Baseball Hall of Fame: Upcoming Borderline Candidates, Part 2

Baseball Hall of Fame: Upcoming Borderline Candidates, Part 2
06 Nov
2017
Not in Hall of Fame

Index




Johan Santana and Jamie Moyer

And just as Johnny Damon and Andruw Jones are a study in contrast in center field, Johan Santana and Jamie Moyer, while both left-handed starting pitchers, were hardly formed from the same mold, either in their pitching styles or in their career paths—Santana's career was coming to an end at an age when Moyer's was just beginning to take off.

Reaching the majors with the Minnesota Twins in 2000, his age-21 season, Santana toiled in the bullpen his first four seasons, getting increasingly more starting opportunities with 14 in 27 appearances in 2002 and with 18 in 45 appearances in 2003, as he developed an effective changeup to complement his decent if not blazing fastball. By 2002, Santana, despite leading the American League with 15 wild pitches in 108.1 innings, was maturing: He won eight games, seven as a starter, while his 2.99 ERA and 150 ERA+ heralded Santana's incipient prowess.

His 2003 season reinforced this promise as he finished seventh in AL Cy Young voting despite spending much of the season in the bullpen. But when Santana cracked the starting rotation, he promptly posted an auspicious 11–2 win-loss record, having won his last eight starts, with a 2.85 ERA, and with 109 strikeouts in 110.1 innings as a starter, computing to a ratio of 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings against just 27 bases on balls, Santana approached a Curt Schilling-like strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 4.04.

By 2004, Johan Santana had arrived: He won his first Cy Young Award, besting Mariano Rivera, Curt Schilling, and Pedro Martinez—the last two ultimately helping the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series win in 86 years—in the voting as Santana won 20 games against only six losses, a career-best .769 winning percentage, and led the AL in earned run average (2.61), strikeouts (265), ERA+ (182), FIP (2.92), WHIP (0.921), and strikeouts-to-walks (10.5) while also allowing a Major League-lowest 6.2 hits per nine innings pitched. With a career-high 8.6 bWAR, Santana placed sixth in AL Most Valuable Player voting.

That 2004 season ushered in a five-year streak of pitching dominance that seemed to mark Johan Santana as a sure bet for Cooperstown. For that five-year stretch, from 2004 to 2008, Santana won 86 games against only 39 losses in 168 games started, a sterling.688 winning percentage as he averaged 17 wins a season, leading the AL in wins (19) in 2006 and never winning fewer than 15 games per year. That 2006 campaign saw Santana win the pitching Triple Crown by leading the AL in wins (19), strikeouts (245), and earned run average (2.77) as he won his second Cy Young Award—and by capturing all the first place votes as he had done two years previously, Santana joined Roger Clemens, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, and Greg Maddux as the only pitchers to have done this more than once.

In this half-decade, Santana led the American League in wins, games started, and in innings pitched once and in strikeouts and ERA three times. In peripheral statistics, Santana led the league in ERA+, FIP, and strikeouts per nine innings pitched three times and in WHIP four times.

Santana stumbled during the 2007 season as he lost 13 games for a Twins club that finished third in the AL Central with a win-loss record below.500. The left-hander, who led the AL in home runs allowed with 33 as he posted a 3.33 ERA, his only season during this five-year run with an ERA above 3.00, nevertheless won 15 games while recording 235 strikeouts and earning his only Gold Glove for fielding. Nevertheless, the Twins dealt Santana to the New York Mets before the 2008 season began.

But if Minnesota had been skittish about Santana's effectiveness, his move to the National League didn't stop him from leading his new league in games started (34), innings pitched (234.1), and a Major League-leading 2.53 ERA as he won 16 games against just 7 losses for a .696 winning percentage as he fanned 206 batters, the fifth (and final) time he topped 200 strikeouts in a season. And his placing third in Cy Young voting found him in the top five of Cy Young voting all five years and in the top ten of Most Valuable Player voting twice. His cumulative bWAR total during this five-year reign was 35.4, an average of 7.1 wins above a replacement pitcher each season.

During the 2008 season, however, Santana had torn the meniscus in his left knee and underwent surgery at the end of the season. And although he recovered in time for the 2009 season, Santana missed the last month of that season following surgery to remove bone chips in his left elbow, signaling a series of injuries that would hamper him for the rest of his career—and jeopardize his bid for the Hall of Fame.

Although Johan Santana's 2009 and 2010 seasons were respectable, he was no longer an elite pitcher as he underwent surgery again in 2010, this time on his left shoulder, and he missed all of 2011 to recover from that operation. He returned to start the 2012 season, and on June 1 he pitched a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals, the defending World Series champions—the first no-hitter thrown by a Mets pitcher in the franchise's history, no small feat as hurlers such as Dwight Gooden and especially Hall of Famer Tom Seaver had their opportunities while in a Mets uniform.

Nevertheless, Santana had a mediocre year, his worst as a full-time starter as he won just six games against nine losses in 21 starts while posting a bloated 4.85 ERA. Injuries dogged him in 2012, particularly a lower-back inflammation near the end of August that saw him miss the rest of the season—in fact, that was Santana's final appearance in the Major Leagues. He injured his shoulder again in 2013, but despite minor league contracts with the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays in subsequent years, repeated injuries ended his career.

In his 12-year career, Johan Santana appeared in 360 games, 284 of those as a starting pitcher, for a total of 2025.2 innings pitched. He won 139 games against only 78 losses for a sparkling .641 winning percentage while posting a 3.20 ERA and a 136 ERA+, striking out 1988 batters against only 567 walks for an outstanding strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 3.51 as he struck out 8.8 batters per nine innings pitched and generated a 1.132 WHIP.

That short career leaves his counting numbers modest—his 1988 strikeouts, 84th all-time, are the only significant quantitative statistic in the top 100—but his rate stats look impressive: Santana ranks 17th all-time in strikeouts per nine innings pitched (8.833), 20th in ERA+ (136), 26th in strikeouts to walks (3.506), 37th in win-loss percentage (.641), 46th in WHIP (1.132), 51st in fewest hits per nine innings pitched (7.669), and 100th in bWAR for pitchers (50.7).

Yet the southpaw's short career but with five consecutive years of pitching dominance brings to mind a similar left-handed pitcher from nearly a half-century previously—Sandy Koufax, who waltzed into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1972 with 86.9 percent of the vote. However, Koufax's career, cut short by arm problems by age 30, had begun with his being a hurler with poor control—for the first seven years of his career, he won one game more than he lost (54–53) while posting a 3.94 ERA and a 105 ERA+, only a few ticks above a league-average pitcher as he walked 501 batters in 947.1 innings pitched, before dominating the National League in the last five years of his career.

Naturally, this prompts the question of whether Johan Santana can convince voters that he was sufficiently Koufax-like to be voted into Cooperstown.

The table below summarizes the two pitchers' key counting statistics over their careers along with ERA and WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched).

 

W–L (Pct.)

ERA

IP

GS

BB

SO

WHIP

Koufax, Sandy

165–87 (.655)

2.76

2324.1

314

817

2396

1.106

Santana, Johan

139–78 (.641)

3.20

2025.2

284

567

1988

1.132


The fundamental differences between the eras in which each pitched should be apparent: With 30 more starts than Santana, Koufax pitched 300 more innings. In fact, Santana had just 15 complete games over his career, while Koufax completed at least 15 starts in a season five times, including 27 each in his last two seasons, for a total of 137 complete games. Furthermore, Koufax threw 40 career shutouts, leading the National League twice including 11 in 1963, although Santana did notch 10 shutouts during his playing days.

The table below summarizes the two pitchers' key qualitative statistics over their careers.

 

ERA+

ERA–

FIP

FIP–

SO/9

SO/BB

bWAR

fWAR

Koufax, Sandy

131

75

2.69

75

9.3

2.93

53.2

54.5

Santana, Johan

136

74

3.44

81

8.8

3.51

50.7

45.3


The rate stats indicate greater parity between the two pitchers, with relatively little difference overall although FanGraphs is more bullish on Koufax than it is on Santana with respect to Wins Above Replacement.

Each pitcher had five consecutive years in which he dominated his league; Koufax's National League stretch began in 1962 and ended in 1966, his final season, while Santana reigned in the American League from 2004 to 2007 before moving to the NL in 2008, the final year of his supremacy although he pitched for three more seasons.

The table below summarizes the two pitchers' key counting statistics during their respective five-year pinnacle along with ERA and WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched).

 

W–L (Pct.)

ERA

IP

GS

BB

SO

WHIP

Koufax, Sandy

111–34 (.766)

1.95

1377

176

316

1444

0.926

Santana, Johan

86–39 (.688)

2.82

1146.2

168

261

1189

1.022


The table below summarizes the two pitchers' key qualitative statistics during their respective five-year pinnacle.

 

ERA+

ERA–

FIP

FIP–

SO/9

SO/BB

bWAR

fWAR

Koufax, Sandy

167

60

2.00

64

9.4

4.57

40.9

40.1

Santana, Johan

157

64

3.21

75

9.3

4.56

35.4

29.9


Sandy Koufax's five-year peak was truly extraordinary. In that half-decade, he led the NL in wins three times, in innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts twice, and in earned run average all five years including three seasons with an ERA under 2.00. Nicknamed "the Left Arm of God," this epitome of the power pitcher also led the NL in strikeouts three times, fanning at least 300 hitters in each of those seasons including 382 in 1965, which shattered Rube Waddell's mark of 349 that had stood for 61 years to become the most in a single season in the modern era until, by one more strikeout, Nolan Ryan in turn bested Koufax's record eight years later. Koufax's league-leading in wins and strikeouts occurred in the same years, resulting in his clinching the pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, strikeouts) three times.

In those five years, Koufax threw four no-hitters, his last a perfect game in 1965, the first by a left-hander since 1880; Koufax's four no-hitters remained a Major League record until Ryan eventually shattered it by hurling seven blanks. Koufax won three Cy Young Awards, all of them unanimous, made even more remarkable as, since its 1956 inception, the Cy Young had been awarded solely to the best pitcher in both leagues until 1967, the year after Koufax retired. Moreover, Koufax won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1963 and was the MVP runner-up in 1965 and 1966, finishing behind Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente, respectively.

Sandy Koufax's masterful half-decade was truly one for the ages, undoubtedly impressing the 86.9 percent of Hall of Fame voters who voted for him on his first and only ballot in 1972. But Koufax's era needs to be put into context. The 1960s are often termed part of baseball's "Golden Era," and it certainly was for pitchers.

In 1963, Major League Baseball expanded the strike zone, with the results being in the National League a 13 percent decrease in walks issued, a six percent increase in strikeouts, and a 15 percent decrease in runs scored as the NL batting average dropped from .261 during the previous year to .245. Pitchers worked from a 15-inch mound until after the 1968 season, when it was lowered to 10 inches. Finally, many players at the strength positions, those up the middle of the field—catcher, shortstop, second base, and center field—held starting roles because of their defensive ability and not necessarily because of their hitting prowess—and this doesn't include pitchers in both leagues hitting for themselves. (Koufax himself was a notoriously anemic hitter, posting a bloodless .097/.145/.116/.261 slash line with two home runs and nine doubles for his career.) In other words, Koufax and his contemporaries had to bear down on only a few spots in the opposing lineup.

By contrast, Johan Santana's five-year glory period occurred in the immediate aftermath of the peak in the usage and awareness of performance-enhancing drugs, but even leaving that still-contentious issue aside, Santana was facing the effects of a higher talent compression overall than in Koufax's era—not just at the traditional offensive positions such as first base or left field, but at the formerly weak-hitting positions of Koufax's time—in addition to the designated hitter who had been hitting for the pitcher for thirty years. As an example, in 1962, the first year of Koufax's reign, the National League's slash line was .261/.327/.393/.720, generating an OPS+ of 93—in essence a league average below league average—while averaging 4.48 runs per game. In 2004, the first year of Santana's half-decade of dominance, the American League posted a slash line of .270/.338/.433/.771, with an OPS+ at exactly the league average of 100, while averaging 5.01 runs per game. In other words, Santana and his contemporaries, particularly in the American League, had to bear down on just about every spot in the opposing lineup.

So, while Santana did not reach Olympian heights as did Koufax, he still got a good ways up Mount Olympus with one pitching Triple Crown in 2006 while leading the league in ERA and strikeouts two more times each, and winning two Cy Young Awards in unanimous voting. And the only other pitchers to do that at least twice—Koufax, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, and Greg Maddux—were elected to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility with the exception of Clemens. Santana also threw one no-hitter, although that came in 2012 and not in his peak period.

Johan Santana was the Sandy Koufax of his era, firing off a five-year string of dominating performances before injuries also curtailed his career. Moreover, he did this in an era of higher talent compression than Koufax's, meaning that not only did he face stiffer competition from the batters who faced him at the plate, he competed against a stronger set of starting pitchers.

Johan Santana
For his era, Johan Santana had a Sandy Koufax-like streak of pitching dominance--but will Hall of Fame voters think so?

In many respects, Johan Santana's case is a bellwether for evaluating pitchers for Hall of Fame legacy. Previous perceptions and traditional yardsticks—300 wins, or 3000 strikeouts—will not work. Santana's career may be the model for evaluating contemporary starting pitchers.

The following table compares the JAWS rankings of Santana and the other three starting pitchers discussed in this article with Hall of Fame pitchers Sandy Koufax and Whitey Ford.

2018 and 2019 Starting Pitcher Candidates, Qualitative Comparisons to Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers Sandy Koufax and Whitey Ford (Ranked by JAWS)

Player

fWAR

bWAR

WAR7

JAWS

JAWS Rank

HoF Mon.

(≈100)

HoF Std.

(≈50)

ERA+

ERA–

Ave. of 62 SP HoFers

NA

73.9

50.3

62.1

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

Santana, John

45.3

51.4

44.8

48.1

84

82

35

136

74

Koufax, Sandy

54.5

49.0

46.1

47.5

87

227

46

131

75

Pettitte, Andy

68.9

60.8

34.1

47.5

88

128

44

117

86

Ford, Whitey

54.9

57.3

34.7

46.0

97

208

56

133

75

Oswalt, Roy

52.4

50.2

40.1

45.1

105

59

34

127

79

Moyer, Jamie

48.2

50.4

33.2

41.8

132

56

39

103

97


fWAR:
Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by FanGraphs.

bWAR: Career Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference. Note that this calculation takes into account pitching performance only.

WAR7: The sum of a player's best seven seasons as defined by bWAR; they need not be consecutive seasons.

JAWS: Jaffe WAR Score system—an average of a player's career WAR and his seven-year WAR peak.

JAWS Rank: The player's ranking at that position by JAWS rating.

Ave. HoF bWAR: The average bWAR value of all the Hall of Famers at that position.

Ave. HoF JAWS: The average JAWS rating of all the Hall of Famers at that position.

Hall of Fame Monitor: An index of how likely a player is to be inducted to the Hall of Fame based on his entire playing record (offensive, defensive, awards, position played, postseason success), with an index score of 100 being a good possibility and 130 a "virtual cinch." Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.

Hall of Fame Standards: An index of performance standards, indexed to 50 as being the score for an average Hall of Famer. Developed by Baseball Reference from a creation by Bill James.

ERA+: Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by Baseball Reference. Positively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA+ indicating a league-average pitcher, and values above 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

ERA–:
Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA– indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

Based not only on JAWS but on other evaluation standards, Johan Santana and Sandy Koufax are practically in a dead heat in most of these standards. And although all of these pitchers fall below the aggregate JAWS rankings of all starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame, if the purpose of JAWS, as Jay Jaffe has explained, is to determine whether a player will maintain the existing standards of the Baseball Hall of Fame, then Johan Santana is a Hall of Famer.

On the other side of the coin is Jamie Moyer, whose first Major League season was in 1986, his age-23 season, and whose last season was in 2012, his age-49 season—and who had had Tommy John surgery at the end of 2010 in hopes of returning in 2012, which he did, with the Colorado Rockies, a team that did not exist when Moyer's career began, and whose home ballpark of Coors Field is hardly regarded as pitcher-friendly. Ah, to be a soft-tossing lefty. But although the Rockies released him in mid-year, Moyer signed two minor-league contracts, first with the Baltimore Orioles organization, and then with the Toronto Blue Jays organization, though both organizations declined to return Moyer to the majors. Nevertheless, in 2013, after consulting with Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield, Moyer tried to come back as a knuckleball pitcher although nothing came of it, and he did announce his official retirement later in the year.

Jamie Moyer is nothing if not persevering, which is hardly surprising for a pitcher who won 269 games in his career, 35th on the all-time list—tucked between Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes and should-be Hall of Famer Mike Mussina with 270 wins, and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer with 268—but who didn't notch his 100th win until his age-35 season in 1998. In fact, for his first 12 seasons, spent with a half-dozen teams, Moyer managed an 89–84 win-loss record for a .514 winning percentage as his ERA+ was 100—a league-average pitcher precisely.

Improbably, Moyer did not come into his own until he was traded mid-year in 1996, his age-33 season, by the Boston Red Sox to the Seattle Mariners, where he spent the next 10-plus seasons. With Seattle he posted a 145–87 win-loss record, good for an outstanding .625 winning percentage, this despite an overall 3.97 ERA and a 4.38 FIP (fielding-independent pitching, which concentrates on a pitcher's walks, hits by pitch, and home runs allowed, all factors wholly within a pitcher's control), although his 112 ERA+ was respectable.

Prior to coming to the Mariners, Moyer won as many as 12 games in a season only twice while posting a .462 winning percentage overall; now with Seattle, he won 15 or more games four times and 20 or more games twice including an outstanding 2003 campaign that saw him brandish a 21–7 record (.750) with a career-low 3.27 ERA and a career-high 132 ERA+ as he finished fifth in American League Cy Young voting and made his only All-Star team—all in his age-40 season—although his 2001 season was not far behind as he won 20 games against only six losses, a .769 winning percentage, and helped the Mariners, which had won a record 116 games that year, to the postseason. Moyer was outstanding against the Cleveland Indians in the AL Divisional Series, winning both his starts with 10 strikeouts in 12 innings and posting a stingy 1.50 ERA, and against the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series as he notched the only Mariners victory, a laugher in the Bronx that Seattle won 14–3 as Moyer allowed only two earned runs in seven innings while striking out five.

After a disappointing start to the 2006 season, going 6–12 with a 4.39 ERA, the Mariners traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies, where Moyer, throwing a fastball that averaged just over 80 MPH, won five games against only two losses for an encouraging finish to his age-43 season. Astonishingly, Moyer, still a starting pitcher, subsequently strung together three winning seasons including an excellent 2008 season—his age-45 year—that saw him win 16 games while losing only seven (.696), posting a 3.71 ERA, as he helped the Phillies into the postseason, where they won their first World Series since 1980 and only their second overall. It was Moyer's only World Series ring.

Amazingly, Jamie Moyer won 105 games between his age-40 season in 2003 and his final season in 2012, when he was 49 years old. (He turned 50 in November of that year.) Moyer holds a passel of records, most having to do with accomplishments at an advanced baseball age, such as the oldest pitcher to record a win and even the oldest player to drive in a run. However, Moyer may be best-known for giving up more home runs, 522, than any pitcher in baseball history, having eclipsed the previous mark of 505, held by Robin Roberts, in 2010, appropriately enough as a Phillie, as had been Roberts; each is the only pitcher to give up 500 or more career homers. Remarkably, though, Moyer only ever led the league in that dubious category once, when his career-high 44 gopher-balls surrendered led the American League in 2004; still, that total was only the sixth-highest single-season total in Major League history. In fact, Moyer made the top 100 only once, a testament, perhaps, to his, er, longevity.

Counting numbers? Not surprisingly, Moyer has a passel of those too: In addition to home runs allowed, he ranks 16th in games started (638), 30th in hits allowed (4231), 35th in wins (269), 37th in losses (209), 39th in strikeouts (2441), and 40th in innings pitched (4074). Moyer's lifetime ERA of 4.25 is hardly elite, and his career ERA+ of 103 marks him as a pitcher who is a tick or two above league-average. You have to play for a long time to compile the statistics Moyer has done—but you have to be elite to make it into the Hall of Fame. Jamie Moyer had a most unusual career, a successful career, and he is an inspiration for anyone thought too old or without the ideal skills to do anything, and although there should be a permanent display of his accomplishments in Cooperstown, a plaque is not warranted.

But considering that Jim Kaat, another southpaw who pitched for a quarter-century, has been a long-time favorite for a veterans committee Hall of Fame induction, the temptation to compare the two left-handers is overpowering—more so than either of their fastballs.

The table below summarizes the two pitchers' key counting statistics along with ERA and WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched).

 

W–L (Pct.)

ERA

IP

GS

BB

SO

WHIP

Kaat, Jim

283–237 (.544)

3.45

4620

625

1083

2461

1.259

Moyer, Jamie

269–209 (.563)

4.25

4074

638

1155

2441

1.322


The counting statistics suggest the differences in their eras: With a handful fewer starts, Kaat pitched more than 500 more innings than did Moyer although Kaat made just over 200 more total appearances than did Moyer: 898 for Kaat, 696 for Moyer. Complete games epitomize the differences: Kaat had 180 complete games to Moyer's 33—and in fact Kaat had just two fewer career shutouts than Moyer's career complete-game total; Moyer did notch 10 shutouts.

The table below summarizes the two pitchers' key qualitative statistics.

 

ERA+

ERA–

FIP

FIP–

SO/9

SO/BB

bWAR

fWAR

Kaat, Jim

108

93

3.41

91

4.9

2.27

45.3

70.9

Moyer, Jamie

103

97

4.47

102

5.4

2.11

50.2

48.2


ERA–:
Career ERA, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 ERA– indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

FIP-: Fielding-independent pitching, a pitcher's ERA with his fielders' impact factored out, league- and park-adjusted, as calculated by FanGraphs. Negatively indexed to 100, with a 100 FIP- indicating a league-average pitcher, and values below 100 indicating the degrees better a pitcher is than a league-average pitcher.

Qualitatively, Jim Kaat noses ahead of Jamie Moyer in most categories, and especially in Wins Above Replacement as computed by FanGraphs—which ranks him as a certain Hall of Famer at least in terms of value. Nevertheless, Kaat spent 15 years on the writers' Hall of Fame ballot but never cracked the 30-percent plateau, and thus far has been unsuccessful on two Golden Era Committee ballots although he was two votes shy of election in 2015. I profiled Kaat prior to that election and concluded that he was not a Hall of Famer. And if Kaat doesn't cut it, then neither does Moyer.

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 November 2017 19:16

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