JAWS and the 2021 Hall of Fame Ballot: LaTroy Hawkins

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2021 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. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2021 BBWAA Candidate: LaTroy Hawkins
Player Pos Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS W-L S IP SO ERA ERA+
LaTroy Hawkins RP 17.8 16.1 17.0 75-94 127 1467.1 983 4.31 106
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

LaTroy Hawkins was just about as well-traveled as they come. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound righty spent 21 years in the majors, pitching for 11 different teams (not counting a return engagement in Colorado) in 44 different ballparks. Generally a setup man (though he did spend time closing), he never made an All-Star team, but he did pitch in the postseason five times with four different franchises, including a World Series with the Rockies. He stuck around long enough to become the 16th pitcher to appear in 1,000 games, and today ranks 10th all-time:

Pitchers with 1,000 Games Pitched
Rk Player Years G
1 Jesse Orosco 1979-2003 1252
2 Mike Stanton 1989-2007 1178
3 John Franco 1984-2005 1119
4 Mariano Rivera 1995-2013 1115
5 Dennis Eckersley 1975-1998 1071
6 Hoyt Wilhelm 1952-1972 1070
7 Dan Plesac 1986-2003 1064
8 Mike Timlin 1991-2008 1058
9 Kent Tekulve 1974-1989 1050
10 LaTroy Hawkins 1995-2015 1042
11 Trevor Hoffman 1993-2010 1035
12T Jose Mesa 1987-2007 1022
Lee Smith 1980-1997 1022
14 Roberto Hernandez 1991-2007 1010
15 Michael Jackson 1986-2004 1005
16 Rich Gossage 1972-1994 1002
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

As he attained elder statesman status, Hawkins grew increasingly willing to speak out concerning the dwindling presence of Black players in the majors, a trend that he witnessed firsthand. Per a study by SABR’s Mark Armour and Daniel R. Levitt, African Americans accounted for 16.1% of players on rosters in 1995, the year Hawkins debuted, but that figure had dwindled to 7.2% in 2015, his final year.

“Baseball has become the sport that costs so much to play with all these travel leagues, travel teams, all the showcases,” a retired Hawkins told The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh and Michael Baumann in 2017 while noting the way that the barriers to entry had become more imposing since the start of his own career:

“African American kids [and] minority kids can’t go to their parents and [ask them to] pay three, four, five thousand dollars one summer just so you can play baseball and travel to all these showcases.”

…”An African American kid living in the inner city, I don’t think they give those guys a chance to play professional baseball. If you give those guys a chance, you never know what you will have, because myself, coming out of Gary, Indiana, I wasn’t a baseball player. The Minnesota Twins, Terry Ryan, Larry Corrigan, Mike Radcliff, those guys took a chance on an athletic kid who played basketball and ran track in high school who played a little baseball. They took a chance on a kid like me.”

Born on December 21, 1972 in Gary, Indiana, Hawkins excelled at basketball as well as baseball while growing up. According to lore, he once stuffed 1994’s NBA number one overall pick Glenn Robinson in a high school game. Though Hawkins was offered a full basketball scholarship to Indiana State, major league scouts had started showing interest in him as a pitcher, that despite the fact that he was so raw he had never had a pitching coach.

Hawkins told The Ringer, “I went to all of those pre-draft camps, and I went as a center fielder and as a hitter, and they saw me do that, but once they saw me on the mound, they were like, ‘No, no, kid. You’re going to pitch… Mike Radcliff, the first thing he said when he saw me was [that] I had a magical arm.”

The Twins chose Hawkins in the seventh round in 1991, and he signed for a $28,000 bonus. Climbing the ladder as a starter, he put himself on the map as a prospect with a dominant 1993 season in the Midwest League, posting a 2.06 ERA with 179 strikeouts in 157 innings; the next spring, he cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list at number 92. He climbed to number 30 after a solid 1994 season split between Double-A and Triple-A, broke camp with the Twins in 1995 thanks to the expanded post-strike rosters, and made his major league debut on April 29 against the Orioles. It did not go well. He was clobbered for seven runs in 1.2 innings, “highlighted” by a three-run homer by Harold Baines and a two-run single by Cal Ripken Jr.

Hawkins was knocked around in two more starts before being sent back to Triple-A Salt Lake City; he returned for three more starts in September, only one of which was good — a five-hit complete game win agains the White Sox on September 24. He finished the year with an unsightly 8.67 ERA in 27 innings, and the story was similar in 1996, when he again made the Twins, and even turned in a six-inning, one-run, five-strikeout effort in his season debut on April 5 against the Orioles. He also set a career high by striking out 10 Tigers on April 25, in what turned out to be his lone win of the season, but by mid-May, he and his 8.20 ERA were back in Salt Lake City.

The Twins spent the better part of the next three seasons still trying to make Hawkins a starter, with gruesome results; while he had a 95 mph fastball, his secondary pitches remained a work in progress, and he was particularly homer-prone. From 1997-99 he made 86 starts but was lit for a 5.90 ERA (82 ERA+) — higher than all but two of the 134 pitchers with at least 300 innings in that span — and 1.44 homers per nine in 468 innings, capped by a 6.66 ERA in 1999.

Finally, the Twins moved the 27-year-old Hawkins to the bullpen in 2000, and while he didn’t miss a ton of bats, he did post a 3.39 ERA in 87.2 innings. He finished the year going 14-for-14 in save opportunities, then saved 14 of 15 to start 2001 before his performance eroded. Though he notched 28 saves, he tied for the AL lead with nine blown saves, walked 6.8 per nine innings, and finished with a 5.96 ERA in 51.1 innings.

To this point in his career, Hawkins had a 5.78 ERA (85 ERA+) and 2.6 WAR in 660.1 innings, a performance that did not suggest a long road ahead. Yet he adjusted and thrived, improving his mechanics and with it his command. Over the next 14 seasons, he would post a 3.10 ERA (142 ERA+) with 15.4 WAR, cutting his walk rate from 3.5 per nine to 2.2, and his homer rate from 1.3 per nine to 0.7. Among relievers, only Francisco Rodríguez threw more innings than his 807 in that span.

In 2002-03, Hawkins made a combined 139 appearances and posted a 2.00 ERA with 7.9 strikeouts and 1.7 walks per nine, good for a total of 5.4 WAR. He worked his way back into a setup role, and helped the Twins to back-to-back AL Central titles. After making six scoreless appearances against the A’s and Angels in the 2002 postseason, he relieved Johan Santana, who had just surrendered a go-ahead three-run homer to Adam Kennedy in Game 5 of the ALCS but couldn’t retire any of the three batters he faced. The ensuing 10-run inning helped to eliminate the Twins. In 2003, Hawkins pitched two scoreless innings of relief in the Division Series opener against the Yankees, picking up the team’s only win of the series.

Hawkins left the Twins via free agency after the 2003 season and signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Cubs, with a player option for 2006. After starting the year in a setup role, he took over closer duties when the ineffective Joe Borowski was lost for the year due to a rotator cuff injury, and saved 25 games to go with his 2.63 ERA.

The Cubs’ 89 wins was one more than in the previous year, but they placed third in the NL Central. En route to a 79-win season, they traded Hawkins to the similarly mediocre Giants for David Aardsma and Jerome Williams on May 28. His season was unremarkable, and after he exercised his $4.4 million option for 2006, he was traded to the Orioles for Steve Kline.

Hawkins’ year toiling for a 92-loss team was nothing to write home about. He had better luck at his next stop, signing a one-year-plus-mutual-option deal with the Rockies. Despite missing a month with elbow inflammation, he posted a 3.42 ERA (141 ERA+) in 55.1 innings and helped the team secure a Wild Card berth via its season-ending 14-1 tear. In the postseason, he allowed one run in five innings while helping the Rockies win their first pennant, but they were swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.

Once Colorado declined its end of the mutual option, the going-on-35-year-old Hawkins was on the go again. He spent the first four months of 2008 as a Yankee but was traded to the Astros on July 3, then re-upped with Houston and spent time as their closer; for his Astros career, he posted a 1.71 ERA with 12 saves in 84.1 innings. He lost most of the first half of a two-year, $7.5 million deal with the Brewers to shoulder woes culminating in surgery to debride his rotator cuff and labrum, but returned to help them win the NL Central in 2011, and threw four scoreless innings in the postseason, though the team was eliminated at the hands of the Cardinals.

After spending 2012 with the Angels, the 40-year-old Hawkins had to settle for a minor-league deal from the Mets; he not only made good with a 2.93 ERA, he notched 13 saves over the final third of the season after closer Bobby Parnell was lost for the year due to a herniated disc. He returned to Colorado on a one-plus-option deal and wound up spending all of the 2014 season closing. His final appearance of the year, on September 27 in Los Angeles, was the 1,000th of his career.

After announcing that the 2015 season would be his final one, Hawkins returned to setup duty in Colorado, though on July 28, 2015, he was traded alongside Troy Tulowitzki as part of a six-player blockbuster with the Blue Jays. After a strong August, the 42-year-old righty pitched sparingly in September, though his game-ending strikeout of the Orioles’ Ryan Flaherty on September 30 clinched the Blue Jays’ first postseason spot since 1992.

Alas, Hawkins wasn’t much help in the postseason, allowing multiple runs in all three appearances as the Blue Jays reached the ALCS before falling to the Royals. He retired, and soon took a position with the Twins as a special assistant in the baseball operations department.

“I’ve had a quarter of a century of professional baseball,” Hawkins said the following spring. “Time flies when you’re having fun. I had a lot of fun playing the game. I met a lot of great people. I’ve been to a lot of cool places. I’ve done a lot of cool things.”





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.

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Anon
Member
Anon

Two thoughts:
– I would have guessed Hawkins retired a lot more than 5 years ago
– I don’t think I had ever noticed that Eckersley was 5th on the all-time appearances leaderboard. That’s amazing considering he was a starter his 1st 12 years in the majors and only had 376 appearances through his age 31 season. Guy had 695 appearances from age 32 onward

rosen380
Member

Crazy thing is that age 32 onward he only ranks 9th.

Joe Smith is #1 among all active players in appearances. To catch up to Eckersley he need 289 more games –something only 24 MLBers have ever done age 37 onward.

Kenley Jansen is #2 and need 439 games to catch Eckersley. Only 42 MLBers have done that age 33 onward

Craig Kimbrel is next and 488 games back; only 24 MLBers can make that claim for age 33+

Andrew Miller needs 499 games; only Hoyt Wilhelm and Jesse Orosco managed that ages 36+.

Aroldis Chapman, 508, with 21 MLBers meeting or exceeding that for age 33+


How about some starters and using Greg Maddux’s 740 starts as the benchmark?

Zack Greinke needs 281 starts and age 37+ only Charlie Hough, Jaime Moyer, Phil Niekro and Nolan Ryan can claim that.

#2 among active players is Greinke’s teammate Justin verlander. He needs 286 starts and is a year older; Niekro and Hough.

Max Scherzer (not quite halfway to Maddux!) gets only Niekro and Moyer

Kershaw is only going into his age 33 season, and is a long ways off (386 starts), but at least I get to type some different names:
Niekro, Moyer, Hough and Ryan still and add Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn and Cy Young

Mean Mr. Mustard
Member
Mean Mr. Mustard

Thanks for the research that you did on this – really neat read.