Does Kevin Brown have Cooperstown case?

January, 3, 2011
1/03/11
3:08
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After spending most of a column arguing that Kevin Brown's seven-year, $105 million contract wasn't nearly as bad as we think (which is true), Dan Rosenheck concludes on a more lasting matter:
    Brown has a much stronger case for inclusion in quite a different pantheon: the Hall of Fame, for which he appears on the ballot for the first time this year. Brown’s key statistics -- 3,256 innings pitched at an E.R.A. 27 percent better than the league average -- mirror those of Curt Schilling, who pitched 3,261 innings with an E.R.A. 28 percent better than the league average, and easily meet Cooperstown’s established standards. That record may well have been chemically enhanced. But as long as Gaylord Perry, who wrote a book in the middle of his career about throwing the spitball, remains safely enshrined, voters should take Brown’s Hall-worthy numbers at face value.

Brown won 211 games and (as Rosenheck suggests) finished his career with a 127 ERA+. I made a list of the pitchers with between 200 and 220 wins and ERA+ between 120 and 135.

[+] EnlargeLos Angeles Dodgers' Kevin  Brown
AP Photo/E.J. FlynnA case could be made to send Kevin Brown to Cooperstown.
It's not a huge list, just seven pitchers including Brown and Schilling. The other seven: Stan Coveleski (215 wins, 128 ERA+), John Smoltz (213/125), Don Drysdale (209/121), Eddie Cicotte (209/123), Hal Newhouser (207/130).

Coveleski, Drysdale, and Newhouser are in the Hall of Fame

Schilling and Smoltz will be, someday.

Cicotte, who did as much as anyone to throw the 1919 World Series, is ineligible.

While I'm not sure that Brown easily meets "Cooperstown's established standards," he certainly does seem to meet them.

So why isn't he considered a viable candidate for election this year?

Mostly because he never won a Cy Young Award, and because he won 20 games just once. Essentially, he suffers from the same deficits that have kept Bert Blyleven waiting.

Should we hold those things against Brown, though?

From 1996 through 2000, Brown averaged 34 starts and 242 innings per season, and twice led the National League in ERA. His 2.51 ERA over those five seasons ranked second among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings, behind Pedro Martinez and ahead of Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens, Schilling, Mike Mussina, and everyone else.

Brown didn't win 20 games in any of those seasons, though. He went 82-41, winning 18 games twice, 17 games, 16 games, and 13 games in 2000 when he pitched 230 innings and posted the lowest ERA in the National League. Was it Brown's fault that he didn't win 20 games? If he had won 20 games a couple of times in those years, would his Hall of Fame case be more persuasive?

I have not been particularly enthusiastic about Brown's Hall of Fame case in the past, but I'm beginning to realize that's been largely because he never felt like a Hall of Famer to me -- which of course is exactly the sort of "thinking" for which I've criticized so many Hall of Fame voters for so many years.

On balance, looking at both Brown's performance and the fates of pitchers with similar performances, he does seem to be well-qualified for the Hall of Fame. It's true that he doesn't have anything "extra"; doesn't have Schilling's or Smoltz's postseason successes, or Newhouser's big seasons. For that reason, I can understand voters who don't consider Brown quite in the same class as those luminaries.

What I can't understand is an electorate that will collectively rate Brown as a far lesser pitcher than Jack Morris, to the point where Brown might actually receive so little support that he'll actually drop off the ballot after this single initial appearance.

Historically speaking, that just ain't right.

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