Tom Henke was not a Hall of Famer… but he could have been

In 2001, Tom Henke got six Hall of Fame votes for 1.2 percent of the ballots, far short of the five percent needed. And while his final career numbers fell short of Cooperstown, how he left the game sparked an intriguing “what if?” about his Hall of Fame prospects.

Hall voters have been remarkably slow to embrace the relief pitcher. It took eight ballots to get Hoyt Wilhelm in. Rollie Fingers wasn’t in on the first ballot. It took 13 turns to get Bruce Sutter in. Goose Gossage, the biggest no-brainer other than Fingers, inexplicably took nine ballots before getting in.

So when the undeniable greats had trouble getting voted in, a borderline candidate like Henke has little to no chance.


But take a close look at Henke’s career. His Baseball Reference page lists his similar pitchers as the likes of Robb Nen, John Wetteland, Todd Worrell, Dave Smith, Rod Beck and Troy Percival. That seems about right. Each one of those pitchers were dominant pitchers for a stretch before injuries caught up with their careers.

Armando Benitez is also listed as a similar pitcher, which is a slap in all of their faces. Flush all of his stats down the drain. Being compared to Benitez as a reliever is like comparing a singer to Alfafa from the Little Rascals.

Henke broke into the majors with the Rangers and went to Toronto in the compensation draft. For those of you who have no idea what the compensation draft is, it is the answer to the question “Why was there a strike in 1981?”

When Henke’s career turned a corner as a 27-year-old middle reliever for the 1985 Division Champion Blue Jays, he looked like a late bloomer. But in 1986, Henke no longer fought for saves with Bill Caudill and Jim Acker and became the closer by himself. The result was he became one of the most feared relievers in the game.

Partially fear because of his imposing height, his big glasses couldn’t have made batters feel any more comfortable. “He throws that hard and can’t see? Maybe I shouldn’t dig in.”

He struck out 9.8 batters over nine innings over 14 seasons in the bigs. His individual season save total wasn’t as gaudy as some of his contemporaries (like his fellow Hall of Fame ballot rejects Dave Righetti and Steve Bedrosian who racked up some eye popping regular seasons.) But by the late 1980s, Henke was saving games along side Duane Ward and being part of a devastatingly deep Toronto bullpen.

In 1989, when the Blue Jays returned to the playoffs, Henke saved only 20 games. But he finished 56, struck out 116 batters in only 89 innings and pitched to a 1.92 ERA. Over the next three seasons, the Blue Jays made the post season two more times with Henke leading the deep pen, instead of being a compiler, while keeping up around a four-to-one strikeout to walk ratio.

In 1992, when future Hall of Famer and saves compiler Dennis Eckersley couldn’t contain Roberto Alomar and the Blue Jays, Henke clinched the pennant in Toronto. He lacked that great career highlight moment, as he blew the save in the ninth inning of Game Six of the World Series against Atlanta. The Jays would win the game in extra innings and it was Mike Timlin who closed out the series.

But Henke saved two games in the series and outshone his Atlanta counterpart, Jeff Reardon, who was roughed up in Games Two and three.

The Blue Jays decided to stick with Duane Ward as their closer after the World Series, and Henke went back to Texas. There he saved 40 games for the first time in his career. Then after the 1994 strike, he landed in St. Louis. The result was one of his best seasons. He saved 36 of the Cardinals 62 wins, pitched to a 1.82 ERA and made the All-Star team. At the end of the season, he was the 1995 National League Rolaids Relief Award winner. He had never received that honor in all of those years pitching in Toronto.

In 1995, after years of piling up substantive seasons of leading the bullpen and being one of the most respected—but not one of the most celebrated—closers in the game, he seemed poised to start to pile up the stats and pad his Cooperstown resume. Sure he was 37 years old, but he wasn’t logging 200 innings a season. He could start climbing up the saves leader chart and maybe pick up another Rolaids Award.

Maybe he would join a playoff-bound team and get another shot at a ring (and a chance to close it out himself.) And when all was said and done, writers would look at his career and say “Wow, he just might be a Hall of Famer!”

So what did he do?

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

He retired.

That’s right. He was declared the league’s top reliever and hung up his spikes. Maybe he wanted to go out on top.

Maybe he knew that piling up saves wasn’t going to make a compelling Cooperstown case. (It sure never helped Lee Smith, Reardon and John Franco.) Maybe he saw the late Dan Quisenberry, who has an argument for election, be dropped after the first ballot.

Or maybe the Hall of Fame never entered his mind, and he was a humble family man who was content with 14 big league seasons, multiple All Star appearances, a World Series ring, millions of dollars in the bank, love and respect from a fan base and walking away on top.

If only he were greedier. He might be in the Hall of Fame.

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Dr. Doom
13 years ago

He’s in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, for what it’s worth.

Detroit Michael
13 years ago

It seems to me that BBWAA Hall of Fame voters have been too hasty to embrace the relief pitcher, with Fingers and Sutter looking like mistakes.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

I assume calling Rollie Fingers a mistake is a joke

Bob B.
13 years ago

Nice article! I was a big Henke fan back when he was pitching so it’s especially cool to see this article on him.

I can’t say for sure whether Detroit Michael (in the 2nd comment) was joking or not but I assume not. And if he was, I’ll say I’m not in agreeing that Fingers election is a mistake. I had been surprised to read that you considered Fingers a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

The greatest relievers in history are Rivera, Fingers, Wilhelm, Eckersley and Gossage.

When you are in the top 5 all time, you belong in the Hall of Fame

Bob B.
13 years ago

I’m really not sure how many relievers should be in the Hall of Fame… I haven’t really made up my mind considering how little pitching is actually done but in very high leverage situations. That being said, however, I really don’t think Fingers is one of the top 5 all time.
Off the top of my head I don’t know who I would consider the top 5… maybe I’ll take a look and ponder it later.

Steve Treder
13 years ago

“The greatest relievers in history are Rivera, Fingers, Wilhelm, Eckersley and Gossage.”

Let’s assume this is true.  (And it might be; if not, it isn’t far off.)

“When you are in the top 5 all time, you belong in the Hall of Fame”

Okay.  Well, let’s assume that Ron Northey, Smoky Burgess, Jerry Lynch, Gates Brown, and Manny Mota are the greatest pinch-hitters in history.  (And if they aren’t, they aren’t far off.)

Do they belong in the Hall of Fame?

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

Nope, I don’t believe Manny Mota et al belong in the Hall of Fame.

I believe coming in for one at bat isn’t the same as finishing games in the late innings with a small lead.

Not all innings are created equally and the innings where a great closer is pitching in are the most important of the game.

I never understood the lack of respect a great closer gets. I am not talking about a save compiler. I am talking about those rare pitchers who come in and shorten the game.

Todd Jones never shortened the game, no matter how many saves he got. Armando Benitez never did.

And I don’t care how many saves Trevor Hoffman and John Franco piled up, they never shortened the game.

But the likes of Gossage, Rivera, Eckersley, Fingers, and Sutter in his prime as well as Quisenberry in his prime made it almost not fair when they came in and startling the few times they failed.

I am personally tough on closers and their Hall of Fame eligibilty. Even though Jeff Reardon, Lee Smith and Trevor Hoffman all once had the title “Career Saves Leader” I never considered them to be Hall of Famers. So I am not a lenient Cooperstown supporter.

But the likes of Fingers, Gossage, Rivera and Eckersley belong in.

Sutter is debatable. I lean yes, but I understand the arguments why not.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

Bob B… if your top 5 includes Trevor Hoffman and NOT Rollie Fingers, you will need to show your work

Steve Treder
13 years ago

“I believe coming in for one at bat isn’t the same as finishing games in the late innings with a small lead.”

Fair enough.  (Though it is the case that most of the pinch-hit at-bats those great pinch-hitters took were in the late innings with a small deficit.  Their impact on game outcomes was disproportional to the duration of their game appearances.)

But the point I’ve labored to make is that relief pitcher is a mode of using a pitcher, not a position, just as pinch-hitter is a mode of using a hitter, not a position.  For their worthiness for the HOF, relief pitchers should be assessed against the population of all pitchers, not just against the population of fellow relief pitchers.

Relief pitching is a demonstrably easier task than starting pitching; it’s virtually always the case that your run-of-the-mill league-average innings-eating starter would be a star reliever, while your typical star reliever would struggle as a starter.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

By the way, I must say I love the comments on The Hardball Times. Even when someone doesn’t agree with me and we may have a debate and never find a middle ground, it is coming from a place where two people who clearly know baseball disagree about something.

The other day my own blog got a TON of readers on a Mets post I did. Granted, my post was dripping with sarcasm. But MAN those Met fans can be nasty.

I love it when someone says “your dumb”

Ahhhh the irony

Devon & His 1982 Topps blog
13 years ago

Henke actually has one of the BEST ERS’s in save situations in history… which, is really how we need to start valuing closers. Due to that & the fact I hated to see him pitch against my teams… he really should be in Cooperstown or at least be considered best closer that isn’t in the Hall.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

Explain for the folks at home ERS’s

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago
Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

I disagree about the average pitcher becoming a star reliever. I think an average pitcher could become a saves compiler and we have seen many do that over the years.

But compilers like Lee Smith, Jeff Reardon, John Franco and Trevor Hoffman aren’t who I am talking about. They shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame without a ticket.

I am talking about game changers… the ones who affected how the other team played and managed. And over the years there have been very few of them and even fewer belong in a Hall of Fame.

It’s a select few in my mind.
Fingers, Gossage and Eckersley… and eventually Rivera are the Mount Rushmore.

Hoyt Wilhelm is the pioneer.

And I have no problem with Sutter being in (although I understand the anti Sutter argument)

David P Stokes
13 years ago

No way Fingers is one of the top 5 relievers in history.  I doubt that he’s in the top 20.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

OK David, I’ll bite.

What criteria are you using to make that statement and could you name some of the other 15 relievers you think are superior?

Ferris Asaph
13 years ago

just ask some of the hall of fame hitters that had to face him …  end of story !!

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago


Interesting list. I respect any list that has someone named Firpo.

My own criteria of coming up big in the biggest games would eliminate Lee Smith for me.

Duane Ward had about 4 great seasons where he was paired with Henke. The underlying theme of this post was that Henke and Ward were matched up together and Henke’s save compiling didn’t start until he left Toronto.

I am very glad you included John Smoltz. I had argued with someone that the Braves would have won at least 2 more World Series if they had made John Smoltz the closer. The counter argument was it would have been a waste of John Smoltz’s talent to limit him ONLY to closer’s innings.

I countered that those last innings are what derailed the Braves in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2005.

A rotation of Glavine/Avery/Leibrandt/Mercker
or Glavine/Maddux/Avery/Mercker
or Maddux/Glavine/Neagle
or Maddux/Glavine/Millwood etc would have been enough to win the division consistently and John Smoltz could have closed out the games.

Now I personally think Smoltz belongs in the Hall of Fame (although isn’t the lock that Maddux and Glavine are) but he could have been in as a closer.

While I don’t agree with all of your choices David, it is a good list

Bob Rittner
13 years ago

I don’t agree with your emphasis on “coming up biggest in the biggest games”. I do think that performance in the post-season can be an added factor for a player about whom you are on the fence, but I do not think it is a determining factor or even particularly important.

In Hoffman’s case, he appeared in 12 post-season games over 6 series and pitched a total of 13 innings. He had some noteworthy failures, but in two of those series he pitched quite well, holding 1 run leads for SD in one case by striking out the side in the 9th and in another striking out the last batter of the 8th with the bases loaded and a 1 run lead. He then pitched a scoreless 9th.

Docking him for a few dramatic failures when the sample is so small seems to me wrong-headed. As great as Rivera has been, he blew 4 games in post-season play, all of which led to the opposition winning the series. Of course, he has also had a lot more chances to redeem himself which he has done brilliantly.

I am somewhat mystified by your view that Hoffman did not shorten games the way your choices for HOF consideration did. He did not just pile up saves due to longevity; his numbers were excellent throughout his career and managers had to make decisions based on the knowledge that he was looming to close in the last inning.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

Steve, some of it IS subjective. I don’t think the Hall of Fame should simply be a number crunching place. (Frankly I think using only stats is kind of lazy. And using only emotional reasons is lazy as well. It should be a combination.)

And my own subjectivity makes me I think makes me harsher in terms of Cooperstown.

Let’s take, in the opposite end of the spectrum, the case of Armando Benitez.

Looking at his stats and you see a guy who saved a lot of games, had a low ERA, struck out a lot of batters per innings pitched and had radar gun popping stuff.

I lived in New York when he pitched for the Mets and in San Francisco when he pitched for the Giants. He was so terrible that it was grotesque. Every fan base celebrated like it was V-J day when he left. He blew big game after big game to the point where you could feel opposing teams getting giddy when he started warming up.

I covered this back in 2007

Fingers came up big in the big games, which in a specialist position like the closer needs to account for more than a regular player or a starting pitcher.

Now I will also say this… this subjectivity makes the Hall of Fame discussion lively and fun. And Man oh Man it is going to get NOT FUN soon.

When people start breaking down who did juice, who PROBABLY did juice and who shouldn’t be let in, it is going to be a whole lot of no fun.

When people start to break down how Bagwell’s stats peaked and wondering about his friendship with Ken Caminiti, we’ll be nostalgic for the Rollie Fingers Hall of Fame debate!

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

Bob… Hoffman was a big big BIG flopper in the big games.

Sorry, but that is the case.

Loses or blown saves in the 1996 Division Series, 1998 Division Series, 1998 NLCS and a bone crushing loss in the 1998 World Series.

And the back to back blown saves to sink the 2007 season (which the Padres would probably have won the pennant that year had they gotten into the playoffs)

Seriously, he had a nice career and his durability should be saluted.

But I can say the same about Jamie Moyer.

Hoffman would have been run out of town on a rail if he played in a city with a passionate fan base.

(Yes there are many terrific and passionate fans in San Diego. But I was also there for the stretch run last year… there were also a lot of empty seats at PetCo.)

13 years ago

I’m old enough to remember them. Rollie and Goose were Hall of Famers. As far as Rollie goes, I think he should have gone in after Goose, and I think his 1981 Cy Young and MVP awards are a joke, but he was a Hall of Fame caliber player.

Sutter was a mistake. If Bruce Sutter is a Hall of Famer, so is Dan Quisenberry. Neither one of them had enough dominant seasons, in my opinion.

Eckersley was almost a Hall of Fame caliber starter, and then had a career as a reliever where he was dominant for five years and then, with Tony LaRussa’s connivance, put on bulk numbers as a mediocre closer (151 saves with a 4.15 ERA after 1992). He’s almost a Hall of Famer just as a starter, and almost one just as a reliever. Put them together and he’s in.

Mo is headed for Cooperstown five years after he hangs it up. Deservedly so.

I wouldn’t vote for Hoffman, but he’ll probably make it someday. I’d vote for Billy Wagner first.

Jamie Moyer is the Harold Baines of pitchers. If there’s a Hall of Fame for persistence…

13 years ago

Gossage, Finger, and Sutter are all among the worst Hall of Fame selections of all-time.  I can only assume they got in primarily because of their facial hair, or in the case of Gossage, incessant whining.

Gossage had a career save percentage of 73.5%.  While Fingers was slightly better at 75.8%, his ERA was only 19% better than league average.  Sutter had the nifty ERA, but also a poor save percentage (74.8) and lacked longevity.  Yes, relievers of that era deserve some consideration for being asked to complete multi-inning saves, but the fact is their save percentages were only average as compared to the other closers of their era (or in the case of Gossage, far worse).  No one should have been “startled” when these guys failed.  They failed about as frequently as everyone else did.

Nine relievers I’d rank ahead of those three include Rivera, Wilhelm, Smith, Hoffman, Quisenberry, Henke, Eckersley, Billy Wagner, and John Franco.  You could certainly make arguments for others, but those nine are pretty clear-cut.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

I will address this tomorrow…

But right away cross John Franco and Trevor Hoffman off the list. Please. Putting them on the list is insulting.

Rivera, Wilhelm and Eckersley are fine picks.

Billy Wagner is very interesting. I am big fans of Quisenberry and obviously Henke.

But are you only using save percentage as a criteria?

Are you looking into the number of relief innings they pitched and the era?

Bob B.
13 years ago

Well, I haven’t been able to come up with a list of my top 5, although I did fiddle about looking at career numbers for some of the relievers in question…. but I must ask: Why do you think that Keith’s inclusion of Franco and Hoffman are insulting? I don’t know if I would put them above Fingers, but they certainly had damn fine careers.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

Sure they had nice careers.
But in any Hall of Fame discussion they are the red shirted Ensign beaming down to the planet with Kirk and McCoy.

I have become a big Wagner fan and would listen to a Wagner candidacy. But I also watched John Franco in my 15 years of living in New York and never saw him as anything else but a save compiler. Same with Hoffman.

I lump them in with Reardon, Todd Jones, John Wetteland and Roberto Hernandez.

All good pitchers with nice careers to be sure. And maybe had a year or two where they were elite, but not in this discussion.

I also do put weight on post season performance. More than any other role in baseball, the reliever needs to come up big in October. Not just for the highlight reel, but their JOB is to close out the tough and pressure packed games.

Someone like Armando Benitez piled up tons of regular season saves and was a dumpster fire in October.

Trevor Hoffman had so many October flame outs in his career that he would be burned in effigy in a big baseball market.

October numbers are a nice frosting on top for most position players. Nobody is kicking Ted Williams or Ty Cobb out of the Hall because they flopped in the World Series.

And all the October magic in the world isn’t putting Paul O’Neill or David Ortiz in Cooperstown.

But a specialist like a bullpen closer needs to dominate, shorten the game and come up big in the BIGGEST games.

That’s why I have so few in the Hall.

13 years ago

This is a must listen in this discussion

The Ballad of Tom Henke

Asher Brooks Chancey
13 years ago

Paul Francis Sullivan, I have some real issues with some assertions you are making here.

You have stately very matter-of-factly, without significant support in the evidence, that The greatest relievers in history are Rivera, Fingers, Wilhelm, Eckersley and Gossage.

I take no issue with Wilhelm or Rivera.  I have River number one and Wilhlem number two.

But how is Dennis Eckersley NOT a mediocre starter who became a dominant reliever?  His career ERA as a starter was 3.71, and as a reliever was 2.85.  His strikeout-to-walk ratio as a starter was 2.63; as a reliever it was 6.29.  The remainder of his starter/reliever splits follow from there.

And how can you hose-down Hoffman for post-season failings without taking issue with Eckersley?

Eck got smoked in the 1988 World Series, giving up a game-winning dong to a guy who had two injured knees.  He also got smoked in the 1990 World Series.  And the 1992 ALCS.  And the 1998 ALDS.

Let us have a consistent standard, can we please?

And how, exactly, is Eck not a “save-compiler”?, a concept I like but whose application here I disagree with.

Over the last five years of his career, Eck accumulated 150 saves despite an ERA over 4.00.

In fact, in 12 years as a closer, his ERA was 2.96, or 37% better than the league, which is not even comparable to Hoffman, whom you deride here for almost no reason, whose ERA over 18 seasons was 2.87, or 41% better than the league.

I am open to the arguments you are making here, but I do not see a whole lot of even-applied standards or well-supported points.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

First of all, I love that you address me by my full name. It makes it sound like I am in trouble with my mother.

Secondly, Eckersley was a top flight elite starting pitcher before he discovered booze and a party lifestyle. LaRussa and company saw to harness that stuff one inning at a time rather than stretch it out. Eckersley at his peak as a reliever was so good that it wasn’t fair when he came in.

Thirdly, I was going against the assertion that it is easy to turn a mediocre starter into a star reliever. It is one thing to take a Dustin Hermanson, plop him in the closer role and see him pile up 34 saves. It is another thing to have someone that forces the manager to play the 8th inning like it is the 9th.

Yes it requires someone to lift their eyes up from the abacus for a moment and I know things like emotion and impressions are forbidden in some people’s eyes. But the number of relievers who have been game changers are staggeringly small and the ones to do it over several years are even smaller.

As for the post season comparisons, kindly show me Trevor Hoffman’s equivalent to the 1988 ALCS where Eckersley won the MVP by shutting down Red Sox rally after Red Sox rally.

Where was Hoffman’s striking out Boggs moment?
Hoffman was smoked by Tony Gwynn… JUNIOR!

Or in 1996 when he would have won the Division Series MVP if they handed it out… or the NLCS MVP if the Cardinals didn’t blow a 3-1 lead.

And oh yeah, Eckersley also closed out a World Series.

Show me the spots on Hoffman’s resume that REMOTELY resemble those.

Steve Millburg
13 years ago

This sounds dangerously close to “I don’t care about the numbers; he just feels/doesn’t feel like a Hall of Famer to me.”  (Or “I don’t care what all you figure filberts say about Jim Rice’s statistics away from Fenway Park and all that other Moneyball nonsense.  He’s a Hall of Famer.  Period.  The man was FEARED, even if he did get fewer intentional walks than Ozzie Smith.  How do I know he was feared?  Because I was THERE!”)

Your sole criterion (or at least your main criterion) for identifying a Hall of Fame relief pitcher seems to boil down to: “He made a big impression on me.”  That makes it impossible for anyone to argue against you, but it also makes it difficult to take your arguments seriously.  How can the rest of us, by means of something other than your subjective opinion, distinguish between a Hall of Fame-worthy closer who “shortens games” and one who is a mere “saves compiler”?

In other words, as you yourself say, please “show your work.”

David P Stokes
13 years ago

Rivera, Wilhelm, Face, Sutter, Quisenberry, Henke, Ward, Eckersly, Gossage, Tekulve, Smith, Wagner, Marberry, Smoltz.  Those guys were all better than relievers than Fingers.  That’s 14, and that was just off the top of my head.  I’m sure I could come up with 6 more who were better than Fingers if I put some effort into it.

Steve Millburg
13 years ago

Re the Jeff Bagwell reference: I’m sorry, but I have a BIG problem with this sort of smear-by-innuendo.  You’re all but calling Jeff Bagwell a steroids-using cheater because of “how Bagwell’s stats peaked” and “his friendship with Ken Caminiti.”

Frank Thomas’s stats peaked similarly, though injuries ended (at least temporarily) his peak a little earlier and he was able to recover for a while from his injuries while Bagwell was not.  According to you, Thomas, noted for his outspoken opposition to performancing-enhancing drugs, should be suspected of being a steroids cheater.  Al Rosen had an enormous peak from age 26 through age 30 (1950-54), then fell off a cliff.  He was a steroids cheater, right?

I have friends who cheat on their spouses.  I have friends who smoke marijuana.  I neither condone nor emulate that behavior, but they’re still my friends.  You, however, would apparently consider me an adulterer and doper.

If you have any evidence that Jeff Bagwell used steroids, then let’s hear it.  But please don’t indulge in character assassination based on superficial statistical analysis and guilt by association.

Bob B
13 years ago

I’m still skeptical of Fingers being Hall of Fame material. Here’s a goofy list based on ERA+ and innings pitched of a bunch of relief pitchers mentioned in these comments and anywone else with 300 saves. [I’m using ERA+ to create an expected winning pct and basing expected decisions based on every 9IP. From there I’m simply subtracing “expected losses” from “expected wins”. Like I said, this is a goofy list]:
Hoyt Wilhelm 92, John Smoltz 85, Mariano Rivera 79, Billy Wagner 56, Dennis Eckersley 54, Goose Gossage 46, Kent Tekulve 43, John Franco 43, Dan Quisenberry 43, Trevor Hoffman 40, Lee Smith 39, Tom Henke 37, Firpo Marberry 36, Bruce Sutter 35, Rollie Fingers 34, Roberto Hernandez 32, John Wetteland 32, Doug Jones 31, etc. Obviously I have not taken out all the starts from Smoltz, Eckersley, Marberry et al. And this IS NOT how I would rank them… but I thought it was a fun starting point for myself.

Bob B.
13 years ago

And here’s a list based on WAR (the baseball-reference version, not the fangraphs version):
John Smoltz 63.9, Dennis Eckersley 58.7, Mariano Rivera 52.9, Hoyt Wilhelm 41.3, Goose Gossage 40.0, Trevor Hoffman 30.7, Lee Smith 30.3, Billy Wagner 29.7, Firpo Marberry 29.4, John Franco 25.8, Bruce Sutter 25.0, Kent Tekulve 24.8, Rollie Fingers 24.4, Dan Quisenberry 24.3, Tom Henke 23.1, Doug Jones 21.5, Rick Aguilera 21.3, Jeff Montgomery 21.1, John Wetteland 20.8, Jeff Reardon 20.3, etc. Again, this wouldn’t be how I would rank them, but with all these arguments I couldn’t resist posting a couple lists.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

“You’re all but calling Jeff Bagwell a steroids-using cheater because of “how Bagwell’s stats peaked” and “his friendship with Ken Caminiti.”

No, I am saying how NOT FUN Hall of Fame debates are going to be in the next bunch of years.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

Steve, I am not throwing Bagwell under the bus. I am saying this sort of stuff is what Hall of Fame arguments are going to be like with the steroid era players eligible.

And there are going to be some things that are not fair. Jeff Bagwell transforming from a player with decent power to a Hall of Fame caliber slugger is going to make people raise eyebrows.

Is it fair?
But that is what the next 10-15 years of Hall of Fame discussions will be like.

Personally, I say Bonds and Clemens belong IN the Hall of Fame.

And I also think McGwire and Sosa don’t. Which is probably hypocritical of me.

But when we have to rehash the ‘roids era in Cooperstown votes, we are going to be nostalgic for the “does Jim Rice belong in” or “is Blyleven a Hall of Famer” or “Should Fingers, Gossage and Sutter be in” debates.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

I dig the list, Bob B

Bob Rittner
13 years ago

I reiterate, in an 18 year career spanning 1035 games and 1089.1 innings you choose to focus on 12 games and 13 innings to make your case. I concede he was generally not effective in the post-season, but that is simply not enough to make any difference in my evaluation of him. That is akin to the criticism of Ted Williams for his poor performance in the one World Series he played, and as I recall was part of Colonel Egan’s hatchet job when he listed the 10 biggest moments in Ted’s career, in all of which he failed.

Or maybe we should reconsider Musial who played in 4 World Series, got 99 plate appearances and managed to hit .256/.347/.395.

Hoffman did flop spectacularly in the 1998 World Series, and has no signature moment of success, but he did pitch well in a number of post-season games. He did let in an inherited runner with the winning run in game 1 of the NLDS in 1996; it was on a weak grounder to 2B.

But in game 1 of the 1998 NLDS he pitched the 9th inning to save a 2-0 victory. The run he allowed came in on an error by the third baseman, but Hoffman held on. He also saved game 3, a 2-1 SD victory by striking out all 3 men he faced in the 9th. I would call that a crucial performance in a high pressure game.

In game 3 of the NLCS he came on with a 2-1 lead in the 8th inning and the bases loaded. He struck out Javy Lopez to preserve the lead and then pitched the ninth (single, K, K, flyout) to preserve the now 4-1 lead. Another “clutch” performance.

And finally, up 3-1 in game 3 of the 2006 NLDS he got the save with a clean 9th (flyout, GO, K).

My point is not that he was a successful post-season pitcher but that given the sample size there is no evidence he might not have been with more opportunities, and using the evidence of 13 innings out of his entire career is inadequate to make the case that he is not a HOFer.

David P Stokes
13 years ago

Basing the evaluation of a player’s career on their postseason record is roughly like basing it on their record during the 4th week of May.  Sure, performance in, say, 10 innings pitched in the postseason are more important than that in any 10 regular season innings, but it doesn’t reveal anything more about a pitcher’s ability.  Using postseason performance to move a player very slightly up or down in your ratings is reasonable, because after all, those are the most important games, but you should never make them a major part of your analysis.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

“Basing the evaluation of a player’s career on their postseason record is roughly like basing it on their record during the 4th week of May.”

Sure, if you look at baseball as a numbers game and no one game or no one statistic means more than any other.

And if that is how you watch the game, then fine. I can’t change how you watch a game.

I tend to look at the post season as more important than a game in May. I know you will disagree with me on this statement, but I think there is actually more pressure in a playoff game than a game in May.

I know, nonsense. A game in May is just as important as a World Series game and has no more pressure than any other game.

I suppose you can make the argument that there is NO pressure in a post season game because those stats aren’t reflected in the career stats.

But I guess my crazy point of view is that the closer’s role is to close out the pressure games. And while it is illogical, I think there is more pressure in October.

And the closer is the only player that I would have a make or break in big games BECAUSE it is a specialist position.

Now if you take the Fantasy Baseball POV that a 3 run walk off home run in the bottom of the 9th in late September is worth less than a garbage time Grand Slam in April, then I guess there is no arguing. We just assign different values to games.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to pop in a DVD of “The Highlights of the Greatest Early May Games In History.”

13 years ago

Paul, I am curious on your thoughts regarding Barry Bonds.  You mentioned earlier that he should be inducted into the Hall of Fame, an opinion I obviously agree with.  But prior to 2002, his postseason performance was awful, tot the tune of a .196 batting average, one home run, and six RBI in 97 at-bats, a larger sample size than you are judging most of these releivers’ postseason success by.

Now, his statistics in the 2002 postseasson were epic, arguably the best single postseason performance of all time for a hitter.

Would Bonds have been a Hall of Famer in your mind without that 2002 postseason? 

If yes, it certainly seems that you are being inconsistent with the way you evaluate postseason play.  If no, can we safely say that performance enhancing drugs made Barry Bonds a Hall of Fame calibur player in your mind?  Furthermore, had the Padres advanced in the 2005 and 2006 postseasons and Hoffman had an opportunity to redeem himself postseason-wise the same way that Bonds did, what kind of performance would he have needed to deliver to make him a Hall of Fame player?

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

I can imagine Jose Mesa in his press conference after blowing the save in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.

“Hey, I blew this game. Sure. But what you have to remember is I DID get the save on April 24th against Milwaukee… so you shouldn’t weigh tonight’s game any heavier than that one.”

Bob Rittner
13 years ago

Yes, I understand the view that performance in post-season games may be given some extra weight, but when we are talking about 13 innings and assuming that success in those has something to do with internal fortitude I think we are on very shaky ground. As his record indicates, Hoffman did perform well in 3 of those innings and his “failure” in 2 others was obviously due to random luck (slow roller and an error), so he apparently did perform well under pressure in some big games. I don’t think you can decide a player’s worthiness for the HOF based on such a small sample, no matter how memorable that sample is.

Interesting that you give a pass to Eckersley who had one of the most dramatic flops in World Series history and who had a couple of other poor post-season performances as well. Of course he did have more appearances and was successful in some of them just as Hoffman was, but Eckersley’s flop was at least as devastating as Hoffman’s. And we should remember it was not just the home run that Eckersley gave up. This great control pitcher walked the batter in front of Gibson to set up that confrontation. The argument is not over the relative importance of stats but the proper evaluation of a pitcher’s accomplishments. I think the totality of the career is more important than isolating a few out of character instances.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

I know it seems inconsistent from me, but hear me out.

As I said before, the bullpen closer is the only position that I put so much weight on the post season appearance. You can’t judge a specialist like Rich Gossage with the same criteria as an everyday player. As people are quick to point out, they have a much smaller sample size to evaluate and they have only one job: Close out close pressure packed games.

So I put the most weight on the games that have the most pressure.

An everyday player has to deliver 1st inning through the last pitch… April through October. And a player like Bonds has to deliver in the line up and on the field. So his job is NOT that of a specialist.

So while his playoff performances with the 1990-1992 Pirates and the 1997 and 2000 Giants don’t HELP his Cooperstown resume, it doesn’t hinder it the same way in my eyes as Trevor Hoffman’s failures in the World Series and torpedoing their 2007 playoff chances.

Is it consistent?

But an MVP cleanup hitters is not a bullpen closer. So why should they have the same criteria?

You don’t look at Ozzie Smith’s numbers the same way you look at Dave Winfield’s.

You don’t look at Bert Blyleven’s career the same way you look at Roberto Alomar’s.

So when you have the tricky task of electing a specialist as opposed to a starting pitcher or every day player, the criteria should be different.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

If Hoffman has a dominating 2005 or 2006 post season, I would probably be more lenient.

If Hoffman held onto that lead in Game 3 of the 1998 World Series and the Yankees still went on to win, I would probably be more lenient.

But Hoffman’s meltdown in 2007 in back to back “Padres are 3 outs from the playoffs and probably would be the best team in the NL side” games go a long way against hypothetical 2006 triumphs.

Again, I think Hoffman will eventually get into the Hall of Fame and I won’t complain. I just won’t agree with it.

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

I don’t give Eckersley a pass… But, as I typed before, he had some dominating post season performances.

Hoffman never did.

Normally I agree about weighing the career over the small sampling.

But because by definition a reliever pitches in a small sampling and is a specialist position, I think you need to weigh the big games more than piling up the saves.

You and I may never agree on that and I suppose it is a difference of philosophy.

Sorry if I get a smidge sarcastic. It’s how I was raised

Dan McCloskey
13 years ago

Sully –

While I don’t agree with all of your points, I really have to commend you for how you try to respond to every comment and never really get snide with anyone. OK, maybe there was a bit of sarcasm, but it’s always humorous.

Speaking of which, guys if you haven’t checked out Sully’s videos, they’re quite hilarious. My favorite is the one on defensive indifference:

I really want to take a closer (no pun intended) look at the argument regarding Closers and the Hall of Fame. I’m more of a stats guy than an emotions guy, but I really do think the statistics-oriented community may be selling the closer short, especially when it comes to WAR. There may be a closer or two too many in the Hall of Fame right now, and, honestly, I think Fingers is the weakest, followed by Sutter.

On the other hand, I’m really intrigued by Billy Wagner. I think he compares most favorably career-wise to Rivera, with the exception of the post-season, which is not to be taken lightly.

Anyway, this has been a really interesting discussion to follow. Thanks guys!

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

Thanks Dan.

The comments here are a breath of fresh air compared to some on my blog.

I said I think the Mets are going to lose 90 games this year. They aren’t a good team, they play the Braves, Phillies and Marlins 54 times and the fact that they are going to lose $50 million and are under the weight of the Madoff scandal means they will probably trade away any valuable player for financial reasons.

I wrote that and MAN the Met fans showed their class!

At least here, I can disagree with people and probably never reach a consensus… but we can say “Hey, that’s your take. I don’t agree with it but I’ll respect it.”

Ahhh if only everyone commented like the Hardball Times readers.

Nobody has said “suck a fat cock u negative fool!”

Then again, the day is young

Paul Francis Sullivan
13 years ago

Wagner is really an interesting case…

His stats impress me more than Hoffman’s and he always struck me as a game changing closer.

Yet his post season record is not very impressive…

I think his case for Cooperstown is better than Hoffman’s but I would really need to sit down with a microscope and figure it out