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A Tale of Two Pitchers, or, What Makes a Hall of Famer?

There are a couple of pitchers, who have been retired for quite some time, that I find to be interesting case studies in the erratic standards of Hall of Fame voters. For the purpose of this discussion, we'll call one of them Vinnie Black, and the other Carlton Farmer.

Carlton Farmer is a Hall of Famer. He appeared on over half the ballots in his first year of eligibility, and was elected in his third year of eligibility.

Vinnie Black is not a Hall of Famer. He never garnered support from even as many as 10% of the voters in the four years he was on the ballot before falling off due to lack of support.

Farmer had a career record of 224-166, with a 3.26 ERA and a 105 ERA+ in 3449 innings.

Black had a career record of 209-161, with a 3.27 ERA and a 108 ERA+ in 3343 innings.

Pretty similar.

Both pitchers were great early on, but flamed out before logging a lengthy career. Farmer's last above-average season was at age 29, and he retired at age 33. Black had a couple of good seasons after age 30, but also missed a full season and had a couple of spotty seasons, and retired at age 36.

Both Farmer and Black won a Cy Young Award. Black was also the league MVP the year that he won the Cy Young. Farmer was an 8 time All Star, Black a 6 time All Star.

Interestingly, Farmer and Black were teammates for a significant amount of time. Both were originally signed by the same organization, both debuted with that same organization, and both broke into the majors at age 19. Farmer and Black were on the same team for 6 seasons, although Black's first years sharing the roster with Farmer, he was up only briefly for a cup of coffee.

In Black's best season, he had a 24-8 record and a 1.82 ERA in 312 IP, good for a 185 ERA+. He also had a 142 ERA+ season in 298 IP, 123 ERA+ in 253 IP, 121 ERA+ in 278 IP, and a 119 ERA+ in 224 IP. He had 6 top 10 finishes in wins, ERA, and ERA+, 5 in WHIP, and 7 in Ks.

In Farmer's best season, he had a 23-14 record with a 2.58 ERA and 144 ERA+ in 328 IP, including 30 complete games. Perhaps not surprisingly, that was that age 29 season referenced above. He also had a 140 ERA+ season in 295 IP, a 134 ERA+ season in 318 IP, a 114 ERA+ in 273 IP, and a 114 ERA+ in 259 IP. He had 3 top 10 finishes in ERA and ERA+, 6 top 10 finishes in WHIP, and 7 top 10 finishes in Ks and wins.

Black's career WAR is 43.8. Farmer's career WAR is 32.5. That's a pretty significant split, considering they had about the same length careers, and pitched in the same era.

If you prefer WARP, Farmer has a career WARP of 33.8, and Black has a career WARP of 44.7.

Both pitchers also pitched in the postseason, with Farmer being far more successful. Farmer had a career 9-6 record with a 3.26 ERA in 132 IP. Black had a career 1-5 record with a 4.31 ERA in 64 IP.

Given all this, it seems to me like we are looking at two remarkably similar pitchers. They pitched in the same era, even with the same team for several years, had similar performances, and neither pitched deep into his 30s.

I'll identify the pitchers after the jump, although I'm sure a lot of folks have already figured out who these two guys are. But for those who haven't, I'd ask you to consider...what makes one of these pitchers a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, and the other a slam-dunk non-Hall of Famer?

"Vinnie Black" is Vida Blue.

"Carlton Farmer" is Catfish Hunter.

So, why is Hunter in the Hall, while Blue is on the outside looking in (although Blue is on the Veteran's Committee list this year, he's unlikely to be voted in)?

Catfish left the A's as a free agent and joined the Yankees, where he only had one truly great season, but where he also pitched on the largest stage, went back to the playoffs several times, and was generally viewed as a fine Yankee player, all in all.

Blue was dealt from the A's to the Giants in exchange for 7 players and $300,000. The Giants never made the playoffs while Blue was there.

Blue was tainted by the cocaine scandals of the 1980s. He's rehabilitated his image since then and is involved in charity work in the Bay Area, but drug scandals can impact your Hall chances for years (see, e.g., Orlando Cepeda). Hunter, meanwhile, has never been perceived as anything other than a solid citizen.

Blue is black, and Hunter is white, of course. I don't know that that necessarily has anything to do with it...but then, I can't definitively say it doesn't, either.

In any case, as is so often the case, there is no clear-cut answer to the question of why Hunter is in the Hall and Blue hasn't come close. But I think that their respective cases really help illustrate how pernicious and arbitrary the Hall of Fame balloting can be.