Let me just preface this by saying that pitchers, as a whole, are much more difficult to predict than hitters, at least as far as the rest of their career goes. Pitchers are much more susceptible to random, career altering injuries, discovering new pitches, and other unusual events; therefore, there is a much greater element of randomness.
Also, the Hall of Fame seems much more unclear on what constitutes a Hall of Fame pitcher, outside of 300 wins. The last starter elected by the Baseball Writers Association (essentially, what you think of when you think of the election process) was Nolan Ryan, back in 1999.
Before him, the last choices were Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton, and Tom Seaver. You may notice two things about that group. First, every one of them has 300 wins. In fact, the Baseball Writers haven’t elected a non-300 game winner since Ferguson Jenkins (only 284 wins) back in 1991; whether this says something about the Hall’s electors or the quality of pitching in that time, I can’t say.
Second, every one of the aforementioned pitchers started their career in the 1960s. Yes, apparently, it has been over four decades since any Hall of Fame starter began his career.
This doesn’t even account for the erratic process they use to elect relievers; there is no obvious milestone, or, really, any sort of standard (if you’re looking for a good example of such oddities, look up one of Joe Posnanski’s articles comparing Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter and Dan Quisenberry).
Nevertheless, I want to cover every position for the the future of the Hall of Fame; and so, I begin with my first round of pitchers.
(Note: I used Baseball-Reference for WAR throughout the article. Fangraphs calculates pitching WAR a different way, and uses a more standard scale, but they only have numbers from 1980 on. Feel free to check it out if you’re interested, though.)
(Another note: There are a lot of pitchers. Surprising, I know. So, I broke them up by division; this article will be on the AL and NL East pitchers, with ones for the Central and West to follow.)
After seeing the recent examples of a pitcher getting into the HOF I do not know what to think about Andy Pettite’s chances for the HOF. At 38, he’s in his 16th season, and has said several times that he will retire soon (right now, I’ve heard after this season, but nothing is even close to official right now).
As it stands, he has a career 240-137 record (impressive), 2240 strikeouts (to only 959 walks, which is also very good) a 3.87 ERA (which is more impressive than it sounds, but more on that in a minute), and a 1.355 Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched, or WHIP (decidedly unimpressive).
Some quick clarifications; his WHIP would be the second worst in the Hall, which does not help. ERA+ is a stat that measures a player’s ERA compared to the average pitcher of his time, and factors in league, home field, and other disrupting factors. Pettitte’s career ERA+ is 117 (meaning he was 17 percent better than an average pitcher from the same time), which is actually well into Hall of Fame territory.
However, it also ties him with many other non-Hall members; so, his ERA+ is solid, but it doesn’t make him stand out in any way.
Those of you familiar with my columns on regular players may recall that I used a statistic called Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, which accounts for all parts of a player’s game by taking their other stats and normalizing them into a single value.
According to Baseball-Reference, Pettitte has racked up 50.2 WAR in his career (mid-50s is about where a player enters the conversation for Hall of Fame, and any pitcher with more than 65 is usually considered a lock).
I would think of him more as a fringe candidate who needs another good year or two. However, given his history in the postseason, and his impressive won-loss record (which voters seem to value the most in electing members), I would think he’s likely to be elected.
I don’t really know how much I need to say on Rivera. His 547 saves puts him second of all-time (and at the rate Rivera and all-time leader Trevor Hoffman are going, Rivera may take the lead at some point).
For some stats you may not know about Rivera: he is also the all-time leader in ERA+ (206), third of all-time in WHIP (1.000), and fourth all-time in strikeout to walk ratio, or K/BB (3.97). Probably a no-brainer choice to earn induction.
Wagner will be an interesting candidate for several reasons. First, he has claimed that he will retire after this season. That would leave him fifth on the All-Time saves list; at the moment he has 408 saves.
However, he could be one of the few modern relievers on the ballot. When I say that, I mean the position of closer as we think of it; the one-inning specialist who comes in to finish off games. Has he done enough to earn the position? Well, his saves put him fifth, as stated, behind two future Hall of Famers (Rivera and Trevor Hoffman), as well as Lee Smith and John Franco.
On the surface, that doesn’t seem to be enough. However, a closer look shows that he can at least claim to be better than the latter two. Of the Wagner, Smith, and Franco, Wagner has the best ERA+ (185 to 132 and 138, respectively), ERA (2.35 to 3.03 and 2.89), WHIP (1.004 to 1.256 and 1.333), strikeouts per 9 innings (11.9 to 8.7 and 7.0), and K/BB (3.98 to 2.57 and 1.97). So, he stronger in almost every category.
The one thing that may deter voters is that he has comparatively few innings (he’s only pitched 877.1 innings); however, as more one inning closers begin to retire, this will become more and more common. I believe he will have a good shot to get in eventually, but I don’t know when that will be.
Vazquez probably doesn’t have much of a shot at the Hall; his basic stats look unimpressive. The 34 year old, in his thirteenth season, has compiled a 151-146 record, although, in his defense, he’s spent quite a few years on some bad teams (for example, in five of his thirteen seasons, he’s played for a 90-loss team: four times in Montreal, and another time in Chicago; he also has a 85-loss team in the 2005 Diamondbacks).
His 4.20 ERA seems unimpressive, although he does have a decent 106 career ERA+ (surprisingly, several pitchers in Cooperstown have similar career numbers). At 37.8 WAR, he could make a run into Andy Pettite territory with even a few more decent seasons (and, if he rediscovers his 2009 form, he could go even further). His 1.245 WHIP is actually very good, and his K/BB ratio is 20th all-time.
Really, though, he has one method to impress voters: his strikeouts. In his career, Vazquez has amassed 2339 K’s, an impressive figure which gives him a good shot to make 3000 for his career.
I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the big milestones, and 3000 strikeouts is a big one. You can’t really luck into that many missed bats. Even if he does make it to 3000, though, I don’t know if it would be enough to sway voters to elect him.
I’ve covered the future of the 300-win club in the past, and I have to say, I think Halladay would be a good bet to make 300 wins. He’s 33, and only has 160 wins, but he does have several things going for him.
He’s moved to a more successful team in a slightly easier league, which will likely help his win totals down the road. However, he has shown success in the most important field for a 300-game winner; he has continued to pitch well in his 30s.
As Joe Posnanski wrote when writing about the 300 win club, the most important thing a pitcher has to do win that many games is stay good into his 30s. The last 3 seasons, Halladay’s had ERA+’s of 152, 156, and 188.
He could probably remain an All-Star-caliber pitcher into his later years, if those numbers are anything to go by. For those interested, he also has, for his career, a 3.34 ERA, 84 losses, a 136 ERA+ (tied ninteenth all-time), 1644 strikeouts, 475 walks, and 52.7 WAR.
Fresh off of Tommy John surgery, Hudson is having his best season since his late twenties, all at the age of 35 (although, he is officially listed as a 34 year old for this year, due to his birthday later in the year). In his twelfth season, Hudson has a 159-83 record and a 3.42 ERA, as well as a 129 ERA+, 1476 K’s, and 45.3 WAR.
He could become a decent candidate depending on how long he holds up. With his recent Tommy John surgery and the effect it seems to have had, that may be longer than we might have thought last year at this time. One thing that may hurt him is that he may not stand out enough in the voters’ minds; however, I believe he will be worth consideration for the Hall.
Oswalt was a late addition to this list due to his recent trade to an team in an East division. I added him after I had finished most of the article. The 32 year old is in his tenth season, and has 143-82 record, a 3.24 ERA, a 134 ERA+ (tied for 25th all-time), and 1593 K’s. His 42.5 WAR is very good for his playing time.
I would have to think he has a solid chance at election to Cooperstown. Also interesting, Oswalt’s 3.5717 K/BB is fourteenth all-time. His new teammate Halladay is sixteenth at 3.4611. The man in between them is the next pitcher in this article.
Yes, Johan Santana is fifteenth all-time in K/BB, at 3.5338. Also interesting, his 142 ERA+ ties him for 11 of all-time (yes, most of the players will likely see their rate stats drop as they age and their skills fall, but it’s interesting to see where they are right now).
His WHIP is and impressive 1.122, and his WAR is at 45.4. As far as conventional stats go, Santana has a 130-65 record and a 3.12 ERA, to go with 1827 strikeouts, which all look impressive. If you look for a good peak in your Hall of Famer, Santana’s 2004-2008 run is pretty impressive.
And, he’s only 31, and in his ninth full season. I would say he has a good chance at election to Cooperstown, again, depending on whether he can stay healthy and pitch well in his late 30’s.
Sabathia hasn’t had a stretch of dominance like Oswalt, Santana, or Halladay; however, he has been a fairly consistent ace. Also, the ten-year veteran just turned 30 on July 21, so he also has his age going for him.
Right now, he has a 149-85 record (which is more wins than Santana and Oswalt, despite being the age difference) with a 3.59 ERA and 1714 strikeouts. I would put him a at least a decent bet to make both 300 wins and 3000 K’s. T
he more advanced stats don’t exactly look bad either; for his career, Sabathia has a 121 ERA+ and 40 WAR. His peripheral numbers aren’t quite as strong as Halladay/Oswalt/Santana, as he has a 1.233 WHIP and a 2.67 strikeout to walk ratio. However, I would think he has a good enough shot at Cooperstown, for someone his age.
K-Rod hasn’t been as dominant as Rivera or Hoffman, but he could rack of some impressive save totals to match those two. The 28 year-old has 265 saves through eight full seasons, and could conceivably become a founding member of the 500 Save club (assuming you officially start calling it a milestone club once a third player joins Rivera and Hoffman).
He already places 27th all-time in saves, and you have to go all the way down to 80th place on the list to find someone younger (26-year old Huston Street). His other stats are still fairly strong, though; he has a 2.52 ERA, a 174 ERA+, a 1.148 WHIP, 11.4 strike outs per nine innings, and a 2.82 K/BB. I wouldn’t be surprised if he forces his way in through sheer number of saves, though.
If K-Rod is the next Rivera/Hoffman/Prodigious Save Accumulator, then Papelbon may be the next Billy Wagner. He may not reach the lofty save totals that Rodriguez will, but he has some impressive numbers and may have an outside chance at 500 saves.
Part of the difference is Papelbon’s later start. K-Rod made the majors at 20 and was a full-time closer at 23; in contrast, Papelbon wasn’t even in the major leagues until the age of 24 (he was a closer the next year). Right now, Papelbon, at the age of 29, is in his fifth season closing, and has 175 saves. His other numbers include a 1.98 ERA, a 236 ERA+, .990 WHIP, a 4.16 K/BB, and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
Again, though, I don’t know how closely the voting committee will look at those numbers. Papelbon may amass enough saves that it won’t matter. But, if he does fall short of whatever becomes the saves milestone, he has a good case for induction anyway based on his dominance and presence on a large-market team.
Despite the fact that Johnson is 26 and made his debut back in 2006, he has missed over a full season of playing time due to Tommy John surgery, so his totals may look low.
However, he is still young, and likely about to enter his prime. So far, he has a 44-19 record, a 3.02 ERA, a 141 ERA+, 15.7 WAR, and 571 whiffs. If the rest of his prime is anything like this season (1.72 ERA, 242 ERA+, .998 WHIP, 146 K’s thus far, and 4.56 K/BB), he could build a very strong resume (particularly if his surgically-produced new arm holds up).
Also 26, Lester is in his fifth season, and has built an impressive start to his resume. His numbers are about on par with Josh Johnson’s; Lester has a 53-22 record, 16.6 WAR, a 3.54 ERA, a 131 ERA+, and 637 strikeouts.
His comeback from cancer could also win him some votes, as the Baseball voters love inspiring stories. Even without that, though, he has started a good case for himself.
Hamels has had career numbers similar to the last two pitchers. He’s 55-41 with a 3.64 ERA, 814 strikeouts, a 121 ERA+, and 14.8. Also like the other two, he’s 26 and in his fifth season.
The biggest difference I see is that, while the last two have been trending up, Hamel’s stats show he has been more of an up and down pitcher (for example, his best season was 2008, and his worst season was 2009).
If he can get better, I would think he has as good of a chance as the other two. If his numbers stay the same as they have been the last two seasons, though, it will be hard to build a Hall of Fame case for him.
Jurrjens is only in his fourth year (and his third full season), and he’s been injured most of this year. However, he’s been impressive up until this season, with 8.4 WAR, a 3.35 ERA, a 125 ERA+, and 345 K’s. At the age of 24, he still has plenty of time to build on his career.
David Price, Phil Hughes, Clay Buchholz, Tommy Hanson, Stephen Strasburg
I wanted to include all five of these players, but all are either young (all 25 of younger), lacking in playing time, or both. I would bet that at least one of them makes the Hall, therefore fulfilling my wild guess quota of the piece.
Predicting pitching can be a dangerous exercise. But, in all seriousness, they are all very talented, and I would not be surprised if they amass multiple All-Star seasons, and possibly even a Cy Young or two.
For the other articles in this series:
Corner Outfield: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/426060-turning-a-corner-the-future-of-corner-outfielders-for-the-hall-of-fame
Center Field: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/425000-put-them-in-coach-current-center-fielders-vie-for-hall
First Base: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/421104-hall-of-fames-future-first-basemen
Middle Infield: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/417865-middle-infielders-headed-for-the-hall
Third Base: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/413945-future-hot-corner-hall-of-famers