Monday, August 27, 2007

Active Hall of Fame Projections: Pitcher

Baseball fans have been incredibly fortunate over the last 20+ years and most probably won’t realize the significance until it’s too late. Four of the ten greatest pitchers in baseball history have been pitching in the majors at the same time for a number of seasons. There is precedent for such an anomaly as Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and Pete Alexander all pitched in 1911. That was the only season all four pitched at the same time since that was Young’s final season. Mathewson, Johnson, and Alexander pitched at the same time for six seasons before Mathewson retired in 1916. Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez have been pitching together for 16 seasons. That is incredible. Before too long, all four are going to be retired and our children will say, “geez, you were so lucky to have been able to see all four of those pitchers at the same time.”

Here are the categories that I will be using to breakdown the candidates and a brief description of each category: The “Lock” and “Likely” categories will be counted as being projected into the Hall of Fame. There won’t be too many “Borderline” candidates but I’ll decide those projections on a case by case basis. I will not count players under 29 regardless of my opinion but I’ll identify players under 29 who seem to be off to excellent starts.

Lock: Barring steroid scandal, will be a Hall of Famer
Likely: Player is on the path based on career progression
Borderline: Pretty close to 50/50; or could make a charge
Not Likely: Almost no chance; would take an unexpected resurgence
Under 29: Players that have a good start to a potential HOF career*

*I'm using "under-29" for pitchers to limit baseless projections


Active Hall of Fame Pitchers

Locks (7)

Roger Clemens

There is no question in my mind that Roger Clemens could keep pitching for five more years. I just get the feeling that he’s not all that into it. He seems intrigued enough to accept a gazillion dollars to play the second-half of the season and possibly the playoffs but not enough to get in shape in time for the beginning of the season. I applaud the effort but I think his indifference will only make it more difficult for him to come back next season. The crazy thing is that Clemens would only need to win 11 games per season over the next four years to get to 400 (!!!). He could do it if he wants to but I think he’s got one year left tops.

Greg Maddux

It didn’t dawn on me how close Maddux was to Clemens in wins until earlier this year. Clemens’ two half-seasons allowed Maddux to creep closer. Over the last two years, Maddux has 24 wins to Clemens’ 12 wins. With only a lead of 11-wins, there is no guarantee that Clemens will be the all-time wins leader in the modern-era. Maddux is three-years younger and pitching pretty well. I’d have to say the odds are on Maddux to nudge ahead of Clemens before it’s all said and done.

Randy Johnson

If there is even a sliver of hope that Johnson can pitch again, I think he’ll get to 300 wins. You don’t dominate baseball in the way Johnson has, get to 284 wins, and feel good about it. Those extra 16 wins will eat at him until he knows he’s devoted every last resource into getting back on the mound. Getting to 300 wins will not define Johnson’s legacy, it’ll just make it prettier. Johnson, Maddux, and Clemens are three of the 10 best pitchers in baseball history. Depending on your viewpoint they may even be three of the best five pitchers in baseball history. Four years from now, all three will be retired. That’s going to be a bummer.

Pedro Martinez

Twenty years from now, people will be talking about Pedro Martinez in the same way people have been talking about Sandy Koufax for the last 30 years. Except, Pedro’s statistics are even more ridiculous than what Koufax produced. In fact, Pedro’s numbers are more ridiculous than anyone who has ever pitched. The problem is that he hasn’t done it long enough. He’s as fragile as a porcelain doll. Still, he has 206 wins before the age of 35. Clemens had 208. Maddux had 242. Both Clemens and Maddux easily passed the 300-win mark. If Pedro stays healthy—which is like saying, if I never eat pizza again—he has a very good chance at 300 wins. By more than a few measures, Pedro is the greatest statistical pitcher of all-time.

Tom Glavine

Glavine has been the must unheralded of the great pitchers of this era. I don’t think it’s undeserving either. I appreciate what he has done. There is no question he deserves election to the Hall of Fame. He has just never been a dominating pitcher. Even Curt Schilling and John Smoltz’s career numbers are considerably better than Glavine’s aside from wins. But, Glavine put together four or five stellar seasons along with 15 seasons of consistently-solid pitching. That’s the recipe for the Hall of Fame.

Mariano Rivera

Rivera will probably go down as the greatest relief pitcher of all-time. His post-season exploits alone are enough to garner that distinction (his ERA in 112.2 post-season innings is .80). Rivera’s career ERA+ is an astonishing 194. He has a great chance at breaking the all-time saves record. He has won four World Series rings. He is unquestionably a “lock.”

Trevor Hoffman

If it weren’t for Rivera, Hoffman would probably be considered the greatest closer of all-time. He has more saves than anyone who has ever played the game. He has a 150 ERA+ and finished in the top six of the MVP voting on four occasions. He has an astounding WHIP of 1.04. Hoffman’s fate will be much different than the last player to hold the record for all-time saves (Lee Smith).


Likely (3)

Johan Santana

Santana is about two seasons away from securing “lock” status. As I mentioned last week, Santana already has had a six-year stretch that is similar to the six-year stretch that allowed Sandy Koufax to waltz into the Hall of Fame. Even if Santana’s career ended today, there is a decent chance he would be elected to the Hall of Fame. Two more healthy seasons will virtually guarantee it.

John Smoltz

If Tom Glavine is a Hall of Fame pitcher, then John Smoltz is a Hall of Fame pitcher. Smoltz has a significantly better career ERA+, WHIP, and K/9. The only average where Glavine has an advantage over Smoltz is a slightly-better winning percentage. That can be attributed to bad luck on Smoltz’s behalf. More times than not, a pitcher with a significantly better ERA, WHIP and K/9 will have a better winning percentage over a career. Smoltz also became one of the most dominant closers in MLB history for three seasons. Smoltz should be a “lock.’ I think he’ll make it but I’m going to leave him in the “likely” category in case too many insane people hold votes down the road.

Curt Schilling

If John Smoltz is a Hall of Fame pitcher, then Curt Schilling is clearly a Hall of Fame pitcher as well. Schilling has more wins, with a slightly better winning percentage, WHIP, and K/9. Both pitchers sport an almost identical ERA+ (127-126). Both pitchers had tremendous success in the playoffs although Schilling was the catalyst for two World Series Championships and his playoff performances were legendary. The only advantage Smoltz has on Schilling is that Schilling was never a closer. Both pitchers are Hall of Fame “starters.” The closer thing is just icing on the cake for Smoltz. Schilling should be a “lock” but I’ll leave him in the “likely” category with Smoltz.

Borderline (2)

Roy Oswalt

Once Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz, Glavine, and Schilling retire, Oswalt will likely be the most accomplished active National League pitcher. He has 111 wins at the age of 29. His ERA+ is very good at 141. His winning percentage is a ridiculous .677. He has finished in the top five of the NL MVP voting five times in six seasons. If he stays healthy, Oswalt has a very good chance of making the Hall of Fame. If he ever wins a Cy Young award, I think that will cement his status.

Billy Wagner

I can’t remember where I read this but I recently came across an article that proclaimed Wagner the greatest pitcher of all-time by using a combination of measures. I don’t think the author of said post even believed that but I think the point was to show how great of a pitcher Wagner has been. He has a 185 ERA+ and a 1.00 WHIP. Both numbers beat Trevor Hoffman’s totals. In fact, Wagner’s ERA+ is considerably better than Hoffman’s (185-150). Not to mention, Wagner has the ever-elusive “infinite” ERA+ season under his belt. Of course, that was his rookie season in which he only pitched to one batter. Nonetheless, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a closer other than Mariano Rivera who has put together the seasonal averages that Wagner has. He “should” be a Hall of Famer but I’m not sure what will happen. I say he’s “borderline” but voters come to their wits and elect him.

Mike Mussina

Mussina has dropped off considerably in 2007. If he can change his game-plan enough to stay effective for four or five more seasons, he may reach 300 wins. I don’t think most baseball fans view Mussina as a Hall of Fame pitcher so anything short of 300 wins would probably keep him out. However, Mussina has reached three of Baseball-Reference.com’s four Hall of Fame measures. He has finished in the top six of the AL MVP voting eight times. His career winning percentage is very good at .633. If I had to guess, I would say Mussina falls short. His chances are about 33% right now.

Tim Hudson

Hudson is a very good pitcher. He has the fourth-highest winning percentage of any active pitcher at .673. He’ll likely finish in the top-six of the NL MVP voting for the fourth time this season. Hudson hasn’t won more than 16 games in a season since 2001. Without those coveted high-end seasons, Hudson will struggle to make it to the HOF.

Roy Halladay

If Halladay could just stay healthy, he and Santana could develop a friendly rivalry. Halladay is right there with Oswalt and Zito with 109 wins at 30. I kind of half-expect a Curt Schilling-esque finish to Halladay’s career. He is a workhorse who just hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Schilling became a truly dominating pitcher after the age of 30. I would not be surprised to see Halladay do the same. The only thing is that you cannot expect that sort of finish to a career. So, Halladay remains on the outside looking in.

Unlikely

Barry Zito

Zito is 29 and has the exact same number of wins as Oswalt (111). That’s where the similarities end. Zito’s best season—and only great season—was five years ago when he won the AL Cy Young. He is still a decent pitcher but he is no longer viewed as a front-of-the-rotation pitcher. Barring a drastic turn of events, Zito has no chance of making it to Cooperstown.

Andy Pettitte

I think Pettitte could win 300 games if he had the desire to pitch long enough. He’ll be at 200 by the end of this season at the age of 35. He is still pitching well enough to win 15+ games a year. I’m not sure Pettitte wants to pitch that long but it’s not an impossible proposition. Pettitte has been Mussina-esque. He has finished in the top six of the Cy Young voting on five different occasions. He has a very good winning percentage at .640. Like Mussina, I think the only way Pettitte makes it to the HOF is if he does stick around long enough to reach 300 wins.

Chris Carpenter

Carpenter would have to dominate baseball for the next 5+ years. His career resurgence has been derailed by an injury. It’s a shame because he was the best pitcher in the NL before he went down. He will likely bounce back with a few good seasons but I think the injury combined with the fact that he didn’t become an elite pitcher until he was 31 makes it highly unlikely.

Under 29 to keep an eye on:

Erik Bedard

Bedard is right on Webb’s tail. He is putting together an unbelievable ’07 campaign and it would not be surprising if it resulted in a Cy Young award. Bedard seems to have figured everything out. One season is obviously nowhere near enough to start projecting a guy into the HOF but it’ll be interesting to see what he does over the next 5-10 years.

Brandon Webb

Webb is quickly making a name for himself as a bona fide superstar. He won the NL Cy Young award last season and could do it again this year. His unbelievable streak of 42 consecutive scoreless innings streak just ended. Even though he didn’t break the record, it is so much harder to maintain a streak that long in this age, than it was for Orel Hershiser and Don Drysdale who pitched in eras that featured low run-production. Webb is having an even better season in 2007 than his Cy Young season so a second consecutive award is not out of the question. Webb is putting together a string of dominating seasons that is a necessity for a pitcher to even be considered for the Hall of Fame.

Francisco Rodriguez

It’s way too early to project “F-Rod”. His numbers are fantastic. His ERA+ is right in line with Wagner’s. He just needs to pitch at the same level for 10+ seasons. Relievers are high-injury risks so we’ll just have to wait and see if he is the next Eric Gagne or Trevor Hoffman.

Dontrelle Willis

Willis is only 25. His career numbers aren’t overwhelming but he still has a long way to go. It’s possible that Willis has already had the best season that he’ll ever have going 22-10 in 2005. There are a lot of teams who were considering giving up “the farm” for Willis that are now breathing a collective sigh of relief. His value has plummeted. There are still a lot of teams that would love to have him in their rotation but not at the price that was expected two years ago. As of right now, it is unlikely that Willis will have impressive enough numbers to make it to Cooperstown.

Jake Peavy

Peavy is putting together a masterful 2007-campaign. He is still way too young to judge. He has an impressive win-total (71) at the age of 26. I think he has the best chance of any pitcher under the age of 28 to making it to the Hall of Fame.

C.C Sabathia

Sabathia is in the same category as Peavy. He has a whopping 95 wins at the age of 27 but amazingly has never even finished in the AL Cy Young voting. His ERA+ (113) is nowhere near as impressive as his win-total. If Sabathia sticks around long enough, he could make a run at 300 wins. He’s also very young which means a dominating turn of events could definitely happen. I have no idea how his career is going to turn out. It’s way too early to project.

Josh Beckett

Beckett’s career is right in there with Sabathia’s. Both have been around a while with decent win totals. Both have disappointing ERA+ and both have never finished in the Cy Young voting period. But, Beckett is only 27. He is putting together the best season of his career which should result in a top five Cy Young finish at a minimum. Like a lot of these other pitchers, it is way too early to start projecting Beckett.

Carlos Zambrano

Like so many other young pitchers, Zambrano has been unspectacularly impressive to start his career. He has been good but not unbelievable. Zambrano is only 26 so those peak seasons are still likely in his future.

Dan Haren

Haren is Penny minus a few average seasons.


Final Pitcher Projections (12)

Roger Clemens
Greg Maddux
Randy Johnson
Pedro Martinez
Tom Glavine
Mariano Rivera
Trevor Hoffman
Johan Santana
John Smoltz
Curt Schilling
Roy Oswalt
Billy Wagner



Final Hall of Fame Projections 2007

My total projections comes to 37 active-players over the age of 24 to make it to Cooperstown. That number will almost certainly be higher since some of the players under-25 will undoubtedly make it to the Hall of Fame as well. There is a pretty good chance that at least six of those players will make it to the Hall of Fame putting the current active-player total closer to 43. Just to compare, here are how many active Hall of Famers there were over the last several decades:

19 in 1987*
29 in 1977*
38 in 1967
32 in 1957
31 in 1947
41 in 1937
53 in 1927

*Keep in mind these totals are likely to increase since it can take 20 years or more for players to be elected.

If there are 43 active Hall of Famers, that would make this one of the most star-studded eras in MLB history. Hall of Fame voters make take a stance down the line to reduce the number of entrants because of a possible perception that "too many" players are getting into the Hall of Fame but it's important not to take for granted how much skill it takes to dominate the game of baseball for a number of years. I hope the word "quota" never comes into play when a player's career is scrutinized for possible induction into the Hall of Fame.


Final Projected Catchers (2)

Pudge Rodriguez
Mike Piazza

Final Projected First Basemen (8)

Frank Thomas
Albert Pujols
Jim Thome
Todd Helton
Carlos Delgado
David Ortiz
Ryan Howard
Justin Morneau

Final Projected Second Basemen (2)

Craig Biggio
Jeff Kent

Final Projected Shortstops (3)

Alex Rodriguez
Derek Jeter
Miguel Tejada

Final Projected Third Basemen (1)

Chipper Jones

Final Projected Outfield (9)

Barry Bonds
Ken Griffey Jr.
Sammy Sosa
Manny Ramirez
Vladimir Guerrero
Ichiro Suzuki
Andruw Jones
Gary Sheffield
Carl Crawford

Final Projected Pitchers (12)

Roger Clemens
Greg Maddux
Randy Johnson
Pedro Martinez
Tom Glavine
Mariano Rivera
Trevor Hoffman
Johan Santana
John Smoltz
Curt Schilling
Roy Oswalt
Billy Wagner


Under 25 catchers to keep an eye on:

Joe Mauer

Mauer is only 24-years old so I’m projecting quite a bit here but I’m confident that he’ll be a Hall of Famer if he can avoid injury. He already has an AL Batting Title under his belt. He finished 6th in the AL MVP voting at the age of 23. He has a career batting average of .318. He has more career walks than strikeouts and he bats clean-up. He is easily the most talented all-around catcher that I have ever watched. He is a long career ahead of him but I think he’ll go down as one of the all-time greats.

Brian McCann

McCann is playing in his third season at the ripe age of 23. He already has two All-Star game appearances. He finished 6th in the NL batting race with a .333 in ’06. That same season, he hit 24 HRs with 92 RBIs. His OPS was through the roof for a catcher at .960. He has more pop than Mauer but he doesn’t appear to have Mauer’s overall game. His ’07 campaign hasn’t been nearly as impressive but I can’t imagine a better start to a career for a catcher outside of Minnesota.


Under 25 first basemen to keep an eye on:

Prince Fielder

My first memories of Prince Fielder are from the '92 and '93 seasons. He appeared in a McDonald's commercial with his dad. If I remember correctly, they were promoting the "Triple Cheeseburger." Prince was mowing down one of those bad boys like it was a saltine cracker. He was a big boy. When I heard that he was a first-round draft pick in 2002, that commercial ran through my mind and I couldn't believe that round, little boy became one of the best baseball players in the world. Fielder hit 28 HRs in his rookie year ('06) and came in 7th in the Rookie of the Year voting. That should give you an idea of how strong the '06 NL rookie class was. Fielder has followed up his rookie season by destroying NL pitching. He has led the NL in home runs for virtually the entire season. He is on pace for close to 50 HRs and he is only 23. The sky is the limit for Fielder.


Under 25 second basemen to keep an eye on:

Robinson Cano

Cano is only 24. Projecting 16 years into the future is a tall task. I’ll just say that he is about to finish his third full season in the majors with a career batting average of .313. He got an early enough start that if he plays long enough, he’ll be able to put up some impressive career numbers. His power numbers leave a lot to be desired but he’s playing the right position to be a singles and doubles hitter.


Under 25 shortstops to keep an eye on:

Hanley Ramirez

Ramirez is only 23 so it’s way too early to know how good he’s going to be. I’m getting a Miguel Cabrera-vibe. That would put Ramirez on the fast-rack to stardom. He won the NL Rookie of the Year last season and has followed that with a monster sophomore campaign. He’s hitting .342 with a whopping 155 OPS+. I’m not sure how the Marlins keep having fire-sales only to end up with players that are better than the ones they got rid of. It is mighty impressive.
Jose Reyes

If I knew for sure that Reyes would be guaranteed to play injury-free until the age of 35, I would call him a “lock”. There isn’t a young player in baseball today—including Miguel Cabrera—who has a better shot at Cooperstown than Reyes. I think he’ll end up being the closest thing to Rickey Henderson that we’ll ever see.


Under 25 third basemen to keep an eye on:

Miguel Cabrera

Per my rules, Cabrera is not eligible to be projected into the Hall of Fame. He has to fall under the “Under 25 to look out for” category. But, I think there is a very good chance that Cabrera will be recognized as the greatest offensive third baseman in MLB history by the time his career is over. However, it would not shock me if he eventually moved to another position at some point. Only 24 years-old, Cabrera is working on his fourth-straight 100-RBI season. His career batting average is .315 and rising rapidly. He has finished fifth in the NL MVP voting in each of the last two years and will likely fare better in the ’07 voting—possibly even winning it. Using Baseball-Reference.com’s player similarity scores, Cabrera—through the age of 23—compares most favorably to Hank Aaron.

David Wright

If Miguel Cabrera is a 10 on a scale of 1-10 for third basemen, then Wright is a 9.5. Wright, like Cabrera is only 24 (and thus not eligible to be projected into the Hall of Fame per my rules) and is working on his third-straight 25+ HR/100-RBI season. His OPS+ is a sizzling 135 and he sports a .305 career average. Wright started early enough that he’ll likely pile up massive career numbers on his way to Cooperstown.

Ryan Braun

Braun’s offensive statistics for ’07 are ridiculous. Perhaps nobody in MLB history has started a career more impressively. In just 69 games (all in ‘07), Braun has 22 home runs, 59 RBIs, a .346 batting average and a 169 OPS+. While 69-game mark is a little early to start talking about the Hall of Fame, it is not too early to put him on the list of players to watch under 25.



Under 25 outfielders to keep an eye on:

Grady Sizemore

Sizemore turned 25 earlier this month but I’m going to keep him in this category. In fact, the time I do this—whenever that may be—I’ll probably only project players 27 or older with a few exceptions. Sizemore is every bit as good as Carl Crawford but he has more power. If Sizemore stays healthy, I think there’s a 75% chance he makes the Hall of Fame.

Under 29 pitchers to keep an eye on:

Erik Bedard

Bedard is right on Webb’s tail. He is putting together an unbelievable ’07 campaign and it would not be surprising if it resulted in a Cy Young award. Bedard seems to have figured everything out. One season is obviously nowhere near enough to start projecting a guy into the HOF but it’ll be interesting to see what he does over the next 5-10 years.

Brandon Webb

Webb is quickly making a name for himself as a bona fide superstar. He won the NL Cy Young award last season and could do it again this year. His unbelievable streak of 42 consecutive scoreless innings streak just ended. Even though he didn’t break the record, it is so much harder to maintain a streak that long in this age, than it was for Orel Hershiser and Don Drysdale who pitched in eras that featured low run-production. Webb is having an even better season in 2007 than his Cy Young season so a second consecutive award is not out of the question. Webb is putting together a string of dominating seasons that is a necessity for a pitcher to even be considered for the Hall of Fame.

Francisco Rodriguez

It’s way too early to project “F-Rod”. His numbers are fantastic. His ERA+ is right in line with Wagner’s. He just needs to pitch at the same level for 10+ seasons. Relievers are high-injury risks so we’ll just have to wait and see if he is the next Eric Gagne or Trevor Hoffman.

Dontrelle Willis

Willis is only 25. His career numbers aren’t overwhelming but he still has a long way to go. It’s possible that Willis has already had the best season that he’ll ever have going 22-10 in 2005. There are a lot of teams who were considering giving up “the farm” for Willis that are now breathing a collective sigh of relief. His value has plummeted. There are still a lot of teams that would love to have him in their rotation but not at the price that was expected two years ago. As of right now, it is unlikely that Willis will have impressive enough numbers to make it to Cooperstown.

Jake Peavy

Peavy is putting together a masterful 2007-campaign. He is still way too young to judge. He has an impressive win-total (71) at the age of 26. I think he has the best chance of any pitcher under the age of 28 to making it to the Hall of Fame.

C.C Sabathia

Sabathia is in the same category as Peavy. He has a whopping 95 wins at the age of 27 but amazingly has never even finished in the AL Cy Young voting. His ERA+ (113) is nowhere near as impressive as his win-total. If Sabathia sticks around long enough, he could make a run at 300 wins. He’s also very young which means a dominating turn of events could definitely happen. I have no idea how his career is going to turn out. It’s way too early to project.

Josh Beckett

Beckett’s career is right in there with Sabathia’s. Both have been around a while with decent win totals. Both have disappointing ERA+ and both have never finished in the Cy Young voting period. But, Beckett is only 27. He is putting together the best season of his career which should result in a top five Cy Young finish at a minimum. Like a lot of these other pitchers, it is way too early to start projecting Beckett.

Carlos Zambrano

Like so many other young pitchers, Zambrano has been unspectacularly impressive to start his career. He has been good but not unbelievable. Zambrano is only 26 so those peak seasons are still likely in his future.

Dan Haren

Haren is Penny minus a few average seasons.

3 comments:

Shawn said...

It's funny what you said about Halladay, because I did an artcle a few days ago, you should read what I wrote about him. www.aquietstorm.blogspot.com

Jake said...

Shawn,

The stats won't show it because of injuries but Halladay--when healthy--is probably the second best pitcher in the AL. I noticed you spoke of the "last 300-game winner" in your post. Interestingly enough, I'll be posting some myths about the 300-game winner next week.

Take care,

Jake

Justin S. said...

Nice post... I came across this when thinking about active hall of fame pitchers myself... Do you realize a starting pitcher (other than veterans committee and negro league picks, and Dennis Eckersly who got in mostly as a reliever) hasn't gotten in since Nolan Ryan in 1999?

 

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