March 26, 2017

Chapter Eleven: Two Special Categories of Pitchers


Title: BASEBALL’S BEST: The TRUE Hall of Famers
Michael Hoban, Ph.D.
Formats: PDF (ebook) | Paperback
Pages: 223


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Chapter Eleven
Two Special Categories of Pitchers

In the previous chapter, we looked at which pitchers in the Hall of Fame had the appropriate numbers based on two criteria:

1. A NEWS score of 235 or greater.
2. 300 career win shares.

It seems to me that there are at least two other questions about Hall of Fame pitchers that need to be addressed. There are some pitchers who for one reason or another will not have pitched enough innings to qualify for 300 win shares or 235 NEWS – but who seem to have had very impressive careers.

1. What about a pitcher who pitched fewer innings than the norm – but did it in an outstanding manner? This would appear to include those starting pitchers like Sandy Koufax who had relatively brief but great careers and some starter/relievers like Hoyt Wilhelm.

2. What about true relief pitchers (who have had relatively few or no starts) and who would have relatively few innings pitched – such as Bruce Sutter? These would include most of those pitchers now referred to as “set-up men” or “closers.”

Is it fair to hold these two groups of pitchers to the same standards as we discussed above? It would seem that some further analysis would be appropriate in order to judge whether these pitchers have HOF numbers.

The 180/2400 Standard

Take a look at the interesting numbers of these four Hall of Fame pitchers. You will note that each of the four has the following two characteristics:

1. Less than 2400 innings pitched and

2. NEWS score of 180 or better.

Addie Joss 2327 191 191 191
Sandy Koufax 2324 194 190 191
Hoyt Wilhelm 2254 256 168 190
Dizzy Dean 1967 181 180 180

Addie Joss, Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean were all starting pitchers whose careers were relatively short for one reason or another. Yet each was brilliant enough in a short career to convince the voters that they deserved induction into the Hall. And, lest anyone think that there are a number of pitchers who would qualify in this category, I should add that I have not found any other starting pitcher who satisfies these conditions.

Hoyt Wilhelm, of course, was a starting pitcher for a short while but spent the bulk of his long career (21 seasons) as a reliever. He accumulated more career win shares than the starters but his core value was not as high – perfectly understandable for a reliever pitching fewer innings per season. The only other starter/reliever that I have found who fits into this category is Goose Gossage. In fact, since the role of the reliever has changed so much in recent years, it would be appropriate to conjecture that these two outstanding relievers will probably be the only relievers who will ever qualify under these conditions.

I would suggest that if a pitcher (either a starter or a starter/reliever) satisfies the 180/2400 conditions he should be thought of as having had a very impressive career and should be seriously considered for the HOF. (As mentioned here, only Goose Gossage appears to qualify and is not yet in the Hall of Fame. I will write more about Gossage in a subsequent chapter.)

If we now add these four pitchers to the thirty-one (31) Hall of Fame pitchers identified in the previous chapter, then thirty-five (35) of the fifty-two (52) Hall of Fame pitchers under consideration would seem to have valid HOF numbers (67%).

The 150/1700 standard – The True Relievers

Now, what about the true relief pitchers – that is, those who had very few (or no) starts and spent the bulk of their careers in relief? Is there any way that we can arrive at a fair standard for HOF induction for these pitchers – based strictly on the numbers? Of course, we need a tough standard that only the truly outstanding relievers will meet.

Most relief pitchers will come nowhere near the 2400 innings that we just used in the previous category. After having examined the numbers, I would suggest that if a relief pitcher with less than 1700 innings pitched has attained a NEWS score of 150, then he should be seriously considered for the Hall of Fame. (Keep in mind that all players have to have played ten seasons in the major leagues).

Let’s take a look at some relief pitchers to see how this would work. Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter are two relief pitchers who are in the Hall of Fame. Here are their numbers.

Bruce Sutter 1042 168 163 164
Rollie Fingers 1701 188 144 155

Both Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter have better then 150 NEWS and satisfy this criterion and could be considered to have HOF numbers. They would then become the 36th and 37th Hall of Fame pitchers in the 20th century to actually have HOF numbers (out of 52 pitchers).

In pitching 1701 innings, Fingers was actually one inning over the cut-off. But I prefer not to nit-pick this one and include him in this group. It appears likely (because of how relievers are used now) that no other relief pitcher will ever reach the 1700-innings mark again.

For comparison purposes, here are a few other well-known relief pitchers and their NEWS scores.

Mariano Rivera 953
190 170 175
Lee Smith 1289 198 152 164
Bruce Sutter 1042 168 163 164
Dan Quisenberry 1043 157 155 156
Rollie Fingers 1701 188 144 155
Billy Wagner
771 152 143 145
John Franco 1246 183 128 142
Trevor Hoffman 942
167 133 142

Mariano Rivera, Dan Quisenberry and Lee Smith all have a NEWS score above 150. And they are the only relief pitchers that I have found (other than those in the Hall) who have done this. Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner were still active in 2007 and may yet reach the 150 NEWS benchmark. As you can see, at this point in his career, Mo Rivera is way ahead of the HOF standard and could emerge as the greatest relief pitcher to date.


Using the NEWS HOF Gauge, I am suggesting that there are four ways that a pitcher can establish HOF numbers:

1. A NEWS score of 235.

2. 300 career win shares

3. A NEWS score of 180 with less than 2400 innings pitched.

4. A NEWS score of 150 with less than 1700 innings pitched.

Using these standards, we have found that 37 of the 52 pitchers in the Hall of Fame can be said to have HOF numbers (71%). Is this too generous? Perhaps it is but you can be the judge of that.

This would mean, of course, that there are relatively fewer pitchers who are in the Hall of Fame without HOF numbers than there are position players. Only 29% of the pitchers in the Hall lack the numbers to be there while 43% of the position players in the Hall fall short in the numbers category (only sixty-eight of the 120 position players in the Hall have HOF numbers).

Here are the fifteen Hall of Fame pitchers who do NOT meet any of the standards.

Rube Waddell 240 231 233
Jim Bunning 257 221 230
Don Drysdale 258 221 230
Red Faber 292 206 228
Bob Lemon 232 223 225
Dazzy Vance 241 216 222
Whitey Ford 261 202 217
Jack Chesbro 209 209 209
Waite Hoyt 262 189 207
Herb Pennock 240 188 201
Chief Bender 231 186 197
Catfish Hunter 206 184 190
Rube Marquard 208 180 187
Lefty Gomez 185 182 183
Jesse Haines 207 155 168

Once again, I wish to state that some of these pitchers may belong in the Hall of Fame even though their numbers may fall short. They may have other attributes whereby some would consider them worthy of the Hall. Certainly, Rube Waddell (with an impressive CV of 231) could be said to have pitched well enough to be inducted.

It goes without saying that any attempt of this nature to rank Hall of Famers is going to be met with some skepticism. But, of course, that is what analysis of this type is all about – attempting to break new ground and to open up new avenues of inquiry. If I have erred with the data in any way, I apologize in advance and would like to hear about it.

In the next chapter, I will examine those pitchers (both active and retired) who do have HOF numbers but are not yet in the Hall of Fame.