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.