Cliff Lee is an interesting player to start this article. Every other article I’ve done in my series on potential Hall of Famers, I’ve been able to start with a candidate who has at least been discussed as a Hall candidate. This may say something about the pitching on teams in the West divisions. Lee has never really had his name thrown about in Hall consideration, mostly because he hasn’t really deserved it up until now. His breakout Cy Young season came at the age of 29, and in his fifth full season. Before that, he had been a fairly average starter with a few bright spots. His status as a late bloomer has prevented him from accumulating notable counting stats, despite being a 31-year-old in his seventh year. So far, he has a 100-57 record for his career, along with a 3.80 ERA, and 1037 strikeouts. His career ERA+ (a stat which compares a player’s ERA to the league ERA from his time) is an unimpressive 113 (meaning he has been 13% above league average). Baseball-Reference lists his Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, at 22.5 (WAR uses a player’s stats too determine how many wins they have been worth; for a pitcher, a number in the mid 50s puts them in the discussion for the Hall, and a number in the mid-60s virtually guarantees them a spot).
However, since his Cy Young season, he’s been stellar. In those three seasons, he’s had ERA+s of 168, 131, and 162. This year, he looks poised to break the record for best strikeout to walk ratio; he currently stands at an unbelievable 15.22 (four more than the next best total). For what it’s worth, he would hardly be the first pitcher to mature late; for example, Randy Johnson also started his streak of excellence at 29. However, it does mean that Lee would have to have a very successful run, more than likely into his late 30s.