-06.

But there’s this: While he had stuff that was on another planet, he rarely controlled it well enough to utilize it properly. Finished with a 4.1 BB/9 ratio, the worst of the starters on this year’s ballot. Also fails the 7-year stretch test. His best seven years (’03-’09) is tied for the tenth most fWAR during that time. It’s also a full ten fWAR behind the last name in today’s group. Zambrano was good – sometimes great – but he wasn’t an elite pitcher. His placement with this group may also be a surprise. He never seemed like one of the game’s best.

Jamie Moyer
50.4 bWAR, 48.2 fWAR
First year on the ballot

Consider this: It’s hard to not be impressed with Moyer, who threw over 4,000 innings in 25 years in the majors. While he pitched for eight teams, he’s most closely aligned with the Mariners. Between 1997 and 2003, Moyer maintained a 3.75 ERA which is actually an accomplishment considering his lack of stuff and big offensive numbers at the time. Finished his career with the 35th most wins, the 40th most strikeouts, the 16th most games started, and was the oldest player in his league six times.

But consider this: Pitching until you’re nearly 50 is an accomplishment. It’s just not a Hall of Fame accomplishment. Like Zambrano, let’s go to the seven-year test. Using his ’97-’03 numbers, Moyer doesn’t crack the top ten. Unlike every other pitcher on today’s list, Moyer does lead baseball history in one category. No one has given up more home runs than his 522. Moyer had a fun career of perseverance, but not one that deserves much consideration on this ballot.

Johan Santana
51.4 bWAR, fWAR
First year on the ballot

Consider this: At his best, Santana was one of the game’s finest pitchers. A Rule 5 selection back in 2000, Santana spent most of four years in a swingman’s role before reaching dominance in 2004 with a 6.8 fWAR season. He excelled from there, matching Roy Halladay with a 36.6 fWAR from ’04 until 2010. When it comes to a Hall of Fame-worthy seven-year stretch, Santana is right there. He won the Cy Young in both 2004 and 2006 and received votes in four other years, including two seasons as a member of the Mets. Was a four-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, and led the league three times in ERA. He picked up five 200-K seasons and threw the first no-hitter in the history of the Mets.

Of the 178 pitchers who have thrown at least 2000 innings since 1968, Santana has the 14th best ERA at 3.20. Of the 13 ahead of him, all but three are either enshrined in the Hall of Fame, eligible on this ballot, or active (Felix Hernandez). Santana had a better ERA than Randy Johnson, Bert Blyleven, John Smoltz, and Fergie Jenkins. Of that sample, only three pitchers – Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Nolan Ryan – have a better K/9.

But there’s this: Santana’s dominance came with a price. He was a full-time starter for eight seasons. He started just 284 games in his career. While he has the peak needed to open some eyes, that’s about all he has. It’s unfortunate that his arm couldn’t stand up because he would have been a Hall of Famer with just five more seasons with a 3.75 ERA. Of the 19 pitchers who have multiple Cy Young’s, only two others – Denny McLain and Bret Saberhagen – failed to make the Hall of Fame and are no longer eligible for a vote. Santana appears destined to be the third. Tim Lincecum will be the fourth, by the way.

Santana’s rise-and-fall is similar to one of the players who made the previous sample of pitchers with at least 2000 innings since 1968. Andy Messersmith was one of the best pitchers in baseball until injuries caught up to him. He seemed like a possible Hall of Famer before his 30’s. Messersmith lasted just two years on the ballot.

There is a consequence with Hall-worthy players being left on the ballot for too long. Players like Santana, who were at the top of their game, will probably receive the same one-and-done treatment as Kevin Millwood. With 32 public ballots in (just 7.8% of the vote), Santana has zero votes. That’s one fewer than Gary Sheffield and five fewer than Sammy Sosa. That’s despite an average of 9.09 votes per ballot from the early returns. I’m not saying Santana is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but doesn’t he deserve at least more of a glance than David Segui got? Doesn’t he deserve a second or third season on the ballot at least?

Previous Primers

1. Position Players With Little Chance
2. The Closers


Ahh, Millwood. Agreed that he was never truly elite after that sophomore season, but he sure was consistent, wasn’t he? Even at his worst, he would eat up innings and provide value.

And Carlos Zambrano. Perhaps his temper tantrums could be placed in the Hall of Shame? No? Is that not the discussion? My bad. Serious note, though. While Zambrano had a solid career, I think what somewhat tarnishes it is the fact that the dude had zero control over how quickly his temper escalated. He’d go from receiving a dirty look from an umpire to throwing bats, balls and the cursed billy goat onto the field. Not such a good thing when the first thing people think of when they hear your name is the tirades you’ve been on, huh? Also part of the issue is I think Z was overshadowed some by Kerry Wood and Mark Prior for a time. They were the flashier, bigger names that everyone liked to talk about.

I have a question, though. Why is there such a big gap between bWar and fWar for Millwood and Zambrano? It’s in opposite directions for each, but that’s confusing to me. I know there’s been differences in numbers in the past and these numbers are cumulative, but how does one value the other so much more significantly?

In regards to Millwood/Zambrano, the big difference between how the two sites compute WAR is run prevention. Both utilize league and park factors, but Fangraphs takes a more analytical approach with using FIP as a run prevention metric. Baseball-Reference uses a variation of ERA that has been adjusted for defense (and both sites use different metrics when it comes to defense).

For example, Millwood actually has a FIP that is slightly lower than his ERA. In 2000, Millwood had a 4.66 ERA with an ERA+ of 99. B-Ref graded that effort as a 1.7 WAR season. Fangraphs saw a 4.06 FIP in a time when the average NL pitcher had a 4.72 FIP. With 212.2 innings, that came out to a 4.0 WAR season. This holds especially true during his Rangers’ years when he had a 4.57 ERA and two seasons over 5. B-Ref gave him 8.3 bWAR in Texas while Fangraphs gives him three full wins higher.

In contrast, Zambrano often out-pitched his FIP. In fact, his career FIP is roughly a half-run higher than his 3.66 ERA. Baseball Reference saw an average four-year ERA of 3.14 between 2003-06 and sees a 22.9 WAR player. Fangraphs sees a 3.72 FIP and gives him a more conservative 17.5 WAR. Basically, nearly every season of his career, B-Ref is giving him 1-2 WAR more than Fangraphs because of the way they look at run prevention.

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