An Alternative Hall of Fame Rating System, Part II: Pitchers

Read Part I here.

The last few Hall of Fame elections have seen quite a few pitchers gain induction. In 2014, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were elected, and in 2015, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Randy Johnson went in. Prior to 2013, only one full-time starting pitcher had gained election this century: Bert Blyleven in 2011, and he had to wait until his 14th year on the ballot. Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and Curt Schilling all have very strong cases for the Hall of Fame, and at least in terms of pitchers, the next few years look pretty clear of even borderline candidates before Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera appear on the ballot in 2019.

Getting elected by the BBWAA has been a tough hill to climb for starting pitchers. Only 33 starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame were elected by the writers. From 1950 to 1979, just 10 starting pitchers were elected. The 1980s saw just four starting pitchers elected while the 90s had eight players inducted before another slowdown last decade. If Clemens, Mussina, and Schilling and get in, this decade will see nine starting pitchers gain election. Despite greats like Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, and Jim Palmer failing to achieve the 300-win milestone and gaining election, for a time, it seemed only pitchers with 300 wins would gain election. Blyleven, Martinez, and Smoltz appear to have tempered that attitude somewhat, giving more hope to Mussina and Schilling.

Coming up with standards for the Hall of Fame can be a difficult process. I went into detail in my process yesterday when I introduced a Hall of Fame rating system, but included only position players in the results. The basis for the point system is repeated below:

To look at a player’s peak, I wanted to include all productive seasons — for our purposes, anything above 2.0 WAR, or the mark which represents an “average” year — and then weight those seasons by emphasizing great seasons. I originally created a points system wherein a two-win seasons would be worth one point; a four-win season would be worth three points (1+2); a six-win season, six points (1+2+3); an eight-win season, 10 points (1+2+3+4); and a 10-win season, 15 points (1+2+3+4+5). However, once averaged with a player’s WAR, that method made a 7.8 WAR season worth just 6.9 points and I thought that discounting a great season by nearly a win did not seem to embody the spirit of the exercise. So I created a sub-category between 7 and 8 wins worth 8 points. For the points side of the scale, later to be averaged with overall WAR, we see the following distributions:

HOF Points System
Season Total Points
10+ WAR 15
8-10 WAR 10
7-8 WAR 8
6-7 WAR 6
4-6 WAR 3
2-4 WAR 1

There have only been six 10-plus WAR seasons produced by pitchers since 1900, and Roger Clemens is the only one to reach that threshold not to have entered the Hall of Fame yet. (Bert Blyleven, Steve Carlton, Pedro Martinez, Christy Mathewson, and Randy Johnson are the others.) There are only 22 pitchers with multiple eight-plus WAR seasons and only Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden, and Curt Schilling are not in the Hall of Fame among that group. Of the 54 pitchers since 1900 to have recorded even one eight-plus WAR season and to also have appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot, 43 are in the Hall of Fame — coincidentally, the same number among the top 54 leaders in pitcher wins.

The chart below shows how much individual seasons are worth under this system compared to Jay Jaffe’s estimable JAWS system — so long as those seasons represent one of the best seven years of a player’s career.

HOF Points and JAWS: Player’s Top-Seven Seasons
WAR JAWS New Rating
10 10 12.5
9 9 9.5
8 8 9.0
7 7 7.5
6 6 6.0
5 5 4.0
4 4 3.5
3 3 2.0
2 2 1.5
1 1 0.5

As I noted yesterday, my system diverts slightly from JAWS on good seasons outside of a player’s top seven seasons, as they are more heavily discounted in Jaffe’s system.

HOF Points and JAWS: Seasons Not in Player’s Top Seven
WAR JAWS New Rating
10 5.0 12.5
9 4.5 9.5
8 4.0 9.0
7 3.5 7.5
6 3.0 6.0
5 2.5 4.0
4 2.0 3.5
3 1.5 2.0
2 1.0 1.5
1 0.5 0.5

It is harder to achieve truly incredible seasons as a pitcher. Ten-win and eight-win seasons are more common for hitters, in part because there are fewer spots on the roster for impact pitchers as compared to position players. As a result, longevity plays a slightly greater role for some pitchers.

Below are the top-25 pitchers in Major League Baseball history using this system. JAWS rankings for each pitcher are included, as well.

HOF Ratings Leaders: Pitchers
Name Total WAR HOF Points HOF Rating JAWS Rank
1 Roger Clemens 133.7 115 124.4 3
2 Cy Young 131.5 111 121.3 2
3 Walter Johnson 117.1 97 107.1 1
4 Randy Johnson 110.6 99 104.8 9
5 Greg Maddux 116.7 90 103.4 10
6 Bert Blyleven 102.9 76 89.5 16
7 Nolan Ryan 106.7 68 87.4 31
8 Pete Alexander 96.5 76 86.3 5
9 Steve Carlton 96.5 75 85.8 17
10 Christy Mathewson 90.0 78 84.0 7
11 Lefty Grove 88.8 79 83.9 8
12 Gaylord Perry 100.1 65 82.6 20
13 Tom Seaver 92.4 69 80.7 6
14 Pedro Martinez 84.3 72 78.2 21
15 Bob Gibson 82.3 67 74.7 14
16 Kid Nichols 80.0 68 74.0 4
17 Curt Schilling 79.7 65 72.4 27
18 Fergie Jenkins 80.1 61 70.6 24
19 John Clarkson 69.9 71 70.5 11
20 Kevin Brown 76.6 59 67.8 46
21 Mike Mussina 82.2 53 67.6 28
22 Tim Keefe 69.9 59 64.5 12
23 Don Sutton 85.5 42 63.8 68
24 John Smoltz 79.6 47 63.3 58
25 Robin Roberts 74.7 51 62.9 22

With a FIP-based WAR and slightly more weight to good seasons after a player’s best seven, we are going to see some differences from JAWS. Nolan Ryan moves up quite a bit, as do Kevin Brown (who deserved a much longer look on the HOF ballot), John Smoltz, and Don Sutton. A few of the players from a century ago take hits, with John Clarkson, Tim Keefe and Kid Nichols all seeing drops in comparison to JAWS. Perhaps most notable are the three pitchers among top-25 all time who have yet to gain election despite have appeared on the ballot: Clemens, Mussina, and Schilling. The chart below includes the players on this year’s ballot and next year’s ballot — along with the Hall of Fame averages and medians separated by starter and reliever (Eckersley is considered a reliever while Smoltz is a starter).

2016 and 2017 HOF Ballot and Ratings: Pitchers
1 Roger Clemens 124.4 52.9 48.2 66.9 63.3
2 Curt Schilling 72.4 52.9 48.2 66.9 63.3
3 Mike Mussina 67.6 52.9 48.2 66.9 63.3
4 Javier Vazquez 44.0 52.9 48.2 66.9 63.3
5 Mike Hampton 19.5 52.9 48.2 66.9 63.3
6 Lee Smith 16.3 22.3 18.7 22.3 18.7
7 Trevor Hoffman 16.1 22.3 18.7 22.3 18.7
8 Tim Wakefield 15.8 52.9 48.2 66.9 63.3
9 Billy Wagner 14.6 22.3 18.7 22.3 18.7
JAWS average for a HOF starter is 62.1 and 34.4 for a reliever.

While it’s probably no surprise that Clemens, Mussina, and Schilling are well above the standard for Hall of Fame entry by this methodology, gauging relievers is a bit more tricky. Eckersley brings up the average given all of his innings starting, but even the older relievers pitched a lot more innings than pitchers from the last 10-15 years. Any rating system using WAR is going to ding the relievers, even though it does consider leverage in its calculations. For what it is worth, Mariano Rivera’s rating came out to 25.9, easily meeting the standard for Hall of Fame relievers and far outdistancing Hoffman and Wagner. It looks like Hoffman is the closest to getting in among pitchers, but compared to their peers, the cases for Clemens, Mussina, and Schilling are quite a bit stronger.

We hoped you liked reading An Alternative Hall of Fame Rating System, Part II: Pitchers by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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You’ve got your 2014 and 2013 inductees mixed up in the first paragraph.