JAWS and the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot: An early look at the new names for 2015
The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2014 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to JAWS, please see here. For the breakdowns of each candidate and to read the previous articles in the series, see here.
If you thought that the traffic jam on the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot was a temporary problem, wait ’til next year. Just as the voters cleared a pair of 300-game winners and a 500-homer slugger on Wednesday, a similar array of well-qualified newcomers will join the fray on the 2015 ballot. Without changes to the process, that will likely cause a similar scenario to this year, with the vote totals of even the strongest holdover candidates — including near-miss Craig Biggio — suppressed.
The newly-elected Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine may have combined for 660 wins, 5,978 strikeouts and six Cy Young awards between them, but 2015 first-timers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez alone can claim a combined 522 wins, 8,029 strikeouts and eight Cy Youngs, and both had a higher ERA+ (135 for the Big Unit, 154 for Pedro) than the Braves’ pair (132 for Maddux, 118 for Glavine). Throw in the third pitching mainstay of Atlanta’s dynasty, 1996 NL Cy Young award winner John Smoltz, and you’ve got even more hardware, not to mention yet another member of the 3,000 strikeout club. And even then, we’re just getting started.
What follows is a thumbnail sketch of the top new candidates on the ballot. Obviously, I’ll have more to say about each of these players down the road.
Randy Johnson (102.1 career WAR/62.0 peak WAR/82.0 JAWS)
Despite a late start to his major league career — he didn’t have a season where he qualified for the ERA title until age 26 — the Big Unit racked up 303 wins and 4,875 strikeouts, the second-highest total of all-time behind Nolan Ryan. He led his league in strikeouts nine times, in ERA four times and in wins once; in 2002, he won the pitchers’ Triple Crown by leading the league in all three categories. He made 10 All-Star teams and led the Diamondbacks to victory over the Yankees in the 2001 World Series, capping it with a memorable relief stint in Game 7.
Johnson’s five Cy Young awards rank second only to Roger Clemens’ seven, and unlike the Rocket, he doesn’t have any baggage related to performance-enhancing drugs. Six times Johnson led his league in pitcher Wins Above Replacement, and overall he ranks ninth among starting pitchers in JAWS, one spot ahead of Maddux. Among southpaws, only Lefty Grove (103/6/63.6/83.6) has a higher score. He should sail into Cooperstown.
Pedro Martinez (84.0/58.2/71.1)
He didn’t pile up nearly the number of innings that Maddux, Glavine, Clemens or Johnson did — just 2,827 1/3 total, en route to 219 wins — but he may have been the most dominant pitcher of the bunch. Martinez retired with a 2.93 ERA despite spending parts of his career in leagues where scoring was above five runs per game. Five times he had an ERA+ above 200, which means his raw ERA was less than half the league average; needless to say, he led his league in both categories in all five seasons (of which there have been just 17 since World War II). His 291 ERA+ in 2000 (1.74 ERA in a league that scored 5.30 runs per game) is the best of all-time among ERA qualifiers, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that his 154 ERA+ is the best among pitchers with at least 2,000 innings.
Beyond that, Martinez led his league in whiffs three times and reached 300 strikeouts twice in his career; he also led in strikeouts per nine five times and in strikeout-to-walk ratio four times. At the 2,000 inning level, he’s second among pitchers since 1900 (note that Mike Mussina — remember him? — is second in the latter category once the bar is raised to 3,000 innings). Martinez also made eight All-Star teams, won three Cy Youngs and was part of the World Series-winning 2004 Red Sox. Even with his low innings total, he ranks 21st all-time in JAWS, ahead of Curt Schilling, Mussina and Glavine; meanwhile, everyone who outranks him threw at least 1,000 more innings. Somebody somewhere will quibble with his workload (just seven 200-inning seasons and 11 qualifying for the ERA title). That person should be laughed out of the room, because on a per-inning basis, Martinez has a claim as the best pitcher ever.
John Smoltz (69.5/38.7/54.1)
Because he spent 3 1/2 seasons as a top-flight closer following Tommy John surgery, Smoltz doesn’t have the win totals of his Braves brethren, but he may have been more dominant than either Maddux or Glavine, as his 125 ERA+ and 8.0 strikeouts per nine (3,084 Ks for his career) attest. Smoltz won a Cy Young, led his leagues in strikeouts and wins twice apiece and was an absolute beast in the postseason, going 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA in 209 innings, better than either of his already elected former teammates.
Because of his relief work, Smoltz is below the JAWS standard for starters (72.6/50.2/61.4), but he’s very close in terms of career value; his case is kind of like that of first-ballot Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, though the latter spent far more time in the bullpen. Anyway, his case will be interesting on the advanced metrics, but I suspect he’ll meet little resistance from the voters. When he goes in, he’ll be the first Tommy John surgery recipient to reach Cooperstown.
Gary Sheffield (60.4/38.0/49.2)
Sheffield was an offensive force during his 22-year career, using perhaps the most fearsome swing of the era to mash 509 home runs. He earned All-Star honors nine times, placed in the top three in MVP voting three times and finished with 2,689 hits and a .292/.393/.514 line, good for a 140 OPS+. His career featured one controversy after another, from his claim that he made intentional errors as a young shortstop with the Brewers — one that doesn’t really hold up, particularly in the context of his mistreatment by the organization — to his worn-out welcomes in multiple cities to his connection to Barry Bonds and the BALCO scandal. He never tested positive for steroids, and his claim that he didn’t know “the cream” was a PED may be more plausible than most denials, but he’ll face a tough time in front of voters nonetheless. Terrible defense (-177 runs according to Total Zone) knocks his JAWS below the standard on all three fronts. For as great a hitter as he was, he could be in for some rough sledding.
Brian Giles (50.8/37.1/44.0)
An on-base machine with power (.291/.400/.502 career), Giles was a highly underrated player due to the fact that he spent his entire career with the Indians (where he struggled to crack their lineup), Pirates and Padres. He didn’t qualify for a batting title until his age-28 season, when he bashed 39 homers, but that 1999 campaign started a 10-year run with an OPS+ of 142. Alas, he made just two All-Star teams, and was done at age 38 due to injuries. He won’t make it to the Hall, but his career deserves a longer look.
Nomar Garciaparra (44.2/43.0/43.6)
Remember the Holy Trinity of AL shortstops? There was a time early in his career that Garciaparra was considered a better player than either Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter; from 1997-2000, he hit for the highest OPS+ of the three (142, compared to 138 for Rodriguez and 128 for Jeter). During that span Garciaparra won AL Rookie of the Year honors and back-to-back batting titles.
Injuries took their toll thereafter, costing him most of 2001, and he reached 100 games just twice over his final six seasons due to ongoing lower body woes. Still, he surpasses the peak score of the average Hall of Fame shortstop (66.7/42.8/54.7), and despite his low career totals (1,747 hits, 229 homers) he’ll get some love from voters. Not enough, though.
Carlos Delgado (44.3/34.4/39.4)
Delgado made only two All-Star teams, but he did hit 473 homers to go with a .280/.383/.546 line (138 OPS+). Had a hip injury not curtailed his major league career at age 36, he’d get more serious consideration from the voters, but as it is, he’s short on just about every front. Still, the fact that he’s the ballot’s seventh-best newcomer — a distinction that belonged to Luis Gonzalez (51.5/33.8/42.7) this time around — speaks volumes as to the quality of first-time candidates here.
Tom Gordon (35.3/23.4/29.3)
The pint-sized “Flash” didn’t put up numbers that will get Hall of Fame voters to turn their heads (138-126 with 158 saves and a 3.96 ERA), but his was a fascinating career. He had an extended stint as a pretty decent starter/swingman with the Royals and Red Sox, a brief period of dominance as a closer interrupted by injury — punctuated by being the title subject of a Stephen King book — and then a long string as a setup man and occasional closer as he bounced around the majors. He ranks sixth in reliever JAWS, but below the standard on all three fronts, so he’ll be one-and-done, but he deserves his victory lap just the same.
As for the rest, barring a change to the nominating process, expect the ballot to include Jermaine Dye, Darin Erstad, Cliff Floyd, Troy Percival and Jason Schmidt, none of whom will get more than token support but all of whom had laudable careers that were limited by injuries.
In all, the 2014 ballot featured 17 players with JAWS scores of at least 50, the highest total since the balloting returned to an annual basis in 1966 (I haven’t gone further back systematically). The 2015 ballot will have 16 plus Sheffield, who’s within one point. It will again feature a player in Craig Biggio who had 3,000 hits but who fell two votes shy of enshrinement — and who will (deservedly) siphon off votes from some of the aforementioned — as well as four players with at least 500 homers, two with at least 300 wins and five with at least 3,000 strikeouts. It’s going to be another year of heated debates and battles for ballot space.
I have to admit, I can hardly wait. The institution, the process and the candidates may all have numerous flaws, but as should be apparent from this year’s JAWS series, I take great joy in celebrating the careers of the ballot’s best. Their accomplishments were truly spectacular, and if some of the candidates have warts, that only makes them as human as the rest of us.