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Hall of Fame pitchers and peak value

12/21/2013

I wasn't around when Roy Halladay announced his retirement at the winter meetings on Dec. 9, so this piece is a little late to the game, but it's also about a few of the pitchers on this year's Hall of Fame ballot -- Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine.

Whenever a great player such as Halladay retires, the Hall of Fame discussion immediately follows. But what makes a Hall of Fame pitcher? Do you prefer Halladay's short but brilliant career or the consistency and longevity of Glavine?

Halladay finished with 203 wins -- a low total for a Hall of Fame starting pitcher. Only Sandy Koufax since World War II has been elected with fewer wins among starters. On the other hand, Halladay won two Cy Young Awards and finished second in two other votes (he probably should have won in 2011, when he had a much higher wins above replacement total than winner Clayton Kershaw). Over his 10-year peak from 2002 to 2011, he went 170-75 (a .694 winning percentage) with a 2.97 ERA while averaging 219 innings per season. He had seven top-five Cy Young finishes.

That's a remarkable run of dominance. But again: What makes a Hall of Fame pitcher?

Let's see how Halladay -- not to mention Mussina, Schilling, Glavine or also-retired Andy Pettitte -- compare with Hall of Fame pitchers and other recent starters. Warning: Big chart to follow. I've included all post-1960 Hall of Fame starters, plus a bunch of other guys of interest. The chart includes each pitcher's career WAR from Baseball-Reference.com plus his 10-year peak WAR. Since we're using Halladay as our base comparison, we're using the best 10 years in a row, not the 10 best overall seasons. I also listed each pitcher's percentage of total career value earned in that 10-year period. (WAR includes only value earned as a pitcher; Glavine, for example, also earned 7.5 WAR from his hitting in his career.)

For those looking for excellence over individual seasons, we've listed the number of 7-WAR seasons (Cy Young-type year) and 5-WAR seasons (All-Star caliber).

PEAK VALUE PERFORMANCE

Key: WAR = career wins above replacement; 10-year peak = Best consecutive 10-year stretch; Pct. = Percentage of career value in those 10 seasons; Record = W-L record in those 10 seasons; Years = Period of peak value; 7+ = seasons with 7+ WAR; 5+ = seasons with 5+ WAR. * = Hall of Famer; # = on this year's ballot; ^ = not yet eligible

OK, some random comments...

Roy Halladay: As you can see, he is unique in that most of his career value is wrapped up in that 10-year stretch, with 95 percent (his career value is also hurt by his two awful seasons in 2000 and 2013, worth minus-3.9 WAR). Only Koufax had a higher percentage of his career value from his 10-year peak (of course, his peak was really only five or six seasons). The impressive thing is how high Halladay ranks: Among 31 pitchers listed in the chart, he's 10th in peak value.

I tend to weigh peak value heavily, especially when it's as high as Halladay's was ... and 10 years is a pretty long period of dominance for a pitcher. Compare Halladay with Glavine, who is new to this year's ballot. Glavine, playing most of his career for much better teams, won 305 games. He was very good -- he won two Cy Young Awards -- and durable, never missing a start for 20 years. In his 10-year peak, he earned 47.7 WAR; in his other 12 seasons, he earned 26.3 WAR, barely 2 per season ... but also earned credit for another 130 wins. You can win a lot of games simply by being average for a long period, especially when you have Andruw Jones playing center field behind you.

Does that average period of pitching make Glavine that much stronger of a Hall of Fame candidate than Halladay? History suggests it will.

As for Halladay, the most similar pitcher to him is probably Juan Marichal, who wrapped up most of his value in a 10-year stretch, as well. Marichal pitched in an era when starters made more starts and pitched more innings, so he won more games, but their careers map pretty closely. In fact, Halladay has more career WAR and the higher peak. Marichal won 243 games and was inducted in his third year on the ballot.

Curt Schilling: Based on career value, peak value and postseason results, Schilling should be a slam dunk Hall of Famer. Instead, voters looked at his 216 wins and gave him only 39 percent of the vote last year, his first time on the ballot.

Mike Mussina: Mussina is middle-of-the-pack in peak value and higher in career value. He also has 10 seasons of 5-plus WAR, topped by only six starters. The view might be that Mussina's peak wasn't good enough (he never won a Cy Young Award), but this chart says that's just not the case. If you combine career WAR and peak WAR, he should be an easy Hall of Famer. Yet I still fear he will fail to get 5 percent of the vote and will get booted from the ballot.

Andy Pettitte: Pettitte won 256 games, which might make his Hall of Fame case pick up steam, much as Jack Morris' eventually did. Factor in his World Series rings, and he might fare better than Mussina (although he also admitted to using PEDs). My view is Pettitte's case is much weaker than Halladay's or Schilling's or Mussina's, as he lacks peak value while being borderline in career value.

Don Sutton: Sutton's case was a bitter Hall of Fame dispute for several seasons, until he finally got elected in his fifth year thanks to 324 career wins. The view of the naysayers was that he was merely a compiler -- a guy who was very good and lasted a long time but was never elite. That looks like an accurate assessment. His 10-year peak is low, and he had no 7-WAR seasons. He's similar in many ways to Glavine, although Glavine was a little better. Still, 324 wins is 324 wins ...

David Cone, Dave Stieb, Bret Saberhagen, Orel Hershiser: I listed these guys, all of whom fell off the ballot right away, to see how they stack up. It's hard to argue with the Hall of Fame voters here: These guys don't quite compare to the Hall of Fame pitchers in career or peak value. Cone probably has the best case of the group, kind of a poor man's Halladay. He went 194-126 in his career, won a Cy Young and started for five World Series winners (although he was in the bullpen in the playoffs for the 2000 Yankees). Cone received 4 percent of the vote his one year on the ballot, with his case to be reviewed at some point by the veterans committee.

Jack Morris: Morris was never as good as the four pitchers above at his peak, whether it's one-year peak, three-year peak or 10-year peak. His case boils down to 254 wins, Game 7 of the 1991 World Series and a nebulous title as "Pitcher of the '80s," which is just another way of saying he won the most games in the decade. OK, you want to give credit to Morris for the postseason? Why did Hershiser and Cone and even Saberhagen -- who threw his own Game 7 shutout -- get no credit for theirs? Anyway, this is Morris' last shot. It will be interesting to see, once he clears the ballot -- in or out -- how voters will start evaluating wins. Hey, Pedro Martinez won only 219 games.

Nolan Ryan: You know what? Nolan Ryan was a compiler. He compiled strikeouts, walks and longevity. He was one-of-a-kind and I'd certainly classify him as a clear-cut Hall of Famer, but he was never the pitcher Halladay or Schilling was. (I mean, at his best, on those days he was throwing a little harder and with a little better control, sure, he was more dominant than anyone, but for one season or period of seasons, I'd take Halladay or Schilling.)

As for Halladay, I'd vote for him without a second thought. Voters need to realize that they shouldn't overemphasize wins -- plus, look at the chart. The period of the late '60s and '70s was conducive to a lot of wins for several reasons. Three of the pitchers had the exact same peak years, with others just a year or two off. Just because many from that generation won 300 games doesn't mean that should continue to be the Hall of Fame standard.

Roy Halladay, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine are all Hall worthy.