Friday, January 7, 2011
One and done for John Franco
Maybe it shouldn't have been all that surprising that Kevin Brown was named on only 12 Hall of Fame ballots this week, and fell off the BBWAA ballot forever. But what about John Franco, who also fell off the ballot upon falling just two votes shy of the required five percent?
Franco had good reasons to think he would get that five percent, at least. And you can't blame him for being disappointed:
It is with that sense of "What can I do?" that Franco viewed his brief and already complete run as a candidate for the Hall of Fame. The former Mets closer, who has the fourth-most saves in big league history (424) and the most by a left-hander, was named on merely 4.6 percent of the ballots cast by veteran members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America in the Hall balloting. As a consequence, he has lost eligibility for future consideration after his first year on the ballot.
The pitcher who finished 774 games is ... well, finished.
"It is disappointing," Franco said from his home. "I was hoping for at least 5 percent. I thought I'd get five. Anyone who has the fourth-most of anything -- hits, RBIs, wins, saves -- you figured it had to mean something. But it's another one of those things that you have no control over. So you just have to take it.
"Everyone has their opinion of a player and the job that he's done."
Hall of Fame voters have never known quite what to do with relief pitchers, but I'm a little surprised by what they did with John Franco.
Billy Wagner has been described as a potential Hall of Famer. Franco's got more saves than Wagner, and he pitched nearly 350 more innings.
Lee Smith consistently draws better than 40 percent in Hall of Fame elections. Franco earned 54 fewer saves than Smith, and pitched 46 fewer innings.
And then there are Hall of Famers Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers ...
I don't know if Wins Above Replacement really "works" for relief pitchers. Maybe WAR doesn't give relievers enough credit. But as long as we're merely comparing relievers to relievers, WAR seems as fine a measure as any.
Anyway, there are 12 relievers with WAR of 24 or better, and they can roughly be broken into four groups ...
50: Mariano Rivera
40: Hoyt Wilhelm, Rich Gossage
30: Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, Billy Wagner, John Hiller
25: John Franco, Bruce Sutter, Kent Tekulve, Rollie Fingers, Dan Quisenberry
Rivera's obviously in a class of his own, and will -- absent some horribly unwelcome revelation between now and (roughly) 2017 -- go straight into the Hall of Fame.
Wilhelm had to wait until his eighth try for election; Gossage had to wait until his ninth.
Hoffman's not eligible, but figures to be elected eventually. Smith's not making any progress. Wagner's not eligible. Hiller got 11 votes in his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot, and fell off forever.
Sutter's in the Hall of Fame because he won a Cy Young Award and helped popularize the split-fingered fastball. I wouldn't have voted for him, but that's why he's in.
Fingers in the Hall of Fame because he pitched ton of innings and pitched most of them for a team that won three straight World Series.
Tekulve and Quisenberry were ignored by Hall of Fame voters, in part because they were built like hungry scarecrows and didn't throw hard. Those are lousy reasons to discriminate against someone, but then that's the BBWAA for you.
If we were starting all over, I would probably draw the line between Gossage and Hoffman. If not behind Rivera, all by himself. As I've written before, I'm not convinced that relievers belong in the Hall of Fame at all, because I believe there have been many dozens and perhaps hundreds of pitchers in the major leagues who could have been outstanding relievers, except they were used as starters. How valuable can relievers really be, if so many great ones are so freely available?
But we've got the Hall of Fame we've got, not the Hall of Fame that we might want. And in the Hall of Fame we've got, two of the five pure relievers were little (or no) better than John Franco. Which leaves him, and us, to wonder what happened.