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December 18, 2000

From The Mailbag

The Hall Of Fame

by Baseball Prospectus

While Willie Hernandez's 1984 season was awe-inspiring, and deserves to be placed on a pedestal somewhere, I don't think it is the greatest single season by a lefty closer. Consider Billy Wagner's 1999 numbers:

74.7 IP
35 H
23 BB
13 ER (!)
124 SO (!!)
1.57 ERA
39 Saves

Here are the same numbers for Hernandez:

140.3 IP
96 H
36 BB
30 ER
112 SO
1.92 ERA
32 Saves

Basically, the only way you can call Hernandez's season superior is to point to the fact that he pitched almost double the innings that Wagner. Even considering that, though, I still think Wagner's 1999 is superior; it's not Billy's fault that nobody uses 2 inning closers anymore. Plus, 1984 was not the yackball year that 1999 was, and Wagner still had the better ERA.

--TV

Wagner's numbers, while impressive, just highlight for me how much the role has changed from years past. Do you think Wagner could sustain those numbers if he had to pitch in 80 games and toss 140 innings, as Willie did? Considering that Hernandez was also not being handed the Tigers' save opportunities exclusively. Good ol' Senor Smoke, Aurelio Lopez, tossed another 138 innings in relief, logging 14 saves.

Other factors worth remembering: the DH, and the difference between pitching in Tiger Stadium (one of the easiest places to hit a home run back then) and the final year of the Astrodome. Even though Hernandez' period wasn't as much of a high-offense period as this one, the difference of less than a half-run in ERA when Willie's got the DH and a tougher ballpark doesn't strike me as a point in Wagner's favor. So that, plus the innings pitched, plus the fact that he wasn't being counted on to close as many of his team's games as Wagner, still leaves me feeling nostalgic.

That isn't to slight Billy Wagner's '99 at all, because it was clearly an outstanding season. You raise a fair point in saying it isn't Billy's fault he's used the way he is, but Willie was just following orders as well.

--Chris Kahrl

For better or worse, it was Bruce Sutter -- not Dennis Eckersley -- who ushered in the era of the 9th inning closer specialist. In the early '80s the Cubs began using Dick Tidrow in the 8th and Sutter in the 9th exclusively, to preserve his arm.

I just don't see how someone like Kirby Puckett can be considered ahead of him.

--SG

This is one comment that I'm sort of struggling with. Looking at Sutter's days with the Cubs:

1976: 52 games, 83.1 IP, 10 saves
1977: 62 games, 107.1 IP, 31 saves
1978: 64 games, 99 IP, 27 saves
1979: 62 games, 101.1 IP, 37 saves
1980: 60 games, 102.1 IP, 28 saves

Now, compare that to Eckersley's first few years as a closer:

1988: 62 games, 72.2 IP, 45 saves
1989: 51 games, 57.2 IP, 33 saves
1990: 63 games, 73.1 IP, 48 saves
1991: 67 games, 76 IP, 43 saves
1992: 69 games, 80 IP, 51 saves

Clearly Sutter was pitching in the 8th inning a lot, so while I'm not doubting that Tidrow set up Sutter during the nearly two seasons they were teammates, the difference between the ratios of IP to G between the Eck and Sutter would still seem to indicate that they were not being used in the same way.

--Chris Kahrl

I appreciate your comment regarding how fast Darrell Evans was dropped from the ballot. There seems to be a bias against consistently good but never superstar players who simply racked up great numbers.

It's kind of like Bill James' Milt Pappas vs. Don Drysdale argument in The Politics of Glory.

Evans is half the answer to one of my favorite trivia questions: name the two players with 400+ homers who are not in the Hall of Fame (excluding, of course, players who are not yet eligible). The other is Dave Kingman, of course.

Lou Whitaker also falls into this category. He seemed-- like Frank White, though White was never Whitaker's equal--to get better each year even well into his thirties. I'll never forget when he didn't have his jersey at the all-star game and they had to get a Tigers jersey from the concession stands and put a number 1 on it.

--PW

Thanks for speaking up for Darrell Evans as well as Lou Whitaker. Sheesh, between my stumping for both of them, my belief that Alan Trammell belongs, and my dredging up Willie Hernandez' '84 season, you could almost mistake me for a Tigers fan.

--Chris Kahrl

With Tom Henke included, Keith Woolner's ballot for the Hall of Fame is a good one. However, I think Lou Whitaker and Gary Carter are marginal picks: perhaps worthy, but not by much. Also, I think Ron Guidry is somewhat short of the HOF.

That said, I am writing to offer up a quick metric for judging Hall worthiness for relief pitchers. My main measurement is park adjusted ERA+. Generally speaking, the higher a pitcher's (park adjusted) ERA+, the more he belongs in the HOF.

A second factor I employ is the number of innings he pitched in his career. At a bare minimum, to qualify for the HOF as a reliever, a pitcher must have at least 750 IP as a reliever. (I do not give any extra credit for innings pitched as a starter.) Why use 750 IP? Because, at a bare minimum, a full season for a good reliever includes 75 IP. So 750 IP represents a minimum of 10 seasons pitching in relief.

Any reliever who had 750 IP or more and an ERA+ of 140 or higher qualifies. For each additional 75 IP (up to 1,500 IP), the ERA+ standard drops by 2 points, as follows:

  • 825 IP needs an ERA+ of 138 or higher
  • 900 IP needs and ERA+ of 136 or higher
  • 975 IP needs and ERA+ of 134 or higher
  • 1,050 IP needs and ERA+ of 132 or higher
  • 1,125 IP needs and ERA+ of 130 or higher
  • 1,200 IP needs and ERA+ of 128 or higher
  • 1,275 IP needs and ERA+ of 126 or higher
  • 1,350 IP needs and ERA+ of 124 or higher
  • 1,425 IP needs and ERA+ of 122 or higher
  • 1,500 IP or more needs and ERA+ of 120 or higher

--RR

I knew that Guidry would be a controversial pick, but though his career was short, he was the best overall pitcher in baseball for a decade or so (according to VORP), and that seems Hall worthy to me.

VORP is also a system that combines ERA, innings pitched, park, and league adjustments, although in a slightly different fashion. It's expressed in runs over a replacement level pitcher. Converting your system to the equivalent VORP standards would yield (assuming a 4.50 league era, and a neutral park):

   IP   ERA+    ERA     RP      VORP
  750   140     3.21    107.1   190.5
  825   138     3.26    113.6   205.3
  900   136     3.31    119.1   219.1
  975   134     3.36    123.7   232.0
1,050   132     3.41    127.3   243.9
1,125   130     3.46    129.8   254.8
1,200   128     3.52    131.3   264.6
1,275   126     3.57    131.5   273.2
1,350   124     3.63    130.6   280.6
1,425   122     3.69    128.5   286.8
1,500   120     3.75    125.0   291.7

RP = runs prevented compared to league average VORP = runs prevented compared to replacement level

Relative to VORP, your system seems to raise the bar higher for relief pitchers with more innings pitched in their careers than for short-career relievers. For example, a pitcher with 1750 career IP all in relief could pitch as well as Henke for the first 750 IP of his career, but then have to continue to pitch as an above-replacement level for the remainder of his career, or risk having his ERA+ fall below your threshold. You would end up penalizing the pitcher who pitched longer (and prevented more runs overall in his career), despite having a portion of his career of equal value to a Henke-type closer's entire career.

--Keith Woolner

Enjoyed your column on the upcoming HOF ballot. I was particularly interested in the fact Jim Rice and Dwight Evans scored comparably. I assume this is over their careers? How do their peaks compare? I assume Rice's five best seasons were 77-79, 83, and 86. For Evans, I assume 81-82, 84, 87, and 88 perhaps?

What is your feeling on the defensive merits of the two? While active, Evans was of course highly regarded, and Rice was not, though Rice did receive some credit for his ability to "play the Wall," whatever that means. I doubt either of them adds significantly to his case on defensive merits.

--DW

Yes, the VORP listed in the article was for their career, and considering them just as outfielders, not split into LF vs. RF.

Evans' 5 peak years were 81, 82, 84, 87, 88. Total peak = 248.5 VORP
Rice's 5 peak years were 77, 78, 79, 83, 86. Total peak = 284.0 VORP

Evans actually boosts his case quite a bit based on his defensive reputation. Rice was adequate, and since I've heard Mike Greenwell credited with "playing the Wall", I suspect that any outfielder could learn it, if they played there 81 times a year. When you consider Dewey was a right fielder (and in a spacious RF in Fenway), and the defensive advantage, he's got a case. My personal preference for marginal candidates favors peak value over career value, hence my vote for Rice and not Evans.

--Keith Woolner

THE ONLY PERSON I WANT TO SEE ON THE HALL OF FAME BALLOT IS PETE ROSE. ALL OTHERS ARE SECOND. UNTIL HE IS PUT ON THE BALLOT WHERE HE BELONGS, IT IS NOT A TRUE HALL OF FAME. BASEBALL BETTER GET IT TOGETHER AND DO SOMETHING GOOD FOR THE GAME.

--CT

Yeah, that's an interesting topic.

Another question presents itself: is there a baseball-related publication that cares less about what happens to Pete Rose than Baseball Prospectus?

I have my doubts.

--Dave Pease

We'd love to hear your thoughts on anything baseball-related at info@baseballprospectus.com. We'll publish the best of what we get frequently at www.baseballprospectus.com.

Related Content:  Darrell Evans,  Keith Hernandez,  The Who,  Era

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