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Nov 302010

To me, the most interesting new name on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot (which has no shortage of debatable, interesting candidates) is John Franco. His career numbers:

Year Age Tm Lg W L ERA G GF SV IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP SO/BB
21 Seasons 90 87 2.89 1119 774 424 1245.2 1166 466 400 81 495 975 138 1.333 1.97
162 Game Avg. 5 5 2.89 68 47 26 76 71 28 24 5 30 59 138 1.333 1.97
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/30/2010.

As far as closers go, Franco was one of the best of his time. He pitched a ton of innings deep into his 40s, posted a 138 ERA+, and is 4th all time in saves. He will no double garner a few Hall of Fame votes this year based on the saves alone. But does he really deserve to be there?

It has been my long-held belief that relief pitchers for the most part should not be in the Hall of Fame. Relief pitchers have the playing time, relative to starters, of a backup first baseman. If you ask yourself, “How good would my backup first baseball have to hit for me to recommend him for the Hall?”, the answer would probably be, “Pretty damn Bonds-like.”

Now, relief pitchers, unlike bench hitters, generally pitch lower ERAs than their starting peers. They are often used in higher leverage situations where the fate of the game hangs on every pitch. But that doesn’t mean that their contributions are all that much more worthwhile than starters. If Sabathia holds the game to 1-0 through 8 innings, Mariano Rivera may feel pressure, but he’s only doing for one inning what Sabathia did for 8. And also unlike bench players, relievers don’t simple graduate into the rotation after they’ve proven that they can play well.

But imagine if you had that Barry Bonds bench player? You’re in the National League, and this guy is just physically incapable of playing the field for more than 1-2 innings a game. But damn, he can hit lefties late in the game really well. He hits an OPS+ of 180+ over his career, 250+ during his best years, but never exceeds 100-150 at bats. Is he a Hall of Famer?

By my count, current HOF relievers include Goose Gossage, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and Hoyt Willhelm. John Franco is about as good or better than Gossage, Eckersley and Sutter, and pitched in a significantly different-enough era to fail to compare to Fingers and Wilhelm, who pitched much more. And at the same time, was arguably better than Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman’s statistics to date:

Year ERA G GF SV IP H R ER HR BB SO BF ERA+ WHIP SO/BB
18 Seasons 2.87 1035 *856* *601* 1089.1 846 378 347 100 307 1133 4388 141 1.058 3.69
162 Game Avg. 2.87 68 56 39 72 56 25 23 7 20 74 288 141 1.058 3.69
ERA G GF SV IP H R ER HR BB SO BF ERA+ WHIP SO/BB
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/30/2010.

Franco has pitched more to a basically equal ERA+ compared with Hoffman. Hoffman has the saves statistic, but I don’t think that in this day and age we need to debate its merit.

Besides Fingers and Wilhelm – old-school relief pitchers who played a lot more than their modern peers and were much better when they pitched than Gossasge and Eckersley – I strong believe that there is only one relief pitcher in all of baseball who deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame – Mariano Rivera. His statistics:

Year Age Tm Lg ERA G GF SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO ERA+ WHIP SO/BB
16 Seasons 2.23 978 829 559 1150.0 887 309 285 62 267 34 1051 *205* 1.003 3.94
162 Game Avg. 2.23 67 57 38 79 61 21 20 4 18 2 72 205 1.003 3.94
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/30/2010.

Those are some Bonds-like numbers. While Hoffman, Franco, et al pitched like Gary Sheffield hit – at a solid,  arguably HOF-caliber level for a starter – Rivera has blown his competition out of the water. He’s the backup first baseman who is so good that he forces his way into the Hall of Fame. But the other guys? Overrated.

13 Responses to “Closers and the Hall of Fame”

  1. I would put Hoffman in. His peripherals were much better than Franco’s, and I do not really see them as being in the same category. But other than Mo and Hoffman, I do not see anyone deserving to get in as a reliever.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    EJ Fagan Reply:

    His K and BB rates were better, sure. but in the end those are just means to getting outs and not allowing runs. Unless you want to argue that Franco had exceptionally good defenses behind him his whole career, I don’t see how this is a case for him.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Hoffman does have a much better FIP, and he was worth 5-7 wins more over their careers. I think there is a measurable difference in the quality of the two pitchers.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    EJ Fagan Reply:

    Sure, if we were looking at one season, a FIP difference would be notable if we were trying to predict the next season. But over time, some players just have a higher FIP differential than others.

    WAR basically illustrates my point. Sure, BR has Franco at 25.9 WAR and Hoffman at about 30, and Mariano at 52 so far, but no non-relief Hall of Famer put up WARs like that. Hoffman is on the career leaderboard alongside Freddy Garcia and Derek Lee.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  2. I think their is an argument for Sutter being a more dominant closer than Franco and he definitely conistently pitched more innings in a season because Sutter hit 80 IP or more 5 times in his career and 100 IP or more 5 times in his career while maintaining a lower WHIP, higher K/9 total, lower BB/9 and higher K/9 than Franco. He also won a Cy Young award and came in top 5 for the Cy Young award three other times and top 6 once.

    They have very similar ERA’s and ERA+ but Sutter has quite a bit better career FIP and Franco only made into a Cy Young ballot once finishing 7th so as much as we tend to discount these awards Sutter managed to do something Mariano has never done (even though Mo should have a Cy) so the people who watched him play his whole career thought he was one of the best pitchers in baseball 10 times.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    T.O. Chris Reply:

    I forgot to include Franco’s innings for comparison…. he threw 100 innings 1 times early in his career and other than that he pitched 80 innings 4 times and 79.1 IP one other year and never got back to a 70 inning total in his career so Sutter is much closer to Fingers in comparison to inning than Franco is.  (Quote)

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  3. EJ, Franco better than Gossage? Gossage pitched roughly 50% more innings in his career with a lower WHIP. I saw both of those guys pitch, in their prime, and Gossage was clearly better and more “feared” (even more “Feared” than “The Feared One” Jim Rice). I believe that Franco should go in even though plenty of stats will point out that closers are overrated. The reason, IMHO, is that typically a teams’ best hitters are coming up in the 9th, and those hitters are more focused. Add in the dry mouth factor and there is a good reason that great closers get the type of money that they do. Franco was a “great” closer, year after year. I believed for many years that media overhyped closers, and I still do. However, a career that has high peak value coupled with longevity should merit the HOF.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    classicsteve Reply:

    Agree that Gossage was far superior Franco and in fact was not far if at all behind Fingers. He had a tremendous peak(1975, 1977-1985) interrupted only by the misguided decision of Chicago White Sox to make him a starter in 1976. His career rate stats- ERA+ and WHIP- are depressed that 1976 season and his extended decline phase. For roughly a 10 year period, “the Goose” was as good as there was in MLB, pitching for both length and for one inning explosiveness.
    Not to diminish Franco because he had a long and distinguished career but aside from the previously mentioned Mariano and Trevor Hoffman, I would consider these relievers to be at least as worthy of the HOF and in some instances more so:

    Lee Smith
    Billy Wagner
    Tom Henke( extremely underrated.Check out his stats some time.)  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Kevin Ocala, Fl Reply:

    Henke was Death Incarnate during his peak.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    EJ Fagan Reply:

    Yeah, Gossage had a lot of really great years. He also had a lot of poor years. His 126 ERA+ would just be barely HOF caliber for a starting pitcher, and his 1800 innings falls short of other HOF starters. For a reliever, its a lot of innings, but “for a reliever” is a big distinction.

    I don’t care what his WHIP was. Javy Vazquez has a better career WHIP than Cliff Lee. It is a meaningless statistic when evaluating a player’s value. Franco allowed a lot of baserunners – we’ve already determined this – but he didn’t allow a lot to score. Gossage allowed more baserunners to score. Both were pretty good at not allowing runners to score, but not pretty good at pitching a lot. Neither should be in the Hall of Fame.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Kevin Ocala, Fl Reply:

    Remember, closers were used a lot differantly than today. They often came in w/ runners on base, and were used for multiple innings. Pundits will point out all the times that Mo has done has done the same thing, almost in awe. Well Gossage, Fingers, Lyle, Marshall, etc did the same thing. For me, watching games, watching the swings, the body language of hitters, Gossage clearly deserves his place in The Hall. Had Gossage come up in the 1990′s and used like Mo he very likely would have been just has great as Mo….  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Kevin Ocala, Fl Reply:

    PS, it’s interesting how that WHIP has great meaning when used to make an arguement for/against Cy Young voting but somehow becomes meaningless when evaluating a player’s career.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  4. His career ERA+ is depressed by the 224 innings he pitched as a starter – 1/8 of his total innings- in 1976 to an ERA+ of 91. Agreed that he had a lot of poor to mediocre years but they were at the beginning of his career when he was gaining traction in MLB and after 1985 when he was clearly not the same pitcher he was at his peak. However, from 1975- 1985, with the exception of 1976, he was consistently dominate. That’s a quite a long peak. Even with his long decline phase. his ERA+ still exceeds Fingers(120) by a decent amount in a similar number of total innings and with a similar number of innings as a starter.Obviously, Gossage didn’t have the same extended success as Rollie in the post- season but the Yankees wouldn’t have won in 1978 without him.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

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