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    Monday, January 5, 2015

    Predicting Today's Hall of Fame Starters, 2015 Edition

    Last week, I kicked off the new year by looking way, way ahead, specifically at which active position players today might be making the Hall of Fame one day. As you probably could have guessed, today, I’m looking at the other half of the equation, the pitchers.

    Again, my methods are as follows: first, I look at the median career Wins Above Replacement for Hall of Famers at each position. Then, I look at how many non-Hall of Famers (excluding active or not-yet-eligible ones) were at that mark at each age, excluding players on the ballot. Then, I take a simple percentage: number of Hall of Famers above the age-median WAR out of total players at that same mark. For pitchers specifically, I only looked at players who began their careers after 1920, due to how different the role was in the Deadball Era. Also, I made sure to only look at starters, as relievers are entirely different.

    Also, the normal caveats: first, this doesn’t account for the possibility of people who missed the Hall one day making it via the Veterans Committee. Also, this doesn’t account for people who were Hall worthy but didn’t make it; this is just measuring people making the Hall of Fame, not having Hall-worthy careers. Also, keep in mind that not making these cutoffs doesn’t necessarily mean that a player won’t make the Hall (in fact, two of the three pitchers who look likely to make it to Cooperstown this year didn’t hit these marks).

    Anyway, here are the median career WAR totals, the percentage of players that have made the Hall at that level, and the amount of WAR someone would need each season to stay on pace. Also, although I’ll only be covering players up through age 35, I included a little more because the numbers are interesting:


    As I mentioned last year, the Hall of Fame voters have been pretty bad at inducting starters. However, if you’re on pace for the median after a certain age, you’re more or less a lock. The only players above the career WAR median for Hall pitchers not inducted are Kevin Brown and Rick Reuschel (plus Luis Tiant and David Cone are very, very close-those two actually trade with Brown and Reuschel for some of the misses in the late thirties and early forties). But due to the uncertainty of pitching, the earlier ages are much more of a toss-up than with the hitters; while hitters above the median are at about 50% likelihood by 25, pitchers are still kicking around below 20% at that age. They don’t pass hitters in likeliness until age 33.

    With all of that said, who are our above-median pitchers today?

    Age 20 (1.3 career WAR)
    No starters of this age were in the majors last season.

    Age 21 (2.4)
    There were only three 21-year old starters in 2014. One of them was Jose Fernandez who, despite missing most of the season to Tommy John surgery, still sits at 7.4 WAR thanks to over 6 WAR in 2013. He’s all set through age 23 at least. After him, it’s Taijuan Walker, who’s only made eight starts and has 1 WAR, and Daniel Norris, who’s only pitched in five games period.

    Age 22 (4.8)
    Again, we have no players who made this cut. Michael Wacha is the closest at 3.1, so he’s within striking distance for next year. After him, the next 22 year olds with more than one start in the pros are his teammates, Marco Gonzales and Carlos Martinez (both sit more or less at net zeros). As a Cardinals fan, that fact makes me very happy.

    Age 23 (6.5)
    We only have one 23 year old starter on pace right now, and its Julio Teheran. The Braves’ young ace made his first All-Star team this year while posting 4.0 WAR, pushing him up to 7.1 career. After him, it’s his teammates Shelby Miller (another former Cardinal, I might add) at 5.5 and Alex Wood at 4.8. Those Braves and Cardinals rotations sure will be fun to watch this year. Also, watch this space next year, as there are a lot of good 23 year old starters, including Yordano Ventura, Gerrit Cole, Marcus Stroman, Kevin Gausman, and Trevor Bauer, among others.

    Age 24 (9.6)
    Postseason hero Madison Bumgarner makes the cut here, with 15.3 WAR in five seasons so far. His ridiculously early start offset his lower yearly per average (which is, admittedly, probably partly due to said early start) and helped him build up a bit of a buffer, although he’s technically only set through next year. No one else is on his level yet, with Henderson Alvarez 1.3 WAR behind pace and his new teammate Jarred Cosart next after him at 4.5 behind.

    Age 25 (12.25)
    Chris Sale is dominating at this level, with nearly double both the Hall median and the next closest pitcher of his age at 22.9 WAR. And while the odds of a player at the age 25 mark is still just 1 in 6, you have to feel pretty good about his chances. Or at least, as good as you can about something as uncertain as pitching. I mean, he’s just a win off of the age 27 mark, which is when the odds spring up to 1 in 4.
    The top miss for this age is Stephen Strasburg, who sits less than half a win away at 11.9 WAR. Also, you have to figure he would have made the mark if we were using a Fielding Independent-based WAR like Fangraphs (Fangraphs’ version has him at 15.2). If he takes another step forward in 2015 and becomes a Cy Young contender, he’ll probably be on pace. After him, it’s Jose Quintana (11.4) and Rick Porcello (10.6).

    Age 26 (18.15)
    When is too soon to start calling someone a future Hall of Famer? Especially a pitcher? Clayton Kershaw has to be testing that limit, at least. He’s only 26 (his 27th birthday is in March), but he already has 3 Cy Young Awards (plus another second place finish) as well as 39.7 WAR, meaning that he’s set through age 30 already. Even if his career total is low, that’s still one heck of a peak. Given his total now, you have to figure his chances are at least over 60%. After Kershaw, the next closest is Jhoulys Chacin, who falls just over 4 wins short at 14.1.

    Age 27 (24.6)
    No 27 year olds make this cutoff. However, we do have one interesting case, if nothing else. Yu Darvish leads all players in this group with 12.8 WAR in three seasons and under 600 innings. The durability is a little concerning, but he’s done very well in his short time here. In any case, not making these marks isn’t a death sentence for a player’s Hall chances. Indeed, players currently on the ballot who didn’t includes Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Curt Schilling, all of whom went on to have pretty amazing careers. Plus, we still have no idea how voters will treat players from Japan; Ichiro will make an interesting test case, although he missed two seasons more than Darvish. All we can do is wait and see.

    Age 28 (27.5)
    If you think Kershaw’s was too early to call someone a future Hall of Fame starter, than maybe Felix Hernandez is your test case. He stands at 45.4 WAR right now, basically set through his age 31 season, with a Cy Young Award and two runner-up finishes. I mean, just based on the precedent, you have figure he’s at, bare minimum, 60% odds; maybe you even bump him up to 75% since he’s hit that mark at such a young age.
    After him, David Price is the next best 28 year old. So far, Price has had 23.2 WAR, plus a Cy Young and runner-up finish of his own. He’s a little behind pace, but like I said with Darvish, that’s not the end of the world. Johnny Cueto is the only other 28 year old even over 20 WAR, sitting at 21.9.

    Age 29 (34.6)
    No pitchers make the Hall median this year. However, the top finisher is sort of a good cautionary tale. As recently as last year, Matt Cain was above the pace. Through his age 27 season, he had 31.8 WAR, over seven above what he needed to hit the mark. Even after a rough 2013 (0.5 Wins), he still finished above what he needed for age 28. But after two rough seasons in a row, he’s now sitting 2.2 wins short, and his future is looking really uncertain. The increases in this range are steep and unforgiving; you need a buffer in case of injury, and you can’t afford much more than a single lost season. Hopefully, he comes back strong next year.
    Max Scherzer is the only other player at 29 who’s even matched Cueto’s 21.9 WAR; Scherzer currently sits at 24.0. Given his strong last two years, he probably has as good a chance as any other below-median player of one day building a Hall-worthy career. But he’s not on pace yet, not quite.

    Age 30 (38.3)
    We actually have a pair of aces who fit these criteria. Leading the way is one of the current big hot stove topics, Cole Hamels. Hamels just posted one of his strongest seasons yet by WAR, with 6.6 wins in 2014 to bring his career amount up to 40.4. Even an average season should keep him on track, since the next two seasons have a bizarre drop off in how greatly they increase before jumping up again two final times for ages 33 and 34.
    Zack Greinke is immediately after him, and has accumulated his 39.4 WAR by being as volatile as the more-stable Hamels isn’t. Either way works, really. And everything I said for Hamels is true here as well; he just needs a 3-win season to stay on top of things here. Any better is just icing on the cake.
    Jon Lester is the only other 30 year old at even 24 wins; he currently stands at 32.6. More seasons like last year will help him catch up in the next few years.

    Age 31 (42.4)
    Justin Verlander has officially fallen below the median line. After only 1.1 WAR this past season, he now sits at 41.7, or less than a win short of what he needed. I’m hoping he comes back next season and makes the age 32 cutoff, but we’ll wait and see. It’s also worth noting that Fangraphs’ FIP-based WAR likes him more to the tune of about 6 full wins; I haven’t calculated the standards for their WAR, but I’d bet that puts him over. After Verlander, we have a bit of a drop to Jared Weaver at 36.4, than a huge drop from him to Ervin Santana at 16.9.

    Age 32 (45.5)
    No 32 year olds have even 35 WAR. The current leader is Adam Wainwright, at 32.5. He’s behind the pace, but since coming back from Tommy John surgery, he hasn’t really missed a beat. Four of his last five seasons have been for over 6 WAR, with the exception being his season right after returning. I also have nothing more than an untested hypothesis at this point, but I feel like starters who succeed at a high level in their early 30s dominate later into their careers. Like I said, no back-up on that though, so feel free to convince me either way.

    Age 33 (51.5)
    I’m actually a little surprised that CC Sabathia still makes this. He currently stands at 53.9 WAR, but his last two seasons have actually cost him 0.3 WAR between them. He’s another one that Fangraphs WAR likes a little better, with nearly eight extra wins there. Either way, he needs to bounce back one of these seasons to stand a chance at Cooperstown. After CC, we need to go all the way to 37.2 WAR for Jake Peavy.

    Age 34 (55.5)
    I have no idea why this is, but age 34 is just a dead zone for starters. Josh Beckett leads them all with 35.3 wins, but it looks like he’s retiring. After him, we need to go all the way to Colby Lewis at 4.9.

    Age 35 (59.7)
    Again, no pitchers of this age have the needed WAR, but Mark Buehrle stands really close. Buehrle’s 3.6 win season last year brought him up to 58.3 total; another season like that jumps him well over the median for the next four years. Even an average season would be good at this stage. Heck, four more average, 2-WAR seasons puts him more or less at the Hall median. Buehrle’s just been incredibly sturdy and great his whole career. I’m rooting for him to make it.
    Another interesting miss is Johan Santana. Santana missed all of 2013 for a shoulder injury and was looking good in the Orioles’ minor leagues this year for a comeback when he tore his Achilles tendon. So while he hasn’t pitched in the Majors in two years, I can’t imagine he won’t at least get a shot this year, given that he seemed ready to join the team back in June and his latest injury wasn’t arm-related. For his career, he has 50.7 WAR and some interesting Sandy Koufax parallels. Also of note, Cliff Lee sits at 43.3, but seeing as he finished 2014 injured, I’d definitely like to wait and see on him (although he’s been so good the last few years either way).

    In sum, that’s only nine pitchers who make the cut, although there are a lot of misses who will be worth watching. Combined with the hitters, we have 35 players 35 and under worth watching. I wish I had known that when I started, because that would have been an awesome name for this pair of articles. And for what it’s worth, this has been all of the pitchers who make the cut; Tim Hudson is the only other pitcher even close to his, and he’s still 5 wins behind his milestone (56.9 WAR as a 38 year old) with another jump coming up soon. Anyway, maybe one day, some of these players will follow Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz (it would seem right now) onto the stage in Cooperstown.

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