Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Is Jamie Moyer a Hall of Famer?

It's baseball season, and since the opening of Target Field, I've been thinking about baseball more than usual. Yes, baseball really was meant to be played outdoors. Sorry, Metrodome, stadium of my youthful dreams and site of two World Championships, but Target Field is amazing!

I love baseball stats. I could read baseball stats for hours. Okay, maybe sometimes I spend too much time on it's fun. I've been following the Phillies' 47-year-old starting pitcher Jamie Moyer as he makes his way up the all-time wins list, he's currently in 40th place with 263 wins. Which leads to the question: is Jamie Moyer a Hall of Famer? (Apologies to baseball-reference, they had a blog post about this very topic just a week or two ago.) For those who would say no way, I say, look a little closer. Now, I'm not going to say that if he retired today, Moyer is, or should be, a definite Hall of Famer. I just want to examine his credentials. Clearly, there are worse pitchers than Jamie Moyer in the Hall of Fame. (Jesse "Pop" Haines, I'm looking at you.) However, as Bill James points out, this is not a good argument to use, since the Hall of Fame has made some pretty bad decisions regarding admittance. If we started admitting everyone who was better than the worst inductees, we'd have a huge Hall of Fame.

Moyer's career has been an up and down one, he started out as a starter for the Cubs in 1986, then turned into an ineffective reliever for the Rangers, a poor starter for the Cardinals, and didn't pitch at all in the majors in 1992. His career seemed to be over at the age of 29. But somehow Moyer rejuvenated himself, and made his way back to the majors. He didn't really get going until he was traded to the Seattle Mariners in 1996. In 1997 his record was 17-5, the first time he had ever won more than 13 games in a season. At the age of 34, he was finally a great starter. Moyer won 20 games in 2001, and 21 in 2003, suffered through a lackluster 2004 season, but rebounded to go 16-7 for the Phillies in 2008, at the age of 45. His career record is 263-199, and on May 7th, he became the oldest pitcher to ever throw a shutout.

How does Moyer stack up against other Hall of Fame pitchers? He is not, and never has been, a superstar. He hasn't won any Cy Young Awards, and has only been selected to the All-Star team once. He's never led the league in wins or strikeouts, and he's not a power pitcher. He's just been consistently good, and now he's at a point where the Hall of Fame debate can start to happen. Of the starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame, Moyer has more wins than 31 of them. And I didn't count any relievers, just every HOF starter from guys like Addie Joss, Dizzy Dean, and Sandy Koufax, whose careers were cut short by injury, (or death, in Joss's case) to HOFers like Don Drysdale, Jim Bunning, Juan Marichal, and Bob Gibson. Moyer has fewer wins than 27 HOF starting pitchers, so he's right in the middle of the pack. While this doesn't prove that Moyer is in the upper echelon of HOF starters, it proves that, just looking at wins, he is more than qualified for the HOF.

While reaching 300 wins is considered a benchmark for HOF pitchers, I looked at every pitcher with more than 250 wins. Every post-1900 pitcher who is eligible for the HOF with more than 250 wins is in the HOF, except for Bert Blyleven, who fell just short this year and will make it in next year, Tommy John, Jim Kaat, and Jack Morris. So, with 263 wins and counting, does this mean that Moyer will eventually get in? Perhaps, although the sportswriters voting for the HOF have been tough on Kaat and John, the two pitchers most similar to Moyer. Kaat and John never got very close all 15 years they were on the ballot, and they can now only be voted in by the Veterans' Committee, which has been very stingy lately with who they let in. Kaat and John were similar to Moyer in that they were not power pitchers who put up big strikeout numbers, and they pitched forever, Kaat for 25 seasons, John for 26 seasons. (Moyer is in his 24th season.) Kaat and John also had very short "peaks" of performance, as did Moyer, and all three pitchers were very durable and had more than their share of 14-12 seasons which don't look that outstanding taken season by season. None of them had very many great seasons, the best is probably Kaat's 1966 season, in which he was 25-13.

The charge could be leveled that Kaat, John, and Moyer are merely "compilers," guys who hang around for a really long time and pile up impressive stats, but who aren't truly "great." I can understand this argument, but I would also argue that anyone who wins 250 games has to be a pretty great player. If these players weren't truly great, they would not have played as long as they did. And also, once you "compile" a certain amount of stats, you are a lock for the Hall of Fame, no matter what. Don Sutton won over 300 games, but he never won a Cy Young Award. (Neither did Nolan Ryan, for that matter.) Sutton only won 20 games in a season once. But what Sutton lacked in peak performance, he made up for in longevity. But Sutton is in the Hall, and he was a great pitcher, he just wasn't as dominant as some of his peers like Steve Carlton or Tom Seaver.

So, where does this leave Jamie Moyer? I think Moyer needs more wins to solidify his HOF candidacy, and honestly, I think he needs 300 wins. If writers are not willing to vote for Tommy John at 288 wins, and Jim Kaat at 283 wins, Moyer is a long shot at 263 wins. The writers have shown that the line is drawn at 300. Give John back his missed 1975 season, give him 13 wins for a total of 301, and he's in. Give Kaat back his partial 1972 season, (he missed time due to injury, he was 10-2 in 15 starts) and a few more starts at the end of his career, and he would be over 300 wins easily. Of course, we can't do that, and it starts us down a slippery slope if we do. But, the point is, Kaat and John are very close to 300 wins and they aren't in, so I don't see Moyer getting in with fewer than 300 wins. It even took Don Sutton 5 tries before he made it in the Hall!

Good luck Jamie Moyer, I'll be watching your starts and I hope you get closer to 300 wins.