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!
83.0 bWAR, 82.2 fWAR
5th Year on the Ballot
Consider this: Mussina ranks 24th in bWAR for pitchers. All-time. Of the 23 ahead of him, only Roger Clemens isn’t in the Hall of Fame right now. Mussina’s bWAR is better than Bob Gibson, Tom Glavine, Don Sutton, John Smoltz, and Bob Feller. He ranks 17th all-time in fWAR. Again, Clemens is the sole non-Hall-of-Famer ahead of him. While Gibson moves slightly ahead of him on this list, the other four names are joined by the likes of Kid Nichols and Warren Spahn.If you shrink the sample and look at only 1980 to present, Mussina has a legitimate case as one of the five best pitchers of an era. Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro have had their day in Cooperstown. Clemens would have also, but – ya know – stuff happened. Mussina was a better pitcher than Glavine and I’d rank him ahead of Smoltz if only because of durability. Mussina has a better case for enshrinement than Roy Halladay, whose name will show up on the ballot soon.
But Mussina heads into the final few days before the class is announced wondering if the fifth time’s a charm. Of the nearly 200 publicly released ballots, Mussina was on roughly 73% of them. That provides a lot of hope for a big day when the class is revealed this week. However, Mussina received 59% of the vote on public ballots prior to the voting results being released last year. He lost 8 points after the results were factored in. There is a good chance that Mussina’s support will shrink to some degree when we learn the results this week.
Mussina’s case is definitely a weird one. He did take home seven Gold Gloves and in addition to pitching WAR, he ranks in the Top 40 in wins, games started, K/BB rate, and is tenth all-time in Win Probability Added. The nine pitchers in front of him all had Hall of Fame careers regardless of what the voters may say (Clemens, Maddux, Spahn, Mariano Rivera, Tom Seaver, Lefty Grove, Martinez, Johnson, Jim Palmer). If you want to push a narrative of stepping up when the moment called for it, Mussina is your guy.
And despite a losing record of 7-8 in the playoffs, Mussina finished with a lower ERA and higher strikeout rate in the postseason than in the regular season. The dude was #clutch – if you believe in that sort of thing.
If you consider the JAWS test, Mussina is pretty close. He doesn’t have the peak-numbers – 50.3 bWAR avg HOF pitcher, 44.5 bWAR for Mussina. That said, Mussina’s case is built largely on his longevity as a performer. He rarely missed starts and put up solid season after solid season. What he lacked were those big years. That said, his bWAR of 83 is 9.1 bWAR better than the average HOF pitcher and his 63.8 JAWS score is above the average 62.1 for pitchers.
But there’s this: For four years, Mike Mussina has been the poster child between the traditionalists who didn’t appreciate him enough to vote him ahead of other pitchers for Cy Young awards and the modern schools of thought that look at his outstanding career and believe it’s Hall of Fame-worthy – even if he never won that elusive Cy Young.
Mussina ranks 66th all-time with a 0.92 Cy Young Award Shares. This is a cumulative number that attempts to bring together all of the votes a pitcher receives. He’s certainly not the top non-Cy Young award winner in shares for what it’s worth. At 0.92, he significantly trails the guy he shares this primer with by nearly one full point. In fact, he’s 13th overall in Cy Young Award Shares among non-winners.
Mussina never got close to winning a Cy Young and for many voters, that matters. Mussina didn’t dominate hitters like Pedro and the Big Unit. He wasn’t quite as pinpoint with his control like Maddux. His ERA didn’t sparkle in the rough-and-tumble AL East. However, for his time, he was one of the best pitchers in the league – even if he lacked the hardware to back that statement up.
Curt Schilling Consider this: For many statistics that compare pitchers regardless of era, Curt Schilling was right there with Mussina. In JAWS, Schilling ranks 27th all-time while Mussina ranks 28th. In bWAR, Mussina is 23rd, Schilling is 26th. Their cases are remarkably similar, though Schilling was more capable of big strikeout numbers. He won back-to-back strikeout titles in 1997 and 1998 and is one of the 16 pitchers in history to reach 3,000 strikeouts. Clemens is the only other pitcher not in the Hall of Fame of that list.
79.9 bWAR, 79.8 fWAR
6th Year on the Ballot
Between 1996 and 2004, his worst season was an injury-shortened 3.3 fWAR in ’99. During that run, he had three 8-win seasons, including a 9.3 fWAR in 2002. Since 1980, there have been just eleven seasons of 9 fWAR or better. Clemens and Pedro each did it twice and Randy Johnson did it five times. Kevin Brown, like Schilling, did it once.
Schilling was a six-time All-Star and twice won a title for most wins. A workhorse, he led the NL four times in complete games. Underappreciated for his control, Schilling led the league five times in strikeout-to-walk ratio and has the fifth-best rate in history.
Of course, you can’t talk about Schilling without bringing up his playoff success. He won both the NLCS MVP and World Series MVP during his career. In 19 starts in the postseason, he completed four of them with two shutouts. I’m not crazy about win-loss record, but 11-2 in the postseason ain’t too shabby. Neither is his 2.23 ERA or 4.8 K/BB rate or 120 K’s in 133.1 innings. He was even better in the World Series, by the way. Plus, ya know, Bloody Sock.
But there’s this: Before we tackle the other stuff, Schilling’s case is similar to Mussina’s. As good as Schilling was, he was never “the guy.” He took home a trio of Cy Young Runner-Ups during his career but lost twice to his teammate, Randy Johnson, and once to Johan Santana. Certainly, it’s a bit arbitrary to say “but he wasn’t a Cy Young winner” when you lose out to a Hall of Famer and another potential Hall of Famer had Santana stayed healthy, but some voters won’t bother with the details.
Schilling’s counting numbers, outside of strikeouts, won’t stand out too much. Part of that is due to losing four years of his 20-year career to cups of coffee and relief work before finally establishing himself in 1992 with the Phils. It shouldn’t matter, but 216 wins is considered low for a Hall of Famer. That said, it’s only three fewer than Pedro and three more than Smoltz. But voters could say “Kenny Rogers won 219 games. Tim Hudson won 222 games. They’re not Hall of Famers!”
But who are we kidding? At the end of the day, Schilling could have had a Cy Young Award and 30 more victories and we would still be talking about Schilling the person. Whether you like his views or not, he’s certainly shared some controversial ones over the years – especially since retiring. Once fired by ESPN, Schilling has not shied away from providing his opinion on things like climate change and Hillary Clinton. Jerry Crasnick wrote a year ago about Schilling, wondering if it was “possible to tweet your way out of Cooperstown?” As Hall of Famer voters that winter were preparing their ballots, Schilling showed support for a shirt with the words, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”
Schilling said he was kidding and mocking the “fake news crowd.” However, in a highly volatile time, journalists will take the idea of lynching them quite seriously. That may have helped to explain how Schilling, for the second time since becoming eligible for the Hall, lost votes, going from 52% to 45%. He lost at least 35 votes from members that voted for him the previous year. He’s gained many of those back this year with 17 gained votes and a +14 net gain. With 129 votes this year, he has one more vote than either Barry Bonds or Clemens. However, it’s still 10% short of the 75% threshold. Also concerning – the ballots that are never released and remain private rarely help someone’s candidacy. Last year, only three players (Trevor Hoffman, Fred McGriff, and Lee Smith) received a boost after the private ballots were included.
It can be reasonably argued that Schilling has a better case for the Hall than Mike Mussina. Schilling was more dominating, reached 3,000 strikeouts, and was an even bigger postseason pitcher. Neither pitcher will likely make it in this year, but I think Mussina gets there in 2019. Schilling might be a guy who has to wait to Year 10.
So, that’s it. Over nine parts, I looked at the Hall of Fame ballot from Livan Hernandez to Scott Rolen to Vladimir Guerrero. In three days, the actual class of 2018 will be announced. Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Chipper Jones will all go in while Edgar Martinez, Hoffman, and Mussina each have a chance. For what it’s worth, here is my ballot:
Chipper Jones and Jim Thome: When you struggle to argue against them, that’s a sign.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens: This has gone on long enough.
Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker: Two of the greatest hitters of the last 40 years.
Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones: First timers who deserve a lot more love for their combination of power and defense.
Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling: Mussina’s an easy “yes.” Schilling…he’s an absolute jerk and his opinions are worthless. But there are a bunch of guys in the Hall who were the same way.
What’s your ballot look like? Let’s see who gets 75% of the vote for at least the Walk-Off Walk Hall of Fame. Thanks for reading and if you need any refreshers, here are the previous eight parts.