Are We Watching Any Hall of Fame Hurlers? - Revisited

October 23, 2017
In mid-2016, I wrote an article entitled Are We Watching any Hall of Famer Hurlers? - a review of active starting pitchers and assessment of their Hall of Fame trajectories.  Many of those pitchers have been front and center during both the regular season and postseason.  So, today I’m doing an update of last year’s review to see which pitchers have helped their cases in the interim, and which ones haven’t.
 
In that article, I found out that, on average, any given season would expect to see about 8 Hall of Fame pitchers active.  Typically, this would consist of a mixture of some pitchers wrapping up their careers, some in mid-career, and some just getting started. 
 
I identified 5 active startiing pitchers that I projected as having the best chance of eventual enshrinement.  Those 5 were:
  • Clayton Kershaw
  • Max Scherzer
  • Justin Verlander
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Felix Hernandez
 
This was made with the understanding that, eventually, we might see a few other active pitchers eventually make it, perhaps some veteran pitchers that hold on longer than anticipated, and perhaps a couple of young pitchers that are just starting to emerge.
 
Let’s review the 5 listed above first to see if anything has changed in their respective cases, and then review others as well.  For many of these candidates, I’ll also include their top 10 comparisons ("comps") by similarity score (I use the version available on seamheads.com / The Baseball Gauge).  I’ll also be including "pitching WAR", which is just the pitching portion of rWAR (that is, it excludes offensive WAR)
 
Before starting, I thought this might be an interesting table to have for reference.  It summarizes the average performance for all Hall of Fame pitchers across several categories by the decade of the midpoint of their career.  For example, Roger Clemens pitched from 1984-2007.  His midpoint is 1996 (well, technically 1995.5), so he is classified with the 1990’s group.  Robin Roberts pitched from 1948-1966, so his midpoint is 1957, and he’s with the 50’s group.  And so on….
Midpoint
Wins
Losses
Win %
ERA
# of Pitchers
Pitching WAR
1880's
330
224
.596
2.73
5
79.1
1890's
303
191
.613
3.01
2
92.5
1900's
273
169
.617
2.45
10
74.1
1910's
256
177
.591
2.38
4
73.4
1920's
251
185
.576
3.26
9
61.1
1930's
238
156
.604
3.31
6
64.4
1940's
227
147
.607
3.18
3
54.4
1950's
296
210
.585
3.20
4
70.3
1960's
218
151
.592
2.96
5
63.7
1970's
300
231
.564
3.16
9
80.2
1980's
287
250
.534
3.31
1
96.5
1990's
294
188
.610
3.33
4
87.4
2000's
219
100
.687
2.93
1
86.0
Overall
270
186
.592
2.99
63
72.5
 
The "2000’s" is just one pitcher (Pedro Martinez) so far, and the 1980’s is just one pitcher as well (Bert Blyleven), so those decades could be a little misleading.
 
Another way I suppose this could have been looked at was to look at it by year that the player was elected, as that might yield some patterns at what the voters were considering, but I decided to do it by decade to see how things have changed over the time that the players actually played.
 
There are some interesting patterns there.  Pitcher wins of the average Hall of Famer from early baseball started out over 300 (Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson, Old Hoss Radbourn, Mickey Welch, Kid Nichols, Amos Rusie), and then went steadily down for decades, with the pitchers of the ‘40’s averaging under 230 (Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Hal Newhouser), although the war affected Feller and Lemon’s numbers.
 
4 of the next 5 decades had averages in the upper 200’s to low 300’s, with the 1960’s being the exception, as Bob Gibson (251), Juan Marichal (243), Jim Bunning (224), Don Drysdale (209), and
Sandy Koufax (165) all had relatively low career win totals.
 
If we look over the past 5 decades (1960’s-2000’s) and 4 decades (1970’s-2000’s) this what we see:
Career Midpoint
W
L
W%
ERA
Pitching WAR
All Years
270
186
.592
2.99
72.5
1960’s-2000’s
274
197
.582
3.14
78.6
1970’s-2000’s
292
212
.579
3.20
83.6
 
So, ERA’s of Hall of Famer starters are higher in recent years, but so is the average pitching WAR. In addition, the average # of wins has been relatively high in recent years, as most of the pitchers with career midpoints since the ‘70’s have exceeded 300 wins (9 out of 15 - Greg Maddux, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson)
 
In the future?  Well, I think we may start seeing future career win totals of Hall of Fame starting pitchers averaging a little lower, maybe centering around 250 or so.  We had a great influx of 300 game winners over the past few decades, but I think fewer of the elite pitchers going forward will post exceptionally high win totals.  Pedro Martinez had only 219 wins.  Roy Halladay had 203, and I think he’ll go in.  Curt Schilling  (216) will probably go if he can behave himself.  I think the elite pitchers today are going to end up with lower win totals because of the way that pitchers are being handled today.  I could be wrong….but I think we’re going to see a lot more of the pitchers being elected with mid-200’s win totals rather than a lot of 300’s or upper 200’s.
 
Review of the 5 From Last Year’s Article
 
Clayton Kershaw
Career record: 144-64, 2.36 ERA, 57.4 Pitching rWAR, 161 ERA+
2017 season age: 29
Hall of Fame outlook since mid-2016 article:  About the same
 
I considered Kershaw a near-lock when I wrote last year’s article, and nothing really has changed.  Well, one thing technically did change….he pitched in his 10th season, establishing his "official" future eligibility.
 
Despite missing a few starts again this year (which is starting to be the norm for him) he had another stellar season: 18-4, 2.31, 180 ERA+.  The wins, ERA, and ERA+ all led the league.  Just another typical Kershaw season….
 
Top 10 comps through age 29:
#
Players
HOF
Score
IP
ERA
W
L
W%
BB
K
Pitching WAR
 
Clayton Kershaw
 
1000
1,934.2
2.36
144
64
.692
507
2,120
57.4
1
Pedro Martinez
942
1,693.0
2.66
132
59
.691
467
1,981
57.1
2
Roger Clemens
 
926
2,031.0
2.80
152
72
.679
552
1,873
63.1
3
Tom Seaver
923
2,167.0
2.47
146
87
.627
568
1,856
57.9
4
Juan Marichal
921
1,924.1
2.67
144
68
.679
403
1,417
42.5
5
Sandy Koufax
897
2,001.1
2.93
138
78
.639
740
2,079
42.8
6
Rube Waddell
894
2,137.2
2.16
141
101
.583
572
1,695
51.5
7
Ed Reulbach
 
894
1,826.0
2.19
135
62
.685
629
789
29.8
8
Pete Alexander
894
2,104.0
2.18
160
75
.681
499
1,203
51.5
9
Johan Santana
 
877
1,543.0
3.11
109
51
.681
427
1,587
42.5
10
Greg Maddux
875
2,120.2
2.88
150
93
.617
561
1,471
50.4
 
Not a bad list, huh?  7 Hall of Famers, another that is certainly Hall of Fame quality (Clemens) and one that was probably the best pitcher in baseball for close to a decade (Santana).  Reulbach is the one that doesn’t really fit from a quality standpoint.  Not only is Kershaw a good statistical match on basic stats with Pedro, Clemens, and Seaver, he also matches up well with them on pitching WAR at the same age.  Of course, you really didn’t need a comp list to tell you what you already know about Kershaw.
 
Kershaw is one of the leading contenders for the 2017 Cy Young award, and I would consider him the favorite.  If he wins, it would be his 4th Cy Young award.  He’s had just about all the highlights you could ask of a pitcher….he just lacks the "bulk" totals.
 
If he stopped playing today, I’m sure there would be some voters that would look at the fact that he would "only" has 144 wins, which would be the lowest figure ever for a starting pitcher (currently Dizzy Dean with 150). 
 
Some might point out his postseason struggles, which I think are largely overblown.   His current career postseason line is 6-7, 4.40 ERA, which is certainly not what you’d expect from a pitcher of his ability, but it’s hardly disastrous, and it’s heavily impacted by the back-to-back starts (in 2013 and 2014 against the Cardinals) where he was tagged for 15 runs in 10 2/3 innings. 
 
But those are minor points.  He’s been the most outstanding pitcher of this era.
 
Kershaw is now in elite company in terms of the number of times he’s led his league in ERA:
 
Grove
9
Clemens
7
W. Johnson
5
Kershaw
5
Koufax
5
P. Martinez
5
Mathewson
5
Alexander
4
R. Johnson
4
Maddux
4
 
Verdict:
My opinion is that he’s a lock even if he never throws another pitch.  He’s in.
 
Max Scherzer
Career record: 141-75, 3.30 ERA, 44.6 Pitching rWAR, 127 ERA+
2017 season age: 32
Hall of Fame outlook since mid-2016 article:  Improved
 
Since I wrote last year’s article in mid-2016, Scherzer added the 2016 Cy Young to his resume (his 2nd time winning that award), and he’s one of the leading contenders for this year’s award, although  I suspect Scherzer will finish as runner-up to Kershaw.  If so, that would mark Scherzer’s 5th straight season of finishing in the top 5 of the balloting.
 
Like Kershaw, Scherzer has now reached 10 Major League seasons, although he’s behind Kershaw in career accomplishments, plus he’s 3 years older.
 
Scherzer’s career has been a tale of 2 distinct phases.  Take a look at his performance over his last 5 years vs. his first 5 years:
 
Year
W
L
W-L%
ERA
IP
H
BB
SO
ERA+
WHIP
H9
BB9
SO9
SO/W
’08-‘12
52
42
.553
3.88
804.2
774
270
829
110
1.297
8.7
3.0
9.3
3.1
’13-‘17
89
33
.730
2.87
1092.1
815
264
1320
144
0.988
6.7
2.2
10.9
5.0
 
In the last 5 years, Scherzer has made the All-Star game each time, led his league in Wins 3 times, in strikeouts twice, and taken home 2 Cy Young awards.  He has generated 73% of his career rWAR in these past 5 years.
 
He’s 32 now, but he’s pitching better than ever.  He’s not a lock for the Hall of Fame yet, but he’s got a lot of momentum.
 
His "similar player" list through age 32 doesn’t really help us much, because most of his top comps aren’t eligible for the Hall of Fame yet.
 
Top 10 comps through age 32:
#
Players
Score
IP
ERA
W
L
W%
H
BB
K
WAR
 
Max Scherzer
1000
1,897
3.30
141
75
.653
1,589
533
2,149
45.6
1
Johan Santana
955
1,908
3.10
133
69
.658
1,609
528
1,877
51.5
2
Jered Weaver
952
1,847
3.40
138
81
.630
1,652
488
1,495
36.8
3
Roy Oswalt
947
2,015
3.18
150
83
.644
1,918
467
1,666
49.2
4
Tim Hudson
943
2,017
3.48
146
77
.655
1,909
619
1,372
43.4
5
Roy Halladay
942
2,046
3.43
148
76
.661
1,997
455
1,495
48.3
6
David Price
940
1,746
3.22
127
68
.651
1,553
445
1,676
33.7
7
Jon Lester
937
2,003
3.44
146
84
.635
1,829
644
1,861
40.1
8
Cole Hamels
930
2,214
3.31
136
96
.586
1,979
592
2,122
51.1
9
David Cone
930
1,922
3.17
129
78
.623
1,589
716
1,741
43.0
10
Jake Peavy
924
1,945
3.51
132
98
.574
1,705
584
1,869
37.3
 
Those are some good pitchers, but Halladay is the only one that seems likely to make the Hall of Fame, although it’s too early to completely write off Price, Lester, or Hamels.  I guess Hudson, could get some support as well, although I don’t think he’ll receive much. 
 
So, even though that list doesn’t provide a lot of optimism in and of itself, the rate that Scherzer’s been going at over his past 5 seasons leads me to believe that his comps will get more favorable over the coming years.  He’s also got that "star" quality with the spectacular games he’s thrown, including his 2 no-hitters and his 20-strikeout game.
 
Verdict:
Scherzer’s at the top of his game now.  He’s not a lock yet, but I think he’s got another 100 or so pitcher wins in him, which would put him in the area of 250 career wins, and he’s been a pitching highlight reel.  He hasn’t been the best pitcher in baseball over the past 5 years…that’s been Kershaw….but I think he’s been a strong #2.  I like his chances.
 
Justin Verlander
Career Record: 188-114, 3.46 ERA, 56.9 Pitching rWAR, 124 ERA+
2017 season age: 34
Hall of Fame outlook since mid-2016 article:  Improved
 
Since the last article, Verlander placed 2nd in the 2016 Cy Young in an extremely close vote, finishing just behind Rick Porcello, although Verlander received quite a few more 1st place votes (14-8).  As their ERA’s (and ERA+’s) were comparable, I interpreted the vote as a bit of a split decision between voters who tended to value Porcello’s W-L record (22-4 vs. Verlander’s 16-9) vs. those who tended to value WAR (Verlander had 6.6 vs. 5.1 for Porcello).    
 
It wasn’t quite as simple as that, of course, and Corey Kluber was a strong third, but it was still a very good year for Verlander, especially coming on the heels of a poor season in 2014 (15-12 but a 4.54 ERA in which he allowed the most earned runs in the league) and an abbreviated 2015 in which he missed about 13 starts.   In addition, Verlander appeared to be losing some of his stuff a couple of years ago, as his strikeouts per 9 innings, which had been consistently in the 9 to 10 range for several years, dipped below 7 in 2014 and was below 8 in 2015.  2016 represented a nice bounce-back season in that regard as well, as he brought his K/9 back up to 10.0
 
2017 was shaping up as just another ordinary season (10-8, 3.82), but since the trade to Houston, Verlander has been on a roll …..5-0, 1.06 down the stretch, and 4-0, 1.46 in the postseason.  That boosts him to a nifty 11-5, 3.00 career postseason mark, and he has the chance to build on that with potentially a couple of more outings in the World Series.  He has the potential to finish with one of the greatest single season postseason pitching runs we’ve ever seen. 
 
Verlander’s top 10 Comps through age 34:
#
Player
HOF
Score
IP
ERA
W
L
W%
H
BB
K
Pitching WAR
 
Justin Verlander
 
1000
2,545
3.46
188
114
.623
2,242
771
2,416
56.9
1
Dwight Gooden
 
962
2,695
3.46
188
107
.637
2,445
910
2,238
47.5
2
Zack Greinke
 
948
2,455
3.40
172
107
.616
2,305
594
2,236
56.9
3
Mike Mussina
 
938
2,668
3.53
199
110
.644
2,497
597
2,126
65.8
4
Felix Hernandez
 
933
2,502
3.20
160
114
.584
2,243
721
2,342
52.2
5
Bob Welch
 
929
2,733
3.27
188
122
.606
2,493
892
1,815
41.6
6
John Smoltz
928
2,473
3.35
160
116
.580
2,145
784
2,155
44.1
7
Bob Gibson
923
2,816
2.80
190
117
.619
2,323
949
2,393
64.8
8
Andy Pettitte
 
920
2,312
3.81
186
104
.641
2,398
721
1,703
44.4
9
Jim Bunning
919
2,756
3.15
175
118
.597
2,453
727
2,145
51.9
10
Roy Halladay
 
913
2,531
3.23
188
92
.671
2,436
520
1,934
65.7
 
Two of the comps (Greinke, Hernandez) are still active, and they both are potential Hall of Famers in their own right, but we need to see how the rest of their careers shake out.  Only 3 of the other 8 are in the Hall of Fame already, but I believe Mussina and Halladay will both be elected at some point.   Gooden’s an interesting #1 comp but his career was very front-loaded, where as Verlander’s still in a groove. 
 
Verlander has the 2011 CY Young/MVP season on his resume, and that rare (at least in recent years) dual honor should carry a lot of weight.  In addition to his close 2nd place finish in 2016, he lost another razor-thin decision to David Price in the 2012 Cy Young balloting, a result that was even closer than the 2016 runner-up to Porcello.  So, he’s that close to having 3 Cy Youngs.  Verlander has a shot at another top-5 finish in 2017 as well.
 
Verdict:
Verlander wouldn’t be a lock if his career ended this year, as pitchers normally need more than 188 wins to be considered.  He would only be ahead of Koufax, Joss, Ward, and Dean, all of whom have mitigating circumstances.  The median win total for a Hall of Fame starter is 257.
 
He’s starting to get up there in age, but he is still going strong.  I think 250+ wins is a distinct possibility, and with all his other highlights, I think he’ll have enough of a case to be elected.  This year’s stretch and postseason performance may end up being part of his Hall of Fame legend.
 
Madison Bumgarner
Career Record: 104-76, 3.01 ERA, 28.2 Pitching rWAR (note – he also has 4.4 in offensive rWAR, giving him 32.6 total), 123 ERA+
2017 season age: 27
Hall of Fame outlook since mid-2016 article:  Stable
 
Bumgarner had a bit of a lost season in 2017, missing half of the year due to injuries stemming from a dirt bike accident, finishing 4-9 with a 3.32 ERA.  Although, he really deserved a better W-L record, as he was only supported with 2.8 runs per game.   Other than the W-L record, the rest of his pitching line was pretty consistent with the rest of his career.
 
Bumgarner could be an interesting case, as he’s never really had a year where he just blew everyone away.  He’s been very consistent, and very good, generally among the top pitchers in the league, but never quite the best in a given season.  His greatest notoriety, of course, has been his postseason heroics, especially in the World Series.
 
Top comps through age 27:
 
#
Player
HOF
Score
IP
ERA
W
L
W%
H
BB
K
Pitching WAR
 
Madison Bumgarner
 
1000
1,508.2
3.01
104
76
.578
1,313
342
1,482
28.2
1
Steve Carlton
951
1,611.1
2.86
104
72
.591
1,426
536
1,261
33.0
2
Fergie Jenkins
948
1,418.1
3.05
91
68
.572
1,191
333
1,203
29.4
3
Bret Saberhagen
 
946
1,660.1
3.21
110
78
.585
1,551
331
1,093
40.8
4
Frank Tanana
 
938
1,756.2
3.16
106
88
.546
1,603
465
1,311
35.6
5
Jim Kaat
 
931
1,515.0
3.36
98
83
.541
1,450
408
957
13.7
6
Rube Marquard
930
1,377.0
2.74
94
68
.580
1,242
397
818
17.0
7
Rube Waddell
930
1,536.1
2.29
99
74
.572
1,316
390
1,212
36.7
8
Jim Maloney
 
928
1,416.1
3.04
106
65
.620
1,139
605
1,302
31.4
9
Jake Peavy
 
927
1,261.0
3.25
86
62
.581
1,089
407
1,256
24.2
10
Mel Stottlemyre
 
927
1,474.2
2.86
97
73
.571
1,311
455
754
26.2
 
This comp list is a good illustration of the hazards of projecting pitchers.  The first 2 on the list, Carlton and Jenkins, are encouraging comps who went on to long, stellar careers.  On the other hand, Saberhagen, Stottlemyre, and Maloney experienced injuries that severely limited their career totals, and Peavy’s career unfolded after a promising start.  Tanana became a different kind of pitcher in the back half of his career, not as much of a strikeout artist as he was in the earlier years, although he ended up with a long, quality career.  Kaat isn’t in, but could (and maybe should) be.  Marquard is in the Hall, but not really a great selection, and not really a great comp either. 
 
Verdict:
Bumgarner hit a bump in 2017, but it didn’t seem to affect him once he returned.  He may never win a Cy Young award, but it would be reasonable to expect him to have many years ahead of him where he’s among the elite pitchers in the game.  He’s still fairly young, and he got an early start to his career, so he’s certainly capable of ending up with some impressive career totals.  At the end of the day, we know he will still have (at least) 3 rings, and his postseason exploits are still the stuff of legends. 
 
He’s got a ways to go, but I think he’ll have enough of a career to be inducted.
 
Felix Hernandez
Career Record: 160-114, 3.20 ERA, 52.2 Pitching rWAR, 125 ERA+
2017 season age: 31
Hall of Fame outlook since mid-2016 article:  Hit a bump in the road
 
The last couple of years have not been kind to King Felix, as he missed 7 or 8 starts in 2016, and 16 or 17 starts in 2017.  He’s still young enough to get back on track, but he’s kind of stuck in neutral right now.  He has shoulder bursitis, so he might be a completely different pitcher moving forward.
 
Top comps through age 27:
#
Players
HOF
Score
IP
ERA
W
L
W%
H
BB
K
Pitching WAR
 
Felix Hernandez
 
1000
2,502
3.20
160
114
.584
2,243
721
2,342
52.2
1
Mickey Lolich
 
947
2,504
3.29
163
121
.574
2,208
793
2,124
34.9
2
John Smoltz
942
2,228
3.36
146
105
.582
1,924
734
1,942
38.9
3
Fergie Jenkins
931
2,632
3.09
174
121
.590
2,301
534
2,045
56.8
4
Don Sutton
924
2,812
3.03
176
136
.564
2,401
735
2,074
36.6
5
Dwight Gooden
 
924
2,340
3.24
168
92
.646
2,067
739
2,001
44.3
6
Milt Pappas
 
921
2,567
3.38
168
131
.562
2,388
727
1,501
34.4
7
Steve Carlton
918
2,703
3.10
168
126
.571
2,409
961
2,111
46.1
8
Dave Stieb
 
913
2,458
3.37
148
117
.558
2,158
873
1,432
50.0
9
Vida Blue
 
907
2,789
3.09
178
126
.586
2,428
913
1,816
41.8
10
Jim Kaat
 
907
2,459
3.32
156
131
.544
2,407
623
1,557
23.7
 
Not a bad list, and Hernandez (at least if you look at rWAR) is ahead of everyone on the list except for Jenkins.
 
Verdict:
Despite the bump in the road, Hernandez still has 160 wins, 2 ERA titles, a Cy Young award, and 2 runner-up finishes on his resume.  I think he’s still young enough to get back on track, but the bursitis is worrisome.  I think he’ll still make it, but I’m less certain of that than a year ago.
 
Others
 
Corey Kluber
Career Record: 76-48, 3.13 ERA, 26.9 Pitching rWAR, 135 ERA+
2017 season age: 31
 
I didn’t analyze Kluber last time around, but I’ll include him this time.  Kluber won a Cy Young in 2014, was 3rd in 2016, and is the likely winner in 2017.  If he wins his second, that would put him in select company:
 
Multiple Cy Young Award Winners (*denotes Hall of Famer)
Roger Clemens (7)
*Randy Johnson (5)
*Steve Carlton (4)
*Greg Maddux (4)
Clayton Kershaw (3)
*Sandy Koufax (3)
*Pedro Martinez (3)
*Jim Palmer (3)
*Tom Seaver (3)
*Bob Gibson (2)
*Tom Glavine (2)
Roy Halladay (2)
Tim Lincecum (2)
Denny McLain (2)
*Gaylord Perry (2)
Bret Saberhagen (2)
Johan Santana (2)
Max Scherzer (2)
 
Everyone with 3 or more is in the Hall except for Clemens and Kershaw.  However, of the 9 pitchers with 2 Cy Youngs, only 3 are in (Gibson, Glavine, Perry), with Halladay likely to make it 4.  If Scherzer makes it, that would be 5 of the 9.  McLain and Saberhagen didn’t get elected during their time on the ballot.  Lincecum won’t make it, and Santana most likely won’t.  In other words, just like double-MVP winners are no sure thing when it comes to the Hall of Fame, the same thing applies to double-CY Young winners.
 
Here’s Kluber’s real dilemma.  He’s 31.  He has 76 career wins.  Do you know how many Hall of Fame starting piitchers have had fewer at that age?  Two.  Phil Nierko had 66, and Dazzy Vance had 18, and you can’t project Kluber to have the same post-30 results that those 2 did.
 
The average Hall of Fame pitcher has 165 wins by age 31.  Roughly 65% of a typical Hall of Fame pitcher’s career is in the books by that age.  That doesn’t bode well for Kluber.  He’s going to have to pitch very well through his 30’s to have much of a chance.  His best bet would be if he wins his 2nd Cy Young this year and then manages to win another one down the road.  That might give him a fighting chance.
 
Top 10 comps through age 31:
#
Players
HOF
Score
IP
ERA
W
L
W%
BB
K
Pit rWAR
 
Corey Kluber
 
1000
1,091.0
3.13
76
48
.613
243
1,201
26.9
1
Lance Lynn
 
955
977.2
3.38
72
47
.605
369
919
14.9
2
Teddy Higuera
 
951
1,085.0
3.28
78
44
.639
331
857
29.2
3
John Tudor
 
940
1,123.2
3.33
72
51
.585
313
668
21.0
4
Jack Quinn
 
940
1,030.2
2.98
70
51
.579
218
433
11.4
5
Jake Arrieta
 
939
1,161.0
3.57
88
56
.611
403
1,070
20.3
6
Bob Veale
 
937
1,140.1
2.91
74
48
.607
529
1,044
19.1
7
Lefty Williams
 
934
1,186.0
3.13
82
48
.631
347
515
13.3
8
Adam Wainwright
 
933
1,314.2
3.11
99
57
.635
336
1,127
26.5
9
Shane Reynolds
 
932
1,234.2
3.70
79
61
.564
251
1,067
14.8
10
Tim Belcher
 
929
1,242.1
3.40
77
63
.550
415
917
17.1
 
Not very encouraging is it?  Kluber’s probably better than everyone on there, but I think it illustrates the challenge that one faces when getting off to a slow career start.
 
Verdict:
Although he could make it interesting with another Cy Young award or two, I don’t think Kluber will make it.
 
Zack Greinke
Career Record: 172-107, 3.40 ERA, 56.9 Pitching rWAR, 123 ERA+
2017 season age: 33
 
Greinke continues to be an interesting case.  From a WAR standpoint, he’s looking very solid.  I question, though, whether writers see him as a Hall of Fame-type pitcher.  I’m just not sure that he carries that kind of image.  He’s had some outstanding years, but he followed up each of his 2 big seasons (2009 and 2015) with disappointing seasons.  He’s also on his 5th franchise, and his 4th in the past 7 years, so he lacks a bit of a franchise identity, and his career feels like it’s a little broken up.  
 
Top 10 comps through age 33:
#
Players
HOF
Score
IP
ERA
W
L
W%
BB
K
Pitching WAR
 
Zack Greinke
 
1000
2,455.2
3.40
172
107
.616
594
2,236
56.9
1
Justin Verlander
 
970
2,338.2
3.47
173
106
.620
699
2,197
50.5
2
Mike Mussina
 
945
2,454.0
3.54
182
102
.641
557
1,931
59.2
3
Felix Hernandez
 
938
2,502.1
3.20
160
114
.584
721
2,342
52.2
4
Bob Welch
 
936
2,513.0
3.16
176
109
.618
801
1,714
41.9
5
Cole Hamels
 
934
2,362.1
3.37
147
102
.590
645
2,227
52.7
6
Dwight Gooden
 
933
2,580.2
3.33
185
103
.642
843
2,150
48.1
7
Jim Bunning
931
2,442.2
3.25
156
104
.600
672
1,893
43.0
8
John Smoltz
928
2,414.1
3.35
157
113
.581
774
2,098
43.3
9
Jon Lester
 
922
2,184.1
3.51
159
92
.633
704
2,041
41.7
10
Roy Halladay
 
920
2,297.1
3.32
169
86
.663
485
1,714
56.8
 
4 of the players on the list are active (Verlander, Hernandez, Hamels, Lester), so they aren’t much help.  2 are in the Hall of Fame, but I fully expect Verlander, Mussina, Hernandez, and Halladay to eventually make it as well.
 
Verdict:
I was a little lukewarm on Greinke last time around, but he is still pitching well.  I also expect that,  by the time he comes up for election years down the road, voters will lean more heavily on WAR than they even do now, and that should work to his advantage, as it’s quite possible that he’ll exceed 70 by the time’s he’s through, and that might even be a little conservative.
 
I’m not completely confident, but I think he’ll get elected, but it may take several trials.
 
CC Sabathia
Career Record: 237-146, 3.70 ERA, 60.7 Pitching rWAR, 117 ERA+
2017 season age: 36
 
In last year’s article, I observed that Sabathia looked like a pitcher that was nearing the end of the road, as his prior 3 seasons (2013-2015) had been poor.  Since then, he’s had a bit of a renaissance, and I’m more optimistic now.  In particular, 2017 was a nice little nugget…..not a great season, but 14-5 3.69  (122 ERA+) is better than what he had been doing.  Sabathia is now up to 237 wins, and another season like the one he just had would nudge him over 250. 
 
Sabathia still has some negatives he’ll have to overcome.  The 3.70 ERA would be the 2nd highest among Hall of Fame starting pitchers:
 
Highest career ERA’s, Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers:
Players
ERA
Red Ruffing
3.80
Ted Lyons
3.67
Jesse Haines
3.64
Herb Pennock
3.60
Waite Hoyt
3.59
Early Wynn
3.54
Tom Glavine
3.54
Burleigh Grimes
3.53
Robin Roberts
3.41
Phil Niekro
3.35
 
Top comps through age 36:
#
Players
HOF
Score
IP
ERA
W
L
W%
BB
K
Pitching WAR
 
CC Sabathia
 
1000
3,317.0
3.70
237
146
.619
1,009
2,846
60.7
1
Tom Glavine
933
3,344.2
3.37
242
143
.629
1,140
2,054
58.9
2
Mike Mussina
 
889
3,013.0
3.64
224
127
.638
684
2,400
71.5
3
Roger Clemens
 
885
3,462.1
3.04
247
134
.648
1,102
3,316
104.3
4
Andy Pettitte
 
884
2,731.2
3.89
215
127
.629
845
2,002
50.4
5
Bob Gibson
882
3,340.1
2.79
225
141
.615
1,113
2,786
76.7
6
Jack Morris
 
882
3,289.1
3.71
216
162
.571
1,178
2,143
42.2
7
Bob Welch
 
881
3,023.1
3.38
208
140
.598
991
1,925
44.7
8
Mark Buehrle
 
877
3,283.1
3.81
214
160
.572
734
1,870
59.2
9
Don Sutton
872
3,887.2
3.05
241
184
.567
995
2,756
53.6
10
Mickey Lolich
 
872
3,554.1
3.44
215
188
.533
1,066
2,799
48.5
 
The similarity scores aren’t real high for Sabathia’s comps, so they may not be great predictors in his particular case.  The #3 comp (Clemens) really isn’t very similar in most regards….Clemens was much better.  Same thing goes for Gibson….Gibson was much better than Sabathia.  Mussina’s not a bad comp, although I think Mussina was a little better.  If Mussina gets in (and I think he will) it might help Sabathia down the road.
 
Verdict:
I certainly like Sabathia’s chances better than I did a year ago, and he now seems capable of adding even more bulk to his career totals as he still is pitching effectively for a team that just barely missed making the World Series, and figures to be competitive for at least the foreseeable future.  I do think the relatively high ERA will be a tough obstacle to overcome, but if future voters value WAR more than they do at the moment, that should work to his advantage.
 
I’m going to guess he’ll make it, but with the relatively high ERA, I’m not overly confident.
 
Chris Sale
Career Record: 91-58, 2.98 ERA, 37.2 Pitching rWAR, 139 ERA+
2017 season age: 28
 
At the time I wrote the article last year, the big news about Sale was that he had just cut up his "throwback" uniform with scissors.  Since then, things have taken a turn for the better…..
 
Sale’s first year with the Red Sox was a resounding success (if you overlook the postseason, that is).   He went 17-8, 2.90, and exceeded 300 strikeouts, the first AL pitcher to do so since Pedro Martinez nearly 20 years ago.
 
Top 10 comps through age 28:
#
Players
HOF
Score
IP
ERA
W
L
W%
BB
K
Pitching WAR
 
Chris Sale
 
1000
1,324.1
2.98
91
58
.611
303
1,552
37.1
1
Cole Hamels
 
957
1,376.2
3.34
91
60
.603
344
1,307
29.2
2
Johan Santana
 
953
1,308.2
3.22
93
44
.679
364
1,381
35.5
3
John Candelaria
 
947
1,416.0
3.13
95
61
.609
334
805
24.7
4
David Price
 
946
1,221.1
3.20
86
51
.628
324
1,147
23.2
5
Madison Bumgarner
 
941
1,508.2
3.01
104
76
.578
342
1,482
28.2
6
Bob Welch
 
932
1,333.1
3.10
93
64
.592
424
913
21.5
7
Juan Pizarro
 
930
1,393.0
3.28
90
60
.600
581
1,117
15.5
8
Johnny Cueto
 
928
1,208.1
3.27
85
57
.599
364
995
21.9
9
Stephen Strasburg
 
926
1,099.2
3.08
84
45
.651
283
1,288
23.9
10
Jake Peavy
 
926
1,362.2
3.26
95
68
.583
441
1,366
25.9
 
As is the case some others in this review, a lot of Sale’s top comps are either still active (Hamels, Price, Bumgarner, Cueto, Strasburg, Peavy (sort of)) or recently retired (Santana), so they don’t really help us project what may be yet to come.  But, even if you go beyond the top 10, you don’t hit a Hall of Fame comp until you reach #22 (Eddie Plank).  Along the way, you encounter names like Steve Barber, Gary Nolan, Doug Drabek, Andy Messersmith, Jack McDowell, and Kevin Appier.  So, most of the top comps don’t inspire a lot of optimism.
 
Sale looked for a while like he might be in line for the 2017 Cy Young award, but I think that will be awarded to Corey Kluber instead.  If Sale, as anticipated, finishes as a runner-up, that would make 6 years in a row where he’s been in the top 6 of the Cy Young balloting, and would be his top finish to date. 
 
Verdict:
The 300+ K performance from this year certainly got him some attention.  And he’s certainly among the more impressive pitchers today.  I think he’s going to need to win 1 or 2 Cy Youngs, though, to have a fighting chance.  I’m going to predict he comes up short.
 
The article’s getting a little long, so I’ll be more concise here:
 
David Price, Jon Lester, and Cole Hamels– Fine pitchers all, but I’m not getting a Hall of Fame vibe from any of them, although you certainly can’t rule any of them out.  Lester’s postseason performance and 3 rings can’t hurt, though.  And Hamels is compiling a pretty fine WAR total.  Still, I’m betting against them at this point.
 
Dallas Keuchel – I didn’t review him last time around.  Another fine pitcher, but I don’t see him as Coopestown-bound.
 
Adam Wainwright, Jake Arrieta, Johnny Cueto, Bartolo Colon…..no, no, no, and no.
 
I think a real wild card could be Stephen Strasburg.  There’s a tendency to dismiss him from Hall of Fame discussions since he’s always been so fragile, but 2017 was his best year to date, and he’s still only 28.  He needs to start winning some honors (his highest Cy Young result to date is a 9th place finish), but he’s certainly capable.  At this point, I’d still consider him a long shot, but he could surprise.
 
So, at this point, keeping in mind that we usually see about 8 Hall of Fame pitchers in a given year, I’ll modify last year’s prediction to:
  • Kershaw
  • Verlander
  • Scherzer
  • Hernandez
  • Bumgarner
  • Sabathia
  • Greinke
 
Plus, I’m guessing 2-3 others may make it among pitchers that are either too young to project, or established pitchers that may do more over the balance of their careers than what I’m envisioning.  Sale, Hamels, Price, Lester…..any of them could make it.  I’m just not sold yet.
 
That’s it for now.  Thanks for reading.
 
Dan
  
 
 

COMMENTS (8 Comments, most recent shown first)

DMBBHF
HerbOf4,

Yeah, sorry about that. I should have been clearer that I was just reviewing starting pitchers. I have since edited the article to make that clearer from the outset.

By the way....congratulations on a cool member name :)

Wovestrap,

Re: Sabathia......

Thanks for the comment. Perhaps I am being too bearish. I think he needs to keep on adding to that win total. Mussina's got 270 wins and an additional 20 points of rWAR on Sabathia, and he's not even in yet (although I think Mussina will get elected). I just think with a 3.70 ERA, Sabathia will have to move a little higher on the win scale in order to make it.

Brian14Leonard,

Good question. I'd say Kershaw's other "non-win" accomplishments move him into the "lock" category.....the 3 Cy Young wins (and he'll probably get a 4th this year), the 5 ERA titles, the MVP, the 2.31 career ERA, etc. Verlander has some of these accomplishments too, but not nearly as many, and not nearly as impressive. Kershaw's other accomplishments, to me, would more than make up for the current difference in their win totals.

Thanks all,
Dan
5:24 AM Oct 25th
 
brian14leonard
Good analysis, and I mostly agree. But how can Kershaw be a lock right now with 144 wins, while Verlander cannot be one because he "only" has 188?
9:32 AM Oct 24th
 
wovenstrap
You're probably being too bearish on Sabathia. The man has 237 wins, and has been a top pitcher for the better part of a generation. I don't think the nitpickers will be able to keep him out.
10:57 PM Oct 23rd
 
HerbOf4
Whoops. Disregard. Note to self: read the comments first before posting. My bad

7:22 PM Oct 23rd
 
HerbOf4
Wondering why no relievers on this list. Were they considered? Not that I have anyone in mind just wondering.​
6:30 PM Oct 23rd
 
evanecurb
I would never have guessed that Hernandez was younger than Scherzer.
9:19 AM Oct 23rd
 
DMBBHF
Jaybracken ,

Thanks for the comment. I hope you're wrong too :)

P.S. - I just realized that i didn't make clear at the outset that this is a review of STARTING pitchers only. I am not including relievers. You probably realized that, but I just thought I'd clarify, and I'll edit the article as soon as I can.

Thanks,
Dan
9:15 AM Oct 23rd
 
jaybracken
I sure hope I'm wrong, but I just don't see Felix turning it around with the loss in velocity he has had. I think ultimately we'll be talking about his career side by side with Johan Santana's.
6:43 AM Oct 23rd
 
 
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