Tag: John Smoltz

Making Sense of the John Smoltz, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling HOF Debates

John Smoltz, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling…or all of the above? It’s a question Hall of Fame voters wrestled with this year (we’ll find out what they concluded on Tuesday), and it’s a damn tough one.

Or maybe not, if you believe the tally of public HOF votes at Baseball Think Factory. As of Jan. 4, Smoltz sat at 88.3 percent, trailing only Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez among eligible players.

Meanwhile, Schilling (53.8 percent) and Mussina (37.9 percent) fell well below the 75 percent threshold needed for induction.

What gives? Why does Smoltz look like a lock to follow his former Atlanta Braves teammates and 2014 inductees Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine into Cooperstown while Schilling and Mussina appear destined to miss out?

Let’s put the three pitchers’ key stats side-by-side and go from there:

Those are remarkably similar lines. And if you use career wins above replacement (WAR), Schilling (79.9) and Mussina (83) have a sizable edge over Smoltz (69.5), per Baseball-Reference.

Of course, we’ve yet to mention the three seasons Smoltz spent slamming the door as Atlanta’s closer. Between 2002 and 2004, the right-hander racked up 144 saves, including an MLB-leading 55 in ’02. 

When Smoltz hung ’em up in 2009, he had 154 saves to pair with 213 wins. Both stats might be overrated, scoffed at by the sabermetrically inclined, but they’re eye-catching, which may at least partly explain the voting disparity.

Not everyone is impressed. As Grantland‘s Ben Lindberg notes:

The portrayal of Smoltz as a Swiss Army ace relies on shaky logic: Every elite starter has the ability to be a dominant closer, and Smoltz shouldn’t get extra credit for the fragility that temporarily forced his team to use him in a less valuable role. After all, Mussina wouldn’t be a better candidate if he’d taken a sabbatical from starting to pitch out of the bullpen for Baltimore.

It’s a salient point. Theoretically, Mussina and Schilling would have been equal if they’d tried their hand at ninth-inning duties. Heck, they might have been better.

The fact is, though, we’ll never know. Smoltz is the only one who pitched consistently out of the pen, and he put up some imposing numbers to stack next to the dominant stats he compiled as a starter.

OK, what about the postseason? Many a HOF candidacy has been made—or broken—on October performance.

This is where Smoltz and Schilling gain a little separation from Mussina. Here are the three pitchers’ key stats, this time for the playoffs and World Series only:

It’s not that Mussina embarrassed himself under the bright autumn glare, but the numbers (ERA specifically) put him a step off the pace.

And, unlike Smoltz and Schilling, he never won a ring. Fair or not, that’s something many voters consider.

Speaking of factors worth weighing, let’s swing the pendulum back in Mussina’s favor and point out that he pitched his entire 18-year career with the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles in the hitter-friendly American League East.

Plus, he’s the only member of the HOF-hopeful troika who never tossed an inning in the National League, where the pitchers hit and the DH is a dirty word.

So you see how this goesback and forth, point counterpoint. Why not simply let all three in?

Peter Gammons, no doubt an authority on the subject, says that’s the ticket, writing on Daily Gammons that Smoltz is a “no-doubter,” while Schilling and Mussina also belong on baseball’s most hallowed post-career stage.

All three, Gammons points out, pitched in the heart of the steroid era, “a time period in which we do not choose to elect Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and some others because of their suspected PED usage.”

But with Martinez and Johnson first-ballot locks and plenty of worthy position players in the mix, the math gets tricky.

For what it’s worth, I put Smoltz on my unofficial Bleacher Report ballot and left off Schilling and Mussina.

It was a difficult decision. In the end, I was swayed (I’ll admit) by the 150 saves and the fact that Smoltz, even more than Maddux and Glavine, was the connecting thread throughout the Braves’ magnificent run of 14 consecutive division titles between 1991 and 2005. 

Still, I think Schilling and Mussina belong in the Hall. I also happen to think players like Bonds and Roger Clemens should be there, steroid stench aside. I suspect other writers whose votes actually count faced a similar dilemma.

Schilling garnered just 29.2 percent in 2014 and Mussina a scant 20.3. This will be Schilling’s third year of eligibility and Mussina’s second; it’s conceivable both could fall off entirely in the future, though almost certainly not this year. (Only five percent is needed to stay on the ballot.) 

Even if you view both pitchers as borderline HOF talents, those vote totals are surprisingly low. Particularly for Schilling, who combines impressive stats with big-game mythology. Have we forgotten the bloody sock already?

Here’s what Schilling told MLB.com‘s Ian Browne in 2014 after he missed the cut:

Whether I believe [I belong] or what I think is irrelevant. I know what I did. At the end of the day, when I think about my career, the thing I always tell people that I wanted when I started was, I wanted to have a career where the 24 guys I suited up with, if their life depended on a win or a loss, who would they want to have the ball? I wanted to be that guy.

He was that guy; so were Smoltz and Mussina. The question now is whether they’ll be guys with busts in a museum in Otsego County, New York. 

In a way, it doesn’t matter; their individual achievements stand tall regardless. But in another way, it matters a lot.

That’s what makes the Hall of Fame special and confounding all at once, and what makes these questions so damn tough.

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Is John Smoltz Worthy of Being First-Ballot 2015 Hall of Famer?

The chance for debate in Major League Baseball never ends. The individual awards were just handed out, and as if on cue, here comes the announcement for the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot ready to provide the next topic sure to spark discussion and more than a little disagreement.

There are plenty of subplots to consider—will Craig Biggio get in after missing by a mere two votes last time? what happens to those with links to performance-enhancing drugs (whether rumored or real)? which players will the ongoing bottleneck hurt most?—but the focus here is on one new name to the list, in particular.

Of the three big-name pitchers added to the this year’s Hall of Fame ballot—Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz—the first two are no-doubt first-ballot entries. The third has a great chance of being voted in too, but his case isn’t quite as open-and-shut by comparison.

As impressive as Smoltz was over his 21 years in Major League Baseball, his accomplishments aren’t on par with those of Johnson and Martinez. That shouldn’t be held against Smoltz, of course, but it does mean he is overshadowed by two better pitchers—heck, two all-time greats—in year one.

That presents the possibility Smoltz might not make it to Cooperstown in his first go-around.

Johnson, who won five Cy Young Awards, including a record-tying four straight (1999-02), finished his 22-year career with 303 wins and 4,875 strikeouts, second most all time behind Nolan Ryan’s 5,714.

Martinez, in his 18 seasons, posted the sixth-best winning percentage ever (.687) and owned a 2.93 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.0 K/9. He also won the Cy three times (1997, 1999-00), with his very best seasons at the height of the steroid era in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Those two? They’re getting in, and they’re likely getting upward of 95 percent of the vote as two of the very best in baseball history.

Plain as day, both Johnson and Martinez rank in the top 20 among pitchers, according to both versions of wins above replacement, fWAR (from FanGraphs) and rWAR (from Baseball-Reference.com). They were as good as it gets in their time—and rank right up there all time too.

Smoltz was dominant in his own right, and for a very long time—he’s one of only 16 pitchers with 3,000 career strikeouts—but his career path was quite different from that of Johnson and Martinez.

A huge part of the Braves’ success throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s—remember, they won an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles—Smoltz split his career between the rotation and the bullpen.

While both Johnson and Martinez started at least 85 percent of their career appearances, Smoltz worked in relief in 242 of his 723 games—or about 33 percent.

The switch from starter to reliever came late in his career, after Smoltz underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of the 2000 season. He eventually did return to starting to wrap up his time in the majors.

“When I was playing, I wanted to win more than anything,” Smoltz said via Barry Bloom of MLB.com. “I never really even contemplated any of those decisions when I changed direction in my career for the risk or reward of the Hall of Fame. That never even entered my mind.”

That back-and-forth could work against Smoltz, even if the right-hander was an incredibly effective closer, compiling 154 saves, a 2.65 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in his four seasons in the pen (2001-04).

So could the fact that Smoltz wasn’t the best pitcher on his own team for almost every one of his 21 seasons.

Again, however, that can’t be held against the now 47-year-old, who just so happened to pitch alongside Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine—both of whom earned 90-plus percent of the vote to make the Hall as first-timers last year—for so much of his career.

Now that he’s joining the ballot with Johnson and Martinez, Smoltz is once again overshadowed.

But this is more than just a player who can make a claim as the first—and still only—pitcher ever to have at least 200 wins (213) and 150 saves (154) in his career. Smoltz also won the 1996 NL Cy Young and has one of the very best playoff resumes around.

Only Andy Pettitte, with 19, has more postseason wins than Smoltz’s 15. What’s more, his 209.0 innings check in as the third most, and nobody has more than Smoltz’s 199 strikeouts in October.

And here’s that same fWAR/rWAR chart from above, only with Smoltz’s fWAR and rWAR included too:

By either measure, Smoltz is a top-40 pitcher in MLB history, and he has a case for being in the top 25, at least in the context of FanGraphs.

Here’s where one last wrench can be thrown when it comes to Smoltz’s shot at getting into the Hall, especially on his first attempt.

Not counting Johnson and Martinez, of the 36 pitchers who rate ahead of Smoltz on the career rWAR list, there are six who are not enshrined, including Rick Reuschel, whose career began 16 years before Smoltz’s did and Jim McCormick, whose career dates back to, well, practically the Civil War.

The other four, however, are contemporaries of Smoltz: Roger Clemens (139.5 fWAR/139.4 rWAR), Mike Mussina (82.5/82.7), Curt Schilling (83.2/80.7) and Kevin Brown (73.5/68.5).

This foursome represents a wide range of outcomes on the Hall of Fame voting scale, as Clemens has yet to make it in, only because of his PED-linked past; while Brown surprisingly failed to garner even the necessary 5 percent of votes in his first year and thus dropped off the ballot.

Mussina and Schilling both were stuck in the who-knows 20 percent territory last year and appear to be victims of the recent overload of worthy (or near-worthy) players that has hampered Baseball Writers Association of America voters who can choose only up to 10 players in a given year.

The guess here, though, is that the latter two eventually will get in—and deservedly so—and that Smoltz will receive a boost for his success as both a starter and a closer, even if that’s more superficial than substantive.

There’s also the chance Smoltz will get an extra push from being considered alongside former Braves rotation-mates Maddux and Glavine as well as longtime skipper Bobby Cox, all three of whom were inducted last year while Smoltz was in Cooperstown as an analyst for MLB Network.

“I thought it was one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of,” Smoltz said via Bloom. “I mean that from a standpoint of even if I never get in.”

Smoltz shouldn’t have to worry about never getting in—he will. And it very well could happen on his first shot.

Ultimately, if the question is one of worthiness, when the results are announced on Jan. 6, 2015, Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz all should be in.

But given the number of Hall-worthy candidates still in the mix and that writers can vote for a maximum of 10 players—not to mention that Smoltz isn’t quite the shoe-in Johnson and Martinez are and has a few contemporaries who aren’t yet in—don’t be surprised if Maddux and Glavine don’t see their former teammate join them right away.

Regardless, Smoltz should be prepared to make a speech during the Hall of Fame’s induction weekend. It just might not happen next July.


Statistics are accurate through the 2014 season and courtesy of MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Contract information courtesy of Spotrac.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Atlanta Braves History: Greatest Players of the 1990s

The 1990s were the start of greatness for the Atlanta Braves.

It was the start of 14-straight division titles, where the staple for the Braves was pitching.

Throughout the decade, the Braves won a total of 925 games.

After a dismal 1990 season where they went 65-97, the Braves went worst-to-first in 1991, making it all the way to the World Series where they lost to the Minnesota Twins in seven games.

The next year, the Braves saw the same kind of success in the National League, again making it to the World Series. However, the Braves fell again, this time to the Toronto Blue Jays in six games.

Many players made their mark on the Braves throughout the 90s. Here’s a look at the 10 best.

Note: This is the fourth in a five-part series on the best Braves of each decade.

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MLB’s No. 4 Worst Trade in History: When the Detroit Tigers Lost Their Bite

The reason fans take such pride in their team having a hometown hero is rooted in their childhood memories.

Ask any baseball fan what their childhood dream was growing up, and their answer will be that they wanted to be the star player for their favorite team.

Thus, when a particular team has a player on their roster that grew up rooting for them, the fans embrace him so warmly because, in a sense, they’re allowed to live their childhood dream through him.

This relationship is the reason why Minnesota Twins fans may cheer a little harder for Joe Mauer or why Atlanta Braves fans did the same for Jeff Francoeur at one point.

Sometimes, the presence of these players alone is enough to light a spark that ultimately ends with the team contending for a playoff spot. However, some of these hometown heroes end up leaving home, sometimes unwillingly.

It was an instance of this in the 1980s that put one team on the path to greatness and another on the road to perennial mediocrity.

The 1985 baseball amateur draft was one that featured a crop of sure-fire future Hall of Famers. Players selected included outfielder Barry Bonds and pitcher Randy Johnson, among other future stars.

Mixed in with these young athletes was a young pitcher from Waverly High School in Lansing, Michigan—just a stone’s throw away from Detroit, where his favorite team, the reigning World Series champion Tigers, played.

He also played basketball at school, and despite having a wide variety of pitches that most high school athletes had difficulty hitting (let alone seeing), a basketball scholarship being offered by Michigan State University kept him from going in the higher rounds.

His name was John Smoltz, and his childhood dream of playing for his beloved Tigers appeared to have finally come true.

Twenty years later, Smoltz would have a myriad of accomplishments on his baseball resumé—all achieved without throwing one pitch as a member of the Detroit Tigers.

In the summer of 1987, while Smoltz pitched in the minor leagues, the Tigers were in a three-way race for first place in their division. The key to the team making the postseason was effective pitching, so the front office decided to trade for an experienced arm rather than rush Smoltz by calling him up. Thus, on August 12, the Tigers traded Smoltz to the Atlanta Braves for 36-year-old Doyle Alexander.

At first, the trade appeared to be a good move as Alexander went undefeated in all his starts for Detroit, helping the team clinch the division title in the last few days of the season. Yet the Tigers were defeated in the playoffs by the Minnesota Twins and spent the next 20 years as seemingly constant cellar-dwellers, even losing 119 games in 2003 before finally returning to the postseason in 2006.

On the other side of the deal, the acquisition of Smoltz has proven to be one of the best trades in Atlanta Braves history. Twenty years after the trade, Smoltz has established himself as one of the most versatile pitchers in baseball.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2000 after 12 years as a starting pitcher, he returned to the team a year later and spent four seasons as the Braves’ closer before returning to the rotation again in 2005. Along with over 200 wins, he has accumulated 154 saves. He has been to the postseason 14 times, reaching the World Series five times, including helping his team win a championship in 1995.

While the trading of Smoltz in 1987 may have seemed like a good idea at the time to the Detroit Tigers front office, it can still be considered one of the worst trades in baseball history.

Rather than have confidence in the roster that had kept the team in the playoff race all that season, greed got the better of the team executives and made them foolishly trade the potential future “face” of the franchise for an aging veteran who was way past his prime.

It is sad to think that they gave up a player who could have won them multiple championships in exchange for a player they hoped could bring them a championship just a bit quicker.

Experts will say that the key to a successful team is the perfect combination of youth and experience, without sacrificing one to get the other. I guess that the 1987 Detroit Tigers forgot to read that part of the memo when they were going over their five-year plan, which I’m almost positive didn’t include consecutive last-place finishes.

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ALCS 2010: Texas Rangers’ Cliff Lee the Greatest Postseason Pitcher of All Time?

It’s fitting that in what became “The Year of the Pitcher,” we would see fantastic post-season pitching up to this point of the playoffs.  Were you really that surprised that Roy Halladay fired a no-hitter in his first post-season appearance?  If not, you couldn’t have been that surprised that Tim Lincecum threw a two-hit shutout, striking out 14 in his first post-season start.

We’ve seen more great pitching as well.  Matt Cain delivered a lights out outing yesterday afternoon.  We’ve also seen the likes of Cole Hamels, Phil Hughes, and Roy Oswalt step up and pitch fantastic games at one time or another this post-season.  However, with all of their collective efforts, none of them are in the same league as the Rangers Cliff Lee when it comes to post-season dominance.

Just look at Lee’s mind blowing numbers this post-season.  To this point in the 2010 playoffs, the Rangers ace has thrown 24 innings, allowing only two earned runs.  Opponents are hitting a mere .151 off of Lee.  Still not impressed?  How about Lee’s 34 strikeouts to only one walk.  I know, how did he ever walk one?  The guy has lousy control.  Lee’s 3-0 by the way, winning Game 1 of the ALDS when he out-pitched David Price.  He also won the clinching game of the ALDS when he out-dueled Price once again.  Even more impressive was the outing Lee just turned in in Game 3 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium.

This begs the question, is Lee the greatest post-season pitcher of all-time?  There is a very small list of pitchers that have dominated in October.  Until Lee came along, only Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Jack Morris, John Smoltz, and Curt Schilling were on that list.  I’d even give guys like Dave Stewart and Randy Johnson some consideration, but none of those guys are doing what Lee is currently doing.

Maybe Lee’s name should be pencilled in at the top of that list.

It’s not just a one year sample from Lee.  After his 4-0 performance last year for the Phillies, Lee is now 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA, allowing only nine earned runs in eight career post-season games.  Three complete games to go with 67 career post-season strike outs to only seven walks.

The guy is the definition of a work horse.  Look up clutch performer in the dictionary and Lee’s picture will be there.

You may agree to disagree on the topic of Lee being the greatest post-season pitcher in history, but the numbers are hard to argue against.  He’s definitely on one of the greatest runs of all-time.

You can choose whom ever you want.  In a one game situation, bring on your guy.  I’m giving the ball to Lee and I’m probably going to win.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Weirdest Injuries in the History of the MLB

A dream about spiders, cowboy boots, a DVD, a phone book, food, a tanning both or an iron have been the cause for an injury in the MLB. They weren’t too severe, but here are seven of the weirdest injuries ever to happen in the MLB

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Atlanta Braves: Comparing the 2010 Team to the 1995 Team

The Atlanta Braves are having a championship caliber season and looking for their first World Series title since 1995. This slideshow will compare the current Atlanta Braves to the 1995 team to see if today’s team is the best Braves team that the world has ever seen.

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