*It is fitting that my 49th article is about No. 49*
TIM WAKEFIELD FOR THE HALL OF FAME!!!!
God, I love shocking discussion to life.
Wait, wait, wait...before you scroll to the comments section and blast me, hear me out.
I am not saying that today, May 21, 2009, Tim Wakefield is a lock for the Hall. I am not even saying that Tim-ah, as the locals call him, is worthy.
My thoughts began to wander last Tuesday as Wakefield worked his way through eight innings of five-hit, one-run baseball. My first thought was, how does a guy 42 years old pull this off?
Then my next thought was, who had done it better?
Well, the truth is Phil Niekro holds the record for most wins after the age of 40 with 121.
Phil is a Hall of Famer on the strength of a 318-274 record and 3,342 strikeouts over the course of his 24-season career. I am not here to debate the Hall of Fame standing of Phil Niekro after all.
There are 72 pitchers in the Hall of Fame, from Don Drysdale and Nolan Ryan, to Cy Young and Hilton Smith. Nobody has more wins than Cy Young—or losses, for that matter—nobody has more strikeouts than Nolan Ryan, and nobody has a lower ERA than Ed Walsh. I am not suggesting that Tim Wakefield will pass any of them.
So as I sat in my seat at Fenway behind home plate—Section 21, Row 07, Seat 15, entered through Gate A in case anyone wanted to know—I couldn’t help thinking that Wakefield looked better than ever. Then I looked at what Wakefield has done in 2009 when I got home, and here was what I learned.
In eight starts, Timmy is 6-2 and has fashioned an ERA of 3.59. Now as is the mystery that is the knuckler, he has given up 21 earned runs in eight starts, 12 of them coming in just two outings that accounted for 9.2 of 52.2 innings this year.
Why do I bring this up?
Well, because I think you can compare Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield.
Sure, the eras were different, but are they all that different when they are dealing?
Through the 1978 season, Knucksie had won 197 and lost 171.
Wake, on the other hand, had fashioned a record of 151-134.
So Niekro going into what would seem to be the twilight of any career was 26 games over .500. From age 40 through 48 he was an additional 18 games over .500
Now I mentioned this because, Wakefield since hitting the big four-zero has gone 32-25.
Now the first thing people will notice that Phil is plus-46 in the win column and is also plus-37 in the loss column.
Under the age of 40, Phil Niekro made 86 additional appearances, and 83 of those were starts.
He had an additional 83 decisions, which is not surprising when you see that as a product of his era Niekro had 245 career complete games to Wakefield’s 62.
I would submit to you that part of the strength of Phil Niekro’s case is that he is one of only 16 players with 3,000-plus strikeouts. But when you look at Phil vs. Wakefield in a head-to-head comparison, Wake strikes out 6.1/nine for his career, Niekro only 5.6/nine innings of work.
For the record, Wakefield, who is not known for the K, would be 16th among Hall of Famers in strikeouts per nine. That stat places him in front of Don Sutton, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro, Walter Johnson, and Gaylord Perry.
Remember that stat of 72 pitchers in the Hall? Well, if Wakefield is able to duplicate Niekro’s 121 wins after the age of 40, he will have more wins than 36 of them.
Since turning 40, Wakefield has won .561 percent of his decisions, which is actually 26 points higher than his career average.
Over the 17 years so far, Wakefield has mustered an average of 13 wins per year and a percentage of .535. To put that in perspective, Niekro’s winning percentage is .537, and he averaged 14 wins per season.
Wakefield has never led the league in wins, which Niekro did on two occasions, in 1974 and 1979 (age 40). On the other hand, Timmy has only led the league in losses once, compared to Knucksie’s four times, each season from 1977 through 1980 in fact.
What about walks? Great question: 1,809 for PK and 1,095 for WK, so both turn in an average of 78 free passes per season.
Now that only puts him ahead of Rich “Goose” Gossage and Hal Newhouser in the walks per nine category, but again, throwing the knuckleball does exactly increase your stats that indicate control.
We’ve seen the signs around the ballpark: Wake for President, Wakefield for Mayor.
Consider that we are in the era of the reliever and closer, an era of fewer starts and decisions.
121 wins after the age of 40 may seem more difficult to catch than the knuckleball itself. Considering his strikeout per nine ratio, it’s not unreasonable that Wakefield could get to 2,600 to 2,800 strikeouts, or between 25th and 17th. I’d ask, is it that unreasonable?
I can hear it now; he’s a compiler.
Only in baseball is longevity a curse.
He started, he relieved, he closed, he was on the mound to give up the Aaron Boone home run—you know, when it mattered most. He also has two World Series Trophies in his pocket.
As he was putting the finishing touches on an eight-inning gem at age 42 and Fenway was starting to sway to "Sweet Caroline," I couldn’t help but wonder—Wakefield for the Hall of Fame?