It's very difficult to differentiate a Hall of Fame pitcher from a non-Hall of Fame pitcher early in a career. The difference is usually longevity. The years from 30-40 have been very kind to many pitchers in MLB today. The problem with projecting pitchers is that there's no way of knowing who will be able to pitch effectively until the age of 40. Doc Gooden looked to be a sure bet before his career came to a screeching halt. Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters in a game at the age of 20. In the seven year since, he has 70 wins. He's never won more than 14 games in a season. Wood is proof that you can never be sure with a pitcher. On the other side, when Curt Schilling was 30, I would've bet quite a bit of money that he wasn't going to make the Hall of Fame. He had a grand total of 52 wins. After four seasons, Tom Glavine's record was 33-41. Sometimes the best young pitchers disappear before we ever knew what happened. Other times, a marginal pitcher matures into an elite pitcher after seven or eight big league seasons. That is why I'm having a particularly tough time projecting Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Barry Zito, and Johan Santana. However, I do have a "gut feeling" on these players that leads me to believe that two will make it to Cooperstown.
Mariano Rivera Rivera is a lock for the Hall. He’ll likely end up second on the all-time saves list. His career numbers are absurd. His ERA is 2.34. His Whip is 1.05 and his batting average against is 2.12. Not to mention, he’s having the best season by a relief pitcher ever. His ERA is .83 and his Whip is .76.
Trevor Hoffman Hoffman will be the all-time saves leader when his career is over. Hoffman has been brilliant over a long period of time. Most closers have one but not the other. Franco was consistent over time but not brilliant. Gagne was brilliant but not over time. Hoffman has both. Hoffman’s numbers are actually right on par with Rivera’s. He has the same Whip and a better batting average against.
Just needs more time: (5)
Tom Glavine ESPN thinks that Glavine belongs in the same category as the "lock" pitchers. I won’t go that far. Glavine has been one of the best pitchers in the majors since he broke into the league. He has two Cy Young awards and five twenty-win seasons. However, his ERA is quite low compared to the locks in this category at 3.48. His batting average against is shockingly high for a player being considered for the Hall of Fame at .256. His WHIP is below average at best at 1.31. Other than the number in the win column, Glavine’s numbers are not very impressive. However, a pitcher is generally judged on three basic things; 1).ERA , 2). Wins, and 3). Winning percentage. Glavine’s career winning percentage is .600. He has 269 career wins which is a considerable amount for this era. Glavine will get into the HOF but he’s not in the same category as Clemens, Maddux, Big Unit and Pedro.
John Smoltz Smoltz is every bit as deserving as Dennis Eckersley. Smoltz won the Cy Young in 1996 when he won 24 games. He then converted to the closer role where he recorded over 150 saves in three seasons leading the league in 2002. His career ERA, Whip, and batting average against are all significantly better than Glavine’s. There’s no question that Smoltz has been the better pitcher. The only category in which it doesn’t show is the win column. Smoltz only has 174 career wins. Aside from his 24 win season in 1996, Smoltz has never won more than 17 games. In fact, he’s only won more than 15 games twice. Smoltz has been plagued by low run support but his secondary stats tell all we need to know. He’s a Hall of Famer ahead of Glavine.
Curt Schilling Schilling will get in but not from his career numbers. He’ll get in because he was a dominant pitcher for ten years. He was the reason that two franchises won a World Series. He combined with the Big Unit to form the most devastating 1-2 punch since Koufax and Drysdale. He’ll be remembered as a big game pitcher. His bloody ankle will go down as folk lore. Don’t get me wrong, his career numbers aren’t awful. He has three seasons of 21 wins or more. His career ERA is 3.36. His Whip is a very impressive 1.12. He has 187 career wins. He’ll probably finish somewhere around 225. Schilling won’t ever have the win total of Tom Glavine but Schilling has clearly been the better pitcher. Sometimes career stats don’t tell the whole story and that’s the case here.
Roy Oswalt Based on what he’s accomplished so far, Oswalt is well on his way to Cooperstown. His ERA is a paltry 2.97. He has one 20-win season under his belt as well as a 19-win season. He has 77 career wins at the age of 27. His career winning percentage is .690. If Oswalt can avoid serious injury, he has a great chance at the Hall.
Roy Halladay Halladay has a chance to follow in Schilling’s footsteps. Halladay already has a 20 win season and a 19 win season. He was well on his way to his second 20 win season this year before he fractured his leg. He won the AL Cy Young award in 2003. Halladay’s career numbers don’t jump out at you (3.70 ERA) but he is one of the premier talents in baseball. Schilling did all of his resume building during the second half of his career. Halladay is ahead of Schilling’s pace when he was 28. Like most pitchers, Halladay’s case will depend on whether he can avoid injuries. He hasn’t done a very good job of that so far but I have to think his hard luck will end soon.
Mike Mussina Mike Mussina could’ve been a Hall of Famer but something went wrong. While other pitchers were picking up Cy Youngs and twenty-win seasons, Mussina sat idly by. A pitcher's resume is incomplete without those accomplishments. He has five seasons of 18 wins or more. His career winning % is .645 and that has actually decreased since he joined the Yankees. He has 221 career wins. He’s 37 years old. If he averages 15 wins a year for the next six years, he will get to 300 wins. That would get him in. But, I don’t think he’ll pitch until he’s 43.
Johan Santana I was surprised to see how unimpressive Santana’s career stats are up to this point. He just hadn’t been given the chance to start as much as most pitchers. In fact, last season was the first time he’s ever had more than 18 starts. The results were ridiculous as Santana won the AL Cy Young award. His Whip was a ridiculous .92. Santana is only 26. He’s not a candidate for 300 wins based on his career up to this point but he is a candidate for the Hall of Fame. I think he’ll be the great pitcher in baseball once all of the 40+ pitchers that dominate the game today retire. I'd put his odds of making the HOF at 49.999% so I have to leave him off the "in" list.
Barry Zito Believe it or not, Zito actually has the best resume of the "Big Three" pitchers. Despite struggling last year and parts of this year, Zito has 82 career wins and he's only 27. In contrast, Johan Santana has 43 wins and he's less than a year younger than Zito. Zito won the Cy Young award in 2002. I don't think anyone really knows what caused the drop off in production over the last two seasons but if that trend continues, Zito won't be anywhere near Cooperstown. However, of active pitchers under the age of 30, Zito has one of the best resumes to date.
Tim Hudson I was surprised to see that Hudson is already 30 years old. He's three years older than Zito and has only 17 more wins. Hudson's ERA is pretty good at 3.34 but he isn't a dominate pitcher. He hasn't won a Cy Young. He's a good bet for 200 career wins but probably not much more than that. Hudson will be remembered as a very good pitcher but not a Hall of Famer.
Mark Mulder Mulder's in a better position than Hudson since he has 92 wins and is two years younger. However, Mulder's ERA is a robust 3.90. Wins go along way but they won't overcome a mediocre ERA. Mulder will continue to be an above average pitcher but he won't make the Hall of Fame.
Mark Buehrle Before this season, I wouldn't have included Buerhle in any HOF talk. He's always been a decent pitcher but his ERA has been less than spectacular. This year he's been a completely different pitcher. Nobody in the league is as efficient as Buerhle. He works the quickest games in the league and has a career best ERA at 2.96. If Buerhle keeps getting better, I can see him making a run at the Hall.
Bartolo Colon Colon has been Mr. Consistent. He has won at least 14 games in each of the last eight seasons. He has one 20 win season and two 18 win seasons. He has 130 wins but at 32, he's way off the mark of a Hall of Fame career. His ERA is right around 4.00. He's very good but not good enough.
Kevin Brown In his prime, Kevin Brown was as good as they come. His stuff is filthy. In fact, I’ll go on the record in saying that Brown would’ve made the Hall of Fame had he been healthy throughout his career. Where the average pitcher has anywhere from 33-35 starts per season, Brown had seasons of 28, 26, 25, 26, 19, 10, 22 and 13. It’s hard to imagine that he has been able to win 211 games with all of those partial seasons. His career ERA is very impressive at 3.28. He has one twenty-win season and no Cy Young awards.
John Franco Franco is second on the all-time list in saves. He’s the active leader and has led the league three times in this category. His career ERA is 2.84. Here is the problem with Franco’s career; he’s never saved more than 40 games in a season and he’s only saved more than 32 saves in a season four times. He has saved at least 29 games 12 different times. For a relief pitcher to get into the Hall of Fame, they need to have dominant seasons. Franco is just your average closer who happened to have a longer career than most. Not having a 40 win season is saying a lot. Mariano Rivera has five. Armando Benitez has three. Trevor Hoffman has six. Jose Mesa has four. Smoltz has three. Franco has zero. A player must be dominating to get into the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Franco was dominating; consistent, but not dominating.