JAWS and the 2022 Hall of Fame Ballot: Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, and Andy Pettitte

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2022 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.

As I continue to play catch-up with my coverage with the holidays approaching, it makes sense to take a fresh look at a trio of pitchers who have done just enough to remain on the ballot. Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, and Andy Pettitte all cleared the 200-win mark during their exceptional careers while producing some big moments and playing significant roles on championship-winning teams, but none ever won Cy Young awards, produced much black ink, or dominated in the ways that we expect Hall-caliber hurlers to do. When Buehrle and Hudson debuted last year, I was skeptical that they would even clear 5% and retain their eligibility, but with the ballot traffic having thinned out, enough voters — particularly those on ballots that went unpublished — found room for them to do so, though the results were hardly resounding.

Now that I’ve rolled out my experimental, workload-adjusted version of JAWS (S-JAWS), it makes sense to take a closer look at them as a group while inviting those readers wishing to (re)familiarize themselves with the specifics of their cases and careers to check out last year’s profiles.

A note about pitcher wins: Regular readers know that I generally avoid dwelling upon those totals, because in this increasingly specialized era, they owe as much to adequate offensive, defensive, and bullpen support as they do to a pitcher’s own performance. While one needn’t know how many wins Buerhle, Hudson, or Pettitte amassed in a season or a career to appreciate their true value, those totals have affected the popular perceptions of their careers, and you’ll find multiple references to those figures within their respective profiles.

Mark Buehrle (11.0% on 2021 ballot)

2022 BBWAA Candidate: Mark Buehrle
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR Adj. S-JAWS
Mark Buehrle 59.1 35.8 47.4
Avg. HOF SP 73.3 40.7 56.8
214-160 1,870 3.81 117
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From the intro:

At a moment when baseball is so obsessed with velocity, it’s remarkable to remember how recently it was that a pitcher could thrive, year in and year out, despite averaging in the 85-87 mph range with his fastball. Yet thats exactly what Mark Buehrle did over the course of his 16-year career. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, the burly Buehrle was the epitome of the crafty lefty, an ultra-durable workhorse who didn’t dominate but who worked quickly, used a variety of pitches — four-seamer, sinker, cutter, curve, changeup — moving a variety of directions to pound the strike zone, and relied on his fielders to make the plays behind him. From 2001-14, he annually reached the 30-start and 200-inning plateaus, and he barely missed on the latter front in his final season.

August Fagerstrom summed up Buehrle so well in his 2016 appreciation that I can’t resist sharing a good chunk:

The way Buehrle succeeded was unique, of course. He got his ground balls, but he wasn’t the best at getting ground balls. He limited walks, but he wasn’t the best a limiting walks. He generated soft contact, but he wasn’t the best at generating soft contact. Buehrle simply avoided damage with his sub-90 mph fastball by throwing strikes while simultaneously avoiding the middle of the plate:

That’s Buehrle’s entire career during the PITCHf/x era, and it’s something of a remarkable graphic. You see Buehrle living on the first-base edge of the zone, making sure to keep his pitches low, while also being able to spot the same pitch on the opposite side of the zone, for the most part avoiding the heart of the plate. Buehrle’s retained the ability to pitch this way until the end; just last year [2015], he led all of baseball in the percentage of pitches located on the horizontal edges of the plate.

Drafted and developed by the White Sox — practically plucked from obscurity, at that — Buehrle spent 12 of his 16 seasons on the South Side, making four All-Star teams and helping Chicago to three postseason appearances, including its 2005 World Series win, which broke the franchise’s 88-year championship drought. While with the White Sox, he became just the second pitcher in franchise history to throw multiple no-hitters, first doing so in 2007 against the Rangers and then adding a perfect game in 2009 against the Rays. After his time in Chicago, he spent a sour season with the newly-rebranded Miami Marlins, and when that predictably melted down, spent three years with the Blue Jays, helping them reach the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.

Though Buehrle reached the 200-win plateau in his final season, he was just 36 years old when he hung up his spikes, preventing him from more fully padding his counting stats or framing his case for Cooperstown in the best light.

More here.

Tim Hudson (5.2% on 2021 ballot)

2022 BBWAA Candidate: Tim Hudson
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR Adj. S-JAWS
Tim Hudson 57.9 38.3 48.1
Avg. HOF SP 73.3 40.7 56.8
222-133 2,080 3.49 120
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From the intro:

At the turn of the millennium, on the heels of six straight sub-.500 seasons, the Oakland A’s enjoyed a competitive renaissance. From 2000 to 2003, they averaged 98 wins per year, good for a .606 winning percentage that ranked second in the majors, an eyelash behind the Mariners (also .606 but with one more win in that span). They made the playoffs in all four of those seasons, three by winning the AL West, and they did it all despite shoestring budgets that regularly placed their payrolls among the majors’ bottom half-dozen. The ability of general manager Billy Beane to exploit market inefficiencies in crafting a low-cost roster gained fame via Michael Lewis’ 2003 book Moneyball, but underplayed in a tale that emphasized on-base percentage, defense, and quirky, misfit players was a homegrown trio of starting pitchers — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito — who were central to the A’s success. Drafted out of college, the “Big Three” asserted their spots among the AL’s top pitchers despite a lack of overpowering stuff.

The oldest of trio was Hudson, a skinny, undersized righty (generally listed at 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds) who relied on his low-90 sinkerball to generate a ton of groundballs, as well as a diving split-fingered fastball, slider, and change-up to miss bats and keep hitters off balance. An Alabama native who was drafted out of Auburn University in the sixth round in 1997, Hudson reached the majors just two years later, and quickly emerged as a frontline starter able to shoulder annual workloads of 200-plus innings, belying his modest frame. In a 17-year career with the A’s (1999-2004) and later the Braves (2004-13) and Giants (2014-15), Hudson helped his teams reach the postseason nine times, but both the pitcher and those teams experienced more than their share of hard luck in October. Only at his final stop, in San Francisco, did Hudson’s teams even make it to the League Championship Series, but in 2014, he was a key component of the Giants’ World Series-winning squad.

Though he made four All-Star teams, received Cy Young consideration in four seasons, and won well over 200 games while cracking his league’s ERA and WAR leaderboards seven times apiece, Hudson does not have an especially strong case for Cooperstown, particularly once one looks beyond the superficial numbers.

More here.

Andy Pettitte (13.7% on 2021 ballot)

2022 BBWAA Candidate: Andy Pettitte
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR Adj. S-JAWS
Andy Pettitte 60.2 34.1 47.2
Avg. HOF SP 73.3 40.7 56.8
256-153 2,448 3.85 117
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From the intro:

As much as Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte was a pillar of the Joe Torre-era Yankees dynasty. The tall Texan lefty played such a vital role on 13 pinstriped playoff teams and seven pennant winners — plus another trip to the World Series during his three-year run with Houston — that he holds several major postseason records. In fact, no pitcher ever started more potential series clinchers, both in the World Series and the postseason as a whole.

For as important as Pettitte was to the “Core Four” (Williams always gets the short end of the stick on that one) that anchored five championships from 1996 to 2009 — and to an Astros team that reached its first World Series in ’05 — he seldom made a case as one of the game’s top pitchers. High win totals driven by excellent offensive support helped him finish in the top five of his leagues’ Cy Young voting four times, but only three times did he place among the top 10 in ERA or WAR, and he never ranked higher than sixth in strikeouts. He made just three All-Star teams.

Indeed, Pettitte was more plow horse than racehorse. A sinker- and cutter-driven groundballer whose pickoff move was legendary, he was a championship-level innings-eater, a grinder (his word) rather than a dominator, a pitcher whose strong work ethic, mental preparation, and focus — visually exemplified by his peering in for the sign from the catcher with eyes barely visible underneath the brim of his cap — compensated for his lack of dazzling stuff. Ten times he made at least 32 starts, a mark that’s tied for seventh in the post-1994 strike era. Within that span, his total of 10 200-inning seasons is tied for fourth, and his 13 seasons of qualifying for the ERA title with an ERA+ of 100 or better is tied for first with two other lefties, Mark Buehrle and CC Sabathia. He had his ups and downs in the postseason, but only once during his 18-year career (2004, when he underwent season-ending elbow surgery) was he unavailable to pitch once his team made the playoffs.

Even given Pettitte’s 256 career wins, he takes a back seat to two other starters on the ballot (Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling) who were better at missing bats and preventing runs, and who also had plenty of postseason success. Both of those pitchers have reasons why voters might exclude them from their ballots even while finding them statistically qualified, and the same is true for Pettitte, who was named in the 2007 Mitchell Report for having used human growth hormone to recover from an elbow injury.

More here.

In the midst of last month’s Era Committee coverage, with the help of Baseball Reference’s Adam Darowski, I took the wraps off an experimental version of starting pitcher JAWS, which I’m now calling S-JAWS. While it’s not an outright replacement for the version that’s been in place since late 2012 (when I moved JAWS from Baseball Prospectus‘ WARP to B-Ref’s WAR), the Starting Pitchers page at B-Ref now defaults to sorting by S-JAWS, though you can sort by JAWS or any other category you choose as well.

WAR and JAWS aren’t the only factors in a Hall of Fame case, for pitchers or position players, but if you’re familiar with my series, you know that they’re critical to my analysis. I use the system as a first-cut mechanism to tell me, “Is this a candidacy worthy of considering for a spot on a ballot?” but as I’ve stressed through the lengthy write-ups in my series, other factors such as awards, postseason play, and historical importance are worth considering as well. In the move from JAWS to S-JAWS, that doesn’t change.

The idea behind S-JAWS is to reduce the skewing caused by the impact of 19th century and Deadball-era pitchers, some of whom topped 400, 500, or even 600 innings in a season on multiple occasions. The way I’ve chosen to do this is by prorating the peak-component credit for any heavy-workload season to a maximum of 250 innings. Why 250? Mainly because it’s a level that the current BBWAA candidates rarely reached, and only one active pitcher (Justin Verlander) has, albeit by a single inning a decade ago. Given the current trends in the game regarding starting pitcher usage, five or 10 years from now, looking at candidates on a 200- or 225-inning basis might make more sense, but I think this is a reasonable place to start the adjustments.

As to how this plays out, Cy Young’s 453-inning 1892 season, which produced 11.2 pitching WAR and -0.9 hitting WAR, thus counts for about 5.7 WAR towards his peak score; he still gets credit for the full 10.3 WAR for his career total. Old Hoss Radbourn’s record-setting 678.2-inning 1884 season, the one in which he notched 59 or 60 wins (depending upon the source), scales from 19.2 pitching WAR and 0.3 hitting WAR to a total of 7.2 WAR towards his peak score, but again, his original 19.5 WAR is still part of his career total.

Here’s a look at the pitchers with the 25 largest gaps (26 pitchers, including one tie) between their JAWS and S-JAWS:

Pitchers With Largest Differences Between JAWS and S-JAWS
Pitcher Years Career WAR Peak WAR Peak WAR Adj. JAWS S-JAWS Dif
John Clarkson+ 1882-1894 83.2 74.7 36.9 78.9 60.1 -18.8
Jim McCormick 1878-1887 76.2 68.7 34.2 72.5 55.2 -17.3
Pud Galvin+ 1875-1892 73.4 61.9 28.5 67.6 51 -16.6
Old Hoss Radbourn+ 1880-1891 75.4 67.3 34.7 71.4 55 -16.4
Tim Keefe+ 1880-1893 86.9 66.4 35.2 76.7 61.1 -15.6
Al Spalding+ 1871-1878 60.3 60.4 31.3 60.4 45.8 -14.6
Tommy Bond 1874-1884 60.9 62.7 33.6 61.8 47.2 -14.6
Amos Rusie+ 1889-1901 65.8 63.3 35.3 64.6 50.5 -14.1
Kid Nichols+ 1890-1906 116.3 74.5 47.4 95.4 81.8 -13.6
Cy Young+ 1890-1911 163.6 78.0 50.8 120.8 107.2 -13.6
Charlie Buffinton 1882-1892 60.7 60.2 35.8 60.4 48.3 -12.1
Walter Johnson+ 1907-1927 164.8 89.3 65.0 127.0 114.9 -12.1
Jim Whitney 1881-1890 56.0 54.7 31.4 55.4 43.7 -11.7
Mickey Welch+ 1880-1892 62.3 54.1 31.2 58.2 46.8 -11.4
Bobby Mathews 1871-1887 55.1 50.3 27.4 52.7 41.3 -11.4
Silver King 1886-1897 50.4 50.0 27.1 50.2 38.8 -11.4
Pete Alexander+ 1911-1930 119.0 69.6 49.9 94.3 84.5 -9.8
Ed Walsh+ 1904-1917 65.9 62.3 42.7 64.1 54.3 -9.8
Bob Caruthers 1884-1893 59.5 55.7 36.5 57.6 48 -9.6
Ed Morris 1884-1890 38.4 38.4 19.2 38.4 28.8 -9.6
Guy Hecker 1882-1890 37.3 39.5 20.5 38.4 28.9 -9.5
Joe McGinnity+ 1899-1908 59.0 54.1 35.6 56.6 47.3 -9.3
Tony Mullane 1881-1894 66.6 49.7 31.7 58.2 49.2 -9.0
Bill Hutchison 1884-1897 38.9 39.3 21.5 39.1 30.2 -8.9
Christy Mathewson+ 1900-1916 106.5 70.2 53.0 88.4 79.7 -8.7
Will White 1877-1886 34.9 35.5 18.1 35.2 26.5 -8.7
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
+ = Hall of Famer. Peak WAR = WAR total for pitcher’s best seven seasons. Peak WAR Adj. = WAR total for a pitcher’s best seven seasons, each prorated to a maximum of 250 innings if greater than 250. JAWS = average of Career WAR and Peak WAR. S-JAWS = average of Career WAR and Peak WAR Adj.

Twelve of the 26 pitchers above had careers that finished before 1893, when the pitching distance was extended from 50 feet to 60-foot-6. Four more of the above pitchers barely made it into the new era, with careers that were done by the end of 1894, while only six of the 26 even crossed over into the 20th century, and only Johnson and Alexander pitched into the live ball era. These guys are ancient history, and arguably they should be less of a factor when we hold up our yardstick to measure current candidates. While I’ve debated ways to tamp down the enshrined pitchers’ impact within JAWS, removing the oldest of them — Clarkson, Galvin, Keefe, Radbourn, and Welch – outright would only lower the JAWS by about a point, and I’ve always been hesitant to completely remove any players from our data set. This does a better job of reducing their impact when judging late 20th and 21st century hurlers.

The 14 Hall of Famers from the group above lose an average of 13.2 points in the conversion to S-JAWS. Meanwhile, more contemporary pitchers such as Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver lose from about 2.5 to six points. As you can see in the individual tables above for each of the three candidates discussed in this piece, the Hall of Famers as a group lose an average of 9.1 WAR in the adjustment of their peak WARs, and an average of 4.6 points in the conversion from JAWS to S-JAWS. Among current candidates, the losses for Clemens (1.0 point) and Schilling (0.5) are minimal, and the scores for this trio, who topped out around the 240-inning mark, remain unchanged. Instead of being 13 or 14 points below the standard, they’re now about seven or eight points below.

They’re still too low for my tastes, but the fact that the Hall contains just two pitchers born in the 1970s — Pedro Martinez (1971) and Roy Halladay (1977) — has led some smart folks to conclude that voters ought to be — or ought to have been — even more generous. Here’s a tweet from Tom Tango that was part of a longer thread in September:

I’m not sure why Tango used 1973 instead of ’70 or ’71 as his cutoff, which would have included Pettitte (62.0 career WAR) on the list above. Here’s how a similar group looks via S-JAWS:

Top S-JAWS for Pitchers Born Between 1972-89
Rk Player Born Years Career WAR Peak WAR Adj S-JAWS
25 Justin Verlander* 1983 2005-2020 71.8 49.9 60.8
26 Clayton Kershaw* 1988 2008-2021 71.9 49.7 60.8
27 Zack Greinke* 1983 2004-2021 73.1 48.1 60.6
30 Max Scherzer* 1984 2008-2021 67.1 48.2 57.7
31 Roy Halladay+ 1977 1998-2013 64.2 50.1 57.2
55 CC Sabathia 1980 2001-2019 62.5 39.3 50.9
69 Cole Hamels 1983 2006-2020 59.3 37.4 48.4
70 Johan Santana 1979 2000-2012 51.7 45.0 48.3
72 Tim Hudson 1975 1999-2015 57.9 38.3 48.1
78 Mark Buehrle 1979 2000-2015 59.1 35.8 47.4
81 Andy Pettitte 1972 1995-2013 60.2 34.1 47.2
90 Roy Oswalt 1977 2001-2013 50.0 40.2 45.1
95 Felix Hernandez 1986 2005-2019 50.2 38.5 44.3
102 Chris Sale* 1989 2010-2021 46.5 39.5 43.0
113 Jacob deGrom* 1988 2014-2021 43.4 40.8 42.1
123 Cliff Lee 1978 2002-2014 43.2 39.7 41.4
130 Javier Vazquez 1976 1998-2011 45.6 36.0 40.8
131 Brad Radke 1972 1995-2006 45.3 36.2 40.8
132 Bartolo Colon 1973 1997-2018 45.8 35.5 40.6
138 Adam Wainwright* 1981 2005-2021 44.5 36.0 40.3
Avg of 66 HOFers at this position 73.0 40.7 56.8
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Rk = overall rank in S-JAWS. + = Hall of Famer. * = active.

Note that the only pitcher here whose S-JAWS differs from his JAWS is the already-enshrined Halladay, whose score dropped by just 0.2; everybody else here is unchanged. The four active pitchers up top have already surpassed the standard and are almost certainly Cooperstown-bound. Sabathia appears to be a cut above the rest (I’ll be there with bells on when he reaches the ballot), and the voters missed their chance on Santana, who received just 2.4% in 2018, when the ballot was overly crowded, with 13 players exceeding 50 JAWS. Though his score is just a bit better than the trio under consideration here, the fact that Santana was so much more valuable than them at his peak — as attested by the two Cy Youngs — is a reasonable separator.

If we’re limiting ourselves to this era, the line behind Santana starts with this trio, but even with the adjustments I don’t see enough to elevate them into must-haves in Cooperstown. To me, the strongest case could be made for Pettitte given his postseason body of work (19-11, 3.81 ERA, 183 strikeouts in 276.1 innings). He’s the only one of the three who had stronger run prevention in the postseason than the regular season (minimally, but given the caliber of competition, that’s not nothing), and his Hall of Fame Monitor score of 128 — a function of being part of so many playoff championship teams — is greater than those of Hudson (66) and Buehrle (52) combined, nearly in “a virtual cinch” territory.

The prominence of Pettitte’s mention in the Mitchell Report has probably already doomed him in the eyes of the voters, though his shares of the vote have still been higher than the other two; even his 11.3% in 2020 was more than Buerhle’s debut. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me to see all three of these pitchers gain a bit of support, though they’re currently lagging in the Ballot Tracker, with Pettitte (11.3%) leading the way through 53 published ballots, Buehrle (5.7%) barely scraping by, and Hudson (3.8%) sinking. I don’t see myself including any of these three pitchers this year, but I suppose S-JAWS — which is still after all an experiment, one I’ve been toying with in the lab for over two years — makes it more likely I’ll come around on them than JAWS did.

Having laid this out, I should note that there are a whole bunch of other pitchers from earlier eras worth another look via S-JAWS, guys like Luis Tiant and David Cone and others who look even better than Hudson, Buherle, and Pettitte. I promise we’ll return to this subject sometime in the doldrums of early 2022, but for now, it makes sense to confine the discussion to the candidates at hand.

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, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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2 years ago

Great article. As I have said before, I am more of a small-hall guy, so I won’t argue for their specific inclusion. Buehrle was one of my favorite players, but I never thought he was a superstar. I will say though, that comparing players to the mean/median HOF is a little misleading. I know the author is not claiming that as the standard for enshrinement, but many people automatically interpret it that way, which suggests half of HOFers are undeserving. If you favor a large HOF and compare them to a more reasonable benchmark (bottom tercile) I would suspect all three pitchers have fairly strong cases.

2 years ago
Reply to  rhdx

I’m a (conservative) small hall guy too so I don’t actually think any of these guys should get in. There’s a pretty big difference between these three guys and Verlander / Kershaw / Scherzer, three players who are either locks for every voter or will be by the time they’re done. Greinke’s and Sabathia’s cases are more complicated, but they also seem to have a much more straightforward case than Hudson / Buerhle / Pettite.

It’s hard to find players who might get to 60 wins or S-JAWS who aren’t already there. If Chris Sale hadn’t blown out his elbow, he’d have a pretty good shot, but losing those years hurt him.

In case we’re wondering who might join them someday, here is the list of players who are under age 30, active, and have more than 20 fWAR.
Aaron Nola (22.7)

Not good! The best shots are going to come if there are some late-bloomer types, or if Shane Bieber stays healthy and keeps it up.

2 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Sale is young enough that he might conceivably still recover his pre-injury effectiveness but his tendency to wear down late in tbe season hasn’t helped his cause. It’s a long shot, though, he’d need a good five year run and he’s more likely to be gone by 35 than to make it to 38.

In fact, the odds of any active pitcher under 30 pitching past 35 and building a HOF worthy career are looking pretty low. Bieber included. Pitcher usage patterns make it increasigly unlikely. (Short outings, max effort innings, late starts/AAA shuttles).

I would however suggest one other pitcher’s name as a potential HOF candidate: Ohtani, but only because I don’t expect him to be a starter (or a pitcher at all) much longer.

2 years ago
Reply to  rhdx

I continue to not understand the “small hall” argument. The Hall isn’t small, and the people who run it don’t want it to be. There is virtually no case for keeping more modern players out because they don’t clear the “small hall” bar when in other eras that hasn’t been the standard players are held to.

Adam Smember
2 years ago
Reply to  ackbar7

I’d say there are three views on the appropriate size/cutoff for the Hall of Fame. Obviously these numbers are arbitrary and should increase over time.

1) The Hall of Fame should be the best of the best, guys like Aaron, Mays, Mantle, about 75-100 players total. This is the “I don’t understand the history of the Hall” and am an idiot size
2) The Hall should include ~20 players per decade or ~200 players overall. That’s just a bit smaller than the Hall is now once you exclude a lot of questionable/controversial choices (e.g., Baines). This is the “small hall” view. Maybe at the extreme some people would draw the bar at 150 players.
3) The Hall should include everyone who’s famous or had a very good career. Most of the players on the various era ballots or getting 10% support should go in — Murphy, Maris, Mattingly, Grich, Whitaker, Reuschel, etc. — increasing the Hall to the top 400-500 players. That’s a “large hall view”

Clearly there’s a lot of space between “small hall” and “large hall”. But the case for Buehrle, Hudson, and Pettitte, argue for another 50-100 players to be added.