JAWS and the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot Part II: Stray pitchers
The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2013 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to JAWS, please see here.
To be eligible for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a player must appear in games in at least 10 major league seasons, with a career that ended at least five calendar years ago, and then be nominated by at least two members of a six-member screening committee. Getting the 10 years in — even in fragmentary form — is no small feat itself, but from that point to nomination is a seemingly arbitrary process. Of the 29 players listed as potential future eligibles by the Hall of Fame’s official website for the 2013 ballot, 24 of them received enough “ayes” to make it to the next stage, though not necessarily the best 24. Why Tony Batista, Mike Lieberthal, Damian Miller, Jose Valentin and Bob Wickman — three two-time All-Stars among them — were left off while Aaron Sele, Woody Williams and Todd Walker were not is somewhat puzzling.
Not that we should complain. The majority of this year’s newcomers have no shot at gaining the 75 percent of the votes necessary for election, and fall at least 20 points shy of the JAWS standards at their positions, too far to make any real case for them. Fifteen players fit that categorization, and all of them will be hard-pressed to net the minimum five percent of the vote necessary to remain on the ballot for next year. Even so, these potentially one-and-done types were accomplished players who deserve a brief valedictory; in 10 years of analyzing the BBWAA ballot using JAWS, I’ve never let one — not a Bobby Witt nor a Shawon Dunston — pass without comment. So before sinking my teeth into the more substantial candidates, I’ll spend a couple of posts running through the ones about whom we might say, “They also served.”
|Avg HOF SP||67.9||47.7||57.8|
|Avg HOF RP||37.9||26.7||32.3|
Woody Williams (1993-2007)
Houston-born Gregory Scott Williams was a 28th-round pick by Toronto out of the University of Houston in 1988. He had the misfortune of maturing slowly at a time when the Blue Jays were a powerhouse, and so he didn’t debut in the majors until he was 26 years old, in 1993. In addition, his cross-body motion left him vulnerable to injury. He spent the first four years of his major league career shuttling between Triple-A, the bullpen and the disabled list, starting just 13 times and totaling 209 innings, including his relief work. He finally cracked Toronto’s rotation in his age-30 season in 1997, and after two solid years as a durable, junkballing LAIM (league-average innings muncher), was traded to the Padres in a four-player deal that sent Joey Hamilton — one of only two other players drafted in the same round to reach the majors — to Toronto.
Williams continued his LAIMness for another two and a half seasons with the Padres before catching a big break via an August 2001 trade to the Cardinals for Ray Lankford. A prototype for pitching coach Dave Duncan turning mediocrity into magic, he went 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA down the stretch for St. Louis, which put up the NL’s best record from that point to the end of the season to snatch the wild card berth; he struck out nine Diamondbacks in his Division Series start, though his team fell in five games. He missed half of the 2002 season with a recurring abdominal injury, but helped the Cardinals to a division title, and the next year, won a career-high 18 games and made the All-Star team for the first and last time; his 3.2 WAR set a career high.
After one more solid season with the pennant-winning Redbirds in 2004 — he was chased after allowing seven runs in 2 1/3 innings in the World Series opener against Boston — he returned to San Diego, helping the Padres to a pair of NL West titles and subsequent first-round defeats at the hands of his former club. He finished up with an age-40 season pitching for the hometown Astros in 2007 that was most notable for his league-high 35 home runs allowed. Not a bad run at all, despite that ending.
Aaron Sele (1993-2007)
Where Williams was a late bloomer and a surprise contributor at the major league level, Sele burst onto the big league scene in 1993, just two years after he was a first-round pick by the Red Sox out of Washington State — a talent-laden round that also featured Manny Ramirez, Cliff Floyd and Shawn Green among the 29 players (out of 44, including supplemental picks) who would reach the majors. Debuting on June 23, 1993, Sele went 7-2 with a 2.74 ERA in 18 starts for Boston that year, earning Sporting News AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year honors and finishing third in the league’s Rookie of the Year balloting. He pitched well for the Red Sox during the strike-abbreviated 1994 season, and was their Opening Day starter in 1995 after the work stoppage ended, but arm soreness and eventual surgery limited him to just six starts.
From that point through the remainder of his career, Sele posted a season ERA under 4.00 just once, with marks over 5.00 in six of the ensuing 12 years. It was a high-scoring era, and he pitched in some tough parks (Fenway and the Ballpark in Arlington) in front of some heavy-hitting teams, grinding out innings and racking up wins. From 1997 through 2001, he went a combined 82-47 with a 4.47 ERA (a 104 ERA+) for the Red Sox, Rangers and Mariners, a performance that was rather emblematic of the era. After being traded from Boston to Texas in November 1997, he received at least six runs per game of offensive support the next four seasons, first for the Rangers (1998 and ’99) and then the Mariners (2000 and ’01), helping his club win the AL West each time.
An 18-9, 4.79 ERA season for Texas in 1999 netted him enough votes to finish fifth in the AL Cy Young balloting, though his best year was a 15-9, 3.60 ERA campaign for 116-win Seattle in 2001. Alas, his teams lost all but one of his seven postseason starts during that span. He left Seattle as a free agent after the 2001 season, and his career took a decided downturn. Signed to a three-year, $20 million deal by the Angels, he was rocked for a 5.20 ERA in Anaheim, and spent a season apiece with the Mariners (again), Dodgers and Mets before hanging up his spikes.
Roberto Hernandez (1991-2007)
Not to be confused with the former Fausto Carmona, this Roberto Hernandez spent most of his 17-year career as a fairly successful reliever, making just three starts among his 1,010 appearances and saving at least 25 games nine times. He was well-traveled even before he hit the majors: He was born in Puerto Rico, raised in New York, graduated from high school in New Hampshire and attended both the University of Connecticut and the University of South Carolina at Aiken before being drafted in the first round by the Angels in 1986.
Hernandez made a slow climb through the minors, interrupted by an August 1989 trade to the White Sox for Mark Davis. He finally debuted on Sept. 2, 1991, and by the end of the following season, he assumed closer duty, often throwing two or even three innings to nail down a save. He saved 161 games for the White Sox for the next five seasons and made the All-Star team in 1996. His time on the South Side ended the following year, when he was traded to the Giants in the infamous nine-player “white flag trade” ordered by owner Jerry Reinsdorf when the team was just 3 1/2 games out of first place at the July 31 deadline. He signed with the expansion Devil Rays as a free agent that winter, and served as their closer for their first three seasons, racking up a career-best 43 saves in 1999 for a team that won just 69 games; to this day, he remains the franchise saves leader with 101.
His career after that was literally all over the map, taking him to Kansas City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York (Mets), Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Los Angeles, and he transitioned out of closer duty into lower-leverage work for good teams and bad ones. He ranks 13th both in career saves and total appearances.
Mike Stanton (1989-2007)
William Michael Stanton was the second of three Mike Stantons to play in the majors, a durable lefty reliever for teams that reached the postseason no fewer than 11 times during his 19 seasons. He started just one game and saved only 84, though he did make 1,178 appearances, a total that ranks second all-time behind only Jesse Orosco’s 1,252. A Houston native who was drafted by the Braves out of Southwestern University in the-13th round in 1987, he debuted in 1989 and finally stuck on the 1991 worst-to-first team that leaped from 65 to 94 wins and pushed the World Series to seven games before falling to Jack Morris and the Twins. He was part of the Braves’ pennant-winners in 1992 but missed out on their 1995 world championship after being traded to the Red Sox at the deadline. Aside from the 1994 strike, that was the only year between 1991 and 2002 that Stanton did not pitch in the postseason.
After another season on the move between Boston and Texas, Stanton signed as a free agent with the Yankees in December 1996, kicking off a memorable six-year run as the team’s top lefty setup man in front of Mariano Rivera, averaging 71 appearances and 72 innings a year. The Yankees reached the playoffs in each of those years and won four straight pennants (1998-2001) and three world championships.
Stanton’s signature moment may have been his work in the decisive Game 5 of the 2000 Division Series against the A’s; he took over for a struggling Andy Pettitte with two on and two out in the fourth inning with the Yankees ahead by two, worked out of the jam by getting Eric Chavez to ground out, and retired six out of seven hitters before yielding to Jeff Nelson — his righthanded partner in setup crime for much of his pinstriped tenure — in the sixth. He was an outstanding postseason pitcher, with a 2.10 ERA in 53 appearances (third all-time behind Rivera and Nelson) and 55 2/3 innings, but he never made it back to the playoffs after bolting the Yankees for the Mets following the 2002 season. He returned to the Bronx for part of 2005 amid an extended tour that took him to Washington (twice), Boston (for all of one inning), San Francisco and Cincinnati.
Jose Mesa (1987-2007)
Mesa spent several years as a good but occasionally volatile closer, but before that, he was a rather unsuccessful starter. Signed out of the Dominican Republic as an 15-year-old (!) outfielder by the Blue Jays in 1981, he converted to the mound the following year, and toiled in the minors for six seasons before winding up as the player to be named later in a September 1987 deal that sent the Orioles’ Mike Flanagan to Toronto. He made his major league debut less than a week later, but injuries prevented him from returning to that level until 1990.
Battling control problems, Mesa walked more hitters than he struck out, and was hit for a 5.41 ERA during parts of four seasons in Baltimore before being traded to the Indians in July 1992. The Indians tried him as a starter until 1994, when they finally moved him to the bullpen, where he harnessed his heat and finally found a groove . He earned All-Star honors and even a couple of Cy Young votes while saving a league-leading 46 games for the Indians in 1995, the franchise’s first pennant-winning team in 41 years. In the strike-shortened year, that juggernaut went 100-44, powered by Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Paul Sorrento and Eddie Murray, who hit 152 home runs between them, 50 of them by Belle.
Mesa remained with the Indians until mid-1998, losing and regaining his closer job in 1997, and winding up blowing the save in Game 7 of that year’s World Series against the Marlins. Years later, shortstop Omar Vizquel ripped him for the performance in his autobiography, setting off a long-running feud that resulted in multiple beanings, a suspension and even a death threat: “If he comes to apologize, I will punch him right in the face. And then I’ll kill him. If you’re a writer and you want to write a good book, you don’t write a story about somebody else.” Mesa was traded to the Giants in July 1998, and spent time closing for the Mariners, Phillies and Pirates, giving managers their share of gray hairs via white-knuckle performances and high ERAs; thereafter, he played out the string in lower-leverage work for the Rockies, Tigers and Phillies (again). His 1,022 appearances rank 11th all-time, his 321 saves 14th.