Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Hall of 100: Glavine versus Smoltz
By David Schoenfield
I was a little surprised as well that John Smoltz came in at No. 75 while Tom Glavine ranked No. 93, considering Glavine won 305 games compared to Smoltz's 213. We know that wins aren't everything, still ... 92 wins is a lot of wins to make up in other areas. Of course, these two are easier to compare than most pitchers since they were teammates from 1988 through 2002, pitching with the same defenses behind them.
Smoltz was the more dominant pitcher -- more strikeouts, harder to hit. But Glavine had nearly 1,000 more innings as Smoltz battled some injuries (missing all of the 2000 season) and spent three seasons and part of a fourth as a closer. All those extra innings helped Glavine achieve the edge in career wins above replacement (per Baseball-Reference.com), thus seemingly turning this into a debate over career value versus peak value.
But that's not really the case. Let's rank their top 20 seasons:
1. Glavine, 1991: 8.2
2. Smoltz, 1996: 7.1
3. Glavine, 1998: 5.9
4. Glavine, 1996, 5.6
(tie Smoltz, 2006: 5.6
6. Glavine, 1997: 5.3
7. Smoltz, 1991: 5.1
8. Smoltz, 2005: 4.7
9. Glavine, 1995: 4.6
(tie) Glavine, 2000: 4.6
11. Smoltz, 1997: 4.5
12. Smoltz, 2007: 4.3
13. Smoltz, 1999: 4.2
14. Smoltz, 1995: 4.0
15. Glavine, 2005: 3.9
16. Glavine, 2002: 3.8
(tie) Glavine, 2004: 3.8
18. Glavine, 1992: 3.6
19. Smoltz, 1989: 3.5
20. Glavine, 2001: 3.4
I can't see where Smoltz rates the edge in peak value. If anything, in looking at the best 10 seasons, Glavine rates the edge. Smoltz did edge out Glavine in career ERA, but that's a factor of (1) Smoltz spending those years in the bullpen (his ERA was 3.40 as a starter); and (2) Glavine taking a few years to get going (4.29 ERA through his first three-plus seasons).
It may also be worth looking at how each performed in the Braves' closest pennant races.
1991: Braves beat Dodgers by 1 game (Glavine: 20-11, 2.55; Smoltz: 14-13, 3.80)
1993: Braves beat Giants by 1 game (Glavine: 22-6, 3.20; Smoltz: 15-11, 3.62)
1999: Braves beat Mets by 6.5 games, lead was 1 game with 12 to go (Glavine: 14-11, 4.12; Smoltz: 11-8, 3.19). In September, Glavine beat the Mets twice, allowing three runs in two starts. Smoltz had a no decision in one start against the Mets, allowing one run.
2000: Braves beat Mets by 1 game (Glavine: 21-9, 3.40; Smoltz: Missed entire season)
2001: Braves beat Phillies by 2 games (Glavine: 16-7, 3.57; Smoltz: 3-3, 10 saves)
That was it while they were teammates. In 2005, the Braves topped the Phillies by 2 games and Smoltz went 14-7, 3.06. In 2006, Glavine's Mets won the National League East by 12 games.
Anyway, it's pretty clear that Glavine rates the decided edge in "close pennant race" seasons. He pitched in 1991 and 1993, seasons the Braves won the East by 1 game (and there was no wild card). Due to injuries, Smoltz wasn't a factor in close races in 2000 and 2001.
So, it has to be Glavine, right? Higher career WAR, just as strong in peak seasons, better in close races.
We've left out one thing, however: Postseason performance.
Smoltz is one of the great October pitchers of all time, going 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA and four saves. Glavine went 14-16 with a 3.30 ERA. Smoltz pitched 209 innings and allowed 67 runs; Glavine pitched 218.1 innings and allowed 91 runs.
To push Smoltz past Glavine, you have to give him extra credit for that postseason performance, which is certainly reasonable. So we're kind of left with this: Glavine helped his teams a little more in getting to the postseason; Smoltz was the guy you wanted starting in the postseason. Tough call. I wonder if our image of Smoltz is stronger because he threw harder and if you watched postseason baseball in the '90s, you remember some of his big games.
If anything, maybe they should have been 75 and 76 in the Hall of 100 ... I'm just not sure in which order.