The Worst Pitchers in the HOF: Searching for History's Bottom Line
What qualifies a pitcher for the Hall of Fame?
Today, we have set the bar quite high, demanding 300 wins, and ignoring a pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts and 60 shutouts year after year on the HOF ballot.
Do they have to win the World Series in the largest media markets? History shows it doesn’t hurt!
Is there some standard that history has set that marks a pitcher for the HOF?
The aim of this study is to examine honestly where history has set the cut off for Hall of Fame consideration.
The criteria to look at fall under three categories: dominance, endurance, and excellence.
The pitching statistics to examine are wins, ERA, ERA+, shutouts, IP, hits allowed/nine innings, strikeouts, strikeout/bases on balls ratio, and WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched).
A good look at these indicators will demonstrate a pitcher’s effectiveness. There are historic standards of excellence in each of the indicating categories.
We will also take a look at how a pitcher’s career fits with the flow of baseball history.
A Look at Our Candidates
There are 67 lines filled with names when the register of pitchers in the Hall of Fame is summoned.
We are looking for pitchers who are members of the HOF primarily for their pitching who have the weakest records.
First, there are some names on the list that need to be excluded from our search. Their names are here more because of other primary contributions to the game than strictly their pitching careers.
The first name we can give a pass to is Babe Ruth. Although a very good pitcher, he is not in the HOF because of his pitching.
The next pass is for Satchell Paige. Although he finally made it to the major leagues late in his career, he had already pitched an entire career in the Negro leagues. Some say he may have been one of the greatest pitchers ever. His major league stats do not need to be examined.
There are three names who are associated with pioneering the game, and the art of pitching—Albert Spalding, Candy Cummings, and John Ward.
Standards for pitching were constantly changing in the early years, as well as the level of competition. Pitchers threw from 45 feet, under-handed, or side-arm. Before the National League was established in around 1876, there were no set standards of how many games were played.
Spalding had a very high win percentage, but little else points to his pitching as a reason for HOF induction. (He struck out a whopping 142 batters throughout his career.) He went on to team ownership and to establish the company that made the baseball.
Some of his actions could be seen as more notorious to the game than anything else. (He was instrumental in undermining the Players' League. He also dismantled a double-championship team because he disapproved of many of the players' off-the-field habits of going out and socializing together.)
Cummings is often credited with developing the curveball. However, there are accounts of demonstrations showing how a ball could be thrown to curve before Cumming’s career began at the major league level. His 145 wins over six years don’t really qualify him for the HOF.
John Ward was instrumental in developing the first players unions. He pioneered the Players' League in 1890, which included over 50 percent of the players in the National League the year before. As well as pitching for a few seasons (164 wins), he played SS for the NY Giants for several years (2,104 hits). He is in the HOF for his combined contributions to the game.
So these three pitchers are in the HOF primarily for their role as pioneers of the game. With varying degrees of legitimacy, they get passes.
Hall of Fame voters are still getting a reading on what standards are to be set for the inclusion of relief pitchers. For the time being Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, and Rich Gossage will get passes for the sake of this study.
That leaves 57 pitchers on the list.
There is one more pass to be given. Clark Griffith finds his way on the HOF pitchers list. While he had a fine pitching career with 237 victories, he pitched during a time of great turmoil in the game when the pitching talent pool was very low. He posted a WHIP over 1.300, a K/BB ratio of 1.23 and allowed 9.8 H/9 innings.
These stats would have placed him on the worst list, but his other contributions to the game far outweigh his pitching career. He became manager of the Washington Senators and turned the team around. He later established a long venerated career as owner. Mr. Griffith gets a pass from appearing on the list.
There are some passes the HOF voters have issued. These are to pitchers who had extreme impact on the game over a short time. Their career stats don’t really meet the endurance requirements for HOF induction, but they were given a pass because of how influential they were over a shorter period.
I find four pitchers in this category: Addie Joss, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Gomez, and Sandy Koufax. Because they are already in an accepted category, and approved by HOF voters for that reason, they will get a pass from this list for now, with the right to revisit their status during evaluation.
Obviously, some pitchers just missed the list and deserve an “honorable mention”. Some pitchers will never be mistaken for Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, or Nolan Ryan. So congratulations to Red Faber, Stan Coveleski, Pud Galvin, Hal Newhowser, Red Ruffing, Jim Bunning, and more who escaped the list and are in the HOF.
I will encourage the reader to investigate the merits of their careers more fully when we evaluate a legitimate cut off after we meet the pitchers who made the list.
There are 52 pitchers left to consider. Now we can look at:
The 10 Worst Pitchers in the Hall of Fame
10) Catfish Hunter—(1965-1979)—(224-166; 3.26 ERA; ERA+ 104; 42 SHO; 3449 IP/ 2958 H/ 7.7 H/9; 2.11 ratio; WHIP 1.134) Hunter is here because of his relatively low win total of 224 and the second lowest ERA+ of 104—only 4 percent better than league average for his career. (We’ll take another look at Hunter when we do the evaluation.)
9) Amos Rusie—(1889-1901)—(245-174; 3.07 ERA; ERA+ 129; 30 shutouts; 3769 IP/ 33894 H/ 8.1 H/9; 1934 K/ 1704 BB; 1.14 ratio; WHIP 1.350) Rusie makes his way onto the list for his 1,704 BB, yielding a poor K/BB ratio of 1.14 and a burgeoning WHIP of 1.350. Thirty shutouts is also a low total for the HOF.
On top of this Rusie was almost single-handedly responsible for the early termination of many pitchers' careers because of his beaning incident with Hugh Jennings in 1892. The incident spurred the rule change to move the distance from rubber to plate to 60 feet 6 inches.
What was left was a depleted pool of pitching, leading to high variance between reasonable pitching ERAs and the league average. This made Rusie’s ERA+ of 129 a bloated figure, as well as the ERA+ of every other decent pitcher of the 1890s.
Rusie then self-imploded, sitting out a year for wrangling with his owner over a salary issue because of pride and stubbornness. During the public exchanges with the owner, he thumbed his nose at his employer. His skills eroded during his protest.
8) Jack Chesbro—(1889-1909)—(198-132; 2.68 ERA; ERA+ 110; 35 SHO; 2896 IP/ 2642 H/ 8.2 H/9; 1265 K/ 690 BB/ 1.83 ratio; 1.150 WHIP) Although a very good pitcher in his time, nothing screams HOF about this pitching line, except that he is the last pitcher to win 41 games and he did it in NY. His IP total under 3,000 is suspect, and he is probably not among the top ten pitchers of his era, 1901–1921.
7) Burleigh Grimes—(1916-1934)—(270-212; 3.53 ERA; ERA+ 107; 35 SHO; 4180 IP/ 4412 H/ 9.5 H/9; 1512 K/ 1295 BB/ 1.17 ratio; 1.365 WHIP) “Ol’ Stubblebeard” pitched through the change over to the live ball era. He was one of 19 pitchers allowed to continue to throw the spitball after it was outlawed.
Known for his stubble beard and surly nature, he must have made a colorful foil for Dazzy Vance, also on the Brooklyn "Bums."
It makes for quite a story—"surly Grimes, the last of the spitball pitchers slugged out a career of 270 wins." But a career ERA+ of 107, a WHIP of 1.365, a K/BB ratio of 1.17, and a H/9 mark of 9.5 put him squarely on this list!
6) Bob Lemon—(1946-1958)—(207-128; 3.23 ERA; ERA+ 119; 31 SHO; 2850 IP/ 2559 BB/ 8.1 H/9; 1277 K/ 1251 BB/ 1.02 ratio; 1.337 WHIP) Lemon was a sinkerball pitcher for the Cleveland Indians during the Golden Years of the late '40s and '50s. He was very successful, winning 20 games seven times.
He was part of a successful staff which led Cleveland to a record breaking year in '54.
The next best part of his record is the H/9 at 8.1 and the ERA+ at 119. These marks are good, but not great for a shorter career—under 3,000 innings.
What gets Bob Lemon on this list is his low shutout total (31), his high WHIP (1.337), and the second lowest K/BB ratio I know of in the HOF (1.02).
Considering that winning games is what Lemon did best, his total of 207 is barely HOF eligible.
Lemon’s career continued as a manager and executive. Perhaps those roles add some weight to his HOF credentials. His pitching credentials seem very borderline.
5) Ted Lyons—(1923-1942, ’46)—(260-230; 3.67 ERA; ERA+ 118; 27 SHO; 4161 IP/ 4489 H/ 9.7 H/9; 1073 K/ 1121 BB/ 0.96 ratio; 1.348 WHIP) Lyons pitched his entire career with the Chicago White Sox. He became legendary with the White Sox faithful, pitching only once a week later in his career, always on Sunday. He enjoyed quite a bit of relative success late in his career.
Lyons was one of the veteran survivors of the live ball era, coming out the back end smelling almost as good as he went in. Perhaps for that he deserves HOF recognition.
His best features are his longevity and a relatively fine ERA+ of 118. However, ERA+ totals, especially in the AL during the live ball era can be slightly exaggerated.
What isn’t pretty is the lowest K/BB ratio in the HOF—0.96. He is the only pitcher to walk more batters than he struck out.
A low shutout total (27), a high WHIP (1.348), and a very high H/9 average of 9.7 leave Mr. Lyons very fortunate for the support of the fans and sportswriters of his day, being voted into the HOF in ’55.
4) Waite Hoyt—(1918-1938)—(237-182; 3.59 ERA; ERA+ 111; 26 shutouts; 3762 IP/ 4037 H/ 9.7 H/9; 1206 K/ 1003 BB; 1.20 ratio; 1.340 WHIP) Hoyt gained fame as the ace of the Yankees championship teams of the '20s. He bounced around with other teams beginning in ’30, enjoying one moderately good season with the Pirates in ’34.
Hoyt has one of the lowest shutout totals among HOF pitchers—26. The rest of his resume is lackluster, giving up 9.7 H/9, with a high WHIP, an unimpressive ERA+ of 111, and a K/BB ratio of 1.20. Nothing about this resume says HOF.
Hoyt became a famed broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds. His work gave him a beloved status nationally among fans. Perhaps a combination of careers was enough to put him over the line. His pitching career is not enough.
3) Herb Pennock – (1912-1934) – (240-162; 3.60 ERA; ERA+ 106; 35 SHO; 3571 IP/ 3900 H/ 9.8 H/9; 1227 K/ 916 BB/ 1.34 ratio; 1.348 WHIP) Pennock teamed up with Hoyt to front the Yankees teams of the '20s. He continued on with the team after Hoyt left and pitched for the Yankees through ’34.
Pennock posted a 5-0 record in World Series appearances.
Nothing else points to Pennock as an HOF pitcher, 240 wins is not as compelling as 300, or even Grimes’ 270. His ERA+ of 106 is one of the lowest in the HOF. Thirty-five shutouts are run of the mill and 9.8 H/9 is the highest mark I have found among HOF pitchers!
Did his role with the Yankees improve his HOF chances? It appears so.
2) Rube Marquard—(1908-1925)—(201-177; 3.08 ERA; ERA+ 103; 30 SHO; 3306 IP/ 3233 H/ 8.8 H/9; 1593 K/ 858 BB/ 1.86 ratio; 1.237 WHIP) Rube Marquard was a lefty, and leading pitcher for John McGraw’s championship teams of 1911-'13.
Altogether he pitched in five World Series, including two for Brooklyn in ’16 and ’20.
Marquard’s ERA+ of 103 is the lowest in the HOF. That and his low win total earn him this place on the list.
His K/BB ratio and H/9 are better than some others on the list, but there really is nothing that compelling that demonstrates HOF worthiness.
1) Jesse Haines—(1918, 1920-1937)—(210-158; 3.64 ERA; ERA+ 108; 24 SHO; 3208 IP/ 3460 H/ 9.7 H/9; 981 K/ 871 BB/ 1.13 ratio; 1.350 WHIP) After a short look with the Reds in ’18, Haines pitched the remainder of his career for the St. Louis Cardinals.
He was one of the better pitchers of the '20s, winning 20 games three times. His output tailed off around 1930.
He appeared in the World Series four times with the Cardinals—’26, ’28, ’30, ’34.
His total of 24 shutouts is one of the lowest among HOF pitchers. His H/9 of 9.7 is high, his ERA+ of 108 is low, his WHIP of 1.350 is high and his K/BB ratio of 1.13 is very low.
The rest of his resume is one of a pitcher who survived the live ball era on a good team. But nothing speaks of HOF quality, endurance or dominance.
The purpose here is not to poke fun at or ridicule any of these pitchers. They were all at least good pitchers in their day and time. This is just an honest look at the HOF as it already stands.
This seems to me to be homework 101 for any HOF voter—to find out where history has set the bar in order to determine how to vote on current candidates.
Has the voting committee made mistakes? Probably. I think you could make the argument that a few of these pitchers on the list might not belong in the HOF.
Why did this happen? The voters at that time didn’t have the perspective we do today. They were going through history as it happened. I think that many of the live ball era careers looked better to the voters then than they do to us today.
There is also the “fame” quotient. The effect of pitching in large markets and winning World Series was of greater impact to the voters then than it is looking back coolly at the stats today. Marquard, Pennock, and Hoyt were definitely helped by this, as was Hunter, generations later.
This fame factor also played a big role in the induction of Dizzy Dean and Lefty Gomez. Sandy Koufax and Addie Joss have legitimate claims to the HOF. However, there may be more questions about the cases for Dean and Gomez.
I’ll list their pitching lines, and let the reader decide concerning their claim to the HOF:
Dizzy Dean—(1930, 1932-1941, ’47)—(150-83; 3.02 ERA; ERA+ 130; 26 SHO, 1967 IP/ 1919 H/ 8.8 H/9 ; 1163 K/ 453 BB/ 2.57 ratio; 1.206 WHIP)
Less than 2,000 innings is a very low total, even for this category. While the work he did was of good quality for the period, it doesn’t stand out across baseball history as exceptional.
Lefty Gomez—(1930-1943)—(189-102; 3.34 ERA; ERA+ 125; 28 shutouts; 2503 IP/ 2290 H/ 8.2 H/9; 1468 K/ 1095 BB/ 1.34 ratio; 1.352 WHIP)
Gomez’ World Series record of 6-0 gave him and the Yankees kind of an invincible aura. His career K/BB ratio of 1.34 and his WHIP of 1.352 were not exceptional in his or any era.
For a shorter career to be considered for the HOF, there really can’t be any holes in the resume.
In retrospect, we can see that pitching was going through one of its weakest eras from 1921-1942. They didn’t have the perspective to know that there were some incredible careers on the horizon.
There may really have been only four HOF pitching careers in the live ball era—Grove, Hubbell, Vance, and Ruffing. It certainly is debatable. That would leave Hoyt, Pennock, Grimes, Coveleski, Faber, Rixey, Gomez, Dean, Haines, and Lyons on the outside looking in.
Rixey may get a pass for his role as one of the first great left-handed pitchers.
But while they were busy voting in some of these pitchers, they were overlooking pitchers like Mordecai Brown, who got left for the veterans committee, and that only after his death in 1948 sparked his induction!
Where do we want to set the bar? The answer to this is what we are looking for.
I suggest we study pitchers already in the HOF that we feel are legitimate candidates, discover what makes them so, and develop a plan for judging pitchers of today.
The Real Entry Level HOF Pitchers
It is now that I would like to go back and take another look at Catfish Hunter.
I have flipped on my opinion of his HOF credentials while doing this study. Yes, his ERA+ 104 is extremely low, but he makes up for it in every other category.
His 224 wins are not convincing, but are within allowable parameters for inclusion. The rest of his resume suggests excellence, even at the HOF level—his 42 shutouts are HOF worthy, if not a slam-dunk total.
His 7.7 H/9 is exceptional as is his 1.134 WHIP. The K/BB ratio of 2.11 is well within historical standards of excellence.
So even though Hunter comes in with a low ERA+, the other categories make up the lag in quality. Add in the World Series heroics, and you have a nice entry level HOF pitcher, even though his stats don’t really compare with his contemporary HOF pitchers.
Let’s go back to the live ball era, and look at a pitcher who I believe earned his way into the HOF, even if it was entry level and on the back of championship teams in New York.
Red Ruffing pitched for the Yankee dynasty of the 1930s. He and lefty Gomez made a great 1-2 pitching combination for several years. Throughout his career he amassed 273 wins, 1987 strikeouts, and 45 shutouts.
He kept his H/9 below 9 when many of his contemporaries were giving up more than a hit per inning.
He was second in his era in wins and first in shutouts. Put these factors together and you have a nice legitimate HOF candidate.
I encourage the reader to go back and study a few more of the pitchers already in the HOF, and see where their indicating criteria place them.
Let’s look at a modern candidate, not yet on the ballot—Curt Schilling.
Curt Schilling—(216-146; 3.46 ERA; ERA+ 127; 20 SHO; 3261 IP/ 2998 H/ 8.3 H/9; 3116 K/ 711 BB/ 4.38 ratio; 1.137 WHIP) At first glance, with only 216 wins and an ERA in the mid range between 3.00 and 4.00, it doesn’t look like Schilling is that compelling of a candidate for the HOF.
But keep looking at his stat line. His ERA+ is strong, but his strikeout total and K/BB ratio are exceptional.
He is one of 16 pitchers with 3,000 strikeouts. Also, his K/BB ratio of 4.38 is the highest of the modern era.
I feel these stat lines along with his World Series resume makes him a nice entry-level HOF pitcher.
By studying these pitchers, and deciding what makes them HOF worthy, we can get a clear idea of what to look for when judging modern candidates.
Let’s look at one more candidate—Jack Morris.
Jack Morris—(254-186; 3.90 ERA; ERA+ 105; 28 shutouts; 3824 IP/ 3567 H/ 8.4 H/9; 2478 K/ 1390 BB; 1.78 ratio; 1.296 WHIP)
Morris is known for being a power pitcher and for having won the most games during the '80s.
His 254 wins are nice, but not automatic induction nice. What’s behind the wins?
Well, we’ve got a very weak ERA+ of 105. This alone could be enough to exclude him in some circles. But let’s keep looking.
The 28 shutouts are relatively weak. He’s known as an endurance power pitcher, but didn’t close out that many games when not giving up any runs. Tommy John had 45 shutouts, Luis Tiant had 49, and Bert Blyleven had 60.
His IP total and strikeout total and H/9 average are good, but not good enough to forgive other weak categories. His K/BB ratio is within historical norms, but his WHIP is quite high.
Jack Morris is a borderline candidate, a bit weaker than Red Ruffing, who could end up on this list of the worst pitchers in the HOF if voted in.
The standards for what make a HOF pitcher have been evolving since the founding of the HOF. It is important to look beyond wins and ERA to gain a complete picture of a pitcher’s HOF credentials.
We have discovered what makes an entry level HOF pitcher. They don’t have to have 300 wins, but they do need to show excellence in multiple indicating categories. This process of examining pitchers should help give us a good feel for developing a cut off line in HOF voting.
We probably have higher standards today because of the generation of pitchers that came after Sandy Koufax. They delivered high quality HOF standards of dominance, endurance and excellence.
I hope this study will give the reader the tools to examine modern pitchers in the historic context of what is HOF worthy.
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