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April 9, 2010

Prospectus Hit and Run

Chugging Toward Cooperstown

by Jay Jaffe

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At first glance, it may not appear that any currently active pitcher is a particular lock for Cooperstown. The Baseball Writers Association of America voters haven't elected a starter with less than 300 wins since Fergie Jenkins in 1991, and with Randy Johnson's retirement, just four active pitchers are within even 100 wins of that magic number, led by 47-year-old Jamie Moyer, who's coming off a 4.94 ERA and has just one All-Star appearance to his credit. Don't wait up.

Wins shouldn't constitute the be-all and end-all of a pitcher's Hall of Fame case, anyway. As rising strikeout and walk rates (not to mention offensive levels) have elevated pitch counts over the past 40 years, teams have grown more protective of hurlers, with managers moving to five-man rotations and building increasingly specialized bullpens which make complete games a thing of the past, and starter Ws increasingly rare. Between those trends and the sabermetrically-driven awareness of what outcomes pitchers actually control, it's clear that the win is less the product of individual brilliance or intestinal fortitude on a given day than the confluence of ample support from offense, defense, and bullpen.

That leaves us caught between the traditional world of wins and Cy Youngs, and a more modern reckoning of value through WARP and JAWS, which compares a player's career and peak values (in terms of WARP, the latter representing a player's seven best seasons) against the average enshrined player at his position. Mindful of both worlds, a closer look suggests a handful obvious Hall of Famers in our midst, as well as some interesting long shots.

Best Bets

Mariano Rivera (71-52, 527 saves, 2.25 ERA, 82.6 career WARP/52.0 Peak WARP/67.3 JAWS)
Arguably the greatest closer ever, superior to the five enshrined relievers (Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, and Goose Gossage), Rivera ranks second all-time in saves, and first with 74.5 WXRL, our reliever win expectancy stat. He's also got a case as the greatest post-season performer, having compiled an astounding 0.74 ERA in 133 1/3 innings for five world championship teams, winding up the last man standing on the mound in a record four World Series. He's also got the highest Career, Peak and JAWS scores of any active pitcher, 9.5 JAWS points above the average Hall pitcher, starter or reliever.

Trevor Hoffman (59-68, 593 saves, 2.73 ERA, 51.8/34.8/43.3)
Hoffman holds the major-league record for saves, and while his stuff isn't quite what it used to be, he's still capable at 42. Though his JAWS numbers don't hold a candle to Rivera's, they're superior to those of Fingers and Sutter, and he's got the highest WXRL (67.0) of anyone besides Mo, with Goose (53.4) a distant third.

John Smoltz (213-155, 154 saves, 3.33 ERA, 74.3/39.4/56.9)
Despite joining the TBS and MLB Network booths, Smoltz hasn't officially retired, and may make a mid-season return. While he lacks the 300-win status of former teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, he was an indispensable part of five pennant winners, and easily ranks among the top post-season pitchers of all time (15-4, 2.67 ERA in 209 innings). A top-flight closer as well, his JAWS numbers resemble those of a similar hybrid, Eckersley (77.9/40.8/56.9).

Pedro Martinez (219-100, 2.93 ERA, 71.0/49.9/60.5)
Martinez made a mid-season return last year with the Phillies, and he wound up pitching well into the postseason; he's planning a similar tack this year. His credentials as one of the most dominant pitchers of all time are unassailable: three Cy Youngs, five ERA titles, and the second-best ERA+ (park-adjusted earned run average relative to the league) of all-time. His JAWS numbers edge past the Hall standard for starters (70.3/47.7/59.0).

Mid-Range Candidates

Roy Halladay (149-76, 3.42 ERA, 45.9/41.2/43.6)
His Opening Day win over the Nationals leaves Halladay just short of halfway to 300, and while he hasn't won a Cy Young since 2003, he's perennially in the hunt. While Halladay's JAWS score isn't impressive yet, last year was his most valuable season to date (7.7 WARP) thanks to a career-best strikeout rate (7.8 per nine). Moving to the easier league only helps his cause, and his ground ball/strikeout combination should age well.

CC Sabathia (136-81, 3.63 ERA, 37.6/32.6/35.1)
Sure, the big man is a freak of nature for whom doom and gloom is predicted given his workload (210 innings per year over his first nine seasons) and physique. His JAWS numbers aren't yet much to write home about because he wasn't an elite run preventer earlier in his career, but he's improved markedly over the past few years, his win total through his age-28 season tops several post-war Hall of Famers, and he'll be backed by an offensive dynamo for the foreseeable future.

Johan Santana (123-60, 3.11 ERA, 44.1/41.0/42.6)
Surrounded by the misery of the current Mets franchise, and coming off a year which ended in surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, the two-time Cy Young winner's stock has fallen with respect to Cooperstown. Even so, he's two years younger than Halladay, with similar JAWS numbers, a higher strikeout rate (7.9 per nine in 2008-09), and a more favorable ballpark in which to further his case.

Long-Range Candidates

Roy Oswalt (137-71, 3.23 ERA, 42.1/37.0/39.6)
Experience-wise, Oswalt belongs in the group above, but the 32-year-old's chances took a hit when injuries and indecision led to an 8-6, 4.12 ERA season, which snapped a fine five-year run in which he averages 224 innings, a 3.22 ERA, 17-9 record and 5.3 WARP. A herniated disc and other physical ailments don't bode well, but he's got a solid base to build upon if he manages to get back on track.

Jake Peavy (95-68, 3.27 ERA, 33.1/32.6/32.9)
Like Oswalt and Santana, Peavy's stock vis-à-vis Cooperstown took a hit with last year's injury woes, which limited him to 16 starts, a 9-6 record, and just 2.0 WARP. It doesn't help that that the fly ball-oriented hurler has moved from pitcher-friendly Petco Park to hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field, nor that he'll be backed by a team with a subpar offense. On the other hand, Peavy's PECOTA strikeout rate forecast is higher than all but one pitcher here, and strikeout rate is life when it comes to pitcher longevity.

Carlos Zambrano (105-69, 3.55 ERA, 32.0/32.6/32.3)
Yet another pitcher whose recent downward trend lowers his stock, Zambrano has fallen from 18 wins, 216 1/3 innings and 4.3 WARP (itself not that impressive) in 2007 to nine wins, 169 1/3 innings and 2.8 WARP last year, and his Opening Day start is already in the annals for Jason Heyward's big bang. He hasn't placed among the top 10 in the NL in ERA or been worth 5.0 WARP since 2006.

Andy Pettitte (229-135, 3.90 ERA, 44.7/30.0/37.4)
Pettitte's win total ranks behind only that of Moyer among active pitchers, and he's got five World Series rings and an outstanding post-season resume (18-9, 3.90 ERA in 249 innings) to his credit; recall that he won the clincher in each round of the postseason last year. He'll need an extremely generous amount of credit for his October work to reach Cooperstown, because as impressive as his win total may be, the 38-year-old is running out of time to reach 300. Furthermore, his run prevention woes really suppress his value; he's been worth just 9.1 WARP over the past four years via a 57-44, 4.24 ERA showing across 828 1/3 innings.

Tim Lincecum (41-17, 2.87 ERA, 15.8/15.8/15.8)
On the major-league scene less than three full years, the going-on-26-year-old Lincecum owns two Cy Youngs. Whether his body can withstand his unorthodox delivery long enough to assemble a long career of excellence remains to be seen; the annals are filled with great young pitchers—take 25-year-old two-time Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen—who broke down.

Felix Hernandez (58-41, 3.46 ERA, 18.3/18.3/18.3)
While his numbers to date aren't overwhelming, the key is that Hernandez turned 24 this week having set career bests in wins, ERA, innings, strikeouts, and WARP last year; he's still improving, and like Halladay, his ground-ball/strikeout combo platter is a recipe for success. On the other hand, of the 31 post-war pitchers with more wins through their age 24 seasons, only six survived to reach the Hall (seven if Bert Blyleven gains election).

There are a host of other pitchers whom I could have covered among the Long-Rangers, but didn't for space reasons. They generally fall into the group of pitchers older than 30 with less than 40 career WARP (Mark Buehrle, Brandon Webb, Tim Hudson) or 30 and under with less than 30 career WARP (Dan Haren, Josh Beckett). As a means of preliminary screening-before paying heed to recent career trends which influenced the classifications above—I did a calculation which assumed a pitcher could average a very conservative 3.3 WARP per year from now through his age-40 season, mindful of the fact that the Hall starters average 70.3 WARP:

Pitcher Age Wins Current Future Total
Pedro Martinez 38 226 71.9 6.7 78.6
CC Sabathia 29 136 37.7 36.7 74.4
John Smoltz 43 213 74.3 0.0 74.3
Johan Santana 31 122 44.0 30.0 74.0
Jake Peavy 29 95 33.2 36.7 69.9
Roy Halladay 33 148 45.8 23.3 69.1
Roy Oswalt 32 137 42.2 26.7 68.9
Carlos Zambrano 29 105 31.9 36.7 68.6
Javier Vazquez 33 142 42.2 23.3 65.5
Mark Buehrle 31 135 34.7 30.0 64.7
Brandon Webb 31 87 32.9 30.0 62.9
Dan Haren 29 79 23.0 36.7 59.7
Tim Hudson 34 148 37.8 20.0 57.8
Josh Beckett 30 106 24.4 33.3 57.7
Andy Pettitte 38 229 44.9 6.7 51.6

Age is a pitcher's age as of the 2010 season, Current is current WARP total, Future is future WARP total based upon that 3.3 per year average, and Total is the sum of the two.

 Of course, as Blyleven, who ranks 10th in career WARP, can tell you, WARP is not destiny when it comes to BBWAA voters, and it takes a whole lot more to make a pitcher's case for Cooperstown. With that in mind, it's not hard to see why I didn't cover Vazquez, whose 143-139 record, 4.19 ERA and flashpoint status in last year's Cy Young balloting would make Blyleven look like Maddux if the two were on the same ballot.  

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

31 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Karl Barth

Fantastic stuff. This is the sort of sanity check a BP reader wants for their chats with casual fans who wouldn't know WARP from a fungo.

"Everyone knows" Smoltz is a HoF'er but when a name like Buehrle or Peavy pops up, it's nice to have some basic ammunition for the conversation. Even if the answer is, "Yeah, it could happen" or "He's a real longshot" it's nice to have a bit more than just some comment about he hasn't won 200 games or whatever.

Thanks, Jay.

Apr 09, 2010 05:56 AM
rating: 3

Accidentally clicked the "inappropriate?" link and can't figure out how to undo it. Sorry about that.

Apr 09, 2010 16:59 PM
rating: 0
Nate Sheetz

"At first glance, it may not appear that any currently active pitcher is a particular lock for Cooperstown."

I dunno, Mo comes to my mind instantly as an absolute mortal lock for Cooperstown ;)

Nice article. I do hope Pedro and Smoltz make it, but I won't believe it until the voters prove themselves capable of looking past W totals.

Apr 09, 2010 06:04 AM
rating: 1

This article, in a sense, is parallel to Bill James' long essay on great pitchers from different eras in his new Gold Mine. Both suffer from the same omission. They take no account of the vastly reduced role of individual pitchers in modern baseball.
Roy Halladay and Sandy Koufax have as of the start of this season started exactly the same number of games, 314. But Koufax in his career pitched about 275 more innings--that is, 30 entire games--more than Halladay has. I don't know if WARP are available for Koufax somewhere, but I suspect they would be significantly greater than Halladay's, both because Koufax was a better pitcher (even allowing for the difference in eras) and because he pitched substantially more innings--as did every good pitcher in the 1960s and 1970s. No pitcher does as much for his team today, with respect to saving runs and wins, as the best pitchers did then. That is something for all of us to ponder.

Apr 09, 2010 06:59 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

You're off base, at least somewhat. Koufax (50.6/46.3/48.5) does indeed have higher WARP and JAWS numbers than Halladay, but not by an incredible amount. With a season equal to last year's 7.7 WARP, Halladay would surpass him in JAWS (53.6/45.7/49.7).

Koufax pitched at a time when offensive levels were at a historic low due to the height of the mound and the size of the strike zone, plus he had the advantage of pitching half his games in the most favorable pitcher's park in the history of the game, all of which made it easier to pile up innings. Add to that the fact that he had only six seasons where he was worth more than 2.0 WARP, and he doesn't blow anyone away on the JAWS scale.

Apr 09, 2010 08:06 AM

I used Koufax because his number of starts happened to match up with Halladay. As I understand it, the WARP measurement should correct for all the differences in runs scored and in the park he pitched in. And that wasn't why he piled up so many innings--his totals were not exceptional for top pitchers of his era. I think my basic point remains valid.

Apr 09, 2010 09:57 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Well, it's not as though Halladay is some 170-inning lightweight. He's led his league in innings three times, thrown 220 innings or more in each of the past four years, and ranked in the top four in his league in innings six times in eight years.

Apr 09, 2010 10:08 AM

My point seems to be too simple. A 300-inning pitcher of comparable ability is about 33% more effective than a 220-inning pitcher. Yes, I do need some kind of valid, comparable data over the length of entire careers--such as WARP or at least win shares--to develop this further. But a preliminary look suggests that no pitcher today is nearly as valuable as the best pitchers were back then. And that means, among other things, that it is much, much harder to win a pennant with pitching, since you need MORE really good pitchers.

Apr 09, 2010 19:04 PM
rating: 1

Agreed, look at the Smoltz Eckersly comparison. But Eckersley had way more service time as a closer than Smoltz. Smoltz has 200 more innings pitched and 100 more games started, though Eckersley has more appearances. So alot of Eckersley's WARP total came through the pen while Smoltz was racking up the WARP as a starter. As a result the JAWS scores don't really give a good feel for just how dependant his HOF candidacy will be on the voters valuation of his versatility and intangibles.

Apr 09, 2010 08:47 AM
rating: 0

what no Strasburg? jk! nice article :)

Apr 09, 2010 07:16 AM
rating: 1

"superior to the five enshrined relievers (Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, and Goose Gossage)" - I don't know about this. I keep wondering what Fingers, Sutter & Gossage would have done had they spent their entire careers coming in to get three outs in the 9th with no one on base, and collect a save. I'm also pretty sure that Rivera's numbers would have suffered had he regularly entered games in the 8th or even the 7th, with runners on base. Of course I'll probably be flamed for saying this, and get the minus sign clicked many times, but that's just my opinion.

Apr 09, 2010 08:34 AM
rating: 2
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Hey, it's worth wondering how those pitchers would have fared outside their eras, in the same way we wonder how many homers Hank Aaron or Willie Mays might have hit under present-day conditions. That's the fun stuff of pondering baseball history. It shouldn't start a flame war.

"Superiority" was meant primarily with respect to the enshrined relievers' WARP and JAWS numbers - Rivera tops all five, and not by a little; he's 8.5 JAWS points above Eck and more than 20 above Gossage, with the rest even further behind. The postseason stuff furthers that claim, though Fingers and Gossage certainly had their moments in October as well.

Basically, I think you're underestimating Rivera a bit. In terms of saves longer than one inning, Fingers is the all-time leader with 201, followed by Gossage at 193, Sutter at 188, Lee Smith, Dan Quisenberry, Jeff Reardon, then Wilhelm at 144. Rivera is 11th at 114, ahead of Eckersley at 106, and well beyond any direct contemporary (Hoffman has 55). No closer from this era has been used for multi-inning saves as often.

Recall that the Yanks' return to World Series glory in 1996 occurred when Rivera was pitching multiple innings to set up John Wetteland, and he was pretty damn good then as well (107.2 innings in 61 appearances, 2.09 ERA, 4.7 WARP, and 6.856 WXRL, second in the AL). And note that he's averaged 1.5 innings per postseason outing. I don't think it's out of the question that the guy would have held his own during the seventies' heyday of Fingers and Gossage.

Apr 09, 2010 09:37 AM
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

The multi-inning saves list is here, for anyone interested: http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/HKP3k

Apr 09, 2010 10:09 AM

No it shouldn't, but I've been flamed by Yankee fans for not genuflecting sufficiently at the altar of St. Mo, so ya never know.

Now re the numbers concerning saves of more than an inning: That is interesting. It's information like that that makes the BP as useful as it is. But he still doesn't work as hard for his saves, or under as arduous conditions, as Gossage, Fingers & Sutter did.

Now on the one hand, you're right, he probably would have held his own in the 70's & 80's. But on the other, holding his own among Gossage and Fingers is only so impressive, and the the fact that I'm less impressed by that than Yankee fans are is why I get flamed.

Apr 09, 2010 10:17 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

The conditions under which Rivera has competed ARE actually more arduous. Pulling out my copy of Baseball Between the Numbers, the league difficulty factors which are built into WARP are about 15 percent higher than they were in the heyday of Gossage and Fingers. Players are better conditioned than they were in the Seventies, the player pool is much larger thanks to increased international scouting, and scoring levels are about 20 percent higher than they were in, say, 1976.

Apr 09, 2010 10:37 AM

Well this is true as far as it goes. But let's imagine Mariano Rivera starting his career in 1975. He's competing against athletes who are less conditioned than is the case now, and who are drawn from a smaller pool, but every player against whom he'd compete would be in the same position. And he'd have had to routinely enter games in the 8th, if not earlier, with runners in scoring position.

You said he'd have held his own under those conditions, and I agree. But I don't think that anyone would be arguing that that Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer ever, as they now do.

Apr 09, 2010 23:24 PM
rating: -1

If his injury hadn't hit this year, would Joe Nathan have made the list of long-range candidates. He doesn't have the postseason accolades as Rivera, but he's been just as dominant in the last several years. If he can come back and return to form, what is his potential ceiling?

Apr 09, 2010 10:02 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Nathan's at 37.2/36.6/36.9, so he's got a higher peak score than Wilhelm, Fingers, Sutter and Gossage. He's missing out on his age 35 season, though, and will have to return to being a high-quality closer for a few more years to give Hoffman's JAWS numbers a run for their money, though I think he's going to have a hard time reaching 400 saves let alone 500 or 600 (he's at 247) - which is what the BBWAA voters are more likely to look at. I'd classify him as a longshot.

Apr 09, 2010 10:15 AM

Great article, thanks.

But the comments about the 31 guys with more wins than Felix at age 24 is a little misleading. 6 have made the HOF so far with Blyleven, Clemens and Maddux on the list. Plus Sabathia with a shot. It could be 10 of 31.

Also, of those 31, only 3 did it in fewer innings than Felix (including Maddux, who recorded just 2 fewer outs by age 24) which lowers the early-age wear and tear associated with pitcher injuries.

Sure there's still a long way to go and a lot of landmines along the way, but the case for Felix might not be as far fetched as the 6 of 31 stat seems to imply.

Apr 09, 2010 10:45 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Fair point. I must have been moving so fast when I put the 6/31 lists together that I didn't bother to count which players were in the waiting period.

That said, Blyelven isn't in yet, and he's still got to get over the hump in what's been a long and arduous trek. Maddux is a given, but Clemens, in light of the PED allegations against him, is not, and Sabathia is still less than a 50/50 shot in my estimate. So let's not count too many chickens.

Apr 09, 2010 10:52 AM

Was there an article on pre-qualified candidates that I may have missed? I'm thinking in particular of Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, and Kevin Brown. With the results of Cone and Gooden, I kind of have my doubts about these three.

Apr 09, 2010 11:08 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

I've written about all of those pitchers before, and at various times - through the changes in WARP calculations - some of that group have been above the JAWS standard for starters. Having said that, neither Mussina, Schilling, nor Brown are actually above the bar at the moment, but they do considerably outdistance Cone and Gooden:

Mussina: 74.0/41.1/57.6
Brown: 65.3/44.8/55.1
Schilling 64.8/42.1/53.5
Cone: 53.9/38.2/46.1
Gooden: 51.9/37.6/44.8

Schilling is the furthest off of the three, but his postseason record (11-2, 2.23 ERA, three rings) may be enough to carry him in despite "only" 216 wins. Mussina, with 270 wins capped by that 20-win season, isn't an automatic entry. Brown, with 211 wins and a rather mediocre postseason record (5-5, 4.19 ERA) which is more notable for his failures (6.04 ERA in four World Series starts, and a starring role in the Great Yankee Choke of 2004) than its successes, is probably in danger of falling off the ballot relatively quickly.

Apr 09, 2010 12:24 PM

I'm wondering about Frankie Rodriguez. As long as he continues to defy Will Carroll's predictions of injury implosion, he's piled up some good numbers in a relatively short amount of time and young age. How's he trending? And I'd agree with you a closer's trend is harder to predict, but I'd think he'd be the one young closer to be on the list. Thanks - great article!

Apr 09, 2010 16:11 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

K-Rod (this is the guy you mean) is at 25.6/25.5/25.6, JAWS-wise. He was worth just 0.6 WARP last year after averaging 5.1 WARP/year over the previous three. If we assume his next three years are worth an average of 4.0 per year (PECOTA isn't optimistic), that would put him at 37.6/31.2/34.4 going into his age 32 season. That peak score would be lower than all but Wilhelm among the Hall-worthy relievers, including the two above. if we bump that to 5.0 for three years, that's 40.6/34.2/37.4, a peak that would surpass Wilhelm, Fingers and Sutter, but not Hoffman.

More in his favor, Rodriguez's 243 career saves are 65 more than any other pitcher has compiled through his age 27 season (Bobby Thigpen is next at 178, see here). They're 187 more than Hoffman had at the same age, 195 more than Mo at that age.

The bottom line is that a healthy K-Rod could rack up some big career save totals given his early start, but he's going to have to rebound from last year's ugliness to have a long and productive stretch well into his 30s. Not out of the question, but not the strongest bet out there.

Apr 10, 2010 08:24 AM

Small point, but I don't see any long-term trend in walk rates in the link you posted... does more thorough analysis reveal one?

Apr 09, 2010 19:11 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

I threw together a quick and dirty graph on my first cup of coffee of the day: http://tinyurl.com/y674n86

It's a rise, but I'll concede that it's a pretty negligible one over the larger range when considered as a % of PA rather than as per game. The slope is positive, but just barely - I just as well could have left walk rates out of the statement.

Apr 10, 2010 08:09 AM

Thanks, Jay. Your JAWS analyses never fail to amuse and enlighten. And, I feel like they keep getting better, too.

Apr 09, 2010 20:31 PM
rating: 0

One of my favorite topics!

You didn't mention that Rivera's career adjusted ERA+ is not just the all-time leader but leads the universe by such a wide margin that one almost wonders if it's a computational error! (I'm sure it's not.) Mo is at 203, 2nd place is Pedro at 154, with the rest trailing behind.

Apr 12, 2010 07:01 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

True, though that feat loses a bit of luster in light of the fact that Pedro's got more than two and a half times the number of innings as Mo, 2827 to 1093.

Apr 15, 2010 11:59 AM

"He's also got a case as the greatest post-season performer, having compiled an astounding 0.74 ERA in 133 1/3 innings for five world championship teams, winding up the last man standing on the mound in a record four World Series"

Actually, Rivera was last man standing on the mound in 2001 as well, making it 5 World Series that ended with him on the mound. Of course, that one was in a losing effort...

Apr 13, 2010 11:31 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Ouch. Yes, I suppose that counts.

Apr 15, 2010 11:55 AM
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