Monday, July 27, 2015

Fun With Hall Of Fame Numbers

Yesterday's induction ceremonies at Cooperstown for Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez marked another milestone in my transition from child to adulthood.


Yes, I know, I'm 34-years-old but my childhood, like that of any die hard sports fan, gets to continue until the athletes that I grew up adoring come to a point in their life when they are considered to be elder statesmen.

Biggio, Smoltz, and Johnson were all stars I admired from a distance but Pedro was the guy that I, like so many others in New England, followed closely in his Boston years from 1998-2004.  As I wrote last week, Pedro was not only the greatest pitcher of his generation but he also was the guy that led the Red Sox in their transition from lovable loser to a franchise that has won three World Series titles.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is all about statistics so using Baseball-Reference I am going to take a glance at each of yesterday's inductees numbers and provide some context for their greatness as players which earned each of them immortality in their game.

Craig Biggio

Biggio was a catcher, second baseman, and outfielder for the Astros from his debut in 1988 up until his retirement after the 2007 season.  While he has received some criticism as a "stats compiler", Biggio certainly earned his spot in Cooperstown because over his 20 seasons in Houston he produced at the plate and in the field while also making the Astros into a championship contender.

The year-to-year statistics do not overwhelm.  There were no MVP seasons (the highest he finished was 4th in 1997), no batting titles, only one season with at least 200 hits (1998), just seven All-Star Games, and no World Series championships.

However, the career numbers do him justice.  3060 hits.  668 doubles.  Four Gold Glove awards at second base from 1994-1997.  Five Silver Slugger awards including one at catcher in 1989 and four more as a second baseman in 1994, 1995, 1997, and 1998.

Biggio's case is also augmented by helping to lead the Astros to the playoffs six times which included the National League championship in 2005.

Was he the greatest player of his generation?  Not even close.  But the numbers do say that Craig Biggio belongs in the Hall of Fame.

John Smoltz

Over 21 season in the major leagues, mostly with the Atlanta Braves, Smoltz might have been the most underrated stars in the game.

As a starting pitcher, he was considered the third guy behind fellow Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine on those great Braves teams of the 1990's.  Being the third man isn't all too bad when you win 210 games for the Braves, the 1996 N.L. Cy Young award, the 1992 N.L.C.S. MVP, and help lead the team to a World Series title in 1995.

Following Tommy John  elbow surgery that cost him the season in 2000, Smoltz returned in 2001 as a dominant closer.  In 2002 he led the majors with 55 saves then posted 45 and 44 saves in 2003 and 2004 before returning to the rotation.  For his career he totaled 213 wins and 154 saves, making him the only pitcher in history with at least 200 wins and 150 saves.

He was at his best in the postseason, compiling a 15-4 career record in 27 career playoff starts with a 2.67 ERA.

It's fitting that Smoltz entered the Hall of Fame on the same day as two icons, Johnson and Martinez, because he spent his career in the shadows of Maddux and Glavine.  But now that he has his plaque in Cooperstown, Smoltz can no longer be considered underrated.

Randy Johnson

The Big Unit was the most feared pitcher in the game from the first time he threw a pitch for the Expos in 1988 to his last pitch with the Giants in 2009.  The 6-10 lefty not only threw a powerful fastball with a nasty slider but he wasn't always known for having the best control, especially early in his career, which terrified hitters to stand in the batters box against him.

The dominance and intimidation are also backed up by impressive stats.  Johnson is a five-time Cy Young award winner, getting his first with the Mariners in 1995 and then getting four in a row with the Diamondbacks from 1999-2002.  That same four year stretch were also when he led the majors in strikeouts every season and he is the all-time career leader in strikeouts per nine innings with a staggering 10.6. Johnson is second all-time behind Nolan Ryan in strikeouts with 4875.  The ten-time All-Star posted some ridiculous seasons, including these gems.

1995: 18-2, 2.48 ERA, 294 strikeouts, 1.045 WHIP, 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings
1997: 20-4, 2.28 ERA, 291 strikeouts, 1.052 WHIP, 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings
2002: 24-5, 2.32 ERA, 334 strikeouts, 1.031 WHIP, 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings
2004: 16-14, 2.60 ERA, 290 strikeouts, 0.900 WHIP, 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings

Keep in mind that in 2004, Johnson was 40-years-old.

In 2001, Johnson added the title of World Series champion to his resume and was co-MVP of the World Series with Curt Schilling, who in my opinion should be in the Hall of Fame as well.  He's also the last pitcher to reach the 300 win plateau - he finished with 303 wins over his 22 seasons - and he's likely the last pitcher to get there for a long time.

I never expect to see a pitcher as large, feared, or dominant again in my lifetime.  Randy Johnson was truly one of a kind and now he belongs to history.

Pedro Martinez

While I covered Pedro's career in depth last week, I want to point out a few more of his accomplishments today.

Five times he led the majors in ERA, with his 1.74 ERA in 2000 being a career best.  Remember that Pedro pitched in the steroid era - as did Smoltz and Johnson - so keeping his ERA so low was more difficult than that of a pitcher from an earlier generation.

He won three Cy Young awards and should have also won the award in 2002.  He was also robbed of the 1999 A.L. MVP award by two writers - George King and LaVelle Neal - who refused to vote for him at all in a season in which he led the majors in wins, winning percentage, ERA, WHIP, and strikeout-to-walk ratio, led the A.L. in strikeouts, and pitched a relatively average Red Sox team into the A.L.C.S.

His right shoulder became a constant problem from 2001 to the end of his career but he was still good enough to lead the Red Sox to the A.L.C.S. in 2003 and to their first World Series title since 1918 in the 2004 season.  At 37-years-old in his last season as a member of the Phillies he got back to the World Series.

At his peak from 1997-2000 and with all things considered, an argument can be made that Pedro Martinez is the greatest pitcher of all-time.  It's only fitting that he is now enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

No comments: