Friday, May 04, 2007

Crystal Method (Part 1)

I was thinking about the Hall of Fame recently. I'm not going to do my usual rant about who should have been voted in or who should have gotten more votes. I'm going to talk today about the players who are still active and will someday have their faces on a plaque in Cooperstown.

I'll start with the pitchers first. There are a few absolute mortal locks currently active. First on the list is Roger Clemens, who is quite possibly the greatest pitcher of all time. It's really a close race between him and Walter Johnson for that honor. He is a seven time Cy Young award winner, a two time winner of the pitching triple crown (leading the league in K's, wins and ERA) and will end his career with over 350 victories. He is the living and breathing embodiment of what the Hall of Fame was initially set up to recognize. The absolute best of the best. Almost everything that I said about Roger can be said about Randy Johnson as well. He is third all time in strikeouts, has won 5 Cy Young awards (it should have been 6, but that one went to Roger instead), and if his back holds up, he will win 300 games before he retires. He is, without a doubt, among the greatest ever to toe the rubber. The other mortal lock is Greg Maddux. He has 339 career wins and counting, 4 Cy Young awards and the misfortune of pitching in the same era as Roger Clemens. If the Rocket were not around, it would be Maddux who would be in the consideration as the greatest post WWII pitcher. As it is, he'll have to settle for second or third best, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

Tom Glavine will win his 300th game this year and while he hasn't been as dominating during his career as Randy and Roger, he has been almost as effective. He is a two time Cy Young award winner and has led his league in wins 5 times. He will be a first ballot hall of famer. Pedro Martinez may not have the gaudy win totals of the previous pitchers, but he put together a 6 year stretch that was as spectacular as has ever been seen in baseball. He won 3 Cy Young awards and finished 2nd or 3rd in the voting the other 3 years. He also has the highest winning percentage for any pitcher with over 200 wins. Next we have two relievers, Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman set the all time saves record last year and he continues to add to that record. He will pass 500 saves this year and may hold the all time record for quite some time to come. Mariano Rivera passed the 400 save mark last year and will be remembered as perhaps the greatest post-season closer of all time. In 113 post season innings, he has an 8-1 record with 34 saves and a microscopic 0.80 ERA.

Next we have a couple of pitchers who are on the fence. Mike Mussina has put together a hall of fame resume including winning 240 games and counting. However, Mussina has never won a Cy Young award and has only finished as high as 2nd place, once. He has never been on a World Series winning team and his post season record is spotty. He would almost certainly have to stick around long enough to win 300 games in order to be considered a lock for Cooperstown. Curt Schilling doesn't have as many wins as Mussina, but he has played a major part in two world series victories. His famed "bloody sock" performances in the 2004 post season have already made him a legend in New England. He has never won a Cy Young award, but he has finished 2nd three times. He lost out to Randy Johnson twice and to Pedro Martinez once. He led the league in wins and strikeouts on two occasions and was the co-mvp (with Randy Johnson) of the 2001 World Series. Schilling appears to have the stronger case currently and will certainly add to his win totals over the next couple of seasons. If I were a betting man, I would say that Schilling will do enough to get in, but Mussina will fall just short.
There are a few others who are either above 200 wins or very close who will only be visiting Cooperstown via the ticket route. David Wells has 230 wins, but has a career ERA over 4. He does have some post season successes, most notably with the Yankees, but that will not be enough to get him into the Hall. Jamie Moyer, Kenny Rogers, Andy Pettite are also doomed to be on the outside looking. Fine careers, but not really Hall of Fame material.

The most interesting of this bunch is John Smoltz. He has won a Cy Young award, has made great success in the post season and was definitely considered one of best pitchers in his league during his prime. The thing about Smoltz is that he spent 3 years during his career as a closer. This was not in the beginning of his career, but much later, after he had already established himself as a top of the rotation starter. After some arm trouble he was converted into a closer and became one of the best in baseball. He averaged almost 50 saves a year for the three years that closing was his primary job. He then switched back to being a starter and has continued to be successful in that role. He will end up with over 200 wins and 150 saves. The only other pitcher with that combination is Dennis Eckersley and he is already in the Hall of Fame. I'm just not sure that what Smoltz did in either role was enough to merit his induction. He was a great closer, but only for 3 years. He was and still is a very good starter, but he only had one year at what I would consider, elite level. It's a close call with Smoltz. I would have to vote no at this point, but considering that he probably has a few years left, I may be persuaded to change my mind by the time his career is over.

Among the younger pitchers, it would be almost impossible to predict how their careers will pan out. Barry Zito, Roy Oswalt and Roy Halladay all have about the same number of wins (99-104) are about the same age (29,29,30). Halladay has had some arm injuries that have slowed him down over the years and Zito's best days seem to behind him. Oswalt still seems to be pitching his best, but he has already stated publicly that he doesn't want to pitch forever. Zito will be helped some by moving to the national league and he may just have a career Renaissance in San Francisco. Dontrelle willis already has 63 wins at the age of 25, so he may well turn out to be the biggest winner among this group. Johan Santana has 81 wins at the age of 28, but he also has two Cy Young awards. He has been the best pitcher in the AL for the past 3 years and may very well have a Pedro like run through his early thirties that could propel him into the Hall of Fame. That all remains to be seen though.

Well, that's all for today. The pitchers took up more time than I anticipated. I will take a look at the hitters in my next entry. Have a great weekend everybody!

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