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    Thursday, July 31, 2014

    Predicting Hall of Fame Pitchers, Part II; or, Breaking Down the Likely Candidates by Age Group

    Now that I’ve gotten ranting about the stupidity of the Hall electorate out of my system from the other day, now it’s time for the actual predictions. What players active today are on a Hall of Fame pace? In case you don’t feel like looking back at the piece from the other day, here’s the data:

    Median WAR
    # HOF at median WAR
    # Non HOF at median
    # non HOF still on ballot
    % in HOF

    Since I conducted this study back before the season started, I’ll be primarily using Baseball-Reference WAR numbers from before the season started, although I won’t rule out referencing present-day stats. Now then, on to the players:

    20: 1.3 WAR, 17.95%
    One player passed this mark heading into the season: the now-out-for-the-season Jose Fernandez. However, thanks to his incredibly strong rookie season of 6.3 WAR, he’s set almost through his age 23 season. Now we just need him to come back healthy next season. After him, late-season call-ups Taijuan Walker and Dylan Bundy were next among 20 year olds, each with 0.1 WAR, and both still need to stick in the majors full-time.

    21: 2.4 WAR, 11.36%
    Going in to the season, no one at 21 had reached 2.4 WAR. However, 2013 postseason hero Michael Wacha led all in the age group, with 1.7 WAR. His strong start to this season had him on pace to pass the age-22 marker, but his recent injury issues have lowered the probability of that happening.

    22: 4.8 WAR, 16.90%
    Once again, no active pitchers were at this mark, but a young Cardinal led the pack. Shelby Miller had 3.9 WAR after his strong rookie campaign and looked primed to pass the age 23 marker this season. However, he’s fallen off the rails this year, and it looks like he’ll stall out just short of the mark. However, runner-up Julio Teheran might make it, as he started the year with 3.1 WAR.

    23: 6.5 WAR, 15.38%
    Finally, we have an actual success: Madison Bumgarner has built up quite the buffer, with 11.4 WAR entering the season. 2014 saw him named to the All-Star Game once again, although with a 100 ERA+ and 1.6 WAR this season (and 200 inning averages of 113 and 2.9, respectively), it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever have the Cy Young-type season he’ll need to stay ahead of the curve in his late 20s. Nathan Eovaldi is the next closest, but he’s still a ways off of the pace.

    24: 9.6 WAR, 15.22%
    This provides a solid yes and an interesting case. The solid yes is Chris Sale, who just made his third straight All-Star roster a few weeks ago.  He had 16.3 WAR entering the season, and has added another 4.7 WAR so far, meaning he’s already set through his age 26 season a year from now.

    Stephen Strasburg is a near miss, entering 2014 with only 8.5 bWAR. However, his Fielding Independent Pitching has always rated much better than his ERA (2.80 to 3.11), as consequently, is much more liked by Fangraphs’s FIP-based WAR, with9.5 bWAR against 13.9 fWAR. However, I used Baseball-Reference WAR and not Fangraphs, so I’ll have to stick with that. It’ll be interesting to see if his ERA ever catches up with his FIP.

    It’s also worth noting that Matt Harvey is the same age as these two, although injury has limited him to only 6.9 WAR so far.

    25: 12.25 WAR, 16.67%
    Surprise! Clayton Kershaw passes the age-25 mark. Actually, counting the start of the 2014 season, he already passes the age-29 mark, and he’ll easily make it to the age-30 mark before the year is out seeing as he’s at 37.1 WAR.

    What’s more surprising is that Jhoulys Chacin passes the bar as well. Or did, rather. His 126 ERA+ 2013 gave him 5.8 WAR, bumping him up to 14.1 career. He stalled out this year, though, and he’s well short of the 26-mark, since this is the age where the median WAR really starts to shoot up.

    This is also where we find Craig Kimbrel. leader among closers, but even with this year, he’s only at 11.1 Wins.

    26: 18.1 WAR, 26.32%
    26 is yet another age with no players who make the cutoff. Yu Darvish leads the way, though, and I feel like that deserves a mention. While he entered the season with only 9.7 of the 18.1 he needed, those ~10 Wins came in only two seasons. That’s quite the pace, even if it is lining up with the point where the Hall median WAR really starts to climb, meaning it’s unlikely he’ll catch up for a while. He’s up to 13.2 Wins career-wise so far. I have to think it’s a little like Ichiro; as long as he keeps doing as amazing as he has been, his late start won’t really be held against him.

    27: 24.55 WAR, 39.47%
    Live Kershaw, Felix Hernandez blows the rest of his age bracket out of the water. King Felix entered the season with 38.6 of the 24.55 WAR needed for his age, and has added another 5.1 WAR and counting to that this year. Another on the fast track to Cooperstown.

    David Price is next down the list at 18.6. He needed another Cy Young-level year to make the age-28 cutoff, but his so far solid season (2.7 WAR) doesn’t look like it’ll be enough.

    28: 27.6 WAR, 42.11%
    Matt Cain still made this mark even after his abysmal, 85 ERA+ 2013 season that was only worth 0.5 WAR. His first few seasons were good enough to give him 32.4 WAR overall. This year, however, has been just as bad as last thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, and he hasn’t moved at all in Wins. No other 28-year olds are particularly close, with John Danks at 20.6 and Max Scherzer at 18.1.

    29: 34.6 WAR, 57.14%
    Interestingly, there are three candidates all hovering around the median mark. Zack Greinke is the only one of the three who actually passed the bar, with a 35.1 total that put him just half a win over. He’s kept it up this year too, and currently stands 0.1 wins below the age 30 level.

    Meanwhile, falling less than a win below the median is Cole Hamels. He might actually catch up this year; he fell only 0.8 short before the season, and is currently 0.8 short of next year’s 38.4 with two months to go. That’s easily manageable.

    Lastly, there’s Jon Lester. He was the furthest away, with only 28.2 Wins to start the year, but he’s also arguably had the best season of the three. At 31 WAR and counting, he probably won’t make it all the way to the age 30 mark, but he’s at least trending in the right direction in a big way.

    30: 38.4 WAR, 59.26%
    Justin Verlander has definitely slipped this year, to the point where he might not actually make this list next year. This past offseason, he sat at 40.7, close to 2 and a half full wins over the threshold. This year, though, he’s added only 0.4 WAR, leaving him a full win short of next year’s median. He has time to make it up, but it’s a worrisome downturn, as far as his chances are concerned. After Verlander, it’s a pretty steep fall to Jered Weaver (33.4 WAR entering the year, 35.2 now).

    31: 42.4 WAR, 61.54%
    Despite not getting a starter gig until the age of 25, and missing all of 2011 to injury, Adam Wainwright still leads all pitchers his age. He’s still not anywhere near the median, entering the season with only 26.5 of the necessary 42.4 WAR and “only” adding 4.7 more since then. He’ll struggle to catch the median thanks to his disadvantages, but he’s been so good in his 30s so far that I don’t know that we can just rule him out yet. I remember once hearing “the key to winning 300 games is to pitch well in your 30s”. I don’t think Waino will win 300, but I think it’s a useful saying for the Hall overall, and Adam’s been pitching well in his 30s for sure.

    32: 45.5 WAR, 64.00%
    CC Sabathia’s season has been wrecked by injuries so far, as he’s only thrown 46 innings while accruing -0.4 WAR. Even with that, though, he’s still in the clear; he entered the year with 54.4 WAR, meaning he’s set through this season and most of next. After him, we’re left with newly-minted Giant Jake Peavy at 35.1 WAR.

    33: 51.6 WAR, 84.21%
    Not much going on here. Josh Beckett is the active leader, entering the season with 33.5 WAR (now 35.8).

    34: 55.6 WAR, 88.89%
    No players topped this mark, but there are two interesting opportunities. First is Mark Buehrle, who finished with 54.4 of the 55.6 WAR needed to make the age-34 median. Buehlre is actually tied with Tim Hudson (three years his senior, which I would never have guessed; Buehrle at least as old, if not older) as the active leader in WAR for pitchers with 58 flat. I doubt he can pick up the ~2 remaining WAR he needs to hit the median, but he’s still extremely close. I wonder if he can stay decent long enough to sort of just hover around the median. He would make for an interesting Hall debate some day, I feel (this also goes for Tim Hudson)-he would force people to look at how heavily they weigh consistency versus peak value. And worst case, remember, that number is the Hall median, as in, half of them had less value when they were his age, so he might still have a chance.

    After Buehrle, we get another Wainwright-esque late bloomer, Cliff Lee. Injuries have set him back this year, but it’s important to remember that he is coming off a stretch of 3 years that saw him post 7 Wins of value twice and 4.5 one year in between the other two. At 42.6 WAR coming in, he needed a strong 2014 to get closer to on the Hall track, but he’s only been worth 0.8 this season so far. Again, though: median means that only half of the Hall members did better than that mark. There’s nothing to say these guys’ chances are totally done for yet.

    35: 59.9 WAR, 100%
    And we end it with a whimper. Recently-retired Roy Oswalt finished last year with 49.9 WAR, a full 10 wins behind the Hall median’s pace. Next best after him is Barry Zito, who’s also sat out this year (although he isn’t officially retired yet). Zito is sitting on 33.9 WAR, even more off the pace.

    Compared to the list of future Hall hitters, the pitcher list winds up looking a lot more disappointing. Only ten actives pitchers passed the Hall median for their respective ages: Jose Fernandez, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Jhoulys Chacin, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, and C.C. Sabathia. And given the low percentages who end up inducted when meeting the median at a younger age, it’s very possible that only half or fewer wind up Hall-worthy in the end, with an even smaller number than that being actually inducted given how overly strict the Hall has gotten both for starters. Maybe I’m wrong; I sure hope I’m wrong, as it’s always fun to see great pitchers dominate for a long time. But the odds just don’t seem to be on their side.

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