By In Stuff

Closers

As you know, I have  been telling the stories of the players on the Hall of Fame ballot and, as part of that, I have been ranking them. I have never explained exactly HOW I am ranking the ballot, because I never thought it mattered and, to be honest, I didn’t put too much thought into that part. The rankings are just a device to tell the stories. At the beginning, I lined up the players more or less in the order that I thought they finished as ballplayers, and I began writing. I really didn’t think too much about it.

Well, I’m not going to say it was a mistake to do it that way because I think the rankings have added a little fun and order to the project. But, OK, I did wince a little bit when there was some consternation about me ranking Magglio Ordóñez ahead of Mike Cameron. I neither know nor care if Ordonez was better than Cameron — I just wanted to write a little bit about two very good players I believe fall below the Hall of Fame standard.

Then again, when I wrote about the wonder of taking my daughter to see Hamilton, I did not expect to start a comment brawl about the gender pay gap.

And now, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of putting Trevor Hoffman — who the vast majority of people believe is a Hall of Famer — way down here at No. 16 or No. 17 on the ballot. It seems like an insult, and the last thing I want to do is insult a terrific player and person like Hoffman. I have explained this before, and I wonder if people believe me: When it comes to the Hall of Fame, there are two parts of me, a bit like good cop/bad cop from The Lego Movie.

There is the Hall of Fame voter part, the part of me that carefully (very carefully) and soberly (I hope) breaks things down and votes for the Hall.

And there is the baseball fan part of me, the part that just loves to celebrate this incredible game.

The Hall of Fame voter part wrote dozens of columns about why Jack Morris’ career fell short of the Hall of Fame. I still believe that; I think Morris’ career is endlessly fascinating for me to write because it’s like my fascination with magic* — the career is filled with misdirection and illusion. Pay no attention to the ERA, boys and girls, because watch as I pull a Game 7 out of thin air!

*I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this or not, but I’m writing a book about what Harry Houdini means in the world today. 

So that’s the Hall of Fame voter part of me. But the baseball fan part of me LOVES Jack Morris, loves the gritty way he pitched, is thoroughly charmed and amused by the old-school way he talks and thinks, thoroughly appreciates the role he played in baseball history. And so I say with complete honesty, I absolutely hope he gets elected on the veteran’s committee ballot next year. I know that seems illogical, but it’s absolutely how I feel. I couldn’t vote for him. But I root for him.

In that same way: The Hall of Fame voter part of me is completely baffled by how strong the Hall of Fame support is for Trevor Hoffman. But the baseball fan part of me will celebrate when Hoffman is elected to the Hall.

The Hall of Fame voter part of me  thinks that Billy Wagner, like Hoffman, was a terrific closer but did not have quite a Hall of Fame level career. But the baseball fan part of me feels a little bit angry that Wagner isn’t getting MORE support when you consider how many people are voting for Hoffman.

It’s all pretty confusing. So I am doing this in two parts. Coming up later, I will try to tell a few good stories about Hoffman and Wagner, celebrate them a little bit, just like I have for the other players on this ballot.

And, for now, I’ve written this much less interesting bit about why I will not vote for either of them … and why I have them both this low on the ballot.

* * *

Trevor Hoffman pitched 1,089 innings in his long career. To give you an idea — Brandon Webb pitched more innings. Madison Bumgarner has pitched more innings. Doug Fister, Clay Carroll, LaTroy Hawkins, Moon Man Minton, Rick Porcello, Al Fitzmorris, Eric Plunk, Craig Swan and 933 other pitchers have thrown more innings than Trevor Hoffman.

So you have to ask yourself: What did Trevor Hoffman do in those 1,089 innings that make him a Hall of Famer? Did he strike out so many batters in those 1,089 innings that the mind is left reeling? No. He struck out 1,133, a little more than one per inning, a high total but not as high as Wagner (who struck out 1,196 in 903 innings) or even someone like Octavio Dotel or Armando Benitez or K-Rod.

Did he prevent runs at a historic rate? No. His 2.87 ERA is solid enough but it’s not earth-shaking especially when you consider he pitched roughly half his innings in the pitcher’s paradise of San Diego — again, Wagner’s 2.31 ERA is much more impressive. Anyway, ERA for relievers isn’t a great statistic.

Did he set some sort of record for fewest hits allowed per inning? No. Was his Fielding Independent Pitching average so low that you bowed your head in admiration? No: His 3.08 FIP is good but not great.

So what did Hoffman do so well? Answer: He finished off games. More than 600 times in his career he got the final out in his team’s victory. Five hundred of those times (well 498 to be exact), he started the last inning with a lead between one and three runs, and he held that lead. This was his role, and he did it extremely well — about as well as anyone.

Most Saves:
1. Mariano Rivera, 652
2. Trevor Hoffman, 601
3. Lee Smith, 478
4. Francisco Rodriguez, 430
5. John Franco, 424
6. Billy Wagner, 422
7. Dennis Eckersley, 390
8. Joe Nathan, 377
9. Jonathan Papelbon, 368
10. Jeff Reardon, 367

So when asking if Hoffman or Wagner (or Mariano Rivera) belongs in the Hall of Fame, what we are really asking is this: How good does a closer have to be?

Sometimes, you will hear people compare a designated hitter like Edgar Martinez to a closer like Hoffman. Hey, look, they were both specialists! But I don’t think that’s a good comparison. A designated hitter contributes at least 75-80% of what you would expect of a first baseman or left fielder, probably more. Hitting is the most important part of what an everyday player does. What percentage of Ted Williams’ overall value (or Harmon Killebrew … Willie Stargell … Willie McCovey … Ralph Kiner … Jim Rice … Lou Brock … on and on) came from their defense?

Even Baseball Reference WAR, which I think might exaggerate the value of defense, will rank offense as, by far, the biggest part of a player’s value.

Mike Schmidt was a great defensive third baseman — WAR says 85% of his value was on offense.

Roberto Clemente was a defensive legend — WAR says 75% of his value was on offense.

Even a guy like Ozzie Smith, who is in the Hall of Fame almost entirely because of his defense — WAR says 62% of his true value was on offense.

Meanwhile a guy like Dave Winfield — who won seven Gold Gloves but does not rate well on defense by WAR calculations — his offensive value was 114% of his overall value.

In other words, if you want to knock 10-15% off for a guy like Edgar Martinez or Big Papi, that’s probably reasonable.

Then, there are closers. Trevor Hoffman averaged 61 innings per year — that’s about 30% of what a good starter will give you, even a little less. In his 12 best seasons, Hoffman averaged 2.2 WAR — that’s roughly 30% of what you would expect from a real Cy Young Award contender.

I think if you want to make a football comparison, a designated hitter is like a pass-rushing defensive end or linebacker that you might take out on obvious running downs. Think: Derrick Thomas. Think: Charles Haley. Or maybe a running back who you take out on third and long. Think Earl Campbell.

And a closer is like a kicker.

Anyway, that’s how I see it: Your mileage may (and probably does) vary. I am absolutely willing to vote a closer (or a kicker) into the Hall of Fame but he has to be an overwhelming one, someone who blasts through the limitations of the position and so dominates that he leaves no doubt about his greatness. I do believe Rivera crosses this line because of his postseason dominance as much as anything.

And, for me, Hoffman and Wagner do not. Trevor Hoffman’s case is his 601 saves. That’s it.* That’s his whole case in the same way that Gary Anderson’s case is that he made 538 field goals. By Wins Above Average, Hoffman ranks 117th among pitchers not in the Hall of Fame behind, among others, Sid Fernandez, Burt Hooton, Kerry Wood, Preacher Roe, Mark Gubicza, Andy Messersmith, Larry French, Noodles Hahn, Billy Wagner and, yes, the much lamented Javier Vazquez, who was not even LISTED on this Hall of Fame ballot.

Now, I’m not saying Wins Above Average should be a defining statistic, I’m saying that when you talk about a pitcher who throws so few innings and ranks 117th among non-Hall of Famers in WAA, well, the burden of proof is pretty high.

Perhaps, in the end, the best way to explain this is to use the Bret Saberhagen test. Bret Saberhagen was a great pitcher. Not a good pitcher. A great one. He won two Cy Young Awards and absolutely deserved them both. He had three other superb seasons and three or four other good seasons. Saberhagen’s best eight seasons were probably better than Tom Glavine’s best eight seasons,  John Smoltz’s best eight seasons, and so on. In just those eight seasons, he compiled 32.1 wins above average — more than twice as many wins as Hoffman compiled in his entire career.

Bret Saberhagen got seven votes in his one year on the Hall of Fame ballot. Seven. He got fewer votes than Paul O’Neill or Albert Belle. The voters were clear: Great pitcher, but his career just was not long enough.

Saberhagen pitched two and a half times more innings than Trevor Hoffman.

* * *

*Someone on Twitter brings up a fair point — Hoffman’s save percentage should be mentioned. He converted 89% of his saves, a very high percentage, almost as high as Rivera. Billy Wagner converted 86% of his saves as a comparison. Hoffman really was superior at closing out games.

But I should say — I’m not sure how much stock I put in that statistic. Here’s why: Hoffman saved 286 games in San Diego, where runs are absurdly hard to come by. He converted 91% os his saves in San Diego. That’s where he pushed the number up. A good closer should be able to convert about 100% of his two or three run leads into victory in those hitters’ dungeons of San Diego.

As for the rest, he converted 87% of his saves everywhere else. That’s still great (and you have to give every pitcher a slight edge at home anyway) but again it’s not all that much better than your typically good closer.

If Hoffman had converted 95% of his saves, for example, way above even the best closers ever, well, that would really be something and I would say something like that would make him a clear Hall of Famer in my mind. But that’s just not the case. He converted saves at about the same rate as Mariano Rivera, which is good, but it’s also about the same rate as Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon and Jose Valverde and Craig Kimbrel. 

 

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84 Responses to Closers

  1. Daniel says:

    I don’t like the kicker analogy for closers, because it’s not like a fantastic kicker could play quarterback or something, but if a closer were good enough, he would be a starter. In other words, the kicker’s limited role is defined by the game, but the closer’s limited role is because of his own limitations as a player.

    • Fin Alyn says:

      It’s not the 70’s anymore. These guys have been closers most of their lives and it has nothing to do with whether or not they are good enough to be a starter. The teams they were with saw they could throw upper 90s and put them in the pen back in the minors to learn to be closers. Maybe they could have been starters, but weren’t ever really given that chance. Gregg Olson is another guy that comes to mind. Chapman has always wanted to be a starter, but teams wouldn’t let him, so how is that a limitation of his ability? Aaron Sanchez was very reluctantly allowed to become a starter by the Blue Jays, and he wasn’t even a closer, because they valued his bullpen ability. Oh, gee, turns out he was one of the best starters in the entire major leagues this year.

      • Maz says:

        I was with you until you started talking about ‘learn how to be closers.’ What is there to learn? You need one big out pitch and some control, that’s it. Learning how to do it is like learning how to be seven feet tall in basketball. You either got it or you don’t.

        Edwin Diaz was a AA starter who had to learn at least one more pitch in order to start successfully in the majors. But the Mariners needed immediate bullpen help, so they turned him into a closer and sent him up in a few weeks. He did just fine. (Fast learner, I guess.) Worked so well, they sent Dan Altavilla up the same pipeline and he did fine, too. (Amazing how a guy who throws in the high nineties tends to learn so fast.)

        I’m a long way from being convinced that there’s anything special at all about the ninth inning. The only unique thing about it is the save statistic itself, which I don’t believe usefully measures anything — any more than the ‘game-winning rbi’ ever did. (Remember those? They were introduced at about the same time the save was. And both stats were about equally dumb, in my opinion, though only one was given up.)

      • DC says:

        Uh, no.

        Basically every reliever is a failed starter or a one-pitch specialist who never was going to be a starter.

        In fact, Cincinnati wanted Chapman to start but he did not. Toronto gave Sanchez numerous chances to be a starter because they understood that he was more valuable there, the problem was his command. Teams tried Andrew Miller as a starter for years before they finally gave up and turned him into a dominant reliever.

        Teams draft pitchers out of high school and college and make them starters until there is no chance that they succeed, then reluctantly convert them to college. The only exceptions are pitchers who obviously have little or no chance to succeed as starters.

        No team is putting a minor league pitcher who throws in the upper 90s into the bullpen unless he only has one pitch or has serious command/control problems.

      • Josh says:

        I can tell you right now, Chapman would have been a starter in Cincinnati. He didn’t want to, and the issue was not pushed as much as it should have been.

        • Derek says:

          To be fair, Chapman was being stretched out as a starter in 2012 Spring Training, and he probably would’ve grabbed the 5th spot (Bailey and Leake were pitching pretty bad, and they both were below average in 2011). But Ryan Madson got hurt, Chapman was moved back to closer and he had one of the most dominant relief seasons ever, so that was pretty much that.

          • Joe Mannix says:

            You are mostly correct. Chapman definitely was slotted for the Reds’ rotation with Madson as the closer. Madson got hurt in spring training (and never threw a pitch for the Reds in the regular season), Chapman went to the bullpen, and Sean Marshall was the closer. Marshall had a bad week or a bad two weeks, and suddenly he was the setup guy and Chapman was the closer.

            The pity is that, if Madson hadn’t gotten hurt, Chapman’s HoF case would already been cut and dried. He would basically be Randy Johnson.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Except that the one inning closer is a strategic decision by Managers. It has nothing to do with the inability to throw more than one inning. Failed starter? Edgar Martinez was a failed 3rd baseman. Doesn’t mean he isn’t a HOFer. Stick to the facts. The numbers say that, except for Saves, Trevor Hoffman has an iffy HOF case. The fact that Billy Wagner probably has a better HOF case should give voters pause. Or, perhaps they should give Wagner a second look.

      • Largebill says:

        Edgar wasn’t a failure as a third baseman. He manned the position fine. His problem was injuries. Team decided to DH him so he’d be able to stay in the lineup.

        • Maz says:

          I was going to make the same point about Edgar, but Largebill beat me to it. I saw the game on tv when Edgar tore himself up due to a wrinkle in the turf. Just about broke my heart.

          Another point about DH’s in general: No player wants to be a DH. They always make the point that DHing is harder than hitting while playing a position, and the stats bear them out. Thus, unlike Joe, I would be against discounting any DH’s stats. If anything, they should be awarded a premium for being able to keep their heads in the game, when so many players can’t.

          • Phil Gaskill says:

            One counter-example here. I also was a Mariners fan, lived in Seattle for some time, and I went to a lot of M’s games. One year in the late 70s-early 80s, I kept score of every game I went to, and after the season just for fun I looked up what Bruce Bochte hit while DHing vs. not. I don’t remember exactly how many games this was, or how many DH games vs. not, but it was a significant number. Bochte hit an even .400 while DHing that year (in the games I was at), and (obviously) significantly less than .400 while playing in the field. I know, I know, can’t draw major conclusions from limited data, but here’s at least one player who obviously didn’t subscribe to the “DHing is harder” viewpoint. 😉

    • Jake says:

      If a kicker were good enough at catching passes, he would be a receiver. But he isn’t.

    • Paul Schroeder says:

      No, No, No, No, No. If you believe our friend Joe, your closer is your best pitcher. He is the closer because of that. Joe (and others) has argued your closer should actually start several times a week, or be brought in in the highest leverage situation in the game, whether it’s the 9th inning or not. Look how Terry Francona used Andrew Miller in the post season.

      All that said, I put Hoffman in the hall. He should be evaluated on his merits at the position he played. He was a closer. He was one of the best ever. If you are one of the top two or three at your position you belong in the hall. The fact that his statistics do not compare favorably to starters is irrelevant. I don’t care how many innings Tom Candiotti pitched when I am evaluating whether Hoffman belongs in the hall.

      • invitro says:

        Would you put the best three mop-up men in the HoF?

        • Finny says:

          Or the best lefty specialist? The best pinch hitter? The best defensive replacement? It’s a fair question. (And if the answer is yes, I look forward to seeing Jesse Orosco, Lenny Harris and Rafael Belliard get their HOF plaques.)

          • Paul Schroeder says:

            That’s been addressed in other comments regarding the different roles of pinch hitters, etc… A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…

  2. Johnny P says:

    If Jack Morris is elected on the Veteran’s Committee ballot next year, but guys like Whitaker, Trammell, and Grich are once again snubbed, I might have a meltdown.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Because of a quirky two CALENDAR year rule, Trammell can’t be considered until the late 2018 Veterans Committee, because the BBWAA vote is announced in January and the Veterans Committee announces in December. This effectively causes Trammell to be ineligible for the VC vote for three years.

  3. Largebill says:

    While I basically agree on closers, you have to admit that the ones already elected muddy the water for those now being considered. Bruce Sutter in but several with better/longer careers out? Hoffman and Wagner are not in my top ten on this years ballot, but both are clearly better than a couple closers already in HoF.

    • Alter Kacker says:

      The lawyer in me tells me that bad precedents should be overruled (or at least distinguished away). I love Billy Wagner (saw him pitch for Tucson in PCL) and Trevor Hoffman (saw his play SS for University of Arizona). I would be thrilled to see them chosen for the Hall of Fame. (As I would be for Trammell, Whitaker, Grich, Minoso, and a bunch of others — I tend to be a Big Hall guy.) But I don’t think the Hall would be diminished by their absence, as it is by the blackballing of steroids-era players and Marvin Miller.

      • Largebill says:

        Agree with all of that except the Marvin Miller part. He had nothing to do with baseball. Put him in a union negotiator Hall of Fame.

        • Robert Rittner says:

          What? Miller is one of the most important people in the history of baseball! His efforts made it more fair, more popular and more profitable. The fact that he was not an employee of baseball is not relevant. Neither was Henry Chadwick, but that does not diminish his importance or impact.

  4. Otistaylor89 says:

    I completely agree with you that closers are like kickers and that they have to been really, rally good to get in.
    Mariano Rivera is like 3x as good as any kicker who ever played, better than Justin Tucker’s 2016 for 15 years plus. Mariano’s playoff ERA was .70!
    Trevor Hoffman is David Akers, a really good kicker for a long time, made several Pro Bowls and All Pro teams, but was probably never the best kicker in the league in any given year and is not a HOFer.

  5. Charlie says:

    One thing to ponder. Starters impact more innings, but relievers impact twice as many games.

    • Jake says:

      The former is far, far more significant than the other, though. Relievers come into twice as many (more than, really, but not 3x as many) games, but they pitch far fewer than 1/2 the innings.

      • Evan says:

        Why is this the case? Please explain why the 2nd through 5th innings of an 8-0 game (winning or losing) is more important than 4 one inning appearances in close games. I think the issue is more we don’t have enough data to determine close vs less important innings, so we just assume they are all equally valuable.

        • nightfly says:

          Conversely, why would a three-run lead with three outs to go be more important than pitching the 2nd-5th innings of a tied or one-run game?

          The real problem is that the save is so devalued, and holding tight games in the middle innings is undervalued. It skews everyone’s perceptions of bullpen pitching. Think of All-Star Games, for example: the pitching staffs are always starters and closers, with set-up guys or old-school firemen requiring ridiculous seasons to break through, such as Betances this year. (I’m pretty sure Herrera would have made neither of his All-Star Games if his manager wasn’t making the selections both times.)

          It’s been talked to death here and elsewhere, but the save is a terrible statistic, and it leads to a lot of bullpen misuse and lost ballgames. Dominant pitchers who would prosper with different usage consider it a demotion if they take the ball before the ninth, even though the team needs them far more with the go-ahead run on base in the bottom of the seventh. “Nope, too early!” Unless you already have a dominant closer and the set-up guy is young, in which case he’s considered the “heir apparent” who is “auditioning” for a closer’s role somewhere. Saves get them paid, and working out of jams gets them nothing.

          • Evan says:

            Yes, one inning in one game is not more impressive than 3 innings in one game. But we are talking about innings across multiple games. So the impact is on multiple games, and thus should have a larger affect. Which is more valuable, homering 5 times in one game or in 5 separate games?

          • nightfly says:

            It would depend on whether your team “needed” those runs, I suppose, and there’s no way to know for sure while you’re playing.

            In any case, pitching isn’t the same kind of a situation, since that job is strictly negative. Each homer you hit adds runs, but each great inning pitched doesn’t subtract them from the other team, it only keeps the margin the same. If I pitch a great inning to get out of a jam and hold a 1-run lead, I start the next inning with that same 1-run lead (assuming the offense doesn’t add on anything). So holding that lead three or four times has a great deal of value, both in winning that game and in keeping the other pitchers rested for games they may be needed.

            To pitch only the last inning of multiple such games, in much lower-leverage situations, may eventually add up to pitching well in a few high-leverage situations; there are attempts to try to quantify exactly how high or low the leverages are. I am somewhat skeptical. A modern 9th-inning closer has to have a lot of other things go well, and have other pitchers hand that lead over to him. His impact is proportionately much lower, even if he does affect twice as many games as a typical starter.

      • Evan Rothschild says:

        Why is this the case? Please explain why the 2nd through 5th innings of an 8-0 game (winning or losing) is more important than 4 one inning appearances in close games. I think the issue is more we don’t have enough data to determine close vs less important innings, so we just assume they are all equally valuable.

        • Darrel says:

          Please explain how pitching the ninth with a 3 run lead has either an “impact” or is a “close game”. When studied appearance by appearance the number of high leverage innings a closer pitches is absurdly small. Your mileage may vary on high leverage I suppose but to me pitching an inning with a 2 or 3 run lead isn’t high leverage. In a typical 60 inning year a closer might pitch half of those innings in a one run or tied game. A starter will likely cover that by the end of May.

          • Evan says:

            Again the questions is are we not accounting for the fact that more games are being impacted. A hitter example, which is more valuable: hitting 5 home runs in one game or 4 home runs across 4 different games?

          • Rob says:

            You should also account for what inning it is to determine an appearance’s leverage. A 1 run game in the 9th inning is a lot more leveraged than a 1 run game in the 2nd. On average, I think an inning for a closer is a lot more valuable than an inning for a starter due to that. I don’t know how much though but I don’t think it is enough to make Hoffman a HOFer in my book although it is enough to make it a lot closer than you would infer from just comparing innings pitched to starters.

          • invitro says:

            “On average, I think an inning for a closer is a lot more valuable than an inning for a starter due to that.” — This has been quantified. On bb-ref, full-season starters have -0.1 or -0.2 WAAadj (see below for more on WAAadj). Well, I suppose some calculation is necessary to say if closers’ innings really are a “lot” more valuable.

  6. Craig from Az says:

    Interesting (to me, at least) thought experiment I read about recently. Would you vote a player into the Hall of Fame for being the best pinch hitter ever?

    • Brian Schwartz says:

      If somebody was consistently the best pinch-hitter for 15 to 20 years he would have a case – imagine somebody who played like Gates Brown’s 1968 season for his entire career. That would never happen in real life because a player who consistently hit that well would eventually get more playing time.

    • Rob Smith says:

      This is a false equivalence. The most prolific pinch hitters got about 400 lifetime pinch hit at bats. And that’s only a handful that got that many. That’s about 75% of one full year of a full time players ABs. (Noting that Lenny Harris got over 800 pinch hit ABs, but is an anomaly). A closer, on the other hand, approximates about 5+ full years of innings of a starting pitcher. Also the record for pinch hits in a season is 28, and the drop off after that is considerable. Pinch hitters don’t have near the impact on the same number of games as a closer. Having a good pinch hitter is a definite nice to have. But is hardly critical for a team’s success. You can argue about the closers impact on the game, but it does seem like good teams tend to have good closers. It’s part of the puzzle.

      • moviegoer74 says:

        I suspect it is not true that “good teams tend to have good closers.”

        I suspect that a thorough study would demonstrate that teams with winning records are no more likely than teams with losing records to have “good closers.”

  7. Donald A. Coffin says:

    I understand and sympathize with Joe’s position about relief pitchers (and kickers), but I disagree.

    In the NFL, kickers *used to be* position players–Lou “The Foe” Groza, Paul Hornung, George Blanda, Pat Summerall…and so on. (I’ve listed place kickers here, but punters were also position players–Bobby Layne, Kyle Rote.) But the game changed, and team management made decisions about player use. So kickers became specialists.

    The same thing has happened with pitchers. Consider that in his 17 (really, effectively 15 full seasons) year career, Christy Mathewson made 84 relief appearances. Walter Johnson, 136. Lefty Grove, 159. Bob Feller, 86. Warren Spahn, 85. Don Sutton, 18. Jack Morris,22. Roger Clemens, 2. Greg Maddux, 4. And that decline in relief appearances among ace starting pitchers occurred as those pitchers started fewer games per season and had (many) fewer complete games.

    So I think we have to look at kickers–and relief pitchers–as in their own category of players. Was this player among the greatest ever at his position (in the way he was used)? So the criteria are different, I think, the scales are different. And, in that context, Hoffmann and Wagner and Lew Smith, yeah, they are, sooner or later HoF quality players.

    I would say the same thing about hitters who were primarily DHs (although the number of long-career DHs is still small).

    The criteria fit the context, not the other way around.

    • Brent says:

      Interesting comment, although I must take exception to this Comment: “So kickers became specialists”. That’s not the entire truth. EVERYONE became specialists. We just find playing QB or even RG more important than kicking (or punting), so we value those players’ specialty more. In the 40s, most everyone played both on offense and defense and I suspect that you would find that the best athlete played QB, RB, safety and punted and kicked and returned punts and kicks.(go further back and I know you would find that) Frank Gifford was probably the last of the players who did most of those things on an NFL field, but there were a lot of them in the early years of football (Jim Thorpe comes to mind).

    • PJS says:

      It was Lou “The Toe” Groza, not “Foe.”

    • Rob Smith says:

      I agree that kickers are similar to closers. It’s pretty hard to win championships without them. Kickers are kind of forgotten until you need a 45 yarder to win a playoff game. Have a bad kicker? You feel it. Same with closers. Have one that blows games? It hurts. You feel it. Both positions are taken for granted…. until yours isn’t doing the job. Then you see how important those players are for a team to win close games consistently. And at the pro level, most games are close.

      In college, there are some coaches that are still anti kicker… and guess what… they never seem to have a good kicker. Good kickers don’t sign to play for those guys. I don’t see that in the NFL much. Players, mainly ex players, seem to like to pop off about kickers every now, and then…. or maybe players for teams who have kickers that are not doing the job. But the vast majority know that a kicker is someone who’s the difference between winning and losing a lot of games. Teams appreciate guys who do their job every game.

  8. Mark Daniel says:

    Closers are out there, though. In key situations, when the game is on the line. Ninth inning. There is a finality to their appearance. Starters, especially these days, don’t have to deal with that. They pitch 6 innings, give up 2-4 runs, then they sit the rest of the game.

    Because of this finality, a closer’s role seems more important, and in some ways perhaps it is more important.
    As an example, Mariano Rivera had 42 postseason saves in 141 innings, with a 0.70 ERA and a 0.752 WHIP.
    As far as I can tell, his blown saves/leads total in the postseason was 5. So, 5 times in the postseason he either blew a save or lead.
    Of those 5, one didn’t matter (2004 ALDS game 2; the Yanks won anyway).

    Each of the other 4 came in a situation when the Yankees held a lead AND would have clinched the series had they won the game. Moreover, each of those blown saves/leads came in a series the Yankees lost.
    They were:
    1997 ALDS game 4 (Yanks up 2 games to 1 in series, up 1 run in game, Rivera gave up 1 run in 8th to blow lead. Yanks ultimately lose game and series.
    2001, WS game 7 (Rivera enters game up 1 in 8th. In 9th allows 2 runs, Yanks lose WS)
    2004, ALCS game 4 (Yanks up 3 games to 0 in series. Rivera enters game up 1 in 8th. In 9th, walks Millar, Roberts steals 2nd, Mueller singles to tie game. Yanks lose in extras.)
    2004, ALCS game 5 (Yanks up 3 games to 1 in series. Enters 8th up 1 with men on 1st and 3rd. Gives up sac fly to tie game. Yanks lose in extras. A Yanks win would have clinched series).

    Those are some high profile moments in which to be standing on the mound. I’m guessing a less accomplished closer’s reputation would not have survived being on the mound for even one of these, much less all of them.

    It’s been mentioned numerous times by others that, statistically, a closer like Rivera only produces a marginal advantage over an average closer. But considering the stakes of some of these games, do you really want an average closer out there?

  9. Go Indians says:

    I don’t think that the kicker analogy is the best. The one that I always use is the spot starter/defensive replacement player.

    Lets assume a great player is put into this “role” either because it is the only way they can stay healthy or they have an extreme platoon split that prohibits them from being a full-time player. Someone who plays truly great defense and can also hit for a very high average with good power. Based on the 30% innings rule the article says that that closers play, he might start 40 games (with a platoon advantage) and plays a couple of innings as a defensive replacement for another 90 games. Their yearly line might be 200-250 ABs, .350 BA, 12-15 HRs and 550 innings in the field. For a long career necessary for the HOF, their overall numbers would be 3500 ABs, .350 BA, 200 HRs, and 7500 fielding innings with great defense. Would this person get a single HOF vote?

  10. Bpdelia says:

    Joe you’re understating Rivera’s case by implying it’s his post season stats that gets him in.

    Rivera compiled 56 WAR, and has the lowest ERA+ of all time while basically never having a decline phase in his career.

    His career arc is basically unheard of for a reliever.

    Every time a great one Congress along (Kimbrel most recently) inevitably after 8 great seasons the talk will start about him being better than Rivera. But for that to be true you have to add another ten year career exactly as good as the first 9 year career.

    There’s never been anything like it. His consistent excellence was more like a force of nature.

    It’s a cliche to say relievers are volatile because they are. Except Rivera. He started in 96 and was that same guy until he stopped.

    He was two Billy Wagner careers.

    If he had played and never made the playoffs his nearly inhuman reliability makes him a hall of famer.

  11. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    Let’s begin with the premise that Hoffman and Billy Wagner are the two best non-Mariano closers of the past thirty years (sorry, Lee). Hoffman beats Wagner in longevity by almost 200 IP as well as save percentage. Oh, and he also has 179 more saves than Wagner. He was, therefore, clearly the superior closer. (And if reaching 600 saves is so meaningless, why hasn’t anyone else been able to crack 500?) Keep in mind, too, that the Padres were mediocre-to-bad during most of Hoffman’s time in San Diego, which presumably mitigates whatever advantage he may have actually enjoyed from pitching in Qualcomm and Petco.

    So if Trevor Hoffman is the second-best closer of the modern era, then the only way we keep him out of Cooperstown is if 1) we insist that closer simply isn’t a distinguishable position, despite the fact that it very obviously is; or 2) we employ a Willie Mays (or, in this case, Mo Rivera) standard for closers.

    If closer is a distinguishable position, then the top handful of closers in every generation ought to make the cut for the H of F, just like to top handful of catchers and second basemen and designated hitters. Hoffman was assigned to perform a function that was greatly valued during his time (and now) and he excelled in that role well beyond the standards of his day. If that doesn’t describe a Hall of Famer, then what does? (And please don’t compare closers with pinch hitters. There are almost no pinch hitters who were truly specialists at the job, especially once the DH came along. Nobody was groomed in the minors to pinch hit.)

    I suppose this is where the closers-are-like-kickers analogy comes in. But this analogy falls short for two reasons. First, closers are nothing like placekickers. The entire comparison is pulled out of the air to make a rhetorical point. If placekickers, then why not hockey goalies?

    Second, and more importantly, all the comparison does is remind us just how badly placekickers have been treated by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To date, only one pure kicker (the not-so-uniquely qualified Jan Stenerud) has made the cut. Given the importance of kicking success to the outcome of NFL games, this is preposterous. Does the NFL really believe that placekickers are interchangeable, and that it’s impossible to distinguish the greats from the also-rans? I doubt it. Rather, what is probably going on there is a macho-man unwillingness to give kickers their due in an otherwise rough-and-tumble sport, which should embarrass any true student of the game.

    Trevor Hoffman belongs in the MLB Hall of Fame just as much Adam Vinatieri, when he retires, belongs in the NFL Hall of Fame.

    The Pro Football Hall of Fame has only inducted one pure placekicker (Jan Stenrud

    • EnzoHernandez11 says:

      Sorry, that last sentence should have been edited out before posting.

    • Paul Schroeder says:

      Well said on all counts.

    • Darrel says:

      I would argue about the Padres being bad mitigating anything. Seems to me that closers on bad teams often get aa many or more save opps than closers on good teams. The reason being that bad teams rarely tack on the number of runs that take the game to blowout status. Those teams usually have a much higher percentage of their wins generate save opps.

      • invitro says:

        I totally understand this argument. But I eyeballed Hoffman’s saves, versus the Padres’ record, and it looked to me like there was a pretty strong correlation between them. About a difference of five saves between the Padres’ >90-win seasons and their <72-win seasons. The Padres were on average about 7 games below .500 when Hoffman was on the team; maybe Hoffman would've had about 10 more saves if they'd been a .500 team. (Warning: my numbers may be wrong.)

        But the San Diego low-run environment also gave Hoffman more save opportunities, by making some 4-run leads become 3-run leads. And I don't know how many of us are making Hoffman's case mainly based on his saves total…

    • Dan says:

      “And if reaching 600 saves is so meaningless, why hasn’t anyone else been able to crack 500?”

      Just because a milestone is rare doesn’t mean you have to be incredibly good to achieve it. The answer to why more people haven’t hit 500 saves is largely because pitchers simply haven’t been used in a way that leads to the accumulation of that statistic for a very long time, the best of the people who have been or are in a position to reach that particular number are either too good for it and get shifted into a more valuable position and therefore start for a portion of their careers, because of injury (and granted staying healthy is important), or because someone marginally better (at least for a period of time) takes their spot. Cases in point:

      1. John Smoltz, Dennis Eckersley – guys that spent a ton of time starting. Lee Smith got used in tons of non-save opportunities.
      2. K-Rod – injury bug, might get 500. Wagner lost some time too.
      3. Franco – shared closing duties with Anthony Young for the Mets for a couple years.

      A lot of it has to do with simple positional luck, too: you need to pitch for a team good enough to get you opportunities. The 93 Mets generated 43 save opportunities as a team; the 2004 Yankees generated 76.

  12. Wes Tovich says:

    Area man confuses relievers for Dennis Lamp.

  13. Wes Tovich says:

    Oh can we please be spared say 10 articles by Joe Poz tearing down Hoffman if for some reason he doesn’t get in this year etc etc? Say your piece, by all means, but then shaddap about it. No one can take your bromides about applauding Jack Morris after seeing your endless screeds against the man year after year. It doesn’t work.

    If 603 saves isn’t enough for you in today’s game, you’re too picky. And yes Billy Wags should go in too.

  14. Duncan says:

    Just a nitpick on your calculation of how offense contributes to total WAR – under BR, at least, you cannot simply add offensive and defensive WAR to get total WAR. Therefore you cannot divide offensive WAR by total WAR to get the contribution of offensive WAR tototal WAR. For example, Ozzie has an offensive WAR of 47.8, a defensive WAR of 43.4 and a total WAR of 76.5. If you divide offensive by total you get 62% (as you did in the article). But you can’t do this. However, if you divide offensive by the sum of offensive and defensive (as you should), then you get 52.4%. In other words, Ozzie’s defense nearly equalled his offensive value, not less than 40%. (Your point is still valid – the greatest defensive player in history still provided more value with his bat than with his glove.)

    • birtelcom says:

      I’m not sure this is quite the full story, either. B-ref’s WAR calculation has Ozzie saving 239 runs more than the average shortstop with his defense. It then gives him another 154 runs of credit because he played the difficult fielding position of shortstop, as opposed to, say, left field. Then he gets another 348 runs of credit because he played for so many years and so many innings (thus giving his team an advantage over what they would have had with a “replacement-level player” (an accomplishment heavily attributable to his ability to play the difficult shortstop for so long). For his hitting on its own, b-ref’s WAR calculation deducts 117 runs because his hitting generated 117 fewer runs than the average hitter of his time and place, although he gets most of that negative attribution back from his plus base running and ability to stay out of double plays. Pure offense doesn’t really create any WAR value on its own for Ozzie, in b-ref’s calculation. His WAR value comes from his super-plus defense, his manning a difficult defensive position for along time, and his overall staying power. His main value on offense was that he remained a good enough hitter for a long time to be able to keep playing his spectacular defense for an amazingly long term me.

  15. birtelcom says:

    It seems to me a better stat than Wins Above Replacement for measuring the achievement of relief pitchers in comparison with all pitchers is Win Probability Added (WPA). WPA is a stat that calculates, at the beginning of each plate appearance, the probability that the pitcher’s team will win the game, based on the score, inning, outs and men on base, After that plate appearance, the calculation is run again, and the pitcher and hitter are each given credit (or blame, as the case may be) for the incremental change in that win probability resulting from the outcome of that plate appearance. WPA numbers are only available at baseball-reference back to 1930, so we cant use this stat to compare current pitchers to pre-1930 guys. But according to the numbers at baseball-reference, here are the pitchers whose careers started after 1930 who are in the Hall of Fame with a lesser career WPA number than Trevor Hoffman:
    Juan Marichal
    Sandy Koufax
    Nolan Ryan
    Bert Blyleven
    Don Sutton
    Steve Carlton
    Don Drysdale
    Phil Niekro
    Catfish Hunter
    Dizzy Dean
    Ferguson Jenkins
    Jim Bunning
    Hoyt Wilhelm
    Bruce Sutter
    Rollie Fingers
    Goose Gossage
    Dennis Eckersley
    Bob Lemon
    Lefty Gomez
    Hal Newhouser

    The WPA stat recognizes that a pitch thrown in the 9th inning of a close game is more important to the pitcher’s team’s chances of winning the game (given that his team will have little or no chance to catch up if he fails) than a pitch thrown earlier or in a game that’s not close. A pitcher that faces a very large number of those late, close plate appearances and succeeds a very large number of times, while failing only rarely, can rack up a large WPA number even compared to many great starting pitchers. Hoffman’s WPA total is topped by only the very greatest modern starters — the Seaver/Clemens/Maddux/Gibson type — and by only one relief pitcher, Mariano, of course.

    • invitro says:

      I had no idea that Hoffman was so high, and I think this is powerful evidence for his enshrinement. Powerful enough that I would vote no on Hoffman before reading this comment, but have changed my mind.

      Here’s the page with the career pitching WPA leaderboard: http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/wpa_def_career.shtml

      And a note from bb-r: “This statistic is computed from play-by-play data which is only complete from 1974 to the present. From 1930-1973, the data is incomplete, though for most seasons only less than 20 games per season total are missing.”

      We should probably also look at the WPA leaders who -aren’t- in the HoF, to see what we might be getting in for, if we’re going to say this stat is important, and be consistent. Here are the top pitchers not in the HoF, and their ranks:
      1. Clemens
      4. Rivera
      10. Mussina
      14. Halladay
      18. Schilling
      19. Kershaw
      21. HOFFMAN
      25. Billy Pierce
      26. Kevin Brown
      32. Joe Nathan
      34. Tim Hudson
      35. Felix Hernandez
      36. Billy Wagner
      37. Bret Saberhagen

      Quick comment: I see that Joe Nathan has been in six postseason series, and his team lost every one of them (a record?). This is in fair measure due to Joe Nathan, who has an 8.10 ERA in these series.

    • EnzoHernandez11 says:

      Thanks, Birtelcom and Invitro. I would have guessed that WPA favors relievers, but the BR link shows that not to be the case. Two things are telling here. The first, of course, is that Hoffman ranks better than not only Wagner, but also Goose, Wilhelm, Fingers, and Eck. The second is that WPA controls to a significant extent for those games in which the closer comes in during the 9th inning to “protect” a two- or three-run lead, since such appearances would add little to win probability.

      Having said that, part of my job IRL involves analyzing social statistics, so I am sensitive to the suggestion that I am impressed by these data because they support a position I already hold. I would be interested in any arguments folks might make in opposition to the usefulness of WPA.

      As a quick aside, the BR chart also adds additional fuel to those who believe that Kevin Brown is a legitimate Hall of Famer, despite his general unpopularity.

      • invitro says:

        “I would be interested in any arguments folks might make in opposition to the usefulness of WPA.” — The main one is I suppose that it isn’t context-neutral. And it may not be quite figured out yet… bb-ref uses it for pitchers, so why don’t they use it for hitters? (I don’t think they do.)

        I used to look at the Clutch number on bb-ref a lot. It’s directly related to WPA and LI (Leverage Index). It seems like high-average hitters almost always have a high Clutch (Brett: 6.1), and great hitters with a low BA almost always have a low Clutch (Schmidt: -10.8). If this is true, it tells me that there might be a bug in the WPA calculations (or maybe in my understanding of offense :)).

        • Darrel says:

          My argument against, and this is without an intimate understanding of the math, is that it appears to be opportunity dependant in much the same way as the RBI. In the case of relievers their usage(closer vs set-up guy vs middle relief) by the manager impacts WPA as much as their actual performance. As a result the seventh inning guy might be performing better than the closer but will fall short via WPA in much the same way as the 6 hole hitter lags behind the clean-up guy in RBI because he hits with fewer guys on base.

          • Pete R says:

            Not quite, because WPA is measured by comparing a player to “average”. So Jon Axford, for his career, has 144 saves, but only 0.05 wins added. Bobby Parnell has 37 saves, and MINUS 5.94 wins added; so if you could combine Parnell with Steve Cishek (120 saves), you would be about zero.
            Having said that, if there are two great pitchers, one a closer and the other pitching only mop-ups, then WPA would value the closer but not the other guy.

  16. Rick Rodstrom says:

    Year after year, teams with great bullpens wind up in the post-season, and year after year certain people write off relievers as hopelessly overrated.You would think that the Royals success would have squashed such prejudice, but no, the same tired arguments still get trotted out—Starters are the key! Look at their innings pitched! The Indians had one stud as a starter plus a lot of fill-ins, but made it to the last inning of the World Series anyway on the strength of their bullpen. The innings comparison is a red herring. Trevor Bauer pitched 190 innings for the Tribe, and Andrew Miller pitched 74, but could you really say that Bauer was the more valuable pitcher? Miller had a hand in twice as many games, usually in crucial spots. The Cubs rotation was the best in the business, but Joe Maddon couldn’t pull his starters fast enough in the post-season to get his closer in. Watching Miller’s and Chapman’s arms fall off from overuse, I am not convinced that throwing an inning at maximum effort for days at a time is easier than pacing yourself once a week. Would Roger Clemens have blown his arm out trying to light up the radar gun in the 9th inning day after day like Eric Gagne did? And how lonely does it feel on the mound when you’ve given up a walk-off and the crowd is going nuts and your opponents are doing cartwheels towards home plate? It takes a special constitution to be able to come back from a gut punch like that and perform the next night. Some relievers never do. Starters and relievers are apples and oranges.

    I rate closers by two measures, neither of which Hoffman excelled at. First, one must pitch well in the biggest of moments in the tightest of spots—the playoffs, and the must win-games to get to the playoffs. Hoffman had a bleh 3.46 ERA in the post-season, and had a couple of late-season meltdowns that prevented the Padres from the reaching the playoffs on other occasions. With the Big Game on the line and the Big Mashers due up, I would not feel comfortable handing the ball to Trevor Hoffman and his 86 mph heater. Armando Benitez was like that. Lights out when the stakes were low, a bundle of nerves when the stakes were high. Billy Wagner was even worse. His post-season ERA was 10.03! That is not a HOFer to me.

    The other special something that a HOF closer needs is to be able to record more than 3 outs on special occasions. Hoffman was not that guy. He was the epitome of the one-inning closer, starting with a lead, a clean slate and 4 bases to play with. He was very good at it, and many teams would have killed to have him as a weapon. But to reach that ultimate pantheon, you have to be able to dig deep when your team is in trouble. Again, I would not feel comfortable needing Hoffman to get more than 3 outs. I don’t think even Joe Maddon would use Hoffman to get more than 3 outs. Hoffman was more like John Franco—one and done. That to me does not scream Hall of Famer.

    During baseballs infancy, when homers were rare, nobody had any idea how to judge a home run hitter. Frank Baker could lead the league with 9 homers and he became Home Run Baker. Nobody even knew that Roger Connor held the career mark with 138 dingers. Then Babe Ruth came along, and suddenly there was a benchmark—OK, THIS is what a home run hitter looks like. This is what we can measure ourselves against.

    Saves were like that too. Nobody knew what the standard was. For awhile it looked like 300 saves was the magic number, then no, that became too easy. Then Mariano Rivera came along and raised the bar to absurd heights. He was the Babe Ruth of pitchers. Now we all knew what a Hall of Fame reliever looked like. He left behind a body of work that said, go ahead, beat that. And Trevor Hoffman didn’t beat that. In the post-season, he didn’t even come close. Sorry Trevor. Sorry Lee. Sorry Billy. You were good, but this is the Hall of Fame. You’ll have to buy your tickets like everybody else.

    • EnzoHernandez11 says:

      Two thoughts, Rick:
      1) It’s a bit unfair to penalize Hoffman for the fact that the Padres have sucked through most of their history. It’s not Trevor’s fault that he only appeared in 12 post-season games. The fact that he pitched poorly in two or three of those games proves nothing. Obviously, Hoffman gets no extra points for post-season performance, but neither do a lot of Hall of Famers, many of whom performed much worse than Hoffman did in October.
      2) Given the WPA discussion just above, it looks like we may be overestimating the supposed meaninglessness of Hoffman’s one-inning saves. After all, he ranks ahead of a number of celebrated multi-inning firemen of the 70s and 80s.
      I agree that Rivera was the Babe Ruth of relief pitchers. But I think there’s room in the H of F for excellence that fell short of the Babe Ruth level.

      • invitro says:

        From the FWIW department… I can’t find a bb-ref page that gives a player’s career postseason WPA. But you can find WPA for each game here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=hoffmtr01&t=p&post=1

        I added them up for Hoffman, and he has a -0.752 WPA for his 12 postseason games. (Wagner has the abysmal 10.03 postseason ERA, but only a slightly worse WPA of -0.870.)

      • Rick Rodstrom says:

        Hoffman’s directly responsible for the team not making the playoffs in 2007, blowing a save on September 29 that prevented the Padres from clinching, and blowing a save in the wild-card tie-breaker that sent the Padres packing. If he converts either one, he has a bunch more post-season opportunities to show his stuff. But he didn’t.

        • EnzoHernandez11 says:

          OK, fair enough. It is, indeed, Trevor’s fault that he appeared in only 12 post-season games, as opposed to (perhaps) 13-16. But even if he had pitched lights-out relief in the 2007 wild card series, NLCS, and WS, we’d still be dealing with too small a sample of post-season appearances from which to draw any meaningful conclusions.

          It takes nothing away from Mariano Rivera to point out that if he had been signed by any other team than the Yankees, his October success would likely not factor heavily into his case for the Hall of Fame because he wouldn’t have played in the post-season sixteen times. I assume his greatness would still have been apparent had he pitched from 1995-2013 with, say, the Royals, but I’d bet that his first-ballot vote total would have fallen below 85%. Don’t get me wrong: of course Rivera’s record in October should be a strong part of his H of F case; but that record, and the felicitous circumstances that allowed it to occur, should not, by implication, diminish Hoffman or any other closer not lucky enough to have played for a dynasty.

  17. invitro says:

    Several people here have talked about leverage, and there seems to be an opinion that leverage is not easily quantified. bb-ref believes it IS easily quantified, and in addition to the WPA statistic that measures leverage, bb-ref also modifies relief pitchers’ WAR’s to take account of leverage. From bb-ref:

    Wins Above Avg Adjustment: For relief pitchers, we multiply WAA by (1+gmLI)/2. This is done in recognition of the added importance of high leverage. WAAadj is the additional value of this leverage adjustment… WAR = WAA + WAAadj + Replacement value

    Hoffman’s career WAAadj is 4.7. Some others: Wagner 3.3, Nathan 3.1, Papelbon 3.1, Gossage 7.7, Eck 0.2 (WAAadj is about -0.1 for a starter), and big Mo has a big 10.2 WAAadj.

  18. Crazy Diamond says:

    So Mo Rivera gets in because he was great in the post season? By that logic, Joe, you should’ve voted for Marquis Grissom. SMH, Mo and Hoff were the two greatest modern closers so put them in the HOF and be happy about it.

  19. moviegoer74 says:

    The stat that is the most telling, to me, in regards to closers, is that the usage of the modern closer has not changed the percentage of games that teams win or lose with 9th-inning leads.

    Teams won 95% of games in which they led by 3 to begin the 9th in the 1930s. That’s the same percentage they win in the 2010s. The same is true of 2 and 3 run leads (the percentage is lower but the same from the 30s to the today). I may have the percentages wrong, but the point that they haven’t changed is true.

    Another way to look at it is this: Hoffman saved 601/677 in the regular season. How many saves out of those 677 would his teams have converted with a league average closer?

    • invitro says:

      Well, let’s see. In 1998 the MLB average SV% was 68% (SD was first with 79%). In 1993 it was 69%, in 2010 it was also 69%, so we’ll go with that number. 69% of 677 is 467. That seems like a pretty huge difference from 601 to me.

      • nightfly says:

        Doesn’t that also include “saves” blown in the earlier innings by other relievers, not just closing situations? If the set-up guy gets the yips in the eighth, he gets a blown save. And if he hands over the lead with no issues, then Hoff gets the save and the set-up guy gets a “hold” which is just soooooooo sexy! (eyeroll emoji)

        Another reason why “saves” are very badly measured. A reliever should have to face the tying run to get a save, and ANY reliever who does so and succeeds should get a save. If you give up runs to create the save situation, you get no save because you made your team’s job harder. I think this would make the stat much more accurate.

        And if you also want to note who got the final save of the game, well, sure, go ahead – under this system that would be important because guys who protect one-run games in the bottom of the ninth are doing something very valuable, and with no safety net since failure is almost a guaranteed loss.

  20. Breadbaker says:

    I agree with Joe’s position on closers, but I have a different take on a DH. Unlike a closer, which is a choice a manager makes (nearly all of them do, but occasionally we hear about closers by committee and about putting in the best reliever in the highest leverage situation, which might not be at the end of the game), a DH is an actual position (unless you want your pitcher to hit, which you don’t) in every game played in an American League park, and has been since 1973, which is to say during the career of every player on the regular Hall of Fame ballot. That means that in every game in an AL park, one player will hit and not play the field.

    If you have a player who is (a) good at being a DH (which is clearly a different hitting situation than when you play in the field, whether “harder” or not); and (b) not particularly good in the field, then his best value is as a DH. You replace him in the field, presumably, with a better fielder (and usually not as good a hitter; there are obvious exceptions). Your team fields better. Your DH doesn’t get injured. Your DH hits better than any of the non-DH players would hit in the DH position (see point (a)).

    This is essentially Edgar Martinez after he became a full-time DH. The Mariners never had a third baseman who batted anywhere near as well as Edgar, but they probably also never had a hitter who could hit as DH as well as Edgar (hard to prove since no one else had the job full-time except Ruben Sierra one year Edgar was hurt). But all those third basemen fielded better than Edgar did, and he (except for that one year he got hurt when he was 39 years old) played in at least 132 games every year for the rest of his career (including all 145 games in the 144 game season–extended by the playoff–in 1995, when Griffey was hurt much of the year and he anchored an offense that came within two games of the World Series).

    I’m not saying that there isn’t an issue when a player can’t field. But I’m saying that given there is an opportunity in every game in the AL for one player not to be in the field, having one not in the field who would contribute negatively in the field and who can handle the difference in being a DH is a skill and an advantage. So is having the guts to go into a game with a one-run lead in the ninth facing three All-Stars. But that’s a happenstance, while the DH is every day in one league and has been for 43 years.

  21. birtelcom says:

    As I started the discussion about WPA, I suppose I should respond to a few questions about it.

    1. Yes, you can see hitter WPA numbers at baseball-reference. Because most good hitters tend to play full games, though, the leverage issues that come into play when trying to analyze the contribution of modern starters and modern relievers don’t come into play too much with hitters, so WPA numbers don’t usually add much on a career level to analyzing hitter performance tat you don’t already get from WAR. On a season level, some hitters will hit better than others in clutch situations, and I personally do use season WPA numbers to help inform my judgment about annual MVP questions.

    2. Are there flaws to the WPA stat? Of course — all stats have flaws. The biggest vulnerability for WPA for pitchers might be that WPA gives no credit for non-pitcher defense. All the change in win probability resulting from a plate appearance is assigned to the hitter, on one side, and the pitcher on the other. A good fielding shortstop with little hitting value will be underestimated by WPA (WAR will be better for him). A pitcher who is benefiting from a strong defense behind him (Whitey Ford, for much of his career, might be a good example) may be over-valued by WPA. Is WPA vulnerable because it is “context-dependent” like RBI? I suppose so — the whole point of WPA is to try to capture some of a player’s performance in context. But I would argue that WPA is a much stronger stat than RBI. The problem with RBI is that because of batting order placement and team scoring, some players get many more RBI opportunities than others, plus RBI totals don’t penalize a player for failing in RBI opportunties, they merely avoid including them. WPA count every plate appearance, every success and every failure, giving a bit of extra credit, or extra penalty, for context, so it is much more even-handed, I think, in opportunities offered than RBI totals.

    3. With a bit of effort, you can get post-season totals for WPA with b-ref’s Play Index. Mariano’s career WPA in the post-season is Ruthian in its separation from anybody else. Most career pitching WPA in post-season history:
    1. Mariano Rivera 11.7
    2. Curt Schilling 4.1
    3. John Smoltz 3.6
    4. Andy Pettitte 3.5
    T5. Madison Bumgarner and Orel Hershiser 2.8

    For hitters:
    1. David Ortiz 3.2
    2. Albert Pujols 2.9
    3. Lance Berkman 2.7
    4. Pete Rose 2.6
    5. Carlos Beltran 2.5
    6. Lou Gehrig 2.3

    • Darrel says:

      you kind of made my point for me there in the WPA vs RBE debate when you said this “The problem with RBI is that because of batting order placement and team scoring, some players get many more RBI opportunities than others” and followed it up with this “WPA count every plate appearance, every success and every failure, giving a bit of extra credit, or extra penalty, for context”.

      It is that extra credit that I’m talking about. If we look back on Rivera’s time as a set-up guy to Wetteland I would expect that on a per batter basis that Wetteland had a higher WPA because, and only because, he was pitching the ninth. Now I’m too lazy to look up their performance numbers during that time and Rivera may have been so much better that it evened out. However the fact that the best reliever of the era may have lagged behind generic closer X in a stat simply due to manager usage places that stat much closer to the RBI than we should be comfortable with when using it to determine which player is deserving of the HoF.

  22. birtelcom says:

    For some selected pitchers, the number of batters they faced (regular season) in the bottom of the ninth inning, or the bottom of an extra inning, with the game tied or the pitcher’s team up by one run:
    Trevor Hoffman 1,084
    Mariano Rivera 918
    John Franco 914
    Lee Smith 912
    Goose Gossage 858
    Billy Wagner 796
    Bruce Sutter 682
    Dennis Eckersley 640
    Gaylord Perry 424
    Roger Clemens 60

    • nightfly says:

      Interesting. This becomes a chicken/egg thing, doesn’t it? It’s not surprising that a modern starter would have faced so few batters in this situation – do you trust a tired starter facing a lineup for the fourth time, or a fresh, dominant reliever? Yet it was the seven or eight dominant innings from the starter that put your team in the position to then close out the game.

      I think of the times when managers have used starters in big relief spots in the postseason, when you don’t have to worry about the next start – Unit and Pedro famously strolling in and laying waste to the opponents inning after inning. On the one hand they’re Hall of Famers so it’s not the fairest comparison. On the other hand, of course you’re putting your best available pitcher into those big situations, which kind of highlights the issue with saving your most dominant reliever for those high-leverage spots.

  23. TWolf says:

    I believe that Mariano Rivera should be a first ballot hall of famer because he did the job as a modern closer better than any other pitcher has ever done. He had a long career, and was extremely effective, consistent, and durable. Further, what separated him from all other closers was his generally outstanding performances in his numerous post season opportunities. That said, he retired after the 2013 season and the Yankees replaced him in 2014 with David Robertson who had 39 saves and a save percentage of 89 percent. In 2015 the Yankees acquired Andrew Miller who converted 36 saves with a 95 percent save percentage. In 2016 there was Chapman and Betances. Rivera, for all his abilities, turned out to be replaceable (at least in the regular season).

    I agree with joe that closers are similar to NFL place kickers. There are currently ten kickers with a field goal success rate of 85 percent or better. There are 48 with a success rate of 80 percent or better. How do you distinguish who is better?
    The only way, it seems, is to look at performance in critical playoff games. Only Adam Vinatieri seems to fit the bill. He has a 84 percent success rate in regular season games and has won some important playoff games with the Patriots with his kicking. He is the NFL equivalent to Rivera.

  24. Mtortolero says:

    In 4 or 5 years doing what he has done every year Francisco Rodriguez could be very near to Hoffman figures in IP, saves, WAR and WPA and above him in SO and ERA+, which means that KRod should be a HOFER the same way as is considered Hoffman, or not?

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