Personal Hall of Fame, Part 3: Pitchers and CatchersFeb 19, 2013 by Adam Darowski
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I laid the groundwork for my Personal Hall of Fame, made my initial commitments, and made a list of players to debate. Now it’s time to finalize.
Here are the pitchers who remain on my “maybe” list. I actually added one since last time—Noodles Hahn. He deserves to at least be in the discussion.
- # denotes Hall of Fame
- * denotes Hall of Stats
|Clark Griffith *||p||59.3||32.8||114||-60||-1||0||-5||114||229|
|Kevin Appier *||p||53.9||34.0||111||-17||0||0||0||13||280|
|Babe Adams *||p||53.0||34.6||110||-68||2||0||0||93||204|
|Eddie Cicotte *||p||58.8||29.9||108||-86||2||0||0||93||211|
|Jim McCormick *||p||58.5||27.9||105||-65||0||0||-3||79||368|
|Early Wynn *#||p||57.5||28.3||104||-107||-4||3||0||202||142|
|Tommy John *||p||57.9||27.4||103||-113||-4||-1||0||115||177|
|Tony Mullane *||p||53.1||30.2||103||-44||1||0||-11||124||261|
|Wilbur Wood *||p||49.8||31.2||102||-56||-1||0||0||40||195|
|Billy Pierce *||p||52.0||29.5||101||-132||-5||3||0||138||236|
|Nap Rucker *||p||47.4||31.8||100||-64||1||0||0||66||235|
|Red Ruffing *#||p||64.6||21.5||100||-62||2||0||0||217||165|
|Eppa Rixey #||p||53.2||27.4||99||-169||2||0||0||154||197|
|Burleigh Grimes #||p||52.1||24.9||93||-98||2||0||0||158||116|
|Rich Gossage #||p||48.4||24.7||89||-14||0||0||0||11||151|
In Both Halls
There are two pitchers on this list who are in both the Hall of Fame and the Hall of Stats—Early Wynn and Red Ruffing. Both were barely over the Hall of Stats borderline. Both missed some time due to World War II, but neither one was particularly valuable at that stage of their careers (Wynn hadn’t taken off yet while Ruffing was on the downside).
Wynn won exactly 300 games, and I think that gives him a reputation as a worthless player who hung on for a milestone. Truth is, he wasn’t a bad pitcher after he turned 40. He was only 29–31, but he owned a 3.66 ERA (106 ERA+) and was worth 6.1 WAR. Again, this was from ages 40–43. Ruffing, meanwhile, didn’t win 300 games, but pitching for some awful Red Sox teams likely cost him the 27 wins he needed. He was 39–96 with Boston (.289 winning percentage), but with a 92 ERA+. I mean, that’s not good. But it’s not sub-.300 bad. He won 65% of his decisions for the Yankees.
Honestly, what pushes them both over the line for me is the fact that each could hold his own at the plate. Ruffing could really hit, batting .269 with 36 home runs, an 81 wRC+, and 14.7 WAR as a hitter. Wynn was merely “good for a pitcher”, batting .214 with 17 homers and a 55 wRC+. But when you do that over a long career like Wynn had, suddenly it’s worth 9.7 WAR.
More Kings of Longevity
I’ll admit—Wynn and Ruffing are not peak-value inductees. They hung on for a long time, providing moderately better than average performance. In fact, I performed a Baseball-Reference Play Index search to make this point. Both Wynn and Ruffing threw over 4,000 innings with an ERA+ of 107 or better (Wynn was 107, Ruffing 109). How many eligible non-Hall of Famers match these criteria? Not many. Roger Clemens tops the list, followed by three members of the “maybe” list—Jim McCormick, Tommy John, and Tony Mullane—and finally Jim Kaat. That’s it.
Of course, there are some Hall of Famers on my “maybe” list who fit that criteria—Eppa Rixey, Burleigh Grimes, and lastly 19th century hurler Mickey Welch (who didn’t even make the “maybe” list). Ruffing and Wynn have two of the lower pitching WAR totals in this group. Of course, they both enhanced their value by being good batsmen. They also get a bit more benefit of the doubt for actually being in the Hall of Fame. I don’t weigh that a ton, but it is mentally easier to keep a Hall of Famer than to remove one in favor of a non-Hall of Famer (when discussing players of similar value).
Grimes and Kaat have fewer pitching WAR than Ruffing and Wynn and also happen to have two of the lowest ERA+ figures in the group (both at 108). They each complicate things by providing some value at the plate—Grimes with 6 WAR and Kaat with 5.9. But their pitching WAR and hitting WAR are far enough behind Wynn and Ruffing (who are absolutely borderline choices for me) to put them on the “no” list. That said, I don’t mind Grimes being in Cooperstown. And I wouldn’t be upset if Kaat made it.
That brings me to Rixey. His ERA+ of 115 is much better than Wynn, Ruffing, Grimes, or Kaat. His pitching WAR is better than all four, as well. But he actually dips below the Hall of Stats cutoff (99 Hall Rating) because his offense doesn’t help him at all (–1.7 WAR). He also had the fewest wins in the group (261) and was barely over .500 (.515). I’m finding it hard to say yes to Rixey. He’s going to be a no.
Now, back to McCormick, John, and Mullane. John is the only modern pitcher in the group, so we’ll start there. He threw over 4,700 innings (20th all time), had a 111 ERA+, won 288 games (with a .555 winning percentage), and had 56.9 WAR on the mound. He couldn’t hit (–0.6 WAR), but I don’t think his case relies on it. Either way, Tommy John was going to get into my personal Hall. I do give his role as a surgical pioneer some weight. I don’t give it a ton of weight, but I do give him some. But, to me, John doesn’t even need that to be a yes. He’s in—barely—but he’s in without surgical help.
Going back to Mullane and McCormick, I also need to go back to Mickey Welch. If he didn’t even make my “maybe” list, should I even consider the other two? Welch won 300 games (and lost 210) with a 113 ERA+ in 4,800 innings. He was worth 59.3 WAR on the mound and –0.6 at the plate. His Hall Rating is just 90 because all of his work came before 1893 (when the mound was moved back). Mullane also has lower marks because he pitched almost exclusively before 1893 (in fact, he was terrible after the mound moved back). He won 284 games (losing 220) with an ERA+ of 117 in 4,500 innings. He was worth 55.1 WAR, but added 6.4 at the plate. He could genuinely hit, with an 88 wRC+. He even stole over 100 bases. Mullane’s Hall Rating is 103. Finally, McCormick won 265 (losing 214) with an ERA+ of 118 (best of the trio) in 4,275 innings, all before 1893. He had a mind-boggling 72.2 WAR on the mound (and 0.5 at the plate). McCormick also had a relatively short career (ten seasons), and of the top eight seasons by the trio, McCormick owns five of them.
Do any of them go in? I do think McCormick is criminally underrated. Mullane, at least, gets talked about occasionally in Hall of Fame discussions. Welch is probably the worst of the three. He just happened to win 300 games (exactly), so he got in. That said, I’m still not going to commit to putting any of them in. I do really like McCormick, though. I might have to come back to this one.
Next, let’s look at Nap Rucker and Noodles Hahn. Because I included Dizzy Dean, I felt I had to give these two a fair look. All are short peak guys. Dean went 150–83 with a 3.02 ERA (131 ERA+) in a bit under 2,000 innings. He earned 41.3 WAR on the mound (2.1 at the plate) with 36.8 WAR coming in six seasons (another 2.1 coming at the plate, or 6.5 WAR per season). In that stretch, he won an MVP award and finished second two other times. The BBWAA put him in the Hall.
Hahn pitched only eight seasons, but he had a six-year peak much like Dean’s. Overall, he went 130–94 with a 2.55 ERA (132 ERA+) in a hair over 2,000 innings. He was worth 44 WAR on the mound (–1.2 at the plate) with 42.7 total WAR coming in those six seasons (7.1 per season). Nap Rucker is probably The World’s Greatest .500 Pitcher. He went 134–134 with some lousy Brooklyn teams despite a 2.42 ERA (119 ERA+). He was worth 45.5 WAR on the mound and 0.2 at the plate. In his six best seasons, he was worth 40.8 WAR (6.8 per season). He also had a seventh solid season, posting 3.3 WAR as a rookie.
In his six-year stretch, Dean was legitimately one of the three best starters in the majors (placing behind Lefty Grove and just behind Carl Hubbell). Of course, Hahn also placed third, behind Cy Young and Joe McGinnity. Rucker, meanwhile, placed fourth (but behind incredibly strong competition in Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Ed Walsh).
I’m not going to lie. The three are very similar. I’m going to stick with only Dean for now because of the black ink. Dean led his league in innings three times, wins twice, winning percentage once, complete games three times, strikeouts four times in a row, BB/9 once, K/9 twice, and K/BB twice. He also has that MVP award. Hahn led the league in strikeouts three times, K/BB once, and innings once. Rucker led in innings once. I’ll admit, I don’t feel wonderful about these choices. And I’ll readily admit that Dean has an advantage because he’s actually in the Hall of Fame and was viewed as a top pitcher in his era. Hahn and Rucker, meanwhile, have mostly needed sabermetrics to reveal that.
Wilbur Wood is another who gets on this list due to an insane peak. He had an interesting career, kicking around for seven years before finally catching on with the White Sox as a reliever in 1967. He had great results out of the pen for four seasons, but then transitioned to the rotation where he had an incredible four-year run. After a subpar 16-win season, he lasted three more partial seasons. It was an odd career—not one usually associated with the Hall of Fame. But he had a Hall of Fame peak.
The four-year stretch as a starter was stellar as he won 90 and lost 69 (.566 percentage). He had a 2.86 ERA and 127 ERA+, but he was even better than that. His defense cost him a third of a run per nine innings. He was worth 33 WAR (34.2 as a pitcher). Before that, Wood’s three relief years right before this stretch was also impressive as he posted an ERA+ of 144 and was worth 10.0 WAR. He led the league in appearances all three seasons. For now, I’m passing on Wood as well, but he’s really close.
The Other Whitey Ford
Billy Pierce was one of the top pitchers of the 1950s. He ranks fourth in innings, third in WAR, fourth in wins. Among pitchers with 200 or more starts in the decade, he was 2nd in ERA+, 6th in opponent’s OPS+, 6th in K/BB, and 11th in winning percentage. He is very similar to Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, so I’ll make that comparison.
Ford went 236–106 (.690) with a 2.75 ERA (133 ERA+) in 3,170 innings. He had 50.6 WAR (54.2 including his decent-for-a-pitcher offense). Ford’s WAR looks a little low because he played in front of some stellar defenses. Then again, Pierce did too. Overall, Pierce went 211–169 (.555) with a 3.27 ERA (119 ERA+) in 3,300 innings. He was worth 50 WAR (50.4 overall). In each statistic, he’s close to Ford, but a bit worse. Ford also has an excellent postseason record (10–8, 2.71, 3 shutouts) while Pierce only threw 19 innings in the postseason (with success). It’s tough to draw the line, but I think I’ll stick to drawing the line between them. Again, not an easy call.
The Higher Hall Rating Arms
I’ve baseically been starting from the bottom so far, mostly because I’ve been avoiding some pitchers who rank well by Hall Rating but haven’t captured my support yet—Clark Griffith, Kevin Appier, Babe Adams, and Eddie Cicotte.
I’ll start with Cicotte, a later bloomer who was banned for his part in throwing the 1919 World Series. His final season was his age 36 season, but he was coming off a four-year stretch where he earned 28.1 WAR. He still had plenty left in the tank. His 108 Hall Rating is moderately over the Hall of Stats borderline. If he had a short career for any other reason, I’d feel better about giving him extra credit and putting him in. But he had a short career because he cheated (whether or not he felt it was necessary). That causes him to fall short of my Hall.
For me, Griffith would get in regardless for his multi-faceted role with the Senators. Griffith is in the Hall as an executive, but he owned excellent numbers as a player—237–146 (.619), 3.31 ERA (121 ERA+), 54 WAR on the mound, another 4.1 WAR at the plate, and an ERA title. During his peak of 1894 to 1903, only Cy Young and Kid Nichols earned more WAR. Expand that out a bit to 1890–1910 and he quickly drops to 9th. He’s incredibly close to the borderline (despite his 114 Hall Rating), but I’m still inclined to put him in. It’s really just semantics—if I didn’t put him in as a player, I would put him in for a combined role. But I think his playing career is just enough to get in.
Appier and Adams don’t quite make it for me. Both are lower-inning guys who get over the Hall Rating borderline thanks to a few great seasons. but they don’t quite have the condensed, super-high peaks I’d like to see in a Hall of Famer. Both are close calls, but they just miss the cut for me. If either was already in the Hall, I might think perhaps WAR is missing something that made them special. But neither has every gotten any kind of support.
Rich Gossage was a tough call for me. I have no problem inducting Hoyt Wilhelm. Gossage is the reliever that stands in between Wilhelm and the rest. I’ve always had a hard time deciding if he should be the best outside the Hall or the worst one in. My good friend Dan McCloskey chipped in with a helpful tidbit:
@baseballtwit 1975-88, his ERA+ was 146. If you can forgive him for being late bloomer and hanging on too long, there's your 10 pts. x 2.— Dan McCloskey (@_LeftField) February 19, 2013
I was worried about Gossage’s relatively low ERA+ (126) compared to other closers. But, as Dan points out, his ERA+ is lower because he lasted so long. Inexplicably, Gossage got into the Hall after Bruce Sutter. Sutter only pitched for twelve years—and he was only useful for eight of them. If we take Sutter’s best nine-consecutive years (which includes a bad one but also includes the ninth, which was one of his best), he made 549 appearances, threw 890 innings, posted a 2.54 ERA (152 ERA+), and recorded 260 saves. He was worth 24.1 WAR and 12.0 WAA. Gossage’s best nine-season stretch includes a season in which he started, but with limited success (2.7 WAR). So, I don’t feel bad about counting it. Gossage’s stretch included 473 appearances (29 starts), 1017 innings, a 2.41 ERA (159 ERA+), and 203 saves. He was worth 34.9 WAR and 17.5 WAA.
Another big difference between Gossage and Sutter is what they did outside of those nine years. The rest of Sutter’s career included 112 appearances and –0.5 WAR. Gossage pitched an additional 529 games, tallying another 5 WAR. Not a lot, but he was providing value.
Meanwhile, in Wilhelm’s first nine seasons, he made 473 appearances (48 starts), threw 1171 innings, posted a 2.85 ERA (137 ERA+), and accumulated 23 WAR and 13.3 WAA. Then, he had another nine-year stretch where he made 516 appearances (four starts), threw 956 innings, posted a 1.99 ERA (171 ERA+), and was worth 22.5 WAR and 13.1 WAA. That was from age 38 to 46. From 47–49, he made another 81 appearances with an ERA+ of 113 and 3.6 WAR. He was unbelievable.
Perhaps it doesn’t mean much if I compare Gossage to Sutter. Many don’t think Sutter should be in the Hall of Fame. I don’t either, but I do rank him pretty highly among closers. I also really like John Hiller and Dan Quisenberry, so let’s look at their nine-year peaks along with Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley’s relief numbers.
- Hiller: Hiller’s interesting because he missed a year during his nine-year stretch. The years just outside his nine-year peak weren’t good, so I’ll stick with the eight seasons (making it a true nine-year stretch). Hiller made 383 apperances (17 starts), threw 832 innings, posted a 2.50 ERA (155 ERA+), saved 106 games, and posted 26.8 WAR and 14.1 WAA.
- Quisenberry: In Quiz’s first nine seasons, he made 553 appearances (no starts), threw 895 innings, posted a 2.52 ERA (162 ERA+), saved 237 games, and accumulated 24.3 WAR and 13.3 WAA.
- Fingers: It’s hard to pick a 9-year stretch for Fingers, but from 1974–1982 he had his best WAR stretch with 18.2 (and 7.4 WAA). He made 583 appearances (no starts), threw 964 innings, posted a 2.74 ERA (127 ERA+), and saved 227 games.
- Eckersley: In his first nine seasons as a reliever, Eckersley made 525 appearances (two starts), threw 637 innings, posted a 2.74 ERA (145 ERA+), saved 320 games, but was only worth 15.3 WAR and 7.8 WAA.
Gossage was not Wilhelm, but he was a hell of a lot better than Sutter and the next tier of closers. I’m putting him in.
The New Additions
There are five new pitchers for my Hall:
They are all admittedly borderline, but every Hall needs a borderline. The toughest cuts for me were Jim McCormick, Tony Mullane, and Billy Pierce. Wood, Hahn, and Rucker were difficult, too.
That brings us to 180 Hall of Famers with 37 left to debate. Let’s move on to a pitcher’s best friend…
Hopefully it doesn’t take me 2,500 words to choose my catchers…
- # denotes Hall of Fame
- * denotes Hall of Stats
|Gene Tenace *||c||50.0||32.5||104||259||-14||-3||-8||14|
|Charlie Bennett *||c||54.7||28.6||102||75||-7||0||142||60|
|Thurman Munson *||c||51.2||30.2||101||124||11||-8||32||67|
|Ernie Lombardi #||c||52.3||28.6||100||208||5||0||-21||51|
|Roger Bresnahan #||c||46.6||27.8||93||168||-3||0||-15||57||3|
The Huge Issue
Seven Hall of Fame catchers played primarily between 1900 and 1950. The Hall of Stats removes four of them without adding any others from the era back in. This is why I feel guilty about removing the quartet of Rick Ferrell, Ray Schalk, Ernie Lombardi, and Roger Bresnahan. According to Baseball-Reference, the WAR leaders among catchers between 1900 and 1950 are Hall of Stats and Hall of Fame inductees Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett, and Mickey Cochrane. Beyond that, we have Lombardi, Wally Schang, and Bresnahan. After a rather large gap, we have Ferrell, Spud Davis, and Schalk.
Lombardi’s an easy one to add back in. His Hall Rating rounds to 100, he won a pair of batting titles, he won an MVP, and only Dickey had more WAR during Lombardi’s career. Bresnahan may not have played many games (1,446), but had an impressive 93 Hall Rating, a .386 OBP, a 125 wRC+, and just a hair under 40 WAR. No catcher had more WAR between 1890 and 1920 (and it wasn’t particularly close). Both make it in my Hall.
I have a terrible feeling that WAR isn’t accurately capturing the defensive abilities of Rick Ferrell and Ray Schalk. But still, giving each of them a large boost would only put them in the 60 Hall Rating range. That’s not going to be enough.
The Golden Age of Catchers
The Hall of Stats has a ton of catchers who were active between 1970 and 1990—Joe Torre, Johnny Bench, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Gene Tenace, Carlton Fisk, and Gary Carter. That’s a lot. The Hall of Famers (Bench, Fisk, and Carter) are very deserving. For me, Torre and Simmons are also locks. Tenace and Munson end up on the “maybe” list, along with Bill Freehan.
Should we be considering this many catchers from a single era? We’re back to the third base problem—not many worthy candidates in the first half of the 20th century and then a ton in the second half. Why is this? I’m not sure. But it’s real.
Munson and Tenace reached a 100 Hall Rating while Freehan fell short. I probably can’t put all three in. If I was to pick one, it would have to be Munson. I’m a big Tenace fan, though. I feel his lack of playing time is due to his employers not realizing the talent they had. He had power and patience in a league that wanted batting average. Munson’s lack of playing time, however, is because he was killed in a plane crash. That’s a very different thing. He didn’t get to finish his career and quit on his own terms. Freehan was able to naturally end his career as well.
Right now, I’m putting Munson in. Tenace is one I’m sure I’ll come back to over and over.
The 19th Century Star
A quick Baseball-Reference Play Index search reveals that Charlie Bennett was the top catcher of the 19th century, by WAR. Of course, by default, it searches for players who caught in 50% of more of their games. If you drop the requirement to 40%, Buck Ewing and King Kelly sneak in ahead of him. Ewing caught more than any other position while Kelly was primarily a right fielder.
The fact that Bennett made it past a 100 Hall Rating is quite remarkable. He got a late start, playing 49 games at age 23, none at 24, and finally 51 at age 25. He only played in 1,062 games, never playing in 100 in a season. That said, he was simultaneously one of the best hitting (117 wRC+) and fielding (142 Total Zone runs) catchers of baseball’s first five decades. In fact, from 1871 to 1920, he ranks behind only Ewing, Kelly, and Bresnahan.
I know I tend to trust Total Zone more than others, but Bennett led the league in fielding percentage seven times (and finished second twice and third once). He led the league in putouts and double plays three times each. I don’t know how useful range factor is for catchers, but he led four times in that category.
Call me crazy, but I’m adding Bennett.
The New Additions
There are four new catchers for my Hall:
This brings my personal Hall to 184 players. In Part 4, I’ll tackle the infielders.