Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2012: 5 Reasons Lee Smith Got Screwed

Eli GreenspanSenior Analyst IJanuary 10, 2012

Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2012: 5 Reasons Lee Smith Got Screwed

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    Another year, another Lee Smith Hall of Fame snub.

    When Lee Smith retired after 18 seasons in professional baseball, he was the all-time saves leader and one of the most feared pitchers in baseball. He was described as the best one-inning pitcher of all-time and was one of the most intimidating pitchers in his era.

    Smith would throw gas warming up from the bullpen in left-field foul territory, and when his name was called he would take a slow, deliberate path to the mound, a move that would become his trademark, like AC/DC's "Hells Bells" was to Trevor Hoffman when he would enter games. 

    There is so much more than the numbers that point to his Hall of Fame-caliber career, but it is advanced statistics that point to flaws in his numbers and water down the stats of one of the best closers in history.

    Let's take a look at a few reasons why Lee Smith got screwed.    

Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman

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    Seattle Times reporter and Hall of Fame voter Larry Stone put it best when describing why Lee Smith has not been elected yet. 

    "Smith is a victim of poor timing," Stone said in an email. "During his time on the ballot, (Mariano) Rivera and (Trevor) Hoffman have shot past him and his greatest Hall of Fame asset—his saves total—no longer looks as impressive as it once did."

    Hoffman and Rivera both passed Smith and have over 600 saves, a steep climb from the 478 Lee Smith posted when he retired in 1997.

    Phil Rogers said something similar in the same article, which is surprising because you would think any Chicago beat writer with a vote would support his cause, but here's what he said:

    He was the all-time saves leader when he came on the ballot and, to me, the all-time saves leader belonged in the Hall, but he's no longer that guy. Without the distinction, I don't think he has a strong of a case.

    At this point, it should be more about how he changed the role when he became a one-inning reliever as opposed to how the role has become even specialized towards the latter years of his career.

Compared to Goose, Fingers, and Sutter

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    Of the four relievers to be inducted recently (Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter), they rank in the top 22 behind Lee Smith in all-time saves. Sutter has 300 saves, tied with Jason Isringhausen for 22nd all time. Sutter also made fewer appearances than Smith and pitched fewer innings as well. 

    However, Eckersley and Fingers both won MVP awards and Sutter won a Cy Young, while the closest Lee Smith ever came was second in Cy Young voting in 1991. He finished second to Tom Glavine's 20-win season.

    Let's take a look at some individual, incredibly advanced statistics that sway voters who rely on them to determine who is worthy. 

Outs Per Save

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    Outs per save is the type of statistic that quantifies how difficult a save was to attain. It is actually a very good statistic to determine the value of a particular closer.

    Lee Smith ended his career with an OPS of 3.72 while Sutter, Gossage, and Fingers all finished with an OPS between 4.72 and 4.82, suggesting they had more difficulty completing saves.

    That, coupled with the fact Gossage and Fingers pitched considerably more innings than Smith, may sway voters more than you think.

    Proponents of Smith will point to Sutter's numbers being considerably worse than Smith's, still very impressive, but lagging in several categories.

    It is only after you dissect it that you can find value in Sutter's numbers that take attention away from Smith. 

Inherited Runs Allowed

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    Inherited runs allowed measures the effectiveness of a pitcher entering the game with runners on base.

    For someone with a lower number, it means perhaps their saves were not as difficult. And for pitchers like Sutter, Gossage, and Fingers that number stands out considering the workloads they had.

    Sutter owns a .67 IRA compared to Smith's .50 IRA. Both Gossage and Fingers had IRA's of .86, suggesting they had a harder time achieving saves.

    Sutter had a Hall of Fame career, there is no question there. The guy invented the split-finger fastball. And his 1979 Cy Young season was one of the most impressive runs by a reliever in memory.

    But it's surprising that he reached the Hall before Smith did, who had an equally dominant career to say the least.

    Smith also had way more multi-inning saves, starting his career closing out games sometimes in the seventh inning.

    You do not inherit runs once you have been in for an inning, so that would certainly impact his stats. 

Comments to the Media

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    Getting into the Hall of Fame is the highest honor anyone can achieve in baseball on a personal level. It is true immortality. You can understand why players want it so bad once their career is over.

    Whether they say it or not, it is probably one of the most nerve-racking processes to go through awaiting the call.

    Imagine being on the ballot for 12 years now.

    When Bruce Sutter got in the Hall of Fame, Smith sounded off to the media about his frustration awaiting his turn. Not the best idea, but you have to respect the passion and fire he still has and was known for during his career.  

    "This confuses the hell out of me,” said Smith, major league baseball's all-time saves leader...15 ahead of Trevor Hoffman. “But I've always been baffled by it."

    He knows better than anybody what's at stake each time a year passes, and the same can be said about the fact that his numbers are not appreciated for what they are.

    "I hear people say, 'Oh, but this is only your fourth year of eligibility,' ” said Smith, who at the time was 48. “I don't get that, either. My stats aren't getting any better with time. If anything, give it a few more years and there'll be four more guys with more saves than me. But I understand that in baseball you've got to wait your time."

    He was right. 

    Smith pitched eight good years for the Cubs, and has been a veteran who makes a few appearances at Cubs games throughout each season, as well as a scheduled stops at the Cubs convention, which is set to open its doors once again next weekend.

    Perhaps if he had pitched a few more years with the Cubs, he would be given serious consideration to have his number retired. If anything, it should be to honor his career and the years that made his career with the Cubs.  

    Smith is right up there with the likes of Randy Hundley, Ivan DeJesus, Dave Kingman, and the more notable Cubbies like Ryne Sandberg and Ron Santo as fan favorites who span generations.

    I ask you, Cubs fans, has there been a better closer than Lee Smith since he was on the Cubs?