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Article:Hall of Fame Pitcher? Two Illuminating Statistics Help Decide

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by Harold Friend

Baseball's Hall of Fame lacks clearly defined, specific criteria for membership. When considering a player for inclusion in the Hall of Fame, "voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." And that is the problem.

Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson Were the First Pitchers Inducted into the Hall of Fame

Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson were the first pitchers elected to the Hall of Fame, which occurred in 1936. The voters did not have sophisticated statistics such as WHIP (Walks + Hits / Innings Pitched), or ERA+ (Adjusted ERA+, adjusts a pitcher's ERA according to the pitcher's ballpark and the ERA of the pitcher's league; a score above 100 indicates the pitcher performed better than average, below 100 indicates worse than average.), but they had seen both men pitch. Basic pitching statistics, such as ERA, hits per inning, strikeouts, and walks were available.

Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson Are the Template

Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson must represent the template or model for pitchers who are considered for inclusion to the Hall of Fame. It is recognized that Johnson and Mathewson might be the two greatest pitchers in history, and that is just the point. Pitchers whose careers cannot at least compete with those of the best are not Hall of Famers.

The following brief summary sets some criteria:

Walter Johnson WHIP = 1.061 ERA+ = 147 IP /162 game season = 274 WINS / 162 game season = 19

Christy Mathewson WHIP = 1.057 ERA+ = 136 IP /162 game season = 274 WINS / 162 game season = 21

It is Difficult to Equate Different Eras

The above is an excellent guide. It is impossible to equate players from different eras. Johnson and Mathewson played in the dead ball era. Statistics are severely limited, but they can help provide a rough estimate of how a pitcher fared against his competition. Another Johnson, Randy, who played one hundred years after Walter, and Greg Maddux, who was more like Mathewson than either Johnson, are examples of Hall of Fame pitchers.

Randy Johnson WHIP = 1.167 ERA+ = 137 IP /162 game season = 232 WINS / 162 game season = 17

Greg Maddux WHIP = 1.143 ERA+ = 132 IP /162 game season = 229 WINS / 162 game season = 16

The similarities are obvious. Nothing can replace having seen most of a pitcher's career. The Hall of Fame's criteria must be used, but WHIP and ERA+ provide an excellent starting point when making Hall of Fame worthy decisions.

Jim Bunning, Bert Blyleven, Tommy John, and Jim Kaat: Extremely Similar

Let us examine three pitchers whom many believe are Hall of Famers, and one Hall of Famer whom some believe should not have been elected.

Jim Bunning WHIP = 1.179 ERA+ = 114 IP /162 game season = 230 WINS / 162 game season = 14

Bert Blyleven WHIP = 1.198 ERA+ = 118 IP /162 game season = 245 WINS / 162 game season = 14

Tommy John WHIP = 1.283 ERA+ = 111 IP /162 game season = 219 WINS / 162 game season = 13

Jim Kaat WHIP = 1.259 ERA+ = 107 IP /162 game season = 202 WINS / 162 game season = 13

Blyleven, John, Kaat, and Bunning are clearly not in the same class as Walter Johnson, Mathewson, Randy Johnson, or Maddux, but there is little difference between Bunning's above statistics and those of Blyleven, John, and Kaat.

WHIP and ERA+ Are NOT Enough

After examining a pitcher's WHIP and ERA+, there must be the usual analysis. For example, Kaat pitched a lot in relief compared to Bunning, which affected his win total, but win total is often a misleading statistic. Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux pitched a significant amount of time in the "steroid era," while Blyleven, John, and Kaat pitched in the 1960s, when pitchers dominated hitters. There is much, much more, but these examples suffice.

WHIP and ERA+ are statistics that can provide perspective when trying to determine if a pitcher belongs in the Hall of Fame. They are ONLY a starting point, but they help clarify some basic results, which can be quite valuable.

References:

Hall of Fame Criteria

Baseball-Reference


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