Should Greg Maddux Break Tom Seaver's Hall of Fame Voting Record?

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Should Greg Maddux Break Tom Seaver's Hall of Fame Voting Record?
Getty Images/Jeff Gross

When somebody finally goes into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a unanimous selection, the sport will have a new unbreakable record to put next the nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning.

Until then, the score to beat is the 98.84 percent of the vote that Tom Seaver got in 1992. If ever there was a guy to beat it, hey, how about Greg Maddux in his first year on the ballot?

Three things: A) He actually has a shot, B) He darn well should have a chance and C) Alas, he probably won't.

First things first. Point A isn't some wild guess. It's actually true, and we know it thanks to Baseball Think Factory.

All of the votes are in at this point, and we won't know the whole story until January 8. But BBTF has scanned the 107 Hall of Fame ballots that have been made public, and all of them have Maddux listed. He's on pace to not only beat Seaver's record, but to be the first unanimous Hall of Famer.

Now, these 107 ballots hardly account for the bulk of the total number of ballots. Per Baseball-Reference.com, there were 569 ballots cast in 2013. The ones we've seen so far make up less than 20 percent of that total, and it's possible that more ballots will be cast this year.

Even still, what's out there now at least serves as confirmation of something all of us saw coming: that the voters were really going to like Maddux this year. And rightfully so. What counts the most when it comes to Cooperstown is a player's career performance, and there's no arguing that Maddux didn't have one of the great careers in pitching history.

Behold an obligatory glance at some of the crafty right-hander's career numbers and where they rank, with data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs:

Greg Maddux's Career Numbers
Split W IP ERA WHIP ERA+ K/BB FIP rWAR fWAR
Total 355 5008.1 3.16 1.14 132 3.32 3.26 104.6 113.9
All-Time Rank 8 13 47 T16 10 4 T46 6 4

Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs

Note: For rate stats like ERA and ERA+, a baseline of 3,000 innings pitched was set.

Maddux doesn't rate as one of the all-time greats across the board. But regardless of which camp a voter is coming from, all-time greatness is rarely this clear.

Old-school-minded voters can gravitate toward Maddux's 355 wins and heavy workload. New-school-minded voters will see him as a top-10 all-time pitcher based on ERA+ and both of the major WAR calculations. 

To boot, there's how Maddux compares to Tom Terrific. Stack the two pitchers up against one another, and it's clear that it wouldn't be a tragedy if he got a higher percent of the vote than Seaver did:

Greg Maddux vs. Tom Seaver
Player W IP ERA WHIP ERA+ K/BB FIP rWAR fWAR
Maddux 355 5008.1 3.16 1.14 132 3.32 3.26 104.6 113.9
Seaver 311 4783.0 2.86 1.12 127 2.62 3.04 106.3 97.4

Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs

This is actually a really good comparison, but there are reasons for both the old guard and the new guard to gravitate toward Maddux. For the old, he won a lot more games and pitched a lot more innings than Seaver. For the new, Seaver's advantage in rWAR is balanced out by Maddux's advantage in ERA+ and fWAR.

Maddux also won four Cy Youngs to Seaver's three. He led the league in ERA four times to Seaver's three and in ERA+ five times to Seaver's three. Both only won one World Series, but Maddux pitched to a 2.09 ERA in three World Series. Seaver pitched to a 2.70 ERA in two World Series.

So all-time great pitcher? Check.

Arguably better than the pitcher with the all-time highest Hall of Fame voting percentage? Check.

In these two reasons alone, voters have enough incentive to make Maddux the new Hall of Fame vote king.

But we haven't even gotten to the other big thing he has working for him: He's the ultimate anti-Steroid Era Cooperstown candidate.

Think back to the year 1993. That was the year that scoring suddenly skyrocketed across MLB, and starting pitchers were not spared. Per FanGraphs, the average ERA for starters ballooned from 3.85 in 1992 to 4.26 in '93 and stayed safely above 4.00 for many years.

Maddux, however, was not affected. He was already established as an elite pitcher by the time '93 rolled around, and he maintained that status through the next decade.

To illustrate the point, here's this:

Data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

Maddux's ERA+ in this span was 171. For some perspective, Seaver's ERA+ during his best 10-year stretch from 1968 to 1977 was 144.

For further perspective, here's where Maddux checked in among his peers in that 1993-2002 window:

Greg Maddux's Ranks, 1993-2002
Split W IP ERA WHIP ERA+ K/BB FIP rWAR fWAR
Total 178 2308.1 2.51 1.04 171 4.87 2.87 64.7 68.1
MLB Rank 1 1 1 2 2 1 3 2 2

Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs

Note: Here, the baseline for the rate stats was set at 1,000 innings pitched. 

Maddux's only real peers in this span were Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson. And while they were obviously exceptional, neither worked as many innings as Maddux did.

Also, neither carved through the Steroid Era quite like Maddux did.

I'll clarify in BIG BOLD LETTERS that I'm not implicating Martinez or the Big Unit of wrongdoing, but they did fight fire with fire during the Steroid Era. Both spent the bulk of the era blowing hitters away. In the face of unprecedented power hitting, their power pitching often won the day.

That wasn't the case with Maddux. He sat in the high-80s on a good day, favoring ground balls over strikeouts and getting plenty of them thanks to location, movement and an uncanny ability to always be one step ahead of the opposition. 

At a time when the league was characterized by brawn, Maddux used his brain to get by. It's that and the numbers that make him the ultimate anti-Steroid Era Hall of Fame candidate.

That takes care of one half of the Hall of Fame voting guidelines, and there's not much to be said about the other half: the "integrity, sportsmanship, character" part that essentially asks if a player was a decent guy.

We can make this simple. ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski wrote a column after Maddux retired in 2008 that chided the hurler for never being greedy, brash, intimidating, quotable, controversial, narcissistic or flashy enough.

That seems to sum him up quite well. All Maddux ever did was pitch.

So then, let's recap. What we've established is that Maddux is a clear all-time great, arguably better than the man with the all-time highest voting percentage, a man who conquered an era of strength using smarts and a decent guy on the side.

Do you think Greg Maddux deserves to break Tom Seaver's HoF vote record?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Sounds like a guy with a reasonable shot at being the first unanimous selection or, at the least, one with a chance at topping Seaver's record. There are no rational reasons to deny Maddux either honor.

But there's the bad news: The Hall of Fame voting doesn't necessarily run according to rational reasoning. It's influenced just as much by...well, other forces.

Take, for example, why Seaver didn't get 100 percent of the vote in 1992. According to The New York Times:

Three [voters] mailed in a blank ballot, protesting the Hall of Fame's edict that anybody on baseball's ineligible list, meaning Pete Rose, is ineligible for consideration. One of the five doesn't vote for first-year eligibles. One confessed to overlooking Seaver shortly after open-heart surgery.

We'll give the guy who overlooked Seaver a pass. He had a pretty good excuse. As for the other four, however, all you can say is this: typical.

According to MLB.com, five voters turned in blank ballots last year. One of them, Mark Faller of the Arizona Republic, wrote that he was too angry to vote for anyone. Another, Howard Bryant of ESPN.com, cited an "inability to reach a comfortable verdict on a colossal mess."

So yeah, blank ballots happen. And when they happen, they happen for silly reasons. When it happens again this year, it won't make any sense. 

Then there are those who just don't vote for first-time players out of some sort of twisted principle. There was only one of those guys in 1992. There are probably more now. Call it a hunch.

Then there are those who might take the Game Theory route, a possibility that SI.com's Jay Jaffe raised in a recent Hall of Fame column. Some voters may figure Maddux is getting in regardless and choose to leave him off their ballots so they can slip a less obvious Cooperstown candidate a vote.

We could go on and on about the various reasons voters have for not voting for deserving Hall of Famers, but we don't need to. It's a depressing topic to get into, for one. For two, the point has been made: There are voters who are just as likely to not vote for Maddux as they are to vote for him.

By all rights, Maddux should be the guy to break Seaver's voting record. He has the goods of a guy who deserves to do so.

But he won't. When it comes to the Hall of Fame voting, what should happen and what does happen are never the same.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked. 

 

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