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Active Hall-of-Famers (pitchers)

Posted by Andy on June 3, 2010

Here's a look at the history of Hall of Fame pitchers and some guesses at active pitchers who might make it.

Firstly, here is a plot of the fraction of pitchers active in any given year that ended up as Hall-of-Famers. I used ERA-title-qualified seasons for this calculation.

If you didn't see my earlier similar post about hitters, check that one out too.

Observations about this graph:

  • It is generally very similar to the hitters' plot, including the Federal League dip in 1914-1915, the World Ward II dip in the mid 1940s and the general drop from 1930 to present day.
  • One big difference is the large fraction of HOF pitchers in the earliest part of the 1900s. I'm not sure of the reason for this, but generally pitchers from that era have put up numbers that have always looked good over the last 100 years. Because offense has generally increased over the history of baseball, pitchers from the early periods have numbers that, at least at first glance, look excellent when measured against pitchers from other eras. Back then it was common for pitchers to complete 20-30 or more games per season, winning 20 in a year was fairly common, and raw ERAs were very low compared to today. I assume that this has helped a larger fraction of early pitchers get into the HOF because the marginal candidates have numbers that look great when standing alone on paper.
  • There's a big spike in 1966-1967 thanks to the overlap of some HOFers near the end of their careers as well as some youngsters just starting theirs. Among the guys winding down around this time were Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, and Sandy Koufax. The guys on their way up included Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Catfish Hunter, Fergie Jenkins, and Jim Palmer.
  • The results from the late 1980s and 1990 are skewed for two reasons:
    • There are a few pitchers active in 1988-1990 who are going to be in the HOF but didn't figure into this plot since they aren't already there. Five slam dunks right here: Roger Clemens (PED-willing), Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. If you add those 5 guys in, the percentage would be more like 8%. (Incidentally, currently there is only one guy in the HOF from those years---Nolan Ryan.)
    • With pitching becoming far more specialized in the last 25 years, we now have some HOF closers but they are not included in this analysis since we're looking only at ERA-title-qualified seasons. So there's a certain unfairness about this plot since starting pitchers aren't used the same way today as they were in 1900 or 1940 or 1970.

Overall, it seems that getting into the HOF as a starting pitcher is getting harder and harder. No doubt this is because the raw numbers for starters have been getting worse and worse when viewed without context (which, let's face is, how the majority of fans and media members view them.) Getting to 300 wins seems to be nearly an impossibility for any active pitcher, young or old, now. Stats such as shutouts and complete games are now very impressive feats instead of signs of an above-average pitcher. This is the opposite of what's been happening with hitters. Look no further than the debate over Jim Thome. Lots of folks can't fathom how Thome isn't a slam dunk HOFer since he has well over 500 homers. Some of us (myself included) are not quite as impressed with his HR total given the era in which he played. However most people are blind to the context of these numbers. They see big offensive numbers by hitters and fail to discount the value of these numbers given the high offense era. They see poor pitching numbers and similarly fail to give extra credit due to the high offense era. (Incidentally, this is why I desperately cling to OPS+ and ERA+ in so many of my posts here...these stats totally wipe out offense-level biases.)

Anyway, let's assume that the HOF voters adjust their requirements to account for today's game and 8% of the qualified pitchers from last year will make the HOF. Let's see what we've got.

Firstly, none of the 5 guys I mentioned above (Clemens, Johnson, Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine) had an ERA-title-qualified season last year. So they don't count against the 8%. There were 78 pitchers with qualified seasons so we're looking at basically 6 starting pitchers who will make it.

Let's break this down by age as of June 30 last year:

  • 34+: There are only two guys here with even a whiff of a chance--Jamie Moyer and Andy Pettitte. We've had polls on both of these guys before and Moyer did better. Personally I feel like neither guy has done quite enough to get in but both are still pitching well enough to have a chance. Chris Carpenter is also in this group--he has nice stats but missed too many seasons to injury.
  • 30-33: The leaders here are Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Johann Santana, and Mark Buehrle. I can't quite bring myself to totally eliminate Barry Zito or John Lackey. (Lackey's got a surprisingly high W-L% and now that he's with Boston for a while that number could actually go up.) Cliff Lee is a wild card. He's already close to 32 years old but has some very impressive numbers.
  • Once you get under 30, it gets really tough. I'm going to throw out a bunch of names here. Some of these guys seem like they would get in easily if they just continue a normal career trajectory. Josh Beckett, Dan Haren, CC Sabathia, Carlos Zambrano, Adam Wainwright,  Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Jon Lester, Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez...  But I can't even totally eliminate guys like James Shields and Cole Hamels.
  • And what about the youngsters? Matt Cain? Felix Hernandez? Ricky Romero? This list isn't even close to complete as there are lots of pitchers who are 22-23 years old right now who could become 15-20 game winners for years to come.

Isn't it amazing? If 6 of these guys are going to get in, I challenge anybody to correctly guess which 6 it will be. The only one I see as an absolute slam dunk is Halladay. His perfect game probably sealed that.

Let the debate begin. I find this one much more difficult than the debate over hitters.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 3rd, 2010 at 6:26 am and is filed under Hall of Fame, Season Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

88 Responses to “Active Hall-of-Famers (pitchers)”

  1. What about relief pitchers? There are two guys who are locks: Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. Then, there are others with a chance: Jonathan Papelbon, Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan.

  2. Carter Betz Says:

    Tim Hudson certainly belongs in the 34+ group. His win total is not yet up there with Moyer and Pettit but he has one of the best winning percentages of all time and should easily top 200 wins before his career is through.

  3. How is Andy Pettite not a HOF'er? Here is a guy with 100 more career wins than losses, an 18-9 postseason record and never had one losing season in his career. He is a far and away better pitcher than Jamie Moyer.

    Can you provide play index for pitchers with 100 more wins than losses, my guess would be no more than 35 guys have done this. Then another with pitchers who have 10 years of service without having a losing season, which I am sure there are not many of either.

    Now, one other guy that was not mentioned on this list was Curt Schilling, who was as similar a pitcher as John Smoltz was. The only difference was Smoltz had the 3 dominant seasons as a closer. When you see that Schilling struck out 3,116 and only walked 711 batters, he is only 1 of 4 guys to do that (Jenkins, Maddux and Pedro Martinez were the others. Also, he is only 1 of 2 pitchers in history to strike out 3,000 batters and give up less than 3,000 hits (Pedro was the other). Overall, he was a dominant starter.

  4. Larry R. Says:

    Brad Lidge has no chance at the HOF...none.

  5. Pettitte's ERA and WHIP is too high, thats why.

  6. Ramazavail-

    I agree the ERA is high. This was always the arguement with why Jack Morris will probably never get in. However, Pettites winning percentage of .637 has to reflect him as a great pitcher no? As far as WHIP goes, I don't see that as a real issue.

  7. I love Pettitte. That being said, his neutralized pitching record is 175-153 (.534) taking away a whopping SIXTY ONE WINS from his actual total. He has benefited tremendously from pitching for one of the best offensive teams over the period of his career. We can't hold it against him that he got lucky enough to be on the Yankees, but we shouldn't give him more credit than he deserves either.

  8. Andy,

    That is a crock. What the heck does a "neutralized" won-lost record have to do with his "real" won-lost record. Sorry, his record is what it is. We can't go back in time to see if he pitched for somebody else. The fact is he has 100 more wins than losses and was a damn good postseason pitcher. Those are actual facts, not neturalized or analyzed differently.

  9. Pettite's ERA+ beats Morris's quite handily 117-105. At this point, he shouldn't go in before guys like Schilling and Kevin Brown, but he's still active and padding his totals. Then he starts being compared to Mussina.

    So, he's not a shoo-in, but he has a better case than guys like Jack Morris or Lew Burdette. The wins aren't all from run support.

  10. No, it's not a crock. Among other things, it takes into account a pitcher's run support, which has a MASSIVE impact on his W-L record. A pitcher for the Yankees or Red Sox who gives up 4 runs per game is going to win quite often. A pitcher who pitches for the Astros this year isn't. See Roy Oswalt for further information.

    Dismissing something as "a crock" that goes against your argument is childish.

  11. Johnny Twisto Says:

    JR, I don't think we can use the PI to directly search for differences of 100 more wins than losses. But I have seen the numbers before, and I think everyone who has done it is in the HOF or definitely going to the HOF, plus Mike Mussina and now Andy Pettitte.

    I also love Pettitte but he's not a clear HOFer yet by any means. He has never been considered one of the best few pitchers in the league. His case will mostly be a career-oriented one, and I think he's still a bit short on career. But I have issues with that neutralized stats tool, as I brought up before. In his career, Pettitte has averaged a decision just over every 8 IP (a low number). The neutralizer gives him a decision every 9.3 IP. So it's not just reducing his W% (as it should), but it's taking away tons of decisions. And the description of the tool says it awards one decision for every 9 IP, which it is not doing. It's interesting but I don't really trust it.

  12. But you don't disagree with the W-L% from the neutralizer, do you JT?

  13. That neutralizer does more than just account for run support. Its lowers decisions for almost everyone. It even takes a few wins away from Bert Blyleven.

    A back of the envelope way of calculating a support-neutral winning percentage is to combine ERA+ with Pythag. You set the opponents ERA+ to 100 to get neutral run support. expWPct = (ERA+/100)^2/(1 + (ERA+/100)^2). Keep the decisions before to get an adjusted W-L record.

    Doing that, Pettite drops from 236-136 to 215-157... but that's still quite good.

    Pettite 215-157
    Morris 231-209
    Blyleven 313-224
    Burdette 172-175

  14. @12
    I certainly disagree with it. See previous post. My analysis may be simplistic, but the neutralizer here is vastly overcorrecting. 117 is a very respectable (if not dominant) career OPS+. Its the same as Gaylord Perry, just behind Blyleven and ahead of Steve Carlton.

  15. Andy,

    Here is the bottom line, you can look at every single player and "neutralize" stats and have fun with it. However, at the end of the day, Pettite's record speaks for itself. He is 236-136, those were actual games he pitched in, not simulated. Some pitchers pitched for good teams, some pitched for bad teams. There are pitchers who were awful for good teams. I do agree with Johnny Twisto in the fact that Pettite has never been ranked among the top 10 starters every year for his career. Also, on the Yankees, he has never been the true "Ace" of the staff, that was usually reserved for guys like Cone and Clemens. Yet, we have a pitcher who has 100 more wins that losses and that cannot be overlooked.

  16. Have to agree with @1

    Mariano Rivera is without a doubt a first ballot hall of famer even if he retires this second (in fact, I think his career can only get worse from here, unless he is ageless).

    Hoffman is probably a first balloter as well.

  17. Andy,

    While guys like you, me and all the other people posting here will take neutralized stats into account, the fact of the matter is that the general public and probably even the voters don't. They look at the stats. If they recognize a guy got little run support during his career, it may help his case a little bit but it still doesn't change his won-loss record.

    Also, when it comes to guys who use the "I didn't get run support" line. I simply refer to Walter Johnson, who I'm sure you know won 400 games and you probably also know is the all time leader in losing games 1-0

  18. @15
    Sure it can be overlooked. Voters are overlooking Jack Morris's won-loss record, why not Pettite? Voters are smarter than they used to be. Guys like Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock probably wouldn't get inducted if they came on the ballot today. That said, Pettite's been better than those two, even looking at peripherals (i.e. with neturalization).

    @17
    I'm not sure what the Walter Johnson point is. He certainly did get robbed of many wins. When I neutralize his W-L record, I get 476-220 which puts his lost wins at a whopping 59.

  19. @18

    My point is, he won 400+ games with terrible run support. If he can win that many games with such little support I have little sympathy for the "He lost a lot of wins due to poor run support" claim.

  20. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Andy, I'm not sure. It does seem too low, as DavidRF's calculations indicate. But I'd have to look at the methodology again.

    JR, of course Pettitte's record is what it is. We're just trying to figure out what that record really means. If you just want to judge pitchers by their W-L record, then there's not much to talk about. Pettitte hasn't won those 236 games on his own (nor did he lose 136 on his own). It's a team effort, the pitcher is probably the most important guy, but the whole team is involved, and the pitcher is just the one who gets credited with the win. If you want to induct him for being 236-136, you're not even voting for a pitcher, you're just voting for a record. We're trying to compare him to his peers, and part of doing that is attempting to isolate his performance from that of his teammates. Context does matter, but it doesn't seem fair to induct a good pitcher from a great team, but overlook a better pitcher from a terrible team, simply because the former's W-L record is superior. So we have to try to look at other data to compare them.

  21. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Jim, do you have data on Johnson's run support? The Senators were _not_ a terrible team for most of his career. And no one in baseball scored many runs during the first 2/3 of his career, so "poor" run support is all relative.

  22. @19
    Not everyone can afford to lose 50+ wins to run support and still win 400. There would only be 2 pitchers in the HOF if we did that. Adjusting for run support does help compare two players though. Imagine if Johnson and Mathewson were competing for the next spot in the HOF. By W-L record alone they look pretty comparable. Johnson has more decisions, but Mathewson appears more dominant being more games above .500. Adjust for run support and Johnson blows Mathewson completely out of the water. Its not even close.

    That's why we care. Pettite's in the grey area and we need to compare him to other players in the grey area (Schilling, Brown, Morris, Mussina, John, Blyleven, etc) to see if we vote for him or the other guy. Here, things like run support do matter. If Pettite had 5900 IP or a career ERA of 147, no one would care if he gained or lost wins due to run support because it wouldn't matter either way.

  23. @21

    I'm not sure which Washington Senator's team your talking about but the one I'm discussing had an .450 winning percentage during Johnsons tenure and finished an average 5(and a half, to be specific) place out of 8 teams during his tenure. Keep in mind that this includes 2 back to back penants won in 1925 and 1926 that were won just past his prime.

  24. @22

    And not everyone can be in the hall of fame either. The fact of the matter is pettite HASNT be dominant during his career, he doesnt have an era+ of 147. Hes a been the best #3 pitcher in baseball, occasionally rising to the #2 spot. Hes been above average, but above average doesn't get you into the hall of fame, excellence does.

  25. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Washington had a .492 winning % during Johnson's career. They were outscored by 0.08 runs per game.

  26. Purple Pups Says:

    Where do closers like Rivera and Hoffman fit into this equation? They're more locks than any of the starters you've listed

  27. As I noted in the original post, closers were not part of my analysis and their existence definitely shifts the entire HOF picture for pitchers. No doubt Rivera and Hoffman are both going in.

  28. @25
    While those numbers may show that the Senators were not as awful as commonly thought, its not quite what we are looking for. Those numbers include Johnson's performance and the performance of other pitchers on the staff. What is most relevant here is context-adjusted level of the Senators offense. Walter Johnson's WPct of .599 is quite low for someone with his ERA+ (147). Pythag would imply that it should be .684.

    Other things could be coming into play. Maybe he gave up a high number of UER? His own batting would certainly affect his run support, but it doesn't look especially weak to me. Luck is always involved as well.

  29. Why is Pedro Martinez not mentioned anywhere in this article? How is he not a lock for the Hall of Fame? He's only the best pitcher of the last 25 years, three-time Cy Young winner, five-time ERA champ, 5th all-time in WHIP. This is coming from a Yankees fan.

    It's making me sick to read the consensus that Trevor Hoffman belongs in the Hall. I don't care how many saves he has, dude has choked every single time he has pitched in a game of consequence.

  30. My list was limited to pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last year, which Pedro did not. Clearly he is a HOFer. Each data point on that graph includes only qualified pitchers for each year so I have to draw the line somewhere. My point is just that if 6 guys from last year get in, which 6 are they? Pedro will be one of the 6 who had qualified years in early seasons.

  31. @29 - "Game of consequence"? Every game is a "game of consequence". Just look at what the Red Sox are doing this year. They've come alive and will probably be one of the top 5 teams in baseball the rest of the way, but a crummy April ruined their season. Frankly, it's rather arbitrary to say that September games matter more - they don't in the standings. The goal is always to win, and Hoffman has been an excellent closer and has helped his team win games at a better clip than just about any other reliever.

  32. C.C. Sabathia has the best shot to make it to Cooperstown of the pitchers listed, while also potentially winning 300 games. Playing for the Yankees will do nothing but inflate his win total (like Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte - both borderline HOFers). An exceptional W-L%, 30CG, 11SHO, and a recent world championship should help his case.

    Roy Halladay I would put at a close second, only because his drive for 300 wins will be a tough one given his age. However, his switch to one of the premier teams in the National League should help his career wins cause. Halladay's Win-Loss% is exceptional and he loves to finish what he starts (52CG, 17SHO), throw in a perfecto as well and 250+ wins should seal his ticket to the HOF.

    Four others with best shot
    3) Ubaldo Jimenez (ERA+ pitching in Denver, a no-hitter, needs wins though)
    4) Tim Lincecum (K's, Cy Youngs, great ERA, needs more wins)
    5) Tim Hudson (underrated, high W-L%, 11SHO, needs to get to 250 wins, win a world championship, win 20+ games once or twice more)
    6) Felix Hernandez (young, high K's, needs to get out of Seattle and stay healthy)

  33. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I agree Brendan, I'm not sold on Hoffman. The door has been opened to relievers, but I'd prefer it remain for only the truly elite. Hoffman hasn't pitched even 70 IP, or more than 1 IP per appearance, in ten years. Sure, he's been very effective, but he just pitches so little, even by the standards of his time.

    DavidRF, you are correct, which was why I originally asked Jim if he knew of actual run support numbers. The common wisdom is that Johnson pitched for terrible teams, which was only true at the very beginning of his career. I assume that Washington's offense was close to average over that period, but I've not yet checked. Well, hell, I'll give it a quick look now...

  34. I have extra free time today. One thing about HOF candidacies is that they don't occur in a vacuum. Its often about who else is eligible. A guy may look good compared to someone who was inducted a while ago but not measure up compared to his contemporaries.

    Here are the non-HOF 200W guys from the past couple of generations.

    Maddux 355-227, 132 ERA+, 5008.1 IP, 3371 K
    Clemens 354-184, 143 ERA+, 4916.2 IP, 4672 K
    Glavine 305-203, 118 ERA+, 4413.1 IP, 2607 K
    RJohnson 303-166, 136 ERA+, 4135.1 IP, 4875 K
    John 288-231, 111 ERA+, 4710.1 IP, 2245 K
    Blyleven 287-250, 118 ERA+, 4970.0 IP, 3701 K
    Kaat 283-237, 108 ERA+, 4530.1 IP, 2461 K
    Mussina 270-153, 123 ERA+, 3562.2 IP, 2813 K
    Moyer 263-200, 105 ERA+, 3972.0 IP, 2374 K
    Morris 254-186, 105 ERA+, 3824.0 IP, 2478 K
    DMartinez 245-193, 106 ERA+, 3999.2 IP, 3149 K
    Tanana 240-236, 106 ERA+, 4188.1 IP, 2773 K
    Wells 239-157, 108 ERA+, 3439.0 IP, 2201 K
    Pettite 236-136, 117 ERA+, 2991.2 IP, 2191 K
    Tiant 229-172, 115 ERA+, 3486.1 IP, 2416 K
    Koosman 222-209, 110 ERA+, 3839.1 IP, 2556 K
    JNiekro 221-204, 98 ERA+, 3584.1 IP, 1747 K
    PMartinez 219-100, 154 ERA+, 2827.1 IP, 3154 K
    KRogers 219-156, 108 ERA+, 3302.2 IP, 1968 K
    Lolich 217-191, 105 ERA+, 3638.1 IP, 2832 K
    Schilling 216-146, 128 ERA+, 3261.0 IP, 3116 K
    Hough 216-216, 107 ERA+, 3801.1 IP, 2362 K
    Reuschel 214-191, 114 ERA+, 3548.1 IP, 2015 K
    Smoltz 213-155, 125 ERA+, 3473.0 IP, 3084 K (plus 154 saves)
    KBrown 211-144, 127 ERA+, 3256.1 IP, 2397 K
    Welch 211-146, 107 ERA+, 3092 IP, 1969 K
    Blue 209-161, 108 ERA+, 3343 IP, 2175 K
    Hershiser 204-150, 112 ERA+, 3130.1 IP, 2014 K
    Finley 200-173, 115 ERA+, 3197.1 IP, 2610 K

    Obviously the guys at the very top are shoo-ins and the guys at the very bottom are definite no's (shoo outs?). And the process is set up so that they usually only have to stomach to induct one or two pitchers a year. So the guys in the middle who make it will likely have to wait a while (except for Pedro). It'll be interesting to see who they end up picking.

  35. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Because it was quickest, I just looked at where DC ranked in runs/game in the AL during Johnson's career. Their average placement was 5.4. They were 7th or 8th in 7 of 21 seasons. So, definitely a below-average offense. They should have been a little better on days Johnson pitched, as he was a good hitter.

    I just remembered, Chris Jaffe used to calculate run support for all pitchers, let me see if I can find his data...

  36. Johnny Twisto Says:

    He had Johnson with a run support index of 95.4 (where 100 is average). So, almost 5% below average (which is substantial over such a long career). See here:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20040811235333/runsupportindex.blogspot.com/2004/06/career-rsis-and-adjusted-wl-records.html

    Pettitte was at 114, but that data is several years old now.

  37. JT, also remember that Johnson is the all time leader in 1-0 losses in a career. I'm not sure of the exact number of games but I know I've seen the stat before

  38. I looked it up and Johnson is 36-26 in games decided by a score of 1-0. Both his wins and losses in this respect are major league records. The numbers aren't as shattering as I thought they would be but thats still 26 losses that he pitched superbly in.

  39. Regarding Andy Pettitte's chances for the Hall...

    2 All-Star games
    0.89 career shares Cy Young votes
    25 CG, 4 SO

    These are certainly not Hall of Fame credentials. Consider, Halladay has 3 SO already this season.

  40. Why have closers become "locks"?

    They pitch one inning, when the team already has the lead. They may face the bottom of the order, with a three-run lead, and they still get credit for "saving" the game.

    Even a DH does much more to contribute to the chance of a victory.

    The only "save" should involve facing the tying/losing run. Otherwise, give 'em a "hold."

    Most of the time, they do little of real consequence, except not screw up. Meanwhile, the starter (Pettitte, for the purposes of this discussion) gets short shrift.

    What's a closer, without a lead? A wasted, valuable, roster spot. Managers are scared to use them in non-save situations, so they are often a drag on a team's chances of coming from behind.

    Sorry, if this sounds a bit neanderthal in this modern era.

    But -- given the arguments against guys who were "just" superior defenders (Omar Vizquel), or "just" great pinch-hitters (Manny Mota, for instance) -- Mariano Rivera's track record can certainly be questioned.

    Mota was a career .300 hitter as a pinch hitter, one of the toughest jobs in baseball. His 589 pinch-hitting PA's is an extremely sizable sample, given the basics of the job. He was also a very competent player when he played in the field as a regular.

    As a pinch hitter, though, he'd get one chance to make good, usually against a pitcher he only saw a couple of times in a season.

    And many of those at bats were late against closers.

    Yet, no one would seriously begin a campaign for Manny Mota to be included in the Hall of Fame, despite his extraordinary level of success in his specialized field. He did hit .304 for his entire career, which covered 3,779 at bats. Not exactly chopped liver.

    But it was a highly specialized career in his later years. He spent much of it doing the same thing any closer does -- nothing. He'd wait for six-seven-eight innings, doing whatever it took to be ready when called on. Then he'd grab his bat and do the job he did better than just about anyone else. Ever.

    Most pitchers can make it through a lineup once, with success. It's the repeat viewings that let hitters get their timing, and become familiar with what a hurler is throwing. Rivera's own attempts at starting may be evidence of that: a 3-3 mark, and a hefty 5.94 ERA. Getting those repeat viewings, hitters batted .306 against Rivera, the starter, in 50 innings of work.

    Obviously, he had something they liked after they got to size it up. Opposing hitters batted just .216 and .121 (as they got closer to the bottom of the order) in the first two innings.

    The second time around, however, there was an alarming jump. In the third inning, hitters teed off (.460), followed by .222 in the fourth (second time around for the lower part of the order, evidently, but he was still less effective).

    From the fifth on (if he made it any further), he was toast. Hitters banged out 23 hits in 69 at bats (.333) in the fifth and sixth innings.

    But that first time around, he was in command. Maybe he tired quickly. Maybe his stuff just wasn't good enough to hold up under repeated viewings, in a short time. Maybe the hitters just hadn't seen it before and simply needed to get their bearings. Those are things that get a guy enshrined in the Hall of Fame?

    He can't get deep into games, so you make a short man out of him, limit the opportunities for the good hitters to adjust to what he's throwing (especially after already looking at two or three other pitchers in the same game). Make sure even his most frequent "customers" only get to dine against him 4-5 times in an entire season. Five plate appearances widely scattered amongst 400-600 others.

    When they only see you a few times in a year, it makes it much more difficult. And when you're pitching just one inning, they may not see you at all!

    He should be tougher to hit!

    How can (or, do) we compensate for that, in judging relievers? What is the value of simply not blowing a lead?

  41. JeffW

    I dont think that all closers are locks. Yes, the closer is an extremely overrated position. In my mind, that means you have to excel extremely well in order to be a lock as a hall of famer as a closer.

    Mariano Rivera is the ALL TIME leader in ERA+ with 203(!). If that doesn't make him a lock I'm not sure what is.

  42. I merely question the circumstances.

    If you pitched 20 times against the '62 Mets, your ERA+ would probably look pretty good, too.

    The infrequency that most hitters see him (or most closers, for that matter) adds to his potential effectiveness. The sample pool against most hitters is not that large.

    I did a samply study a year ago, of Rivera's BA against, versus the era's top hitters. He wasn't noticably better than the average pitcher. Here's what I found:

    Edgar Martinez, 10/16
    Manny Ramirez, 8/38
    Rafael Palmeiro, 8/24
    Frank Thomas, 3/22
    Carlos Delgado, 8/21
    Pudge Rodriguez, 6/20
    Michael Young, 6/20
    Juan Gonzalez, 6/18
    Carl Crawford, 6/17
    Nomar Garciaparra, 7/18
    Ken Griffey Jr., 4/12
    Magglio Ordonez, 7/14
    Alex Rodriguez, 3/11
    Albert Belle, 4/13
    Jason Giambi, 3/11
    Mo Vaughn, 5/12
    Ichiro, 3/11
    Carlos Lee, 3/11
    Mark McGwire, 3/10

    Add 'em all up and you get a .323 average. Mo is hardly special against the top tier of hitters he's faced. Absent Manny and Frank, it's a resounding .355 (92/259)! He gets lit up against the best!

    Yes, these are the best of the best who were at their best during these years. No hangers-on. No guys who were 2-4. Ten at bats, minimum. We're matching career arcs here, as best as possible. But, if we're talkin' Hall of Fame, then Mo should be getting these guys out (more often), too.

    The simple fact is that he doesn't/didn't even face some of these guys more than once or twice a year! Now, what would Rivera's career look like as a starter, if he was facing these guys two or three times in a game?

    Look at those '90's Rangers (Juan, Raffy and Pudge). Those Mariners (Edgar, Junior, and dash of A-Rod).

    Maybe the bullpen made his career.

    Now, you may say "Ten at bats? Big deal!" And you'd be right, to a degree. If he were a starter and faced a guy in three games, and that guy got three hits one day and was blanked the other two, that might well come out to 3-10. Either Mo had a bad day, or the other guy had a good day. It happens.

    But starters used to face hitters 10 times (or more) in a single season, sometimes in a single month! You had the chance to build up a reliable base on these guys. You could say -- with certainty -- that Hank Aaron owned Sandy Koufax (42/116, .362, seven HRs). When 10 at bats is all you have to sample, then it starts getting iffy.

    Here's the argument: if 10 at bats is not a large enough sample to determine anything with any degree of legitimacy, then why are any modern closers considered to be so "great," when there's such a small (relatively speaking) sample to consider? Where's your threshold for greatness?

    If it's Tim Lincecum, you may already be sizing up his plaque for the Hall of Fame, wondering what hat he'll be wearing by then. At least, he's faced 2,451 batters in his three years (up to when I did this study). And yet, he's already more than halfway to catching Rivera (4,352 batters faced). Where's the basis for comparison?

  43. I totally agree that closers have a much smaller sample size and that must be taken into conisderation.

    There are lets just say 30 closers, 1 for each team (which is a huge underestimate). Of them , I can see only 2, Rivera and Hoffman, who are absolute locks. In fact they may be the only closers of the active group to make it. So 2 out of 30 would be 6.7 percent of active closers which is only slightly above the range that we see for active hof pitchers.

    No one will argue that closers have an overrated role and they see MUCH less batters than their starting counterparts but that doesn't mean that a player cannot excel at the closing role.

  44. Where does that leave Manny Mota? ;)

  45. Mota was a career pinch hitter; a position reserved players who simply cannot hit the ball well enough to maintain a starting role and dont have a good enough glove to compensate for their bad bat. Yes, Mota ended up a .304 average but he was scarcely a regular player. The fact of the matter is, if Mota really was the .304 hitter that his numbers indicate he would have been given a full time position.

    And for further proof look at his 162 game averages. No one gets in the hall of fame with 52 runs scored every 400 at bats :P

    Now compare Motas OPS to Riveras ERA+. Motas OPS+ is a half decent 112(there are plenty of non hof'ers with an ops higher than this). Rivera's ERA+ is 203. Who do would you vote for?

  46. JeffW -

    I've tried having this argument with my friend recently about ALL starters being more valuable than even the best closer because they are able to go through a lineup once and I specifically bring up Rivera's starting problems as an example. Thanks for providing the stats there, I never bothered to look them up.

  47. Closer ERA+'s are always higher. They have the luxury of throwing harder because they only need to get 3 outs. 5 or 6 outs at the very most. It kinda bugs me seeing Mariano at the top of the ERA+ leaderboard. He never once came close to qualifying in a single season.

    Judging closers is frustrating because their usage patterns have changed so much from era to era. The very very best of each era usually get inducted though. I'd have to think Mariano Rivera is pretty much a sure thing because of this. After that, we'll see. You'd think Hoffman would be automatic, but Lee Smith is still on the outside and Gossage had to wait a long time. I can understand them being conservative about this because you can't uninduct people.

  48. DavidRF,

    Your absolutely right. Closers have a much smaller sample size, therefore there numbers may seem VERY inflated. Even so, an ERA+ of 203 over so many years still means something. You do realize that means his era was always 2x better than that of an average pitcher. That's incredible.

    If he only pitched 5 years and had that high ERA+, id say the same things you guys are but this is a long and storied career complete with world series rings which sure don't hurt

  49. I was not seriously proposing Mota for the Hall, though he twice drew votes.

    Actually, he had 300+ PA's in a season 10 times, and had a .309 lifetime average as a starter.

  50. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I won't get into the argument over whether closers are overrated. But Rivera had all of 10 starts, in his rookie year. That is not evidence he was not capable of becoming a competent SP.

  51. 300 plate apperances doesn't even qualify you for a batting title. If he really was a great hitter like that he would have gotten more time. He either lost the ABs due to injury or inconsistency, either way that's how it balances out. Consider this Jeff: Juan Pierre was a .301 lifetime hitter coming into this year, with WAY more time than mota saw in his entire career already. Do you really think hes a hall of famer? I think I rest my case on sample size.

  52. Also, I think some of the only other closers that could be considered for Hall of Fame eligibility would be those who were also succesful as starters, i.e. John Smoltz.

  53. On a team that desperately needed a quality righthanded starter (Jack McDowell left after the '95 season, remember, and David Cone made just 13 starts in '95), and already had John Wetteland closing, it was still enough for the Yankees to send Mo to the pen.

  54. Michael E Sullivan Says:

    If Hoffman does not belong in the hall, then neither does any reliever that's already made it. I was running defense independent numbers for pitchers the other day, including the best pitchers of our era, and some of the best in the hall, some suspect choices, as well as all the pitchers who made the hall in the last 20 years of voting, some serious candidates who didn't, plus a bunch of guys playing or recently retired. Blyleven comes out lower than I expected by this metric, but still at or above many current players in the hall that nobody questions (spahn, ford, eckersley, carlton). I figured Nolan Ryan would look bad by this metric, but he's very solid, lots of Ks made up for the BB and he gave up very few HR. Amazing he kept that up with his IP.

    I expected Rivera to rank very high, but he still surprised me by being basically off the charts, better than walter johnson and cy young. Hoffman isn't quite that amazing but he was the biggest surprise for me. His DICE is better than any modern pitcher except Rivera and Pedro Martinez. And when I say modern, I mean basically everybody since walter johnson. Koufax is close. Clemens, maddux, smolz, randy johnson (all locks) and schilling and halladay (possible-probable) look very good on the whole list but aren't that close to Trevor Hoffman. One guy who you mention as a lock (glavine) doesn't look that great (though still ahead of some current HoFers).

    I wondered if this metric favored relievers so I put up the numbers of the few who are in or have been seriously considered for the hall, and they fell in line with the starters on the list. Sutter and fingers were the best of them a cut below Clemens/Maddux but ahead of Tom Seaver. Gossage was in line with Perry and Blyleven, and Eck was surprisingly mediocre, at least by hall of fame standards.

    In any case, Hoffman was *far* better by this measure than any reliever I could think of besides mariano. He's got the record for Saves, a 141 ERA+ over 18 seasons and DICE numbers that beat almost everybody. I don't know how you don't vote this guy into the hall, unless you think every reliever already there shouldn't be.

    On moyer vs, pettite, DICE says pettite by a lot, but neither is a great candidate. Moyer is last on the list of guys I looked at by quite a bit, while Pettite is in the rear of the pack. I think both have a shot with the voters for their own reasons, but neither really meets the standard of pitching, and Moyer is pretty far off.

  55. I'm not saying it doesn't mean anything. I'm just saying it shouldn't be on the same leaderboard as Lefty Grove, Pedro Martinez or Walter Johnson.

    And its not sample size. Its usage. Its easier to be more effective as a pitcher 3 outs at a time. Look at almost any 2010 team page and the closer usually has the highest ERA+.

    Don't worry, I'm on board with Rivera being the best closer of his generation... and possibly best ever. I just cringe seeing ERA+ used for relievers. Try Saves and SaveOpps or some sort of leverage thing. Anything but ERA+.

  56. Jim,

    Much of Mota's difficulty in getting more PT during his earlier years in Pittsburgh may have been due to playing in the same outfield with Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Bill Virdon/Matty Alou.

    In L.A., it was Willie Davis, Willie Crawford, then Bill Buckner, Frank Robinson.

    If anything, it was likely his lack of power. He never hit below .275 between 1963 and 1974, whether as a starter or role player. He was very consistent.

    Please don't make more of this stuff about Mota than is intended. It's merely to lend perspective to the relative contributions of a role player, or a defensive whiz (Omar), versus a closer.

  57. DavidRF,

    Once again, your right. The sample size is way smaller and usage is way less. But he still has DOMINANT numbers.

    In 15 seasons as a closer he has never had an ERA+ lower than 144, and that was his only time lower than 160. That's pure dominance. I don't care what the usage was. If he was used so little, it is expected he should be able to be superior per use. He has been far superior and then some.

  58. JeffW,

    Your whole argument then is sample size. Mota played a role where he is expected to have more 300 PA's per season. Regardless of the reason, he didn't do it enough to be noticed. Rivera has a role where he only gets 80 IP per season and has been more than superior than any of his counterparts. You can't knock Rivera for being in a role where he only gets limited apperances, that is not his fault.

  59. Andy, I'm not sure I see Halladay as "an absolute slam dunk" quite yet. Assuming he stays healthy, I think he's a safe bet to have at least a few more good years and have a solid HOF resume, but I can't call any player a lock for the Hall unless he passes the "if he retired right now test." If Halladay retired right now, he would have only six ERA-title qualifying seasons, and only 2132.2 IP, which as far as I can tell would be fewer IP than any starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame. He certainly has the peak already, but he needs to add the longevity. As of right now, he has 49.9 career WAR, which is short of guys like Bret Saberhagen and Orel Hershiser, who also probably looked like HOFers at one point.

    Anyway, that said, I think Halladay and Johan Santana are the best bets. Johan, like Halladay, has had a superb, HOF-worthy prime (look at all that black ink from '04 to '08, plus the two Cy Youngs), and just needs to have a graceful enough decline. Neither will likely reach 300 wins, but I think they've been dominant enough that they can get in with 200. In any case, I think (or at least hope) that voters will recognize that the era of the 300-game winner is over, and that we have to look for different and better standards when evaluating today's starting pitchers.

    The third guy I would look at is Roy Oswalt, who doesn't own a Cy Young award like the other two, but has consistently been a top-tier pitcher for the past decade, and did have a stretch of five top-five Cy Young finishes over a six-year span. He also has two 20-win seasons, which might play well with voters who still value that sort of thing. He showed signs of decline the last two years, but he seems to be back this year as a dominant starter, and if he can put up a solid second decade of his career to go with his first, I think he could have a very solid case. CC Sabathia is probably at about the same level as Oswalt, though he hasn't been quite as consistent year-to-year, and has less career WAR over the same number of years and about the same number of innings.

    So I'd say that Halladay, Santana, Oswalt, and Sabathia are the most likely, since they've already have a solid decade's-worth of work behind them. Maybe three of those guys end up getting in, and three more from the younger group of Lincecum, Verlander, Jimenez, etc. Lincecum has been the best pitcher in baseball over the last three years, but we just don't know how he's going to hold up. He could end up being this era's Sandy Koufax, or merely this era's Dwight Gooden. If he stays healthy, he'll be an all-time great.

  60. Johnny Twisto Says:

    "I don't know how you don't vote [Hoffman] into the hall"

    Because he's been throwing 55 IP a year for the last decade! Even with the diminished workrates of closers/ace relievers, that's 25% fewer than other top guys.

  61. David,

    I just think that saves are to overrated a stat. Leverage maybe, but I don't have to the time to go into that much detail but I'd be more than willing to discuss it

  62. @61
    Sure. They'll induct the best closer or two from each generation. The trick is how to find out who that is. Its such an evolving role. Something detailed like what the guy in @54 (or something analogous) seems warranted.

  63. For all the reasons noted above--the high career ERA (it would be highest in the HOF, I believe), the paucity of all-star and leaderboard appearances (All-Star is especially troubling since it would've been his own manager picking the team for many of those seasons!), lack of awards, never a top 10 pitcher, etc...today, Andy Pettitte's high winning pct alone, or playoff record, does not get him in. BUT--look at the start he's had this year. If Pettitte wins the Cy Young or comes close, wins 20-23 games, actually maintains a solid ERA at 3.00 or under...does that change any of this? I guess I'm asking two questions: How does Pettitte's HOF chance change w/ an outright Cy Young win this season...and how does it change with a near-Cy Young win...?

  64. I'd have to say Rivera is by far the best closer of our generation. Consider his consitency in a role that some teams change 3 or 4 times a year.

  65. Can we calculate an ERA+ for relievers that is only relative to other relievers? That would seem to make a HUGE difference.

  66. That seems like a great idea BSK, but I'm willing to bet that reliever era isn't much different than starter ERA

  67. Michael E Sullivan Says:

    I would agree that you can make a legitimate case Hoffman doesn't belong, but the same arguments would apply to every reliever currently in. I believe his case is stronger than any of the pure relievers who are already in the hall (also looking at the numbers Smolz >> Eck, much better as a starter, and better, if for a shorter time, as a reliever).

    But for a more pure "he belongs" argument, look at his total win probability added, it's in line with starters who are in the hall. It seems that closers may really have enough leverage that the better ones are nearly as valuable as starters.

    And surely saves are overrated, but many common stats are overrated. Wins and W-L for pitchers are even more overrated than saves, and we've got a guy in here saying Pettitte should be a shoo-in because of his W-L alone.

    Batting average is pretty overrated, but any guy with the highest BA of his generation still probably belongs in the hall.

    Even ERA+ isn't the greatest, as it mixes in defense.

  68. All pitching stats, even strikeouts if you consider the catcher is required to not drop the 3rd strike, mixes in defense.

  69. Johnny Twisto Says:

    What would be interesting is to compare a closer's stats (ERA+, or whatever) to that of the top X relievers or closers over a particular period. This could be done via PI and maybe I will try tonight. Closer ERA+ is steadily increasing as their workload diminishes. All the top guys are current, given a minimum of 200 or 400 IP or whatever. Rivera is still off the charts, but Hoffman's 141 is probably less impressive than Gossage's 126.

  70. Michael E Sullivan Says:

    I agree with Jim, I don't think ERA+ for relievers only will work. "Relievers" as a class has a top 20-30% with very good ERAs (closers and a few other key relievers) but is full of guys who are worse than almost every starter. Nobody goes out and gets a solid pitcher to be mop-up/long relief. Somebody has to do that, but if you find a guy who is average or better -- on just about every team, that guy is going to be a starter or a high LI reliever (closer or key setup). Most relievers do not get high LI innings -- they are just bench, and below average pitchers.

    But if you compare just to key relievers (some measure of save opps or Leveraged IP that indicates a key reliever), that would be equivalent to comparing starting pitchers only to starting pitchers (which is not what ERA+ does, it compares to all pitchers).

  71. Johnny Twisto Says:

    That is inspired by BSK's idea, not intended to bite it, btw.

  72. Michael E Sullivan Says:

    And the catcher or pitching coach usually calls pitches as well, but realistically some stats are more defense independent than others: KO, BB and HR are pretty independent. ERA mixes in a *lot* more defense. Also a lot more luck, but that tends to average out over a whole career. When looking at guys who have a very hot few years though, if their DICE numbers for those years are not in line with their gaudy ERA+, I tend to get suspicious that luck was involved. That also goes for closers with their much lower career IPs, which is one reason Hoffman's very good DICE number is important for me.

  73. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Here's what I did: Over successive 5-year periods, I took the top X pitchers in saves for that period, where X = the number of teams in the majors at that time. Of those X pitchers, I then found the median in various stats.

    2005-2009: 274 G, 1.02 IP/G, 112 Sv, 145 ERA+, 72 OPS+ against
    2000-2004: 281 G, 1.06 IP/G, 125 Sv, 138 ERA+, 74 OPS+
    1995-1999: 273 G, 1.10 IP/G, 110 Sv, 127 ERA+, 81 OPS+
    1990-1994: 262 G, 1.16 IP/G, 105 Sv, 131 ERA+, 81 OPS+
    1985-1989: 279 G, 1.35 IP/G, 90 Sv, 129 ERA+, 82 OPS+
    1980-1984: 277 G, 1.57 IP/G, 70 Sv, 125 ERA+, 84 OPS+
    1975-1979: 271 G, 1.68 IP/G, 65 Sv, 122 ERA+, 86 OPS+
    1970-1974: 234 G, 1.52 IP/G, 54 Sv, 121 ERA+, 88 OPS+

    This probably isn't the most accurate way to study it, but it's (relatively) quick and close enough. Anyway, it's obvious that closers are being used less in each appearance and consequently becoming more effective in terms of ERA+ and OPS+. A 145 ERA+ is no longer impressive for a short reliever. Last season 37 pitchers saved at least 10 games, and the median ERA+ was 150.

  74. JT-

    No biting, at all. You took my rough idea and took it to a far better place.

    Basically, I think there is a problem comparing Rivera's ERA to, just to pick someone out of a hat, Brett Myers. We should be comparing him to Pabelbon and Nathan and co. Just like we look at 40 HRs from a 1B differently than 40 from a SS, so should we look at a 2.00 ERA from a closer differently than the same from a starter. If we could break down the adjusted stats to specific roles, we'd have a better gauge of their value.

    Rate stats are designed to tease out sample size bias. 150 times on base in 400 PAs is better than 175 in 500, obviously. But it's also better than 5 times on base in 6PAs, since the impact of those 6 PAs is pretty negligible. So while ERA+ (or simply ERA, for that matter) is better than simply counting runs, there is still a lower limit. How can a guy who never qualified for a single-season ERA title somehow qualify for a career ERA stat?

  75. Johnny - Out of curiosity - do you have the regular era for your chart as well?

  76. Johnny Twisto Says:

    ERA:

    '05-'09: 3.20
    '00-'04: 3.30
    '95-'99: 3.41
    '90-'94: 3.05
    '85-'89: 2.98
    '80-'85: 2.95
    '75-'80: 3.10
    '70-'74: 2.92

    One could argue that with shorter relief appearances leading to bigger bullpens, the top relievers are increasing their ERA+ at the expense of all the terrible pitchers at the back of the pen.

  77. That's what I was thinking.

    Thanks, Johnny.

  78. Johnny Twisto Says:

    So, comparing the height of the "fireman" era, '75-'79, to today:

    The Fireman pitched 54 G, 91 IP, and if I've reverse-calculated his ERA+ correctly, saved 7 runs above average (ERA+ 100) pitcher.

    The Modern Closer pitches 55 G, 56 IP, saving 9 runs above average.

    (These numbers are obviously a little lower than a real top guy does in a single season, due to attrition over the five-year periods I looked at.)

  79. Using JohnnyTwisto's regular closer ERA numbers here are Rivera's closerERA+ numbers:
    96-99: 100*(3.41/1.95) = 179 (247 G)
    00-04: 100*(3.30/2.28) = 145 (254 G)
    05-09: 100*(3.20/1.89) = 169 (331 G)

    Career number using those 3 weighted by games: (247/832)179 + (254/832)145 + (331/832)169 = 164 clERA + in 1041 IP.

    That would still put him first on the all-time ERA+ list, however these numbers are not park adjusted which I think the leaderboard on this site is. I also think closers are very overrated and overpaid and I hate the save stat, but Rivera still has to be considered a dominant pitcher. I also think he does not belong on the top of the ERA+ board because it still seems misleading to have closers in the same group as Pedro or Grove or Johnson (either one). Not having to pitch tired deep into games or face the same guys 4 times and all of the other factors that benefit closers still need to be considered. The way I have always looked at it is that if Randy Johnson were a closer he would have easily been far more dominant that Rivera, and if Rivera was a starter with his 1 pitch he would have been average.

    Since I am a Brewer fan and now hate Trevor Hoffman I wanted to find his clERA+ to see if he has been a below average closer with tons of chances (Ill include his '94 season with the 95-99 group to be conservative since he had a 162 ERA+ in 94.):
    94-99: 100*(3.41/2.43) = 140 (372 G)
    00-04: 100*(3.30/2.85) = 116 (257 G)
    05-09: 100*(3.20/2.69) = 119 (289 G)

    Career 127 clERA+ in 952 IP (not park adjusted)

  80. "Since I am a Brewer fan and now hate Trevor Hoffman"

    Sorry for your pain, but this made me chuckle.

  81. I also just wondered how Pedro's (and to a much lesser extent the older guys) ERA+ numbers would change when you recalcuate just based on other starters ERA and take out the closers' numbers. I would assume they would go up and possibly have Pedro jump above Rivera's 164 clERA+ number?

  82. I don't view Pettitte as a HOFer, although he is still building his resume. I'm not ready to rule him out. As for his neutralized pitching record, that is not relevant to the discussion of his making the HOF. HOF voters don't take into account neutralized pitching records. It's nice for us to talk about, but for the discussion of making the HOF, it's not something that will be used to determine if Pettitte makes it. They'll look at his actual pitching record. Deserved or not, he'll also get extra points from the voters for his winning percentage, and pitching on so many World Championship teams and his post-season record.

    Pettitte, of course, can make this easy. Watching him over the past couple of seasons and the adjustments he's made, I have little doubt he can play the part of the crafty lefty and pitch effectively into his early 40s. If he reaches 300 wins he'll waltz in. Yet getting there will be a stretch, but I don't think he'll need 300 wins to get his ticket punched. If he can make it up to about 280, which might be a more realistic goal, coupled with what will be 20+ post-season wins (he's already at 18), I think he makes the Hall easy. It's really up to him as he'll need to pitch another three seasons beyond 2010, but indications are he's going to pull a Mike Mussina and head home early.

  83. Johnny Twisto Says:

    "The way I have always looked at it is that if Randy Johnson were a closer he would have easily been far more dominant that Rivera, and if Rivera was a starter with his 1 pitch he would have been average."

    I'm not sure about this. How much more dominant is it possible to be? ERAs of 1.00, year after year? Some pitchers have been better than Rivera for a couple seasons, and then faded. I'm sure Johnson would have been an excellent closer, but I am very reluctant to predict he could have matched Rivera, let alone exceeded him, since no actual closers have come particularly close.

    Now on the other hand, I will agree it is highly unlikely Rivera would have approached Johnson's career as a SP. I expect he could have had a decent career, but it is doubtful he would have been as valuable as he has in his relief role. He did throw more than fastballs when he was a starter.

  84. Johnny Twisto, I agree regarding Rivera. I've sometimes seen Rivera referred to as a "failed starter," but there just isn't enough information to make that determination, especially for those who know Rivera's story. He was successful in the minors, but his first stop in the majors his arm wasn't quite healthy and he was only throwing 90 mph. Upon his return to the majors, he was throwing 96 and threw a one- or two-hitter over 8 innings against the first team he faced. He bounced back and forth, mostly rotting in the pen for the rest of '95 season, until he was discovered again in the bullpen during the playoffs agains the Mariners. If Showalter had gone to Rivera just a little earlier, history would have been changed, at leats as far as Showalter is concerned. The Joe Torre era never would have arrived. The Yankees saw what he could do and left him in the pen. Considering what an exceptional athlete Rivera is, his competitive natue, and the fact that he can repeat his delivery as well as any one in the game leading to exceptional control, throw in his unhittable cutter, and you'd have one fine starting pitcher. Rivera had an excellent change-up and a decent curve, which he shelved as a closer. The Yankees gained a great closer, but I think the odds are good that they lost one or two Cy Young Award-winning seasons from Rivera as a starter. The same, btw, may be true of Billy Wagner. He should have been allowed to fail as a starter. His numbers suggest he'd have been an excellent starting pitcher.

  85. JeffW, I have a problem with your methodology as it relates to Rivera. Those are all fine hitters, yet we would expect certain elite-level hitters to show good numbers. Yet, I see you include Carl Crawford as an elite-level hitter, but you don't include a Johnny Damon. The fact you suggested throwing out Ramirez and Thomas, who I would rate as the two best right-handed hitters of the last generation not named Pujols, highlights the problem. Including those two, we can pull another list of quality hitters, all of them All-Stars that include several HOFers and several more to come:

    Manny Ramirez 8/38
    Johnny Damon 5/28
    Miguel Tejada 6/24
    Frank Thomas 3/22
    Jim Thome 3/14
    Carlos Beltran 3/13
    Garrett Anderson 3/18
    Cal Ripken 3/13
    Harold Baines 3/14
    Victor Martinez, 3/14
    Jim Edmonds 2/11
    Jermaine Dye 2/13
    Fred McGriff 2/9
    Will Clark 2/9
    Tino Martinez 2/11
    Rickey Henderson 0/5
    Paul Molitor 1/5

    These names are hitting in the .190's vs. Rivera. I know you stopped at 10 ABs, but I included Henderson and Molitor to make a point. The two HOFers were collectively 1/10 against Rivera. Since he's a closer, he has a lot of players with a smaller number of ABs. In fact, the player with the most ABs, Manny Ramirez, only has 38 ABs, spread over a very long period of time. That's why we can only judge Rivera on his entire body or work. Sure, there are some name hitters who have done better against him, and there is a list of name hitters who haven't done well against him. And, in fact, some of the guys on your list, while they may have hits, they were still anemic. Albert Belle hit over .300 against him, but slugged only .385; A-Rod only slugged .364; Giambi, .273. And I didn't even include on my list Ray Durham, who is 0-26. That from a two-time All-Star who cranked out more than 2,000 hits in his career. Maybe I should have included him since your list included Michael Young, whose career OPS+ is only two points better than Durham's.

    Judge Rivera on his entire body of work. Not selected hitters.

  86. MikeD, you are right on this one when it comes to Rivera. I don't rate relief pitcher results the same as I do starters, but Rivera has a relief record that screams "I'm better than everyone else." We can take any pitcher, starter or reliever, and find premium hitters with good results. That hardly means they're not dominant pitchers.

    I just did a quick run on Randy Johnson and picked up selected elite hitters as the original poster did with Rivera.

    A. Pujols 11-24
    D. Wright 8-19
    C. Beltran 9-22 (hmmm, hits Johnson but not Rivera)
    J. Reyes 9-20
    L. Walker 11-28
    M. Tejada, 17-44 (ditto Beltran note above)
    D. Mattingly, 16-42 (Donnie Baseball, bad back and all and a left-handed hitter, pretty much owned the Big Unit.)
    A. Trammel 8-22
    C. Jones 13-36 (and with 6 HRs vs. Johnson, but only 1-6 vs. Rivera.)
    M. Vaughn 10-31 (It appears Mo liked Rivera and Johnson)
    C. Baerga 12-37
    B. Bonds 15-49
    J. Gonzalez – .266, but hit 5 HRs against Johnson.

    Just because these specific guys have done well against Johnson doesn’t make him any less great because there’s a whole nother list of players he destroys. Like everybody else. Same with Rivera, or any great pitcher.

    I think the original poster was trying too hard to prove something that doesn't exist. And throwing out Rivera's good results against Manny and the Big Hurt to come up with the most inflated number he can to declare "it's a resounding .355 (92/259)! He gets lit up against the best!" Well, no, he doesn't. He gets lit up against the hitters you selected, just as Randy Johnson gets lit up against the hitters I selected. If we add the two listx of elite hitters mentioned above, including Durham, they have a .262 BA against Rivera. That's against a greater selection of elite hitters. Seems to be a different story.

  87. What about Kerry Wood his SO/9 is 10.4 and has had a great career.

  88. Johnny Twisto Says:

    No-brainer.