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    Monday, March 11, 2024

    Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Pitchers, 2024 Edition

    Following the Future Hall of Fame Hitters article from last time, we return with the second entry in this year’s Future Hall of Fame Series, looking at Starting Pitchers!

    Pitching, and starting pitching especially, has been in a constant state of evolution across the history of the game. This goes back to even the earliest days of professional baseball, where there were frequent adjustments to fundamental rules, like the number of balls and strikes that could be counted or the distance of the mound to the plate or even throwing underhand versus overhand. There have definitely been times where I’ve been looking at 1800s pitching stats and noticed a big year-to-year change, only to look up the history and realize it coincided with, say, a year where there were seven balls in a walk, or a decision to move the mound back from 45 feet away from the plate.

    Things have stabilized relative to those wild early days, but they’ve never really stopped moving; we’ve seen the introduction of rotations, equipment changes from the deadball to the liveball, the gradual increase in the number of pitchers in said rotations, medical developments that could revive dead careers, the emergence and growing prominence of bullpens and all the strategy switches that entailed, new philosophies and pitches constantly being developed and taught, the effects of growing understanding on the delineation between pitching and defense (plus tons of evolution in defense alongside all this, which is at least related), continued tinkering on things like mound height and distance… you could just go on and on listing these factors. Hitting has changed too, of course, but nowhere near to the extent that the pitching side of the game has.

    And all of that represents a major problem when it comes to the Hall of Fame, a historical institution that is entirely subjective and thus, more or less defined by its own precedent. What does it mean to be a Hall of Fame starting pitcher? Pitching today on the whole looks little like it did sixty years ago, let alone way back at the turn of the twentieth century. It would probably stand to reason that if our idea of a pitcher had changed that much, then surely our idea of a Hall of Fame pitcher must have similarly evolved with it.

    Except… it largely hasn’t. In fact, not only has the idea of what makes a “Hall of Fame starting pitcher” not evolved at the rate the game has changed, it’s arguably stagnated in such a way that it’s now somehow harder to elect traditionally-deserving candidates; the number of pitchers in Cooperstown has been dropping for a while. By just about any measure, things have gotten worse as of late, and look to get even more dire in the near future. I might be going more in-depth on this matter in an upcoming piece, but just to put some basic numbers to the issue: historically, the Hall has inducted hitters and pitchers at a two-to-one rate, or one pitcher inducted for every two position players.* Keep that in mind as a baseline.

    *And to add some more context, the overwhelming majority of those pitchers were starting pitchers, since relievers are a more modern development. Hoyt Wilhelm was the first reliever in the Hall of Fame back in 1985, then Rollie Fingers was inducted in 1992. Dennis Eckersley’s election in 2004 marked our third Cooperstown closer, and essentially kickstarted the modern rush of closer elections.

    Since 2000, that rate has risen to a hair over three-to-one, with 51 position players against only 16 pitchers. To make matters even more lopsided, those 16 pitchers include just ten starting pitchers, with the other six being closers, a role that has historically pitched just a fraction of the innings that starters do.* And looking forward to the next five or so years of Hall elections, my current best guess is that we see a dozen more position players inducted, against only one starting pitcher and one reliever, putting us at a 63-to-18 (with 11 starters and 7 relievers) hitter-to-pitcher ratio over the first three decades of the 2000s. If you want that in percentages, we basically dropped from 67%-33% in favor of hitters (with nearly all of that 33% being starters) to 78%-22%, with about 13.5% of the total being starters.

    *To clarify: I’m not necessarily opposed to six closers making it into the Hall in this span, but I do think that starter-to-closer induction ratio is way out of whack given the value the two roles typically provide.

    I’ve already covered a few of the issues causing this in the past, and I’m sure that those will come up in that future piece.* They certainly deserve their own focus, at least. However, none of those are really the focus of this annual column, which is devoted to evaluating current starting pitchers’ likeliness of making it to Cooperstown, rather than what the Hall “should” be doing in the abstract.

    *For anyone who can’t wait for the future piece and wants to dig through the backlog before then, here’s me a decade ago talking about how high-peak/short-career starters aces aren’t getting inducted anymore; here’s me a few years later talking about how the Hall has largely stopped inducting new starting pitchers who aren’t above the Hall’s existing median; and here’s me just a few years ago, revisiting that idea and applying it to specific pitchers on the ballot.

    I base my system off the Hall’s median, and while below-median pitchers not getting inducted is probably bad for the Hall as a whole and will affect the numbers I’m using as a whole, it still doesn’t really change the core focus here. My focus in these pieces is largely on identifying the best young pitchers of today, and trying to put some numbers to their eventual Hall chances way ahead of schedule by comparing them to both existing Hall of Famers and players who fell short.

    In theory, those issues shouldn’t fundamentally undermine this idea. In practice, though? Starting pitching is going through yet another set of pretty substantial changes right now, ones that are making it harder and harder to compare it to what’s come before. We’ve been trending this way for a for years, but this year it became impossible to ignore: we basically have no young starting pitchers who qualify as “on pace for the Hall of Fame” in my current system.

    Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be any more Hall of Fame pitchers in the future. It’s possible that the new system in time leads to more good players in the long run. Maybe, while young starters aren’t bursting onto the league at the young ages they used to, these changes will eventually lead to more of them staying healthy and productive in the long run, and putting up traditionally great numbers deep into their 30s. In that case, their career totals might even end up in line with what we expect for Cooperstown. We have seen some pitchers posting great seasons in their mid-30s recently!

    Alternatively, perhaps our understanding of what makes a Hall of Famer actually evolves a little alongside the changes in pitching this time, and the best players of today get their due in fifteen or twenty years as our understanding of these new paradigms changes as well. Granted, given the ways the electorate has already become unwilling to consider A-tier and A-minus-tier pitchers to focus exclusively on A-plus-tier candidates… well, I can see why anyone would be hesitant to predict the Hall voters evolving to stay in line with the times.

    I don’t know that I’m willing to speculate on all of that on top of predicting individual players’ futures, though, which is why most of that discussion will wait for a later day. For this piece, the main thing to know is this: I won’t just be highlighting the players above the median Wins Above Replacement for their age, since there basically are none (the few who do achieve that distinction will be italicized and underlined for emphasis [EDIT: That doesn't quite look as noticeable as I had hoped with the existing site formatting, so I added a highlight effect on top of that to make it stand out a little more.]). For every age group, I’m just sharing the active leader in pitching WAR for players of that age, so that you at least get some fun trivia instead of “No Active Players” fifteen times in a row.

    The methodology is mostly the same as the one I used for the Future Hall of Fame Hitters article from last time. As a quick refresher of that:

    I used Baseball-Reference’s Stathead search feature to look at every Hall of Fame starting pitcher, ordered by (their version of) Wins Above Replacement and pick out the median. Then, I search for the same set by age, looking at where the median fell for all Hall of Famers through their age 20 season, then their age 21 season, and so on, all the way until we’re back to the overall Hall median. That gives us our “Median WAR by Age” line, which we’ll be comparing the players to.

    From there, we can get our approximate odds for players who are at or above the median at different ages. First, we look at those median marks for each age and the half of the Hall of Fame members who are above it. Then, I compare it to all of the eligible players who were also above that mark at that age but did not eventually get elected, and take the percentage of players who made it to the Hall out of total players above the median.

    To use some fake round numbers as an example: say we had 50 Hall of Fame Starters, and our median for the set through age 22 was 5.0 WAR. We’d have 25 Hall of Famers above 5.0 WAR. Say also that there were 50 other players, who had 5.0 WAR through their age 22 season but did not make the Hall of Fame. That would give us: (25 5.0 WAR Players in the Hall) divided by (75 total 5.0 WAR players), equaling out to roughly 33% chances of induction.

    For additional errata, I’m grouping players by their age during the 2023 season, so the players in the Age 23 group will be in their Age 24 season in 2024. Player Age for a year is based on what their age will be on July 1st in a given season, as is the standard convention. And lastly, I’m only including American League and National League stats, because this whole system is based on comparing precedent to current players, and while the Negro Leagues results are major league stats, I’m not sure they make for a conducive yardstick given the differences in the leagues and the Hall induction methods.

    There are a few differences between the pitchers and hitter versions of this system. The big one is that I limit the pitching set a little more in all of these searches, looking exclusively at players who started in the Liveball Era (1920 on), since Deadball Era pitchers are kind of an entirely different beast, with their own standards. I also specifically limit my searches to pitchers who started 10% of their games or more, since relief pitchers are generally judged by Win Probability Added rather than Wins Above Replacement.* And the other big change is that I exclusively look at pitching WAR here, rather than including the pitchers’ hitting WAR; this is largely because pitchers’ batting WAR can really swing the totals, despite the fact that Hall voters (like most people) don’t appear to care about it at all. This will have less of an effect going forward thanks to the universal DH, but that rule change is recent enough that it may change the numbers you see for some players here versus their career total.

    *I did a Closers-specific article last year, if you’re curious about that. I was going to update it with a new Median WPA trend line this year once Billy Wagner got inducted, but he wound up narrowly missing. So between the numbers not changing, the smaller number of candidates to cover, and everything else about the role, I was leaning away from updating that system every single year; 2025 looks like it will bring more relevant updates. But if there’s a desire among readers for a 2024 update on this, let me know and I might be able to put something together before the season starts.

    Now that all of those disclaimers and ponderings are out of the way, let’s move on to the main event: how do our active starters measure up here?

    Age 20: 0.9 WAR Median; 14.81% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Eury Pérez (2.5 WAR)

    Age 21: 1.9 WAR Median; 10.28% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Kyle Harrison (0.2 WAR)

    In 2022, we had exactly one under-22 pitcher in the entire majors, and he only threw one 5.0-inning start at that. Things aren’t quite that dire this year, with five under-22 players combining for just over 170 innings in 2023. Half of those come from young Marlins pitcher Eury Pérez, a graduated top-10 prospect who tossed 91.1 innings with a 3.15 ERA; he will be the only above-median pitcher that we see for quite some time. The other four pitchers in this group were less remarkable, all landing between -0.5 and 0.2 WAR.

    Age 22: 4.0 WAR Median; 14.74% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Luke Little (0.3 WAR)

    This age bracket still only includes eight different pitchers. Simeon Woods Richardson is the only returning player; he was our one-start 21-year-old last year, and now he’s a two-start 22-year-old. Maybe 2024 will be the year he sticks in the majors. The other seven players all debuted in 2023, with Luke Little’s meager 0.3 WAR leading the set (that result comes from 6.2 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts). Orion Kerkering (0.1 WAR, 3 IP) is the only other player with positive value to date. As a set, this octet still only has 207.2 career innings pitched, with 104.2 of those coming from Taj Bradley (-0.4 WAR).

    Age 23: 6.5 WAR Median; 15.09% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Reid Detmers (4.3 WAR)

    This is clearly the point where teams start to feel better about calling up pitchers full-time, as we had a full thirty 23-year-old pitchers in the majors last season. However, the career WAR totals are still pretty low. Reid Detmers and Hunter Greene (3.1 WAR) are both above Perez; of course, it would take a Cy Young-level performance for either of them to make it to the age-24 median this year. Outside of those two, we have four more pitchers in the 1-to-2 Win range (plus one more just missing at 0.9), while a full nineteen are at 0.5 WAR or less.

    Age 24: 9.8 WAR Median; 16.83% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Spencer Strider (7.1 WAR)

    We have (arguably) our first pitcher of note here! And not only that, he makes for a great illustration of our central problem: Strider finished runner-up to teammate Michael Harris II in the 2022 Rookie of the Year vote, and followed that up with an All Star selection and a fourth-place finish in the NL Cy Young vote last year. That’s about as good as you can hope for a young pitcher in their first two seasons in the majors! All of that got him just 7.1 WAR, well below the Hall median, in no small part because his 320.2 innings through the age of 24 just barely cracks the top 500 list for post-1947 pitchers (and as you can imagine, that drops even lower if you take that window back to the deadball era or earlier). He’s not below every single Hall of Fame pitcher through age 24 (Randy Johnson, Bob Gibson, Gaylord Perry, and Whitey Ford all had less time on the mound at this point, to name a few), but he’s definitely lower than most of them. And his teammate, fellow All-Star, and age-24 runner-up Bryce Elder (3.8 WAR) stood no chance of making the cutoff. At least Strider’s value is close enough to the mark that a big, Cy Young-winning year in 2024 could get him to the age 25 mark.

    Age 25: 12.35 WAR Median; 17.76% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Alek Manoah (7.8 WAR)

    Manoah’s abysmal 2023 season (5.87 ERA in 87.1 Innings, just 79 K versus 59 walks, -1.1 bWAR) does not guarantee he won’t make his way to the Hall of Fame; shoot, if he does one day make it to Cooperstown, it technically might not even be the worst pitching season from a Blue Jays Hall of Famer, thanks to Roy Halladay’s awful 2000 campaign. But all the same… he pretty clearly needs to turn things around. Closer Emmanuel Clase is second for this age group with 7.1 WAR, but again, I evaluate closers’ chances with a different system, so Jesús Luzardo (6.0) is our actual runner-up.

    Age 26: 18.15 WAR Median; 26.39% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Logan Webb (13.8 WAR)

    Webb has been on a steady upward trajectory the last three years, which is how he’s built all of his WAR so far. In 2021, he stuck in the rotation for a full year and proved his “solid young starter” credentials despite not really appearing on any Top 100 Prospect lists* or demonstrating much dominance at the major league level up to that point. The next year, he’d demonstrate that he was an ace and pick up some Cy Young votes, and then last year, he finished runner-up in Cy voting while leading the NL in innings (still no All-Star selections though, weirdly enough).

    *It might also be worth noting that his rise before then was similarly rough, with time missed due to Tommy John surgery back in 2016 and ‘17 (does that mean anything for potential future injuries? I haven’t seen any compelling evidence, and he’s been durable since) and a steroid suspension in 2019 (no idea how that will play on the ballot whenever he comes up, given that it happened before he was notable and it might be the 2040s by then), not to mention the 2020 pandemic season.

    And despite all of that, he’s still a very good Cy Young-type season away from making it up to the median for his age. On the flip side, if he misses a lot of time in 2024 due to an injury (always a risk with pitchers), he’ll have no shot of catching up to his age-median, because the pace at this point is relentless (this year and next see it rise by roughly 5 Wins each). This neatly illustrates a lot of problems facing modern pitchers under this system.

    While we’re here, I’ll throw Shane McClanahan (8.6 WAR) and Cristian Javier (7.4 WAR) into this discussion just to have more names. Also, Julio Urías is tied with Webb at the top for this age group, but I’m not sure that he counts as active given that he’s still unsigned and likely facing a second domestic violence suspension if he does sign somewhere in the league.

    Age 27: 21.55 WAR Median; 27.14% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Sandy Alcántara (20.1 WAR)

    That bit about the risk of injuries I just did with Logan Webb? It was kind of foreshadowing for this part; Alcántara is of course reasonably close to the Hall median here, but it’s already announced that he’ll be missing all of 2024 to recover from Tommy John surgery. So when he does return in 2025, he’ll actually need an 11-WAR season to get back on pace. That’s in spite of a career that’s been fairly successful from the get-go.

    So what about the rest of this age group? Well, second place goes to Zac Gallen (who was in fact traded with Alcantara to the Marlins as part of the Marcell Ozuna trade, before being sent to Arizona). On the strength of two straight top-five finishes in Cy Young voting, Gallen sits at 16.9 WAR, well behind Hall pace but with a chance to pass Alcantara this year, at least. There’s also Pablo López (11.8 WAR) and Dylan Cease (11.7 WAR), who are nowhere close right now, but they’re good enough that maybe they can play the long game and catch up with good seasons into their mid-to-late 30s?

    Age 28: 26.45 WAR Median; 34.55% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Shane Bieber (17.0 WAR)

    Bieber has a Cy Young rather than just runner-up finishes, but he’s just barely ahead of Gallen’s career total right now. It probably doesn’t help that his best season was the shortened 2020 one. He’s certainly in a better position than second place Germán Márquez (16.0 WAR), who had a down 2022 season and missed most of 2023 for Tommy John surgery. Shohei Ohtani is third for this age group, but I already covered him in the article about hitters.

    Walker Buehler missed all of 2023, yet another UCL surgery patient, but he is next on the list with 13.6 Wins. Corbin Burnes (13.4 WAR) comes after that, which feels like a low finish for the 2021 Cy Young winner coming off three-straight All-Star appearances. To be fair, he’d move up a lot if you removed his disastrous 2019 season back when he was still acclimating to the Majors (8.82 ERA in 49.0 innings, -2.2 WAR), but that still doesn’t get him close to the Hall median. Lucas Giolito (12.4 WAR) is also around here, but any “Future Hall” speculation for him should probably be held off until we can figure out what’s been going wrong with him (EDIT: Looks like he has a torn UCL, and might miss all of 2024. Maybe that explains the end of last season though?).

    Age 29: 31.2 WAR Median; 38.00% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Max Fried (19.5 WAR)

    Once again, in Fried, we have a young star who put up a successful string of years, but who was waylaid by injuries last year. At least it wasn’t another Tommy John surgery this time. Even with that time missed, he’s still well ahead of runners-up José Berríos (13.2 WAR), Luis Severino (11.9), and Framber Valdez (10.7). Lance McCullers Jr. (11.1 WAR) is also right around here, despite missing all of last season with a variety of arm problems. You may notice that we’re still yet to see a player match Alcantara’s WAR.

    Age 30: 36.3 WAR Median; 52.78% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Aaron Nola (32.0 WAR)

    Nola finally breaks through, as our first pitcher to not only top Alcántara’s value, but also to crack the 30-Win mark. He’s over 4 WAR behind where he needs to be for the Hall pace, which means that, given the median line for age-31, he needs 2024 to be a 9.2-Win season. He actually has managed that in the past, back in 2018 (at least according to Baseball-Reference’s formulation), but none of his other seasons are within 3 WAR of that, so it seems unlikely to happen again.

    Luis Castillo is also ahead of Alcántara, with 22.3 WAR, as is the still-unsigned Blake Snell at 21.1. It’s a little shocking that Snell isn’t higher up given his two Cy Young Awards, but I guess that’s what happens when you have the kinds of inning restrictions he does.

    Age 31: 41.2 WAR Median; 54.29% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Robbie Ray (17.9 WAR)

    And we’re once again back below 20 WAR with our leader for the age. And Ray is yet another example of a pitcher who’s 2023 was destroyed by Tommy John surgery, throwing just 3.1 innings.

    Age 32: 44.7 WAR Median; 57.58% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Gerrit Cole (40.7 WAR)

    Cole represents another big jump for us, as the reigning AL Cy Young winner is our first pitcher with over 40 Wins Above Replacement so far. Being 4 WAR behind the pace seems less than ideal, but if you remember my Hitters article, you might remember that this was around the point where the Hall pace started to slow down, giving players an opening to catch back up. In theory, Cole seems to be in prime position to take advantage of that…

    Except that the pitchers don’t see the same slow down in their pace at all; in fact, their 6.9-WAR jump from age 32 to 33 is the single largest jump we see anywhere in this project, pitcher or hitter. That means that Cole would need to muster nearly 11 WAR next season to get above the Hall median, or a 3.5-Win improvement over his award-winning 2023. Not only that, but things only slightly slow down after that: the next two jumps for ages 34 and 35 are another 2.8 and 5.45 WAR, respectively.

    So not only does Cole need to keep it up for this year, he needs to stay hot for at least another two more seasons after that if he wants to have any hope of starting to catch up to the median. At that point, things will slow down a lot for the back half of his 30s, so that will be the real window to make up ground, but 1) things still won’t actually stop at that point, just slow down substantially; and 2) again, this will be his late 30s and into his early 40s, which feels like an especially perilous set of ages to be forecasting.

    At least he’s further ahead than the rest of his cohort. Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman are just our sixth and seventh active starters with over 20 WAR, at 23.2 and 21.3 respectively (for comparison, there are over 30 active position players with 20+ Wins through this age). And Julio Teherán (who has a minor league deal with Baltimore this spring) just misses that mark at 19.9 Wins, which is a name I really did not expect to see.

    Age 33: 51.6 WAR Median; 82.61% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Sonny Gray (30.2 WAR)

    Technically, Madison Bumgarner is still in the lead for this age group, with 32.5 pitching WAR, but I haven’t seen any real rumors of teams even looking at him following the Diamondbacks cutting him last May (other than some jokes about him offering to pitch for Bruce Bochy in the World Series). It’s kind of telling what a big lead he built up after debuting at age 19 way back in 2009, that he’s still here even after doing basically nothing (-0.5 WAR) in four seasons as a Diamondback.

    Anyway, until Bumgarner actually returns, Sonny Gray is our active leader, although there’s a decent chance he passes Bumgarner’s WAR total this year as well. Zack Wheeler (28.7 WAR) might pass him as well. As for ever catching up to the Hall median from this point… it’s going to be tough for them at this age. If you wanted to map out what a path to Cooperstown looks like for them at this point, the most realistic option is probably to bet on them being good enough to make it over the 60 WAR line or so while having some extra factor to woo voters, making it in as a slightly below-median starter.

    Sure, Hall voters have been struggling to induct those types of players as of late, but even getting to the 60 Win range for either of them is going to take a post-33 career that looks like Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer, and those types of aging curves are already really rare. Actually reaching the Hall median would require a post-33 career that’s another step up from that, maybe something like Nolan Ryan’s or Randy Johnson’s; I imagine if either of them can manage something that historic, then they’ll probably have an easy time convincing people to vote for them.

    Age 34: 54.4 WAR Median; 82.61% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Chris Sale (47.3 WAR)

    Coming off his age 30 season back in 2019, Sale seemed well set up to stay above the Hall median, even having a few years worth of buffer to serve as insurance. But the last four years have gone even rougher than anyone could have imagined back then; he only threw 48.1 innings from 2020 to 2022, thanks primarily to Tommy John surgery, a stress fracture in his rib, a line drive off the hand, and a bout of COVID. 2023 counts as the success story because he “only” missed 2 months of the season due to shoulder problems, while throwing 102 innings. Maybe his luck will be better on the Braves, but even then, the best he can probably hope for with regards to the Hall median is just treading water. Any real catch-up will have to wait until 2025, since age 34 still represents a nearly 5.5-WAR increase in the Hall median trend. Sale’s former teammate on the White Sox José Quintana is a very distant runner-up here, with 29.2 WAR.

    Age 35: 59.85 WAR Median; 95.00% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Clayton Kershaw (77.1 WAR)

    For the first time since Eury Pérez waaaaaay back in the age 20 group, we have a starter who’s actually above the Hall WAR median for his age, and it’s Clayton Kershaw. And of course, as you probably guessed, Kershaw is not just above the age-35 median, but the entire Hall median for liveball-era starting pitchers. I realize that “Clayton Kershaw is on pace for the Hall of Fame” isn’t exactly some huge under-the-radar discovery, but given the state of things, we have to take the small victories where we can find them.

    One thing about Kershaw that I hadn’t thought prior to writing this part is how starkly he represents the end of the prior era of pitching development. Right now, Clayton has 2712.2 regular season innings to date in his career, a total that’s impressive, but not exactly historic: he’s just inside the top 200 all time, and he’s not even the active leader at the moment. He does, however, blow every other pitcher we’ve covered so far out of the water. No one in the age groups below him is within 500 innings of him; Madison Bumgarner is the closest, at 2209.1 (again, ignore that he’s unsigned at the moment). Outside of that, we haven’t covered any other 2000-inning pitchers yet.

    In fact, only three 35-and-under pitchers are within 1000 innings of Kershaw right now: Gerrit Cole has 1859.0, and Chris Sale and José Quintana have 1780.2 and 1799.1, respectively. There are a whole bunch of examples I could give here to demonstrate what’s changed, but the long and short of it is that teams generally don’t bring up pitchers as young as Kershaw was when he debuted any more, and even once they are up, they don’t throw as many innings as he did in his twenties (either as a young pitcher in his early twenties, or as an established star in his late twenties). Both of those factors combined really add up.

    Given his comparative lack of innings, it’s shocking not just that Jacob deGrom is the runner-up for this age bracket, but that he ranks as highly as he does. Since debuting particularly late (he was already 26 during his Rookie of the Year season back in 2014), deGrom has only tossed 1356.1 innings, but he’s made them count, racking up 42.1 WAR to date. I honestly think there’s a reasonable Hall case for him under the “high peak” argument, but Hall voters don’t seem to be going for that type of candidate anymore. He’ll probably need to come back strong from his second Tommy John surgery later this year and continue building up those counting numbers.

    Age 36: 60.2 WAR Median; 82.61% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Yu Darvish (31.3 WAR)

    Yu Darvish’s MLB numbers are obviously pretty far away from where he needs to be for Hall of Fame purposes, but I wonder how much stronger his case would look if you accounted for his time pitching in Japan. As I have mentioned in the past, I’m open to considering the full scope of international players’ careers, especially for players who were constrained in when they could come to the US. Sure, you can’t just add together the two sets of stats and call it a day, but I also believe that completely ignoring them is an even bigger mistake. I thought I had already taken a deeper look at Yu’s case, like what I did for Yuli Gurriel and José Abreu in the past, but apparently not; that might go on my to-do list now. Lance Lynn is technically a close second here, with 30.6 WAR, but he obviously has none of the extra credit that Darvish does.

    Age 37: 61.3 WAR Median; 82.61% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Johnny Cueto (38.5 WAR)

    Johnny Cueto is still unsigned, but apparently hoping to pitch this season. His 2023 wasn’t great, but pitching is always in demand, so someone still might give him a chance. I doubt he has another 30 WAR in him, though. Corey Kluber would have been another candidate of note here, but he retired this offseason; his 34.0 pitching WAR is low, but his pair of Cy Young Awards wouldn’t be the worst basis of a Hall of Fame case. It’s still not happening, though, for at least the foreseeable future.

    Age 38: 62.05 WAR Median; 82.61% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Max Scherzer (74.0 WAR)

    We have our second pitcher already above the Hall’s median in Max Scherzer, and once again, I imagine he’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer whenever he comes up for election. He’s also the first pitcher we’ve come across here with more innings thrown than Clayton Kershaw (with the only other two being the next two age group leaders). It’s difficult to say how much longer Scherzer has in the league, given that he’ll miss the first few months of this season for back surgery and his contract is up after 2024; both of those can be a major cause of uncertainty for a player who will turn 40 during the season. But if he can at least get back to the level he was at while healthy in 2023, I’m sure someone next year will find a spot for him in the rotation if he wants to keep going.

    Age 39: 63.5 WAR Median; 79.17% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Zack Greinke (72.4 WAR)

    With 3389.1 innings pitched, Zack Greinke is our active workload leader, as well as the longest-serving active major leaguer (pitcher or otherwise), having debuted all the way back in 2004. I could have sworn that I saw news about Greinke re-signing with the Royals over the winter, but apparently I completely imagined that? Kansas City did sign numerous pitchers in free agency this winter, and there’s been rumors that Greinke would prefer to return there, but there wasn’t actually a deal. The most recent definite update we received on this front was that he was “preparing to pitch in 2024”, which came way back in December, but there’s little else to go on since.

    I’d love to see him come back and make a run at 3000 strikeouts; he currently sits at 2979, and that feels like the most frustrating place to end. If he can’t find something soon, maybe there will be more openings as the season goes on and rotations need to be shuffled for injuries and underperformance? And it’s not like he’d even need a full season to get 21 more whiffs. I imagine that Zack will cruise into Cooperstown regardless of whether he actually makes it to the milestone, it’s not like it changes his legacy significantly or anything; but I’d still rather see it happen.

    And for a shocking change, Zack Greinke actually isn’t the only active starting pitcher in this age group! Charlie Morton is nowhere near the Hall median, with just 18.3 pitching WAR to his name. The sheer novelty of still having multiple active players here would have driven me to say something anyway, but it certainly makes it nicer that it’s CFM. He certainly has had an interesting career, to say the least; remember how he had a negative career bWAR when he signed with the Astros for his age-33 season back in 2017? If nothing else, he’s a testament to how wild and unpredictable pitcher development can be.

    Age 40: 65.7 WAR Median; 79.17% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader: Justin Verlander (81.4 WAR)

    Right now, Justin Verlander is poised to be the oldest player in the Major Leagues, following the retirements of Miguel Cabrera, Adam Wainwright, and Nelson Cruz (there’s one factor that might change this, but we’ll get to him in a moment). Like Greinke and Scherzer, I don’t think there’s going to be much debate about whether he’s a Hall of Famer at this point, but I’d imagine he’d like to finish his career strong. Of course, he also has a 2025 vesting option in his contract, so there’s also a good chance that said “strong finish” won’t be this year.

    Age 41: 66.8 WAR Median; 82.61% of all players at this mark elected
    Overall: 67.2 WAR Median; 82.61% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Leader (for ages 41+): Rich Hill (17.0 WAR)

    The one obstacle that might thwart Verlander as he vies for the title of “Oldest Player in the 2024 Season” is Rich Hill. Hill would be entering his age 44 season, and while he hasn’t signed anywhere yet, he has indicated an interest in pitching this season, and even explicitly mentioned the idea of signing later in the season, so I won’t totally rule him out until I hear otherwise. Like Morton, his career is unique enough that he’s worth celebrating, even if his chances of making it to Cooperstown as a player are basically nil.

    And with that, we can tentatively close the book on the Future Hall of Fame series for 2024. As I mentioned above, I’m probably not going to make the Closers part of this series annual, but let me know if you would like to see a quick update there and I might be able to get something together by the start of the season. Otherwise, the next thing you can expect to see here is probably either that Yu Darvish idea I mentioned, or an expansion on the idea from the opening about Hall voters getting worse at electing Hall of Fame pitchers. Whatever may come next, if you’d like to get an email update when those go live, you can sign up for the Hot Corner Harbor mailing list below!

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      1. Very disturbing that the HOF is neglecting starting pitchers. Something HAS to change either in the HOF voter evaluations or the HOF itself encouraging starters to be picked.

        With the changes in recent years to make younger pitchers wait until later before getting their careers started, the teams now taking pitchers out of the game so quickly, and now with the pitch clock forcing pitchers to conform to a quicker game the pitchers will have an incredibly hard time amassing the statistics voters look for in electing pitchers to the HOF.

        The voters MUST change the parameters in some manner. I leave it up to you to help them adjust with suggestions in your future articles.

      2. Unless I counted wrong only 3 p layers made it above the hall median. Very scary that this is happening to pitchers as that game has changed significantly.

        1. It's actually five (Verlander, Greinke, Scherzer, Kershaw, and Eury Perez), but I'm now realizing how weird the underlined/italicized formatting looks when used in conjunction with the Baseball-Reference linker... I might need to adjust that.

      3. It "feels like" the change to a new generation of pitchers affected by all these changes takes place around your age 33 or 34 years. Younger than that and they have been affected by Covid years, teams changing to less innings per game, starting them in their MLB careers later, and rule changes for pitchers.

      4. that puts 4 of the 5 guys in the "old school". Changes started right after their generation that has adversely affected all pitchers that came after them.

        Perez is the only one making your cut off, but he is very young with one good year.

        It might bode well for all the old school pitchers that should have been elected, Schilling, Tommy John, Moyer, ......

        1. Tommy John should be in just because of the surgery that has saved pitchers. He has 288 wins and a 3.34 ERA. He is just as good as Bert Blyleven. Bert has 287 wins and 3.31 ERA and did not have "tommy john" surgery" that had him miss a prime year. He also won 20 games 3 times after the surgery and Blyleven did it once. I think the curve ball of Blyleven makes him seem like a better pitcher. Also John is as good as Jack Morris and his 3.90 ERA and 254 wins. One WS start makes his career stand out more.