The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.
At last, we’ve reached the final installment of my round-up of the 14 players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot who are certain to fall below the 5% threshold, with most of them being shut out entirely. It’s no tragedy that they’ll miss out on plaques in Cooperstown, but their triumphs and travails are worth remembering just the same.
Known mainly for his durability, Garland was the perfect embodiment of a League Average Innings Muncher (LAIM), a term coined by blogger Travis Nelson in late 2003, generally describing dogged but unspectacular sorts such as Dave Burba, Jeff Suppan, and Steve Trachsel who rarely deviated from average run prevention by more than 10%. Over a nine-year span from 2002-2010, the heavy sinker-reliant Garland never made fewer than 32 starts or threw fewer than 191.2 innings, only once finishing with an ERA+ outside of the 91-to-111 range. In 2005, he put it all together, making his lone All-Star team and helping the White Sox to their first championship in 88 years.
Born September 27, 1979 in Valencia, California, Garland grew to 6-foot-5 1/2 and 200 pounds by the time he was a senior in high school (1997), able to throw 90 mph when that was a big deal. That year, he made a variety of pre- and postseason All-America teams, and planned to go to the University of Southern California, but when he was chosen with the 10th pick of the amateur draft by the Cubs, he signed for a $1.325 million bonus and was on his way. Less than 14 months later, he was traded to the White Sox straight up for reliever Matt Karchner in a rare crosstown deal; the Cubs got all of 60.2 innings of 0.1 WAR relief work in exchange for their top pick from the previous season.
Garland entered the 2000 season ranked 32nd on Baseball America‘s Top 100 list, and on July 4, 2000, made his major league debut; at 20 years and 281 days, he was the AL’s youngest player. Fireworks ensued; he was hit up for seven runs in three innings by the Royals, and received more of the same rude treatment around the league, finishing with a 6.45 ERA in 69.2 innings. After spending the first month of the 2001 season at Triple-A, he split his time between the White Sox’s bullpen and rotation, struggling initially but posting a 3.34 ERA in 11 starts from July 31 onward, albeit with just 31 strikeouts and 29 walks in 62 innings.
At 22, Garland was in the rotation to stay. His first three full seasons were full of LAIMness; he averaged 200.1 innings with a 4.67 ERA (99 ERA+), a modest 5.0 strikeouts per nine, and 1.7 WAR, punctuating his annual labors with an exciting variety of win loss records: 12-12, 12-13, 12-11. Thanks to improvement in his curve and changeup — not to mention a career-low .263 BABIP — he enjoyed his best season in 2005, going 18-10 with a 3.50 ERA (128 ERA+); while his 4.7 strikeouts per nine matched his 2004 rate, he trimmed his walk rate from 3.2 to 1.9 per nine, and set a career high with 4.6 WAR. He sparkled in the postseason, with a complete-game four-hitter against the Angels in Game 3 of the ALCS, and then seven innings of two-run ball in Game 3 of the World Series against the Astros; ballot-mate Freddy Garcia finished the job the next night.
That winter, the White Sox rewarded Garland with a three-year, $29 million extension. Despite similar peripherals to 2005, his BABIP (.309) and ERA (4.51) both ballooned, though outstanding run support helped him to an 18-7 record, and his 3.7 WAR was plenty respectable. After a similarly productive 2007 (4.23 ERA, 3.9 WAR), he was traded to the Angels straight up for shortstop Orlando Cabrera in November 2007. His 14-8 record there belied full-season worsts in strikeout rate (4.1 per nine), ERA (4.90, for a 91 ERA+) and WAR (0.8); the AL West-winning Angels did not use him in the postseason.
A free agent that winter, Garland signed a $7.25 million, one-year-plus-option deal with the Diamondbacks, who in typical cost-cutting fashion dealt him to the Dodgers on August 31, 2009 after slipping from contention. Garland pitched very well down the stretch and finished with a 4.01 ERA, his lowest since 2005, though again he was a bystander in the postseason. He spent 2010 with the Padres, throwing exactly 200 innings with career bests in ERA (3.47, thanks to spacious Petco Park) and strikeout rate (6.1 per nine).
After throwing more innings (1,842.2) than all but eight pitchers from 2002-2010 while completely avoiding the disabled list, Garland made two trips there in 2011 after returning to the Dodgers in free agency, sandwiched around just nine starts. He strained an oblique in spring training, then struggled with shoulder woes, ultimately undergoing debridement of his labrum, rotator cuff, and bursa in July. He didn’t pitch at all in 2012, was cut by the Mariners after spending spring training with them in 2013, and made 12 starts with the Rockies before drawing his release in June. While he was said to be mulling a comeback as recently as 2017, and won’t turn 40 until September, he appears quite done.
Boyish-looking and comparatively undersized (6-foot flat, 190 lbs), Lilly was a wily lefty renowned for a big, looping curveball that helped him miss more than his share of bats; his 7.63 strikeouts per nine ranks 13th among lefties with at least 1,500 innings since 1999, right between CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee. Though shoulder woes dogged him throughout a 15-year career that carried him on 11 trips to the disabled list (as well as six teams), he did make a pair of All-Star teams.
Born Theodore Roosevelt Lilly III on January 4, 1976 in Lomita, California, Lilly went undrafted out of Yosemite High School but was chosen twice out of Fresno City College, first in 1995 by the Blue Jays (13th round) and then in 1996 by the Dodgers (23rd round). While he climbed as far as Triple-A Albuquerque in the Dodgers’ system, on July 31, 1998 he was traded to the Expos in a seven-player deal centered around Mark Grudzielanek. After placing 66th on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list the following spring on the strength of his 93 mph fastball/curve combo, the 23-year-old southpaw made his debut on May 14, 1999, with an inning of relief against the Pirates, but between a bout of shoulder inflammation and offseason surgery to repair a small tear in his labrum, he pitched just 23.2 innings with a 7.61 ERA, though he did strike out 28.
Lilly never pitched for the Expos again. In March 2000, he was sent to the Yankees as the player to be named later in the Hideki Irabu deal, but spent most of the year in the minors and on the DL. He won the Yankees’ fifth starter job in 2001 but struggled to keep the ball in the park (1.5 HR/9) and was lit up for a 5.37 ERA, though he did strike out 8.4 per nine in his 120.2 innings. He showed improvement early in 2002, but on July 5, he was traded to the A’s as part of a three-team, seven-player deal that sent Jeff Weaver to New York and both Carlos Pena and Jeremy Bonderman to Detroit.
Though he missed seven weeks soon after the trade with yet another bout of shoulder inflammation, Lilly helped the A’s make the playoffs in both 2002 and 2003. Hit hard in the Division Series by the Twins in the former year, he made a seven-inning, two-hit start in Game 3 against the Red Sox in the latter year, allowing just an unearned run. He left with the score tied; the A’s, who would have clinched the series with a win, lost that game in the 11th inning, and the next two as well.
In November 2003, Lilly was traded for the fourth time — to the Blue Jays, for outfielder Bobby Kielty. He quickly made Toronto look good by earning All-Star honors while pitching to a 4.06 ERA (119 ERA+), setting career highs in innings (197.1) and WAR (4.2). Neither of his other two seasons went so well, with biceps tendinitis limiting him to a 5.56 ERA and a career-worst 5.32 FIP in 126.1 innings in 2005. While his 2006 was closer to form, he refused to give manager John Gibbons the ball after being pulled from his August 21 start in the third inning, leading to a heated exchange between the two in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse — an incident both men instantly regretted and worked to hash out.
That winter, Lilly signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Cubs and embarked upon the most productive stretch of his career. From 2007-2010, he averaged 31 starts, 196 innings, a 3.68 ERA (121 ERA+), 7.8 K/9, and 4.2 WAR. He helped the Cubs to back-to-back NL Central titles in 2007-2008, though he didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in his lone postseason start in 2007. Despite missing four weeks due to in-season surgery to repair a torn meniscus in 2009, he set career bests with a 3.10 ERA and 5.0 WAR, and made his second All-Star team. A 2009 Hardball Times article by Josh Kalk illustrated how Lilly’s pairing of his modest 88 mph fastball, thrown high in the zone, and his big curve deceived the hitter due to a tunneling effect.
Lilly got a late jump on 2010 due to offseason shoulder debridement, then was traded to the Dodgers in a five-player deal on July 31. After pitching well down the stretch, he signed a three-year, $33 million extension in October, and was reasonably solid in the first year (1.6 WAR in 192.2 innings). But he managed just 71.2 innings over the final two years of the deal, with shoulder problems culminating in yet another labrum repair wiped out most of 2012, and a neck injury stemming from a collision with Kyle Blanks doing the same for 2013. Released by the Dodgers in early August of the latter season, he underwent a procedure to cauterize nerves in his neck to alleviate the pain. After a brief foray in the Venezuela Winter League, Lilly conceded that his body was no longer up to the task of pitching and retired.
When the Red Sox broke their 86-year championship drought in 2004, Lowe made history, getting the win in the series-clinching games of all three postseason rounds — that after an uncharacteristically dreadful slog through the regular season; he had previously earned All-Star honors as both a closer and a starter. On the strength of a sinkerball that helped him generate a higher groundball rate (62.3%) than any pitcher this side of Brandon Webb, he would rebound to play a significant role on four other postseason teams.
Born on June 1, 1973 in Dearborn, Michigan, the 6-foot-6 Lowe was drafted out of high school by the Mariners in the eighth round in 1991, and progressed through the minors methodically. Injuries necessitated his call-up; he debuted on April 26, 1997 with 3.1 innings of relief against the Blue Jays. Yo-yoed between Triple-A and the majors, he made nine starts and three relief appearances before being sent to Boston along with catcher Jason Varitek in exchange for closer Heathcliff Slocumb — one of the best deals in Red Sox history, and one of the worst in Mariners history. Though he pitched well in relief for Boston in September, he finished his rookie season with an unsightly 6.13 ERA in 69 innings.
Lowe spent the better part of the next four seasons (1998-2001) pitching out of the Red Sox’s bullpen while helping the team to a pair of postseason appearances. In 1999, he took over closer duties in midseason and saved 15 games while making 74 appearances totaling 109.1 innings, with a 2.63 ERA and 3.5 WAR. The next year, he made the AL All-Star team, led the league with 42 saves, posted a 2.56 ERA and again tallied 3.5 WAR. After a less-successful 2001 (24 saves with a 3.53 ERA), the Red Sox, now under manager Grady Little, moved him back to the rotation. On April 27, 2002, Lowe no-hit the Devil Rays, with only a third-inning walk of Brent Abernathy separating him from a perfect game.
Lowe made the All-Star team again, threw 219.2 innings, and placed second in the league in wins (21), ERA (2.58) and WAR (7.2), and third in the Cy Young race behind Barry Zito and Pedro Martinez. A .235 BABIP was a big part of his success that year, and unsurprisingly, he was unable to replicate it, as his ERA climbed to 4.47 in 2003 and to 5.42 in 2004, with his walk rate creeping higher in both years as well. He was actually 0.7 wins below replacement level in the latter season, and notched his Division Series-clinching win out of the bullpen in the 10th inning of Game 3 against the Angels. After throwing 5.1 innings of three-run ball in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Yankees (the one where Dave Roberts’ stolen base helped avert a sweep), he threw six innings of one-hit ball in Game 7, then shut the Cardinals out for seven innings in Game 4 of the World Series en route to a sweep.
A free agent that winter, Lowe proved to be exceptionally durable and quite consistent upon signing a four-year, $36 million deal with the Dodgers, averaging 34 starts and 213 innings with a 3.59 ERA (120 ERA+) and 3.3 WAR from 2005-2008. His 3.63 ERA and 4.8 WAR in 2006 both ranked ninth in the NL as he helped the Dodgers claim the NL Wild Card, though he was roughed up by the Mets in the Division Series. His 3.24 ERA and 4.5 WAR in 2008 helped the Dodgers win another division title and advance as far as the NLCS; Lowe took the ball for both the Division Series and LCS openers, and posted a 3.31 ERA across his three starts.
Lowe parlayed that consistency into another four-year deal, this one for $60 million from the Braves, but it didn’t go as well. Though he averaged 192 innings over the first three years, he was lit for a 4.57 ERA (87 ERA+) and averaged just 0.6 WAR. On October 31, 2011, the Braves traded him and $10 million to the Indians in exchange for pitching prospect Chris Jones, who never made the majors. Lowe didn’t even last the year in Cleveland. Released in August, he caught on with the Yankees, and pitched reasonably well out of their bullpen. He tried to work in a similar capacity with the Rangers in 2013, but pitched sparingly, and lasted only until late May before drawing his walking papers.
It helps to be left-handed if you want to spend 20 years in the majors, as Oliver did. The 6’3″ southpaw had more or less retired after being released by three teams in 2005, following a 12-season stay in the majors that saw only intermittent success as a starter. Convinced to give it another go as a reliever, he enjoyed a second life, making postseason appearances in six consecutive seasons (2006-2011) and pitching productively until he was nearly 43 years old. In all, he pitched for nine teams, not including three separate stints with the Rangers, with whom he spent 10 of his 20 seasons.
Oliver was born October 6, 1970 in Kansas City, just after his father, Bob Oliver, hit a team-high 27 home runs as the regular first baseman for the Royals, a second-year expansion team. The elder Oliver spent eight years in the majors (1965, 1969-1975) with the Pirates, Royals, Angels, Orioles, and Yankees. The younger Oliver was drafted out of Rio Linda (California) High School in the third round of the 1988 draft by the Rangers. Injuries slowed his progress through the minors, most notably Tommy John surgery in 1991; from 1990-1992, he threw just 55.1 professional innings. Back on track in 1993, he debuted with the Rangers on September 1 of that year, intentionally walking the Red Sox’s Mike Greenwell, the only batter he faced; a month later, he made his second appearance, and that winter, he underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow.
Oliver spent the next two seasons pitching mainly out of the Rangers’ bullpen, but continued to battle injuries — another bone chip surgery in October 1994, rotator cuff surgery in 1995. Nonetheless, he joined the Rangers’ rotation for good in 1996, his age-25 season, and over that season and the next, posted a 4.42 ERA (114 ERA+) in 375 innings with 5.6 WAR. He made a strong start in Game 3 of the 1996 Division Series against the Yankees, carrying a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning before giving up singles to Derek Jeter and Tim Raines that sparked a game-winning rally.
After being pummeled for a 6.53 ERA in 19 starts in 1998, Oliver was traded to St. Louis, where improvements in both his curve and his changeup yielded a 4.26 ERA in 190 innings in 1999, along with a career-high 3.3 WAR. Hitting free agency, he returned to the Rangers on a three-year, $19 million deal, but between shoulder tendinitis and a left thumb laceration, his second stint was miserable (6.60 ERA in 262 innings in 2000-2001), and stops in Boston (2002), Colorado (2003), Florida (2004), and Houston (2004) yielded only slightly better results. Whether it was stamina or stuff, he didn’t have enough to survive in a major league rotation.
From March through May of 2005, the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Cubs released Oliver. He retired, but a trip to that year’s Winter Meetings in Dallas — “Once I got there I was like, ‘This is a joke. All they do is sit around, drink, and tell stories.’” he later said — led to a spring training invitation from the Mets for the 35-year-old itinerant. He made the team, and working in low-leverage situations, pitched to a 3.44 ERA in 81 innings. The Mets bowed out in the NLCS, but Oliver showed his stuff by throwing six shutout innings in relief against the Cardinals in Game 3 after Trachsel gave up five runs in one-plus inning.
Oliver spent the next three seasons with the Angels, helping them to three straight AL West titles by averaging 59 appearances and 70 innings with a 3.10 ERA (144 ERA+) and 1.5 WAR, and graduating to increasingly higher-leverage work. Sticking in the division, he returned to the Rangers yet again in December 2009, and this time it went much better; he pitched to a 2.40 ERA (187 ERA+) while averaging 56 innings for a pair of AL pennant winners. He was 22 days past his 40th birthday when he made his World Series debut in Game 2 of the 2010 Fall Classic against the Giants. His 2011 World Series against the Cardinals was more memorable, though not always for the right reasons. In Game 5, he collected a win as the Rangers scored two eighth inning runs, but in Game 6, with Josh Hamilton’s two-run 10th inning homer having put Texas up 9-7, and three outs away from a championship, he surrendered back-to-back singles to Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay; both runners scored after he departed, and you know the rest.
A free agent at 41, Oliver chose to keep going, and signed a $4.5 million, one-year-plus-option deal with the Blue Jays. He pitched very well in his first year (2.06 ERA, 1.9 WAR), less so in his second before calling it a career. His was an impressive second act: only 11 relievers have exceeded his 10.8 WAR from age 35 onward, just two of whom (Tom Burgmeier and Al Brazile) were lefties.
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.