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    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Re-Run: Future Hall of Fame, AL and NL Central Pitchers

    It’s been awhile since the last article in this series. I’ve been busy lately, but I’m dead set on finishing it up, and I only have this and one more to go.

    One thing that seemed to spark some confusion was the subject of the last article. I had a few people asking why I didn’t include certain players. Well, throughout each of my articles, I’ve been trying to cover any player who might have a chance at the Hall of Fame by position; with pitchers, though, there were too many to compress into one article. I needed to split it up, and, when I divided it into three articles, based on division, it worked out fairly well. The first article was comprised of pitchers in the AL and NL East; this one is the AL and NL Central; the last will be the AL and NL West.

    And so, the Hall candidates from the Central Divisions.

    Trevor Hoffman There doesn’t seem to be much of a call to leave out the current saves leader and seven-time all-star. Some cynics may point out that former saves leader Lee Smith still hasn’t been elected. Just a quick comparison shows that Hoffman has been the better pitcher, though. He has nearly 120 more saves than Smith. He’s blown 27 fewer saves in his career, good for a Save Percentage of 89% to Smith’s 82% (Save percentage is the percentage of save opportunities a player converts). Hoffman has a better strikeout to walk ratio (3.7138, seventh all-time, to 2.5741, seventy-third all-time) and a better WHIP, or walks and hits to innings pitched (1.053, seventh all-time, to 1.2557, 287th all-time). Hoffman even has a better ERA+, a stat that compares a player’s ERA to his peers in the league at the time he played. At 141 for his career, Hoffman has been 41% better than an average player during the same time (fourteenth all-time), compared to 132 for Lee Smith (thirtieth all-time). So, Trevor Hoffman does has the high save totals, but he also has the numbers to show that he has been a dominant, Hall-level closer.

    Chris Carpenter Carpenter’s a lot older than I would have thought, offhand. I mean, I know he’s been playing since the late ‘90s, but I was still rather surprised to find that he is 35. It likely has something to do with the fact that he’s missed nearly three full seasons due to injury (not to mention his other injuries that didn’t take a full year to heal). His counting numbers don’t look great, as a result (130-77 record with 1451 Ks). So, the only real shot he has at getting in is the “short span of dominance” method. However, despite his revival(s) with the Cardinals, he doesn’t really have any great stretch. He’s been great about five seasons (2005, 2006, 2009, and 2010), and was very good for another (2004). Other than that, he’s been average, uninspiring, or on the DL. Altogether, his career rate stats (3.79 ERA, 1.282 WHIP, 118 ERA+) aren’t earth-shattering. That’s probably not a good thing for a prospective Hall member.

    Joe Nathan Closers are always interesting because, as I have said before, the Hall voters don’t quite know what to do with them. However, Joe Nathan takes it a step further; he will be a case to watch, not only to see how he does when he returns from surgery, but also to see how the voters deal with his eventual candidacy. As you probably know, he first emerged as a closer after being traded from the Giants to the Twins; prior to that, he was a middle reliever. He first year as a full-time closer came in 2004, which was his first season with Minnesota. What you may not know (as I didn’t), is that, in 2004, he was 29. That seems like a rather late start for any career, let alone one aiming for Cooperstown. So, basically, Nathan has six years as a closer under his belt. In those six seasons, though, he’s been phenomenal-246 saves (247 for his career), with a .934 WHIP (1.107 career), a 1.87 ERA (2.75 for his career), and a mind-blowing 237 ERA+ (159 career). So, he does certainly have that run of dominance that writers look for. However, he turns 36 in November, and a 36 year old returning from surgery is not always a certainty. Of course, a closer pitching well into his forties would not be unheard of (see Trevor Hoffman, or Mariano Rivera), and the Twins have basically saved his role for him, meaning he can slide right back into his role as stopper.

    Just another quick thought-right now, Nathan is 30th all-time in saves. If he comes back and gets another 40 save season, he moves up to 24th. Another one after that would get him up to 12th. A third? Ties him for seventh all-time. Can he do it? Well, his numbers before surgery suggest he’s capable-we’ll just have to wait and see.

    Mark Buehrle Mark Buehrle doesn’t look quite like a Hall of Famer. The 31-year old White Sox pitcher, through 11 seasons, has a 145-106 record with a 3.82 ERA, 1249 Ks, 1.274 WHIP, and a 121 ERA+. Those all seem quite solid, but none of it seems quite Hall worthy. He may prove durable enough to reach 300 wins (he does lead all 31-year olds in wins), but a lot of that depends on how well he can pitch late into his career. He may age well, or he may disappear due to injury. In any case, hoping that he reaches 300 wins is too far fetched at the moment to base an entire hypothetical Hall of Fame case around. If he makes it, he’s in, otherwise, his odds don’t look good right now.

    According to Baseball-Reference, Buehrle also has 41.7 Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. WAR is a cumulative stat that uses a player’s stats to determine how many wins a player has been responsible for. For pitchers, the lower-mid 50’s is usually where a player starts to be considered for induction, and anything above the mid-60s is a lock. So, Buehrle is essentially a borderline candidate who needs to maintain his performance into his later years to make a run at enshrinement, no matter how you look at it.

    Carlos Zambrano Zambrano is only 29, so he does have time to make his case for the Hall. He’s going to need it, though. In his ninth full season, Carlos has a 108-74 record with a 3.59 ERA, 1384 strikeouts, .316 WHIP, and a 124 ERA+, in addition to 28.3 WAR. However, he’s had trouble as of late (not only off the field, but on it as well); coupled with his talk of retiring when his contract is up, and he just doesn’t seem to be a smart pick to build a Hall of Fame career.

    Jake Peavy Peavy is also having issues in his quest for induction. The 29 year old is in his ninth season, but has spent significant time in the last two years on the DL for different injuries. Right now, he has a 102-74 record, a 3.36 ERA, 1.185 WHIP, a 117 ERA+, and 26.3 WAR. None of that seems to stand out, in particular. His 1459 Ks looks promising, but, with his injury history, I don’t know whether he has a chance to reach 3000.

    Zack Greinke I put Greinke on this list due to his spectacular 2009 season. Compared to that, 2010 has been a disappointment (his ERA is up 1.83; he’s striking out nearly 2 fewer per nine innings; his ERA+ dropped from 205 to 103). However, his peripheral numbers suggest he’ll come around (he’s still striking out four batters for every one he walks; he still has one of the better WHIPs of his career, at 1.194). Also promising is that the seven-year veteran is also just 26. For his career, Greinke has a 57-64 record, a 3.77 ERA, a 118 ERA+, 885 Ks, and 21.9 WAR, and is still not quite into his prime years. He could make a strong Hall case in the next few years. If he continues to pitch for a pitiful Royals team, though, voters may hold his low win totals against him.

    Justin Verlander Verlander is one of the better strikeout pitchers in the game right now. At 27, he’s already reached 893 Ks in just five full seasons. As I’ve stated before, I feel that 3000 strikeouts should be included in the pantheon of automatic-induction milestones; a person can’t luck into 3000 Ks without considerable talent. Verlander could reach that mark, as he still has much of his prime to go. In addition to his strikeouts, he has a 78-50 record, a 3.89 ERA, a 116 ERA+, and 17.4 WAR.

    Adam Wainwright MLB’s current (as of this writing) ERA leader, Wainwright didn’t start quite as young as Greinke or Verlander, but he does still have most of his prime before him. At 28, he’s now in his fifth full year in the majors, the first of which he spent as the fill-in closer for the 2006 World Series Champion Cardinals. In that time, he’s picked up a 63-30 record, a 2.92 ERA, a 145 ERA+, 669 Ks, a 1.195 WHIP, and 18 WAR. He’s having a pretty unbelievable season right now; he leads the league in wins (tied, 17), ERA (1.99), ERA+ (203), and WHIP (.970). Again, he looks like a promising candidate who could really improve his chances in the next few years.

    Francisco Liriano You may remember Liriano as the impressive rookie who hasn’t been the same since arm surgery. I would like to say that he has returned to form, and would like to peg him as a potential break-out player in 2011. His 11-7 record with a 3.26 ERA this year (his fourth full season in the majors) may not seem that impressive. However, a closer look at his numbers reveals that he has been a great pitcher this year. He has shown great control this year, with 160 Ks to only 46 walks (a 3.48 ratio). He’s doing a great job keeping the ball out of the stands, allowing a league-best .12 home runs per nine innings. 2% of his fly balls become home runs; he’s also getting more ground balls this year than he has any other year since his surgery. The one spot of bad luck he has had, has been the number of balls that have become hits; opponents are hitting .350 on balls in play off of Liriano (compared to the average of .300). That number should return to normal in the future, and when it does, expect impressive things, especially since he’s only 26.

    Yovani Gallardo Gallardo is only in his third full season, and is only 24. He will also be an interesting player to watch. This season, he sports the best ERA (2.97), ERA+ (133), and strikeout to walk ratio (2.8) of his young career, and leads the majors with 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Also, he already has 479 strikeouts and 8.7 WAR. He’s been good for the last few years; this year, though, he’s shown major signs of improvement.

    Joakim Soria 26-year-old Soria’s spent basically three-and-a-half years in the closer role on the Royals, and has already managed 121 saves-he even leads the league this year with 32. He’s shown all of the signs of a dominant closer so far: low ERA (2.09), high ERA+ (211), low WHIP (1.007) a lot of strikeouts (9.9 per nine innings), and good control (3.91 strikeout to walk ratio). He could easily vault into the level of legendary closers, if given time.

    John Danks Danks has quietly built up a solid start to his career. The 25-year-old is in his fourth season, and looks to be having his best season yet. So far, for his career, he has a 43-41 record, a 3.86 ERA, a 1.282 WHIP, a 118 ERA+, and 16.4 WAR. Like the last few on this list, he is still young enough that he has his best years before him.

    Too Young to Tell: 
    Rick Porcello
    Jaime Garcia
    Johnny Cueto

    Porcello and Garcia are 21 and 23, respectively, and have had impressive rookie campaigns (although Porcello has had a bit of a sophomore slump). However, both should see improvement as the mature. Cueto is slightly older, at 24, but he is having by far the best year of his career. I wouldn’t be surprised if he continues to improve, but only time will tell. They will have to avoid injuries, meltdowns, and other things of that nature, but they’ve set themselves up for great careers.

    Article originally posted 8/16/2010

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