The recent announcement of the HOF nominations by the veteran’s committee for players from the Golden era—1947 to 1972—listed three pitchers; Luis Tiant, Jim Kaat and Allie Reynolds.
At first glance these look like reasonable picks representing the era, since they were all good pitchers.
But first, let’s establish some HOF standards for pitchers making the HOF. The minimum number of wins for a HOF pitcher is generally considered to be 200.
Three other HOF pitchers, aside from those chosen, had a win total in the low 200s—Don Drysdale who had 209, Bob Lemon who had 207 and Hal Newhouser who had 207. This is historically probably the most important factor when considering a pitcher.
Both Tiant and Kaat pass the test, with Tiant having won 229 games and Kaat at 283. But, Reynolds only won 182.
Tiant also has other strong indicators for the HOF. Most important of these I believe are his 49 shutouts. Every pitcher with 50 or more shutouts is in the HOF. Two other pitchers with 49 shutouts are in the HOF—Drysdale and Ferguson Jenkins.
In addition, Tiant has a healthy ERA+ of 115, over 2,400 strikeouts and three 20 win seasons. His career WAR (wins above replacement) is at 60.1. That total is more than Bob Lemon 42.4, Early Wynn 52.0, Whitey Ford 55.3 and Newhouser 56.3 from the same era and already in the HOF.
Historically, up until the end of the era, a career WAR of 50 was HOF worthy. So, Tiant belongs in the HOF. Hopefully the voters will put him there on this ballot.
Kaat pitched a long career that included several teams, but began with the Minnesota Twins in the '60s. His career win total of 283 is strong, but his career WAR is lagging at 41.2. This would be the lowest total of any HOF pitcher from this era.
Reynolds, while not having the prerequisite 200 wins, does have a strong winning percentage. He went 182-107 through his career. This and his post season work with the Yankees are probably his strongest calling cards for the HOF.
However, a closer look reveals an ERA+ of only 110, a scary K/BB rate of 1.13, an equally scary WHIP of 1.386, and a career WAR of only 29.0. All of these indicators show that while he had a fine career and was a winning pitcher, he was not HOF worthy.
In fact, only one other pitcher in history—Rube Marquard—is in the HOF with a career WAR under 30.0 . Bill James has labeled Marquard the pitcher least qualified to be in the HOF. Reynolds would add to this list.
On their way to nominating Reynolds, the veteran’s committee passed over quite a few other pitchers with strong resumes. There are five pitchers with a career WAR as strong as Kaat’s, lining up behind Tiant as the most worthy for nomination. They are Sam McDowell (41.2), Dizzy Trout (43.6), Milt Pappas (45.3), Mickey Lolich (45.6) and Billy Pierce (53.5).
In addition, there are five more pitchers from this era with a career WAR greater than 29.0—Jim Maloney (34.7), Mike Garcia (34.1), Camille Pascual (33.4), Sal Maglie (32.6) and Reynolds own Yankee teammate, Eddie Lopat (31.9).
It is Billy Pierce who we need to take a look at. His career WAR places him right among some of the other HOF pitchers of his era.
Pierce won the prerequisite 200 games (211), essentially had 2000 Ks—a significant total up to that time‚—had a fine ERA+ of 119, 38 career shutouts and a HOF worthy career WAR of 53.5. Pierce was the pitcher of the year in ’56 and ’57.
Billy the Kid made his reputation facing down the Yankees of the '50s, toeing the mound for the weak hitting White Sox. His duels with Whitey Ford were the stuff of legend, the two often being held back to face each other.
It is his work in the postseason of ’62 that puts the stamp of being one of the greats of the era on Pierce. That year he was pitching for the Giants, who tied the Dodgers for the pennant. A three game playoff followed the season. Pierce, near the end of his career, went 16-6 that year. He beat Sandy Koufax in game one of the playoffs, then saved game three.
In the World Series he faced his long time nemesis, the Yankees and his long time foe, Whitey Ford one last time. He pitched a shutout in game 5, leaving him with the upper hand in his lifetime record against Whitey Ford.
There are two pitchers from this period who belong in the HOF—Tiant, and Pierce. Mickey Lolich also deserves a nomination. Perhaps he will get one in the future.
The reasons the veteran’s committee had for nominating Reynolds over some of the more deserving pitchers, especially Pierce, need to be re-examined.