This is our old blog. It hasn't been active since 2011. Please see the link above for our current blog or click the logo above to see all of the great data and content on this site.

POLL: John Smoltz and the Hall of Fame

Posted by Andy on September 28, 2010

John Smoltz was a cornerstone of the dynastic Braves teams of the 1990s and 2000s. He was a top starting pitcher in the late 1990s, including winning the NL Cy Young in 1996, and then reinvented himself as a stud reliever in the 2000s after an arm injury cost him the 2000 season.

Smoltz had one season, 2003, that was arguably the greatest season by a closer. In 64.1 innings, he allowed just 48 hits and 8 walks while striking out 73 (0.870 WHIP). His ERA+ was 385 and he generated 3.2 WAR that year.

Having proven that he could dominate as both a starter and reliever, Smoltz has done things that few other pitchers have done. However, because he split time between the two roles, his counting stats (such as career wins or saves) don't measure up to typical Hall of Famers who spent their entire career in one role or the other. Will this ultimately hurt him?

Please click through to read more, vote, and comment in the debate.

For John Smoltz in the Hall of Fame:

  • He's 38th in career WAR for pitchers. Of the 37 guys ahead of him, 25 are already in the Hall of Fame and another 8 are likely to make it one day. Smoltz has a higher WAR than more than 20 pitchers already in the Hall of Fame, including Jim Palmer, Dennis Eckersley, and Whitey Ford. Regardless of your opinion of WAR as a stat, at least in this comparative sense it suggests that Smoltz has put together an exceptional career.
  • One Cy Young award (1996) and 4 other top-7 finishes, plus 8-time All-Star, a Silver Slugger, a Rolaids Relief award, and winner of the Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente, and Branch Rickey awards.
  • Smoltz was huge in the post-season. Over 25 playoff series, he went 15-4. Those 15 wins are good enough for 2nd-most all-time and are more than Tom Glavine (14) and Greg Maddux (11). He had a few bad games here and there, but overall he was great, with a 2.59 ERA in 11 NLDSs, 2.83 ERA in 9 NLCSs, and 2.47 ERA in 5 WSs.
  • Usually on these posts, I have lists of how great a guy has placed in individual stats. But as I mentioned above in Smoltz's case, he doesn't do well in career rankings for counting stats since he switched roles. He's only 88th in career wins and 66th in career saves. His best career ranking is probably strikeouts, in which he is 16th. Keep in mind that he's had a very unusual career. The only real comparable guy is Dennis Eckerlsey, but Eck spent a lot more time as a closer than Smoltz did and ended up 113th in career wins and 6th in career saves. Only 15 guys in history have 100 wins and 100 saves and as you can see, nobody did it quite like Smoltz.

Against Smoltz in the Hall of Fame:

  • For the first 6 full years of his career (1989-1994) Smoltz wasn't a particularly good pitcher. At the beginning of this period the Braves were awful but by the end of it they were in the World Series. Over this period Smoltz was 76-68 with a 112 ERA+--not bad, solidly above-average, but he was basically the #3 starter behind Maddux and Glavine. It wasn't until 1995 that Smoltz became the dominant pitcher he's remembered as. Perhaps this can all be summed up by the fact that despite pitching on such good teams for so many years, Smoltz won more than 17 games just 1 time.
  • In the one year the Braves won the World Series (1995) Smoltz got bombed in his only start against the Indians. In all those other years that the Braves made the playoffs, they never won it all. Obviously Smoltz is not single-handedly responsible for these failures, but it is what it is.

I find Smoltz a difficult case to argue in both directions due to this major career split he had. I need some help folks.

Does John Smoltz belong in the Hall of Fame?online surveys

109 Responses to “POLL: John Smoltz and the Hall of Fame”

  1. Mike Felber Says:

    Michael E. Sullivan, I almost completely agree. Though Win Shares are problematic when they give credit for below replacement level play. That can be factored out. Generally, like James & most do, ANY measure of overall greatness must include peak value. How dominating you were for a few years or so is huge. So it makes no sense to say something like Schilling or Smoltz was "much better" than Brown at their respective peaks. If you look at consecutive years of dominance esp., Brown clearly beats them both.

    Dennis, I did not say you claimed that Mussina is as good as Maddux. I said essentially that he was not "not quite" Maddux, as you claimed. This goes back to what Mr. Sullivan & others show: wins are a tortured, terrible way to judge just what a pitcher did/gave a team. Using them would necessitate systemically controlling for adjusting for so many things-runs support, what the relievers do (especially in the last 2 generations)...& still would yield inferior results compared to the things mentioned in post #96. Plus take the runs & wins saved adjusted stats on this site's player's pages as better.

    "Just win baby". The massive problem with that term is that who wins how often is so influenced by these factors & others. So a Catfish Hunter & Jack Morris are seen properly as just decent pitchers for their careers, LUCKY to have their stats blown up by context. When we examine very closely ideas like Morris "pitched to the score", or did better in tight situations: it proves to be untrue. And a Jim Kaat is nothing like as good a Bert Blyleven. Mussina should be considered easily HOF worthy, but his best years especially do not approach Maddux. Who lost time during his best to labor stoppages. Check out his top ERA + years-they have rarely been equaled or approached, & only surpassed in his era by Pedro.

  2. Michael E Sullivan Says:

    One of the best ways to appreciate Greg Maddux is to cut his career off after 1997. That's the same number of seasons Sandy Koufax played. If you do that, his *raw* ERA is very nearly as good (2.83 vs. 2.76) despite pitching in a higher offense era. His ERA+ is 143 to Koufax's 131. He had more IP 2600 vs. 2300. He did have a lot fewer SOs, but still a very high number for a finesse pitcher with an 87mph fastball, and of course, 200 fewer BBs. His career WHIP is 1.12 vs. Koufax's 1.106, again raw numbers, and played in a higher offense era. WAR gives Maddux the nod at 61.3 vs. 54.5. It's pretty safe to say that, like Seaver, Greg would have had a pretty solid hall of fame case (borderline on career totals, and out of sight on peak) if he'd never played baseball after his first 10 full years in the league. After 12 years even including his 1986 cup of coffee as a year, he was a mortal lock. Better than Koufax. But he played another 11 years at the standard of a long career achievement HoF guy.

    His last 11 years didn't match the first 12, but they still look like half of say Tom Glavine or Mike Mussina's career. 2400 IP, 122 ERA+ 1500 Ks 35 WAR.

    Koufax is the guy that just blew everybody away with a short career. and for his first 12 years, Maddux was better. For his best 4, 5, 6 or 7 years vs. Sandy's best, Maddux was better.

    Maddux is no question a first tier HoF guy, in the conversation for best ever. There are some guys who matched his peak (pedro, roger, seaver, randy j), but nobody really did notably better over a peak of 4-8 years.

  3. Michael E Sullivan Says:

    Oh, Matt. I don't really have much help for you on appreciating other site's WAR numbers. I don't reference them nearly as often as I do B-R.

    I do note that one site (BG I think) had pitchers with generally higher numbers than here, while position players generally had lower numbers than B-R.

  4. Matt Y Says:

    Oh Mike. Thanks for the shred of help. 🙂

  5. Dennis Says:

    101 and 102

    i do respect the new stats, not tot he extent that someone of you do...but sufficient. I do think its hard to compare pitcherse from differnet eras and say this one was clearly better was better then that one.

    In the case of Maddux vs. Koufax, yes to can compare Maddux an dhis frist twelve years against Koufax career.

    Maddux never pitched more then 268 innings in a year and yes he led the NL several times. But Koufax pitched 311, 323 and 335 innings in his last 4 years, had to ice his arm and then edure excruciaitng pain with a burning heating agent every four days so he could pitch...

    And that is what stats do not divulge what does a picher do, what is he prepared to do to pitch his regular turn in the rotation. And Maddux was no slouch, he may have been one of the best prepared pichers whoe ver lived. He knew what he wanted todo with each hitter.

    Maddux won I believe 5 ERA titles, Koufax won also 5 in....a row.

    If people think that no one dominated like Maddux over a 4 6 year period, I ve got two words for you. Lefty Grove, who went 152 and 141 between 1928 and 1933, I wont mention the ERA titles and SO titles.
    Again its two pitchers from two different eras.both dominat in different ways. But I think Grove and Clemens are the two great pitchers of the live ball era. because of their wins, their high ercentages, their multiple ERA titles and strikeout titles..and bear in mind there was no Cy Young piching titles during Grove s era. ...

    But I think we can compare Clemens and Maddux heads up and Clemens was way ahead.

    Finally for all of you guys who think that wins are too simplistic, give us one or two guys from the live ball era, who are not in the HOF and you think they belong there, but not because f how many games they won or thir won loss %.

    But you cant use Blyleven, because almost all of us agree that Blyleven should be in the HOF.

  6. Mike Felber Says:

    Guys with high wins TEND to be very good. That does not say how good, or how we should handle borderline cases. We are saying that it makes sense to use the many good ways to isolate performances, NOT W-L, to judge how good.

    There are just not that many HOF e3ligible pitchers that are clearly worthy. But some are at least borderline. A good example of 1, is Rick Reuschel. Over 66 WAR, good peak: but given his teams/run support, you would not consider him as such given either total wins or win %: 214-191.

    Grove was amazing-especially since he had 5 excellent years even after he hurt his arm & lost his great velocity. But he was helped in W-L by his great teams/line ups/run support. Not that he was not superb, but the few pitchers who had comparable, or sometimes better top years-use ERA + as a rought measure-rarely had the W-L records.

  7. dennis Says:


    Mike, guys with high wibt totals tend to be very good?

    Maybe we can say that all of those new statisitcs fall into place and contribute to those high win totals.

    I saw Reuschel pitch in 89 wiit the Giants, I lived in San Franciso, he went 17-8 that year and he was a veteran pitcher who knew how to pitch.

    There are 2 guys I really like in that low 200 win category..... Blly Pierece and Jim Perry, with btter records then Reuschel I doubt if either one will ever get in the HOF.

    Just a sidenote to Koufax vs Maddux....In 1992 and 1997, Maddux went 19-2 and 19-4 (unblievably great great years) won the CYA in 92 got blown away by Pedro in 97,. In 1964, Koufax went 19-5 and finshed third in the CYA wth 1 vote!!!! (only one award, only 20 voters....For Koufax 19-5 was just an injury shortened season, he pitched 223 innings and it was stuck between win totals of 25, 26 and 27 during his peak.

    Again when we compare it should within the context of the era. Koufax was expected to start 40 times and pich 320 innings, Maddux wasn t expected to do that. I think that either would have been wildly succesful in the others s era.

  8. Mike Felber Says:

    Yes, the stats that isolate performance contribute to wins. But there are other powerful, random factors that contribute to wins, chief amongst them run support, what relievers do, also defense. So they are a poor place to start & find out how good or bad a pitcher is. Randy Johnso deserved the Cy Young award a few years ago, barely had a winning record: was better than Clemens w/that extraordinary W-L record 20-3. Ryan had an excellent 8-16 year, led the league in H/9, Ks, Era, Era +...These are fairly extreme examples, yet they exists in the other, exaggerating quality direction also. But routinely wins are an inexact at best measure of how good a player is. We do not find that those who win better than their isolated (actually what they did) stats were generally at all better in "clutch" pitching, that has been debunked many times.

    To use them at all to gauge quality pitching is folly.

  9. dennis Says:

    but what you ve done is use years from the stats of pitcers who are in the Hall of Fame for all the other big yars that they had!!!!

    Ryan was 8 and 16 one year, true and led the league in his usual statistical categories, but he also won 312 other games!!!! and lost 290!!!!! Johnson had dominating years, including 18-2, 20-4 , 21-6 24-5 and won 303 games in his career!!!! Respectfully, I dont think you made your point.

    And maybe Clemens didn t seserve the CYA for the 20-3 year he had, but he won 6 others!!!!!!!!

    And Bill James made the point that, Jim Bunning was 17 and 15 for one year and he thought that Bunning was the best picher in the NL that year. I saw Bunning pich, he waa a tough tough pitcher and he is in he HOF, with a 224 and 184 career record. He wasnt Spahn or Koufax or Marichal, but he was a hell of a pitcher and has some great seasons with 18 or 19 wins and a high winning percentage ....

    and I never claimed that a pitcher could be evaluated by one year, I ve said that to evaluarte a picher you look at his entire career...and then you factor in all the mitigating circumstances that you want. And no one has come up with a pitcher with a less then stellar career W L record that had the other stats (that everyobne likes) in place for the HOF.

    Someone I really liked was Ron Guidry (170 91 over 14 seasons) who you might make a case for. He had one of the most marvelous seasons in history (25-3) in 1978). two other twenty games wins and the cloest similarity pitcher is Sandy Koufax (165-87) who won 25 or more three times...

    But Guidry wasnt Koufax....

    Why is one in the Hall and the other not?