2021 First-Time Candidates
Making their debut on the 2021 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot are the following 11 candidates: Mark Buehrle, A.J. Burnett, Michael Cuddyer, Dan Haren, LaTroy Hawkins, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, Aramis Ramirez, Nick Swisher, Shane Victorino, and Barry Zito.
All 11 are fine players, and some had moments of excellence during their careers: Buehrle pitched two no-hitters, one a perfect game; Cuddyer led the National League in batting in 2013; Hunter won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards; and Zito aced Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez out of the American League Cy Young Award in 2002. But none stand out as being Hall of Fame-caliber players over the course of their careers, although I identify Buehrle and Hudson as borderline candidates in my "Ballot Forecast 2021 to 2025".
Below are individual profiles of the 11 new candidates, grouped by position players, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers. Common advanced statistics used in the profiles are listed below. Fuller descriptions of these specific statistics can be found in the Page 5: Player Statistics appendix under the various tables containing statistical information on all the players—position players, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers—on the 2021 ballot, both returning and newly eligible this year.
WAR: Wins Above Replacement value, with variants including fWAR, FanGraphs' version, and bWAR, Baseball Reference's version, which is used to calculate oWAR (WAR for offensive value only) and dWAR (WAR for defensive value only).
JAWS: Jaffe WAR Score System, derived from bWAR and used to rank players at their primary positions.
OPS: On-base percentage plus slugging percentage.
OPS+: OPS that is league- and park-adjusted and indexed to 100, with 100 indicating a league-average hitter.
Slash line: Grouping of a hitter's batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS.
ERA+: Earned run average that is league- and park-adjusted and indexed to 100, with 100 indicating a league-average pitcher.
FIP: Fielding-independent pitching, analogous to ERA but using only a pitcher's strikeouts induced and walks and home runs allowed.
WHIP: Walks and hits per innings pitched.
Position Players Newly Eligible in 2021
Of the five position players making their debut on a BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in 2021, the two most notable are Torii Hunter and Aramis Ramirez. Hunter combined power, speed, and defense while Ramirez could mash for both power and average. However, neither are likely to receive enough votes to return next year. And given all the returning candidates on the ballot, Michael Cuddyer, Nick Swisher, and Shane Victorino are not likely to receive any votes.
Winning the National League batting title with the Colorado Rockies in 2013, his age-34 year, marks the culmination of Michael Cuddyer's career, a good-hitting right fielder who also started at least 150 games at both first- and third base and in fact started at least four games at every position except shortstop, catcher, and pitcher—although he did pitch one scoreless inning for the Minnesota Twins in 2011. But in a 15-year career, the right-hander played in just 1536 games as his career was dogged by injuries; he played in 150 or more games in a season just three times.
Career highlights: Selected for two All-Star teams. Won one Silver Slugger Award. Led the National League in batting average once. Had six years with 150 or more hits. Had eight years with 25 or more doubles, and five years with 30 or more doubles. Had four years with 20 or more home runs.
Career summary: The ninth overall pick by the Minnesota Twins in 1997, Michael Cuddyer didn't reach the Major Leagues until 2001, his age-22 year, and he didn't see action in 100 or more games until 2004 as he shuttled primarily between second and third base. It wasn't until 2006, his age-27 year, that Cuddyer, now the Twins' starting right fielder, experienced a full season as a starter. He posted a .284/.362/.504/.867 slash line, generating a 124 OPS+, with 158 hits including a career-best 41 doubles and 24 home runs while scoring 102 runs and knocking in 109 runs, the only time he reached the century mark in those last two categories. His numbers dipped slightly the following year, and in 2008, he was limited to just 71 games.
Cuddyer did return strongly for 2009, and for the three-year stretch between 2009 and 2011, his last three years in Minnesota, he posted a .276/.341/.465/.806 slash line, good for a 117 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 150 games played, 636 plate appearances, 159 hits, 33 doubles, 22 home runs, 85 runs scored, and 82 RBI. In 2011, Cuddyer was named to his first All-Star team. After the 2011 season, he signed a three-year, $31.5 million contract with the Colorado Rockies.
Limited to 101 games in 2012, Cuddyer didn't make a big impression in his first year in Colorado, but by 2013, he slammed out a career-high .331/.389/.530/.919 slash line, good for a career-best 136 OPS+, leading the National League in hitting as he collected 162 hits including 31 doubles and 20 home runs while scoring 74 runs and driving in 84 runs. Making his second All-Star squad, Cuddyer also picked up a Silver Slugger Award. Cuddyer was not immune from the "Coors Effect" as he hit much better in Denver, although his .311/.367/.485/.852 slash line in 70 games and 289 plate appearances on the road was hardly mediocre.
However, Cuddyer was down to just 49 games in 2014, although he managed to hit for the cycle that season, the second time in his career that he had done so, and with his first cycle coming with the Twins in 2009, he became just the third player to accomplish the feat in both the American and National Leagues. Cuddyer signed with the New York Mets for the 2015 season, which saw him reach his only World Series; he struck out in all three at-bats he had against the victorious Kansas City Royals, although in 28 postseason games over his career, he did bat .306 with five extra-base hits, five runs scored, and eight RBI. Michael Cuddyer announced his retirement shortly afterward.
Verdict: In 15 seasons, Michael Cuddyer amassed just 17.7 bWAR, and his JAWS ranking puts him at 146th among right fielders all-time. Cuddyer was inducted into the Minnesota Twins' Hall of Fame in 2017. He won't be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Patrolling the outfield for the Minnesota Twins with a potent combination of power, speed, and especially defense, Torii Hunter looked to be one of baseball's best center fielders during his heyday. Starting in 1997, Hunter spent 12 of 19 seasons in Minnesota, and by 2001 he was installed as the Twins' starting center fielder, winning seven of his nine consecutive Gold Gloves in the Twin Cities. He departed to spend five seasons with the Los Angeles Angels and two with the Detroit Tigers before returning to Minnesota for his final season in 2015.
Career highlights: Named to five All-Star teams. Finished in the top ten for American League Most Valuable Player voting once. Won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards. Won two Silver Slugger Awards. Had nine years with 30 or more doubles, eight years with 150 or more hits, five years with 25 or more home runs, and two years with 100 or more runs batted in. Ranks 66th all-time in doubles (498; tied with Hall of Famer Al Kaline) and 92nd all-time in home runs (353).
Swinging for the fences, Torii Hunter combined speed, power, and Gold Glove defense. But will that combination land him a Hall of Fame berth?
Career summary: Making a solitary appearance as a pinch-runner in 1997, Torii Hunter moved slowly through the ranks of the Minnesota Twins' roster, getting into 135 games, with 113 starts in the outfield including 90 starts in center field, two years later. By 2001, the right-hander had become the Twins' starting center fielder, rapping out a .261/.306/.479/.784 slash line with 32 doubles, 27 home runs, and 92 runs driven in as he won his first Gold Glove Award. He was even better the following season, his age-26 year, with a .289/.334/.524/.859 slash line, generating a 124 OPS+, with 162 hits, 37 doubles, 29 home runs, 89 runs scored, 94 RBI, and a career-best 23 stolen bases as he made his first American League All-Star team and finished sixth in Most Valuable Player voting.
In his seven years as the Twins' full-time center fielder, Hunter established a .272/.326/.484/.810 slash line, good for a 110 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 146 hits, 32 doubles, 25 home runs, 82 runs scored, 90 runs driven in, 16 stolen bases, and 3.8 bWAR. In 2008, his age-32 year, he left for greener pastures with a five-year, $90 million deal from the Los Angeles Angels. While with the Angels, which saw him transition to right field, Hunter won his first Silver Slugger Award in 2009. During his five-year tenure with Los Angeles, Hunter posted a .286/.352/.462/.814 slash line, generating a 122 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 154 hits, 29 doubles, 21 home runs, 79 runs scored, 86 RBI, 12 stolen bases, and 4.1 bWAR while being named to two All-Star teams.
Following his stint with the Angels, Hunter spent two years with the Detroit Tigers starting in 2013, his age-37 season, and making a strong impression with a .304/.334/.465/.800 slash line and 115 OPS+ as he banged out a career-high 184 hits with 37 doubles, 17 home runs, 90 runs scored, and 84 runs knocked in. He earned his second Silver Slugger Award while making his fifth All-Star squad, ensuring that he was an All-Star with every team he played for. Ending his career back where he began, Hunter spent 2015, his final, age-39 season, with the Twins, and although he dipped below league-average with a 91 OPS+, he still logged 567 plate appearances and hit 22 home runs, the first time in four years he notched 20 or more.
A solid two-way outfielder in his prime, Torii Hunter never led the American League in any offensive or defensive category. And despite his highlight-reel outfield plays, defensive metrics have not been kind to him. He does have 36 defensive runs saved (DRS) as a center fielder, where he started 1492 games, but as he slowed up and moved to right field, he accrued a minus-13 DRS in 704 starts, dropping him to 23 DRS as an outfielder overall. Runs above average is even more unforgiving, assessing him at a minus-38 overall for play in both center- and right field.
Verdict: JAWS ranks Torii Hunter at 34th among all center fielders, eleven slots below Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, Hunter's predecessor in center field for the Twins, and considering that Puckett was a charitable Hall of Fame pick, Hunter may garner a few votes initially but not enough to survive his inaugural ballot.
In his 18-year career, spent entirely in the National League Central Division, third baseman Aramis Ramirez swung the lumber consistently hard to become a reliable run-producer primarily for the Chicago Cubs, although he got his start with the Pittsburgh Pirates and finished with the Milwaukee Brewers. The right-handed slugger amassed 2303 hits, tied with Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers for 155th place, but he finished within the top 100 all-time in doubles, home runs, total bases, and runs batted in. Moreover, he could hit for average, as demonstrated by his career .283 batting average.
Career highlights: Named to three All-Star teams. Finished in the top ten for National League Most Valuable Player three times. Won one Silver Slugger Award. Led the NL in sacrifice flies twice and in doubles once. Had eight years with 150 or more hits. Had ten years with 30 or more doubles, six of them consecutively, and three years with 40 or more. Had ten years with 25 or more home runs, six of them consecutively, and four years with 30 or more. Had seven years with 100 or more runs batted in, three of them consecutively. Had six years with a batting average of .300 or better (in years when he was qualified for a batting title). Ranks 65th in career home runs (386), 70th in career doubles (495; tied with Hall of Famer Frank Thomas), 73rd in career runs batted in (1417), and 90th in career total bases (4004).
Career summary: Aramis Ramirez was still a teenager when he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1994, and four years later, his age-20 year, he was in the Major Leagues. He saw limited action until he became the Pirates' starting third baseman in 2001, playing in 158 games and making a splash with a .300/.350/.536/.885 slash line, good for a 122 OPS+, as he banged out a career-high 181 hits including 40 doubles and 34 home runs while scoring 83 runs and driving in 112 runs. However, Ramirez cooled considerably the following year, and although he rebounded in 2003, his age-25 year, he was still dealt to the Chicago Cubs by the trading deadline.
With the Cubs, Ramirez came into his own as a power hitter. In the eight full seasons he played third base for Chicago, marred only by a half-season in 2009 as he dislocated his shoulder, Ramirez hammered out a .297/.359/.533/.892 slash line, generating a 128 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 556 plate appearances, 148 hits, including 31 doubles and 28 home runs, 78 runs scored, and 96 RBI. During that stretch, he was named to two All-Star teams, finished in the top ten for National League Most Valuable Player voting twice, and won his only Silver Slugger Award.
Hitting for power and average, Aramis Ramirez consistenly terrorized the National League Central for his entire career. But is that enough to lift him into the Hall of Fame?
During the infamous 2003 "Steve Bartman" NL Championship Series against the Florida Marlins—which saw the Cubs, in a potentially series-clinching Game Six at Wrigley Field with a 3–0 lead going into the eighth inning, collapse and allow the Marlins to score eight runs after a fan spoiled left fielder Moises Alou's attempt to catch a foul ball—Ramirez batted just .231, but four of his six hits were for extra bases, three home runs and a triple, as he scored four runs and knocked in seven.
Signing a three-year, $36 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers for the 2012 season, his age-34 year, Ramirez again impressed his new employers by leading the NL in doubles (50) as he tattooed a .300/.360/.540/.901 slash line, generating a 136 OPS+, with 171 hits and 27 home runs while he scored 92 runs and drove in 105 runs. His production practically duplicated what he had done in Chicago the previous year, indicating his steady, consistent hitting. But injuries began to hamper him in 2013, which saw him play just 92 games, and although he recovered somewhat the following year, Ramirez was in his decline phase and he retired after 2015 following a mid-season return to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
An excellent hitter, both for power and for average, throughout his career, Aramis Ramirez lacked the other three tools in the five-tool kit box. He was a defensive liability at third base, committing 244 career errors, 55th all-time among third basemen, while he generated a minus-60 in defensive runs above average and a minus-70 in defensive runs saved; his –5.8 dWAR includes the two-point bump he gets for playing third, which he did for 2092 starts. He stole 29 bases in 47 attempts, a 61.7 percent success rate. And he grounded into 233 double plays, 56th all-time.
Verdict: Of the five first-time position players on the 2021 Hall of Fame ballot, Aramis Ramirez has the best case as an offensive player, landing in the top 100 all-time in key hitting categories. However, he was not an elite hitter, and hitting was his one distinction. JAWS ranks Ramirez 62nd all-time among third basemen, and although he might get a smattering of votes, he won't return next year.
Nick Swisher was auspicious even before he stepped onto a Major League diamond. First, his father is Steve Swisher, who caught for three National League teams from 1974 to 1982. Next, he received prominent mention in Michael Lewis's landmark 2003 book Moneyball as the kind of player general manager Billy Beane was looking for. Fittingly, the switch-hitter was the Oakland Athletics' first-round draft pick in 2002, compensation for the loss of Johnny Damon to the Boston Red Sox. By 2004, Swisher was in the Majors for a 12-year career as a solid right fielder who could get on base and hit for power, first with the A's, and then with the New York Yankees as part of the 2009 World Series-winning Bronx Bombers.
Career highlights: Named to one All-Star team. Won a World Series championship with the New York Yankees in 2009. Had six years with 30 or more doubles, four of them consecutively. Had nine consecutive years with 20 or more home runs, and three years with 25 or more home runs. Had four years with 90 or more walks.
Career summary: Drafted in the first round by the Oakland Athletics in 2002, Nick Swisher debuted in the Major Leagues two years later, and by 2005, his age-24 year, he was playing in right field, hitting 32 doubles and 21 home runs while driving in 74 runs. His 2006 season saw Swisher deliver career highs in home runs (35), runs scored (106), and runs batted in (95) as he got on base at a .372 clip and slugged .493. Following a trade to the Chicago White Sox for the 2008 season, Swisher floundered, with his 93 OPS+ the only time in nine consecutive seasons in which he was title-qualified that he did slip below the league-average of 100.
However, a late-2008 trade to the New York Yankees rejuvenated Swisher, who hit 35 doubles, 29 home runs, scored 84 runs and knocked in 82 runs as he helped the Yankees to their 2009 World Series victory. For a nine-year period, from 2005 to 2013, Swisher delivered a slash line of .255/.358/.463/.821, good for a 118 OPS+, as he averaged, per year, 134 hits, 30 doubles, 25 home runs, 83 runs scored, and 81 runs driven in. Swisher made his only All-Star squad in 2010, with the Yankees, as he banged out a .288/.359/.511/.870 slash line and netted career highs in hits (163), batting average (.288), total bases (289), slugging percentage (.511), OPS (.870), and OPS+ (129).
During his nine-year peak, Nick Swisher was a solid lineup fixture for the A's, for the Yankees, with whom he played four seasons, and for the Cleveland Indians in the first of two full seasons he played in Cleveland. Nevertheless, Swisher averaged 2.8 bWAR over that peak period, a strong starting player but never an elite one, and when injuries began to dog him starting in 2014, Swisher was soon to be leaving the Major Leagues.
Verdict: Nick Swisher fared much better in the Major Leagues than his father Steve, a backup catcher who improbably made the 1976 National League All-Star team. But Nick Swisher's career 21.4 bWAR, which is actually lower than his JAWS of 22.4, places him 101st all-time among right fielders. Although well-liked by fans during his career, Nick Swisher, whose 1373 career strikeouts rank 116th, is very likely to go down swinging on his only Hall of Fame ballot.
Born and raised on Maui, Shane Victorino stole 231 bases in his 12-year career and had three consecutive years with ten or more triples, and thus it was inevitable that he would become known as the "Flyin' Hawaiian" while he patrolled center field for the Philadelphia Phillies for eight seasons. The switch-hitter was part of the Phillies team that brought Philadelphia its second World Series victory in 2008, the same year that saw Victorino win the first of four Gold Glove Awards for his defensive play. Victorino was best-known for his tenure with the Phillies, but he also spent time with four other teams, notably the Boston Red Sox, with whom he won another World Series in 2013.
Career highlights: Named to two All-Star teams. Won two World Series championships. Won four Gold Glove Awards. Led the league in triples twice and in hits by pitch once. Had four years with 150 or more hits and with 30 or more stolen bases, three years with ten or more triples, and two years with 30 or more doubles and with 100 or more runs scored.
Career summary: Initially drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1999, Shane Victorino took an arduous path to the Major Leagues that included a brief, inauspicious debut with the San Diego Padres in 2003, but by 2005 he landed with the Philadelphia Phillies. Over the next two seasons he shuttled between center field and right field, stealing a career-high 37 bases in 2007, but by 2008 he was fully installed in center. Rapping out a .293/.352/.447/.799 slash line, Victorino collected 167 hits, including 30 doubles, eight triples, and 14 home runs while stealing 36 bags and scoring 102 runs as a table-setter for the Phillies' big bats that took them to their World Series victory, with Victorino flashing leather on defense with his first Gold Glove.
Four a four-year stretch, from 2008 to 2011, over which he posted a 111 OPS+, Victorino notched a .281/.348/.452/.800 slash line as he averaged, per year, 161 hits, 30 doubles, 12 triples, 15 home runs, 28 stolen bases, 96 runs scored, and 4.2 bWAR. During that time, he was selected to two National League All-Star squads and won three consecutive Gold Gloves while leading the Major Leagues in triples in 2009 (13) and 2011 (a career-best 16).
In 2012, Victorino was traded at the July deadline to the Dodgers, and by the 2013 season, his age-32 year, he was in Boston after inking a three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox. In his last season as an above-league-average hitter (118 OPS+), Victorino produced his best single-season bWAR, 6.0, as he slapped out a .294/.351/.451/.801 slash line with 140 hits including 26 doubles, 15 home runs, 21 stolen bases, 82 runs scored, and, painfully, an American League-leading 18 hits-by pitch in 122 games and 532 plate appearances, collecting his fourth Gold Glove and second World Series ring. Although he managed just two hits in 13 at-bats against the St. Louis Cardinals in the Series, both of them came in the clinching Game Six, including a three-run double in the third inning to spark the Sox to a 6–1 victory.
Injuries that forced Victorino to bat right-handed exclusively after 2013 finally pushed him to retire after the 2015 season, his last year in the Major Leagues; Shane Victorino made the announcement formally in 2018.
Verdict: Ranked 74th all-time among center fielders by JAWS, Shane Victorino might get a fond acknowledgement vote for his time in Philadelphia but will not return in 2022.
Starting Pitchers Newly Eligible in 2021
Of the five starting pitchers newly eligible on the 2021 ballot, only Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson had careers notable enough to warrant sustained attention, although Barry Zito made an auspicious start to his career during his tenure with the Oakland Athletics before an equally auspicious contract with the San Francisco Giants overvalued his worth as a starter. Dan Haren was an underrated, sometimes excellent starter who wore eight Major League uniforms over his 13-year career, while A.J. Burnett seemed to be a big gun who never got uncorked consistently to become the staff ace.
Soft-tossing southpaw Mark Buehrle spent three-quarters of his 16-year career with the Chicago White Sox, winning the World Series with them in 2005. Buehrle won 214 games including at least 10 wins in 15 consecutive seasons, pitched two no-hitters including a perfect game, and had 14 consecutive seasons with at least 200 innings pitched, tying him with Greg Maddux, Christy Mathewson, and Phil Niekro, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame.
Career highlights: Named to five All-Star teams. Won a World Series championship in 2005 with the Chicago White Sox. Won four Gold Gloves. Finished in the top five for Cy Young Award voting once. Led the league in innings pitched twice and games started once. Had fifteen consecutive years with 10 or more wins, and six years with 15 or more wins. Had just one losing season in a 16-year career. Had 15 consecutive years with 30 or more starts. Had 14 consecutive years with 200 or more innings pitched.
Career summary: Beginning his career with the Chicago White Sox in 2000, Mark Buehrle made 25 of 28 appearances from the bullpen; he then went on to 490 consecutive starts for the rest of his 16-year career. Getting named to his first All-Star squad in 2002, when he won a career-high 19 games against 12 losses, Buehrle got his only top-five finish for the American League Cy Young in 2005, when he won 16 and lost only eight while leading the AL in innings pitched (236.2) and netting the second of five All-Star nods—and of course going onto to win the World Series.
In April 2007, the southpaw no-hit the Texas Rangers, allowing just one walk to Sammy Sosa, whom he then picked off at first base. Buehrle then made it a true clean slate two years later when he hurled a perfect game at the Tampa Bay Rays, a feat that again put him in some rarefied company: By pitching a no-hitter and a perfect game, and winning a World Series, all with one team, the Chicago White Sox, Buehrle joined Cy Young and Sandy Koufax as the only pitchers ever to have done so. He made history again in 2010 when, having won the second of four consecutive Gold Gloves, he became the only pitcher with multiple no-hitters and multiple Gold Gloves.
In 2011, his age-33 season, Mark Buehrle signed a four-year, $58 million contract with the Miami Marlins. In his first and only year in the National League, he was solid if unremarkable, posting a 13–13 win-loss record with a 3.74 ERA before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2012 season, with whom he finished his career after the 2015 season. In Toronto, he made his last All-Star team in 2014, a year that saw him win 13 games against ten losses while posting a 3.39 ERA, his lowest ERA since 2005. In his age-36 season in 2015, Buehrle finished in fine style, winning 15 games, the most since 2008, while losing only eight as he led the Majors in complete games with four, bringing his career total to 33, including the tenth and last shutout of his career, although he fell one and a third innings short of his 15th consecutive season with at least 200 innings pitched.
Remarkably consistent throughout his entire career, can Mark Buehrle convince voters that his varied accomplishments are worthy enough for Cooperstown?
Verdict: Mark Buehrle was an innings-eater par excellence who succeeded despite not being a strikeout pitcher (1870 punch-outs in 3283.1 innings pitched for 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched) and pitched to a 3.81 ERA and a 117 ERA+ in a high-offense era, although his 4.11 FIP indicates his unexceptional ability to induce strikeouts while controlling walks (734) and especially home runs (361, 27th all-time).
Buehrle is ranked 90th by JAWS for starting pitchers, with his JAWS score tied with Sandy Koufax's, although Koufax pitched 900 fewer innings—while Buehrle had none of the dominance Koufax did. Buehrle's 59.2 bWAR does put him on the cusp of Hall of Fame consideration, but with a lack of dominance he falls into the compiler category. He might attract enough votes to make it to the 2022 ballot, although with all the holdovers from previous ballots he could find himself squeezed out early.
With the Florida Marlins in 2001, A.J. Burnett pitched a no-hitter in which he struck out seven batters but walked nine others while hitting one, encapsulating the frustrating inconsistency that marked his 17-year career, which saw the right-hander lead the league in games started twice and strikeouts and shutouts once each as he also led the league in wild pitches three times, walks twice, and losses and hit batsmen once each. Burnett did win a World Series ring with the 2009 New York Yankees.
Career highlights: Named to one All-Star team. Won a World Series championship with the New York Yankees in 2009. Led the league in games started twice and in strikeouts and in shutouts once each. Had 11 years with 10 or more wins, nine of them consecutively, and two years with 15 or more wins. Had eight years with 30 or more games started, seven of them consecutively. Had six years with 200 or more innings pitched. Had three years with 200 or more strikeouts. Ranks 38th all-time in strikeouts (2513).
Career summary: Drafted by the New York Mets in 1998, Allen James Burnett was traded to the Florida Marlins and debuted with them in 1999. By 2001, which saw the right-hander no-hit the San Diego Padres, 3–0, despite nine walks and one hit by pitch, he was a regular starter. In 2002, he pitched to a 12–9 win-loss record and a 3.30 ERA as he fanned 203 hitters in 204.1 innings pitched, although he also led the National League in wild pitches with 14; Burnett had experienced his Nuke LaLoosh moment in 2001 when his warm-up toss hit a moving pickup truck.
Tommy John surgery limited his 2003 campaign to four starts, and he was not on the roster for the Marlins' second World Series championship that year. Public contention with the Marlins' management led to Burnett's dismissal from the team at the end of the 2005 season, and he signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Although health problems continued to plague Burnett in Toronto, he had three winning seasons with the Blue Jays including a career-high 18 wins in 2008, his age-31 year, as he led the American League in games started (34) and a career-best 231 strikeouts in 221.1 innings pitched.
Opting out of his contract after 2008, Burnett signed with the New York Yankees for five years and $82.5 million. Joining CC Sabathia on the Yankees' pitching staff in 2009, Burnett helped the Bronx Bombers to their World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies although his three years in New York were relatively undistinguished, marked by two seasons each with a below-league-average ERA+.
But following a trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012, his age-35 year, A.J. Burnett settled into becoming a pitcher as in two years he posted ERAs of 3.51 and 3.30, respectively, while winning 16 games in 2012. A one-year signing with the Phillies for 2014 saw him lead the Major Leagues in starts (34), but for 5th-place Philadelphia, which finished eight games below .500, Burnett also led the Majors in losses (18), walks (96), and earned runs allowed (109).
Then came a final, one-year contract that put Burnett back in Pittsburgh in 2015, his age-38 season. Despite a modest 9–7 win-loss record in 26 starts, he posted a 3.18 ERA and a 122 ERA+, both career bests, as he struck out 143 batters in 164 innings pitched and made his only All-Star appearance. A.J. Burnett had arrived right as his career was ending.
Verdict: Ranked 352nd all-time among starting pitchers by JAWS, A.J. Burnett is overshadowed on the 2021 ballot by his first-time fellow starting pitchers, let alone the holdovers from the previous ballot. With ample candidates to choose from regardless of any PED taint, Burnett will be hard-pressed to get any votes.
In a 13-year career that saw him pitch for eight different teams, Dan Haren seems like the literal journeyman starting pitcher, plugging holes in pitching staffs where needed. But the right-hander with the outstanding control was excellent, consistent, and reliable, leading the league in games started three times while en route to 153 career wins and 2013 career strikeouts.
Career highlights: Named to three All-Star teams. Finished in the top five for Cy Young Award voting once. Led the league in games started times and in strikeouts-to-walks ratio three times. Had 11 consecutive years with 10 or more wins, and three years with 15 or more wins. Had seven years with an ERA below 4.00, and four years with an ERA below 3.50. Had 11 consecutive years with 30 or more starts. Had seven consecutive years with 200 or more innings pitched. Had three consecutive years with 200 or more strikeouts. Ranks 16th all-time in strikeouts-to-walks ratio (4.03) for pitchers with at least 1000 innings pitched.
Career summary: Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001, Dan Haren made his Major League debut with the Cardinals in 2003, his age-22 year, initially unimpressive as a starter and, in 2004, as an occasional relief pitcher. As a reliever, the right-hander did see action at all three tiers of the postseason for the 2004 Cardinals, even winning one game in relief against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series. Dealt to the Oakland Athletics for the 2005 season, Haren blossomed as a starting pitcher during his three seasons on the East Bay, starting 34 games every year while posting winning seasons, capped by his 2007 campaign and a sharp 15–9 win-loss record with a career-best 3.07 ERA and 192 strikeouts with just 55 walks as he was named to his first All-Star squad.
Haren was then traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for the 2008 season, where he shone in two campaigns that garnered him two more All-Star appearances as he led the NL in strikeouts-to-walks ratio in both years. He went 16–8 with a 3.33 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 2008, and although his win-loss record dipped to 14–10 in 2009, he posted a 3.14 ERA and a 142 ERA+ while fanning 223 hitters, the last two career-bests, as he also finished fifth in Cy Young Award voting. After Haren struggled in 2010, the Diamondbacks dealt him at the trade deadline to the Los Angeles Angels, where the return to California revived him to post a 5–4 record and a 2.87 ERA in 14 starts. In 2011, his age-30 year, Haren matched his career high in wins (16) against 10 losses, a .615 win-loss record, with a 3.17 ERA and career-bests in innings pitched (238.1) and shutouts (3) while his 192 strikeouts against just 33 walks yielded an American League-leading strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 5.82.
However, a middling 2012 season in Anaheim, Haren's age-31 year, dissuaded the Angels from picking up his contract option, and he plied his trade with four more teams before retiring after the 2015 season, nudging past the 150-win and 2000-strikeout plateaus in his final year. Dan Haren's outstanding control with his various fastballs, particularly his cutter and split-finger pitches, resulted in a stellar career strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 4.03, 16th-best all-time, although his tendency to surrender gopher balls puts him 54th on the all-time list with 305 home runs given up.
Career curio: Haren batted .200 in 478 plate appearances yielding 83 hits, including 26 doubles and two home runs, and 17 walks as he scored 31 runs and knocked in 39 runs. Although he didn't pitch his best in 2010, he had a ball at the plate, going 20-for-55 with six doubles and one long fly, good for a sizzling .364/.375/.527/.902 slash line, generating a 136 OPS+, as he scored eight runs and drove in seven more. His player value as a hitter netted Haren a career 2.2 oWAR.
Verdict: However, Dan Haren's overall bWAR of 35.0 produces 34.1 JAWS, which places him 206th among starting pitchers all-time, well below even Catfish Hunter and Jack Morris, who had celebrated postseason records to burnish their marginal Hall of Fame credentials. Furthermore, the peripatetic pitcher tarried so little in his 13-year career—playing with eight teams during that span—that he barely had time to endear himself to hometown beat writers. Haren may get a vote or two on the 2021 ballot but he won't be back on the 2022 ballot.
In the same boat as Mark Buehrle is Tim Hudson, who had a stronger peak in a 17-year career while he too owns a World Series ring, won while with the San Francisco Giants in his penultimate season of 2014. However, the right-hander did make his presence felt early in his career as one of the "Big Three" of the Oakland Athletics' pitching rotation along with left-handers Mark Mulder and Barry Zito in the early 2000s. Hudson led the American League in wins (20) and winning percentage (.769, the best in the Majors) in 2000, when he was runner-up for Cy Young Award honors to Pedro Martinez.
Career highlights: Named to four All-Star teams. Won a World Series ring in 2014 with the San Francisco Giants. Finished in the top five for the Cy Young Award three times. Led the American League in shutouts twice (tied with other pitchers in both years). Led the league in wins, win-loss percentage, and games started once each. Had 13 years with ten or more wins, ten of them consecutively, and had eight years with 15 or more wins, four of them consecutively. Had 13 years with an earned run average under 4.00, and three years with an ERA under 3.00. Had eight years with 30 or more starts and with 200 or more innings pitched. Ranks 65th all-time in win-loss percentage (.625; tied with Hall of Famer Chief Bender).
Career summary: Tim Hudson debuted with a blazing rookie season in 1999, winning 11 games and losing only two in 21 starts while posting a 3.23 ERA and a 142 ERA+, and striking out 132 hitters in 136.1 innings pitched. He was even better the next season: Despite a 4.14 ERA, Hudson won 20 games, a career high as it led the American League, and lost just six for a league-leading .769 win-loss percentage while he finished second in Cy Young voting—first place went to Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, in the midst of his reign as the best pitcher on the planet. In six years with the A's, Hudson posted a 92–39 win-loss record, good for a sparkling .702 winning percentage, a 3.30 ERA and 136 ERA+, and 899 strikeouts.
After being traded to the Atlanta Braves following the 2004 season, Hudson spent nine years with the team, the longest tenure in his 17-year career. Ironically, Hudson joined the Braves during a time when they were not gobbling up division titles as if they were candy as Atlanta made the postseason just four times during his nine seasons with the club. In addition, injuries began to dog Hudson, such as Tommy John surgery in August 2008 that left him starting just seven games the following season. He rebounded in 2010 with 17 wins and just nine losses while delivering a stingy 2.83 ERA, the third and last time he would have a sub-3.00 ERA, as he finished fourth in National League Cy Young voting and made his third All-Star team. In his nine seasons with Atlanta, he won 113 games, which put him over the 200-win mark, and lost 72 for a .611 win-loss percentage while maintaining a 3.56 ERA and 115 ERA+.
A stalwart starting pitcher with the Oakland Athletics and then with the Atlanta Braves, Tim Hudson sits on the cusp of Hall of Fame recognition. But will voters agree?
Signing a two-year, $23 million deal with the Giants for 2014, Hudson posted his first losing season, winning nine games while dropping 13, yet he was chosen for the NL All-Star squad as he managed to be named an All-Star with every team he played for; meanwhile, his 120 strikeouts pushed him past the 2000-strikeout plateau. In Game Two of the 2014 National League Division Series, Hudson dueled Washington Nationals ace Jordan Zimmerman for 7.1 innings, allowing just one run while striking out eight in a game that became an 18-inning marathon eventually won by the Giants.
Although Hudson's final season in 2015 saw him experience another losing season (8–9, .471), his career win-loss percentage is .625, based on 222 wins and 133 losses. Thus, Hudson joins just twenty other Major League pitchers to record 200 wins, 2000 strikeouts, and a winning percentage of .600 or better, with 14 of those pitchers already in the Hall of Fame.
Verdict: Tim Hudson is ranked 84th by JAWS for starting pitchers. He was more than an innings-eater although he was not the unequivocal staff ace for any of the three teams he played for, and that lack of dominance will keep him from the Hall of Fame although he may be more likely to survive to the 2022 ballot than Mark Buehrle.
Arguably the most auspicious of the Oakland Athletics' "Big Three" starting pitchers at the turn of the century who included Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, Barry Zito was the only one to win a Cy Young Award when he led the American League in wins (23) and games started (35) in 2002. In his six years as a full-time starter for the A's, the left-hander famed for his curve ball built a reputation for effectiveness and consistency that netted him a seven-year, $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, at the time the largest deal for a pitcher. However, Zito struggled with the Giants although he provided late-career highlights during the 2012 postseason, which saw him win his second World Series ring.
Career highlights: Named to three All-Star teams. Won two World Series championships, both with the San Francisco Giants. Won the 2002 American League Cy Young Award. Led the AL in games started four times, and led the AL in wins once. Had ten years with ten or more wins, four years with 15 or more wins, and one year with 20 or more wins. Had eleven years with 30 or more games started, ten of them consecutively, and four years with 35 starts, three of them consecutively. Had six consecutive years with 200 or more innings pitched.
Career summary: Picked ninth overall by the Oakland Athletics in the 1999 draft, Barry Zito was with the parent club by the middle of the 2000 season, his age-22 year, and he even pitched the first of five career shutouts in his 14 starts for the A's. The southpaw with the big curve ball posted a 17–8 win-loss record and 3.49 ERA in his first full season in 2001, and by the following year he seemed to become the ace of Oakland's "Big Three" starting pitchers, who included Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, when he won an American League-leading 23 games against just five losses, an .821 win-loss percentage, while posting a 2.75 ERA en route to winning the 2002 AL Cy Young Award, besting Pedro Martinez in the voting.
Winning 102 games while losing just 63, a .618 win-loss percentage, during his eight years in Oakland, Barry Zito never had a losing season as he posted a 3.58 ERA and a 124 ERA+, marking him as a standout pitcher in the American League. Zito wasn't as dominant following his Cy Young year, but he settled into being a workhorse for the A's staff: In six years as a full-time starting pitcher, Zito pitched at least 200 innings and started at least 34 games every season, leading the AL in starts for three years, as he generated 30.6 in bWAR, with four seasons at 4.5 bWAR or higher.
Moving to the Giants in 2007 with a cushy contract, Barry Zito was never able to live up to it as he toiled as a below-league-average pitcher with just one winning season, in 2012, and one season with an ERA+ above the 100 baseline for a league-average pitcher, a 105 ERA+ in 2009. Left off the postseason roster in 2010, when the Giants won their first World Series since 1954, Zito was a postseason factor in 2012 with a crucial Game Five elimination-game win against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, and he did outduel future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander—and even got a hit off him—in Game One of the Giants' four-game sweep against the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
Verdict: Barry Zito attained fairly lofty heights during his first seven years in Oakland, but his next seven years in San Francisco brought him back down to Earth. JAWS ranks Zito 249th all-time among starting pitchers, and despite a relative dearth of starting pitchers on the 2021 ballot, Zito will be eclipsed by Mark Buehrle and his former teammate Tim Hudson in the competition for votes and is unlikely to survive to 2022.
Relief Pitcher Newly Eligible in 2021
Not only won't LaTroy Hawkins be voted into the Hall of Fame on this or any other ballot, but it is very likely that he will not receive any votes, let alone enough votes to make the five-percent threshold needed to stay on the ballot until next year.
However, it is significant that Hawkins is on the 2021 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. Although he spent the bulk of his career as a middle reliever, accruing 185 holds during his 21-year career, the rangy right-hander exemplifies the unsung pitcher whose type has become numerous in the last couple of decades—the pitcher who enters the game usually in the late innings and, as the saying used to go, "builds the bridge" to the closer, who gets the adulation for finishing the game, typically with a save, with the eight Hall of Fame pitchers known principally for their relief pitching all closers.
Ranked 10th all-time in appearances with 1042, Hawkins is hardly the first bridge-builder to get onto a BBWAA ballot. Of the 16 pitchers with 1000 or more career appearances, the five known primarily as non-closers—Hawkins, Jesse Orosco, Dan Plesac, Mike Stanton, and Mike Timlin—have all appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot. None of them survived to a second ballot, and Hawkins is certainly not going to buck that trend.
And while it might be cynical to note that the pickings of newly-eligible candidates for 2021 are quite slim, Hawkins did find work in the Major Leagues for 21 seasons with 11 teams, the most notable being the Minnesota Twins. Among pitchers ranked by JAWS as relief pitchers, Hawkins ranks 54th in innings pitched with 1467.1, and among those relievers who made fewer than 100 starts (Hawkins started 98 games), Hawkins ranks 12th in innings pitched.
Had ten years with 60 or more relief appearances, eight of them consecutively, and three years with 70 or more relief appearances, two of them consecutively. Had eight years with 60 or more innings pitched in relief, and five years with 70 or more innings pitched in relief. Had an ERA under 3.00 in years with 60 or more innings pitched in relief four times, and an ERA under 2.00 in years with 60 or more innings pitched in relief once. Had three seasons with 20 or more saves. Had two seasons with 20 or more holds, and six seasons with 15 or more holds. Had two consecutive seasons with 30 or more games started.
Career summary: Signed by the Minnesota Twins out of high school, LaTroy Hawkins spent four years in the Twins' farm system before making his debut in 1995. The Twins envisioned him as a starter, but despite pitching 190.1 innings in 33 starts in 1998 and winning ten games in 33 starts the following year, the right-hander lost 14 games in both seasons. In his first five seasons, amounting to 99 appearances, of which all but one was a start, he amassed a 26–44 win-loss record, a 6.16 ERA, leavened slightly by a 5.28 FIP, although his 79 ERA+, well below league-average, seemed to spell DFA: designated for assignment.
Instead, the Twins moved Hawkins to the bullpen for the 2000 season. He rebounded as in 66 appearances and 87.2 innings pitched, he notched 14 saves, blowing none of them, and a 3.39 ERA, good for a 153 ERA+. But despite recording 28 saves in 62 appearances and 51.1 innings pitched the next season, his ERA soared to 5.96, yielding a 76 ERA+, as he blew nine saves and lost five games.
That also lost Hawkins his closer's role to Eddie Guardado for the 2002 season, but in his age-29 year, he finally found his métier. In 65 appearances and 80.1 innings pitched, he won six games in relief without losing a game as he recorded a 2.13 ERA and a 211 ERA+ along with 13 holds, although handed three save opportunities, he blew them all. Hawkins was just as impressive in 2003, posting a 9–3 win-loss record in relief, albeit tempered by blowing six of eight save opportunities. Nevertheless, Hawkins recorded career highs in holds (28), ERA (1.86), and ERA+ (244) in 74 appearances and 77.1 innings pitched.
That made for a fine walk year as Hawkins, a free agent for the 2004 season, signed with the Chicago Cubs for three years and $11 million. Expected to be the Cubs' setup man, he found himself becoming the closer after Joe Borowski became injured. Hawkins made 77 appearances in 82 innings pitched, both career highs as a reliever, and he notched 25 saves while pitching to a 2.63 ERA and 168 ERA+; however, nine blown saves, particularly crucial ones as the Cubs vied for a postseason berth, earned him the enmity of Cubs fans, and after a shaky beginning to the 2005 season, Hawkins was dealt to the San Francisco Giants.
From then on, LaTroy Hawkins was a literal journeyman as he traipsed from team to team eight different times over the last decade of his career. Ironically, Hawkins had his most consistent success as a relief pitcher during his last eight seasons, his age-35 to age-42 years, as in 411 appearances he posted a 19–18 win-loss record with 52 saves and 84 holds while pitching to a 3.28 ERA, a 3.45 FIP, and a 124 ERA+. Only an ineffective half-season stint with the New York Yankees in 2008 and an injury-shortened 2010 campaign with the Milwaukee Brewers marred his solid efforts during this final phase of his career, although it is hardly enough to merit his consideration for the Hall of Fame.
Verdict: JAWS ranks LaTroy Hawkins 72nd among relief pitcher all-time as he makes what will be his only appearance on a BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. But his making a ballot, even in a year light on first-time candidates, keeps the question of how relief pitchers should be evaluated for legacy alive.