Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson are among the first time eligibles on this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, and they, along with Torii Hunter, appear to be the only first timers on the ballot who have any sort of shot at making it into the Hall of Fame.
In an exchange with Mike Petriello on Twitter, I mentioned that Buehrle and Hudson have a shot at the Hall, and Mike disagreed, saying that they didn’t seem close to him. And that exchange has prompted me to write about something that has been on my radar for a while — the dearth of starting pitchers who came into the league after the DH era started making it into the Hall of Fame.
Here is a complete list of the Hall of Fame starting pitchers who debuted in 1973 (when the DH was implemented) or later, along with the year they debuted:
Jack Morris (1977)
Greg Maddux (1986)
Tom Glavine (1987)
John Smoltz (1988)
Randy Johnson (1988)
Mike Mussina (1991)
Pedro Martinez (1992)
Roy Halladay (1998)
There’s a cluster of guys in the late 80s/early 90s (and Roger Clemens, who debuted in 1984, probably goes in that group as well, even though he hasn’t been voted in due to PEDs). Other than that, we have Jack Morris, Roy Halladay...and that’s it.
While I picked 1973 because that was the year the DH was introduced, this desert of HOF starting pitchers pre-dates that year, and is preceded by another cluster of Hall of Fame starting pitchers. There was only one Hall of Fame pitcher who debuted between 1968 and 1972, the five years years the DH was introduced — Bert Blyleven, who made his debut in 1970.
But here are the Hall of Fame pitchers who debuted from 1964-1967:
Phil Niekro (1964)
Catfish Hunter (1965)
Jim Palmer (1965)
Fergie Jenkins (1965)
Steve Carlton (1965)
Nolan Ryan (1966)
Don Sutton (1966)
Tom Seaver (1967)
That’s amazing. And yes, Niekro is a knuckleballer and Catfish’s HOF case isn’t really that strong, but still...that’s an incredible group of all time great pitchers who all came into the league in a four year span.
Anyway...back on topic...
There is this weird desert for starting pitchers beginning in the early-70s and running into the mid-80s. From 1973 through 1985, we have one Hall of Fame starting pitcher, in Jack Morris, who doesn’t really belong in the Hall of Fame, plus Roger Clemens, who debuted in 1984 and who is not in the Hall because of PED issues. No starting pitcher who debuted in that 13 year span who logged at least 60 bWAR, other than Clemens.*
* Rick Reuschel debuted in 1972 and put up a 69.5 bWAR in 20 seasons. He also appeared on 2 Hall of Fame ballots in his only year he appeared — the same number as Garry Templeton, and one more than Terry Puhl.
The only starting pitchers who debuted in the decade from 1973-1982 and cracked the 50 bWAR mark are Frank Tanana (57.2) and Dave Stieb (56.4). Jack Morris, the lone HOFer who debuted that decade, only had 43.5 bWAR (which is a reminder that the people who called Morris the best starting pitcher of the 80s are wrong, because that title really belongs to Stieb, but let’s not dwell on that).
Starting in 1983, this changed dramatically. Not only did we have the cluster of six Hall of Famers mentioned above, along with Roger Clemens, all making their debuts in this period, we also saw a large number of pitchers debuting in this time period who aren’t in the Hall, but who did cross that 50 bWAR benchmark that only Tanana and Stieb crossed in the previous decade.
Here are the starting pitchers who aren’t in the Hall of Fame who debuted from 1983-92 and who put up at least 50 bWAR in their careers:
Orel Hershiser (1983)
Mark Langston (1984)
Bret Saberhagen (1984)
Roger Clemens (1984)
Jamie Moyer (1986)
Chuck Finley (1986)
David Cone (1986)
Kevin Brown (1986)
Curt Schilling (1988)
Kenny Rogers (1989)
Kevin Appier (1989)
Is that bizarre? It seems very bizarre to me. You have two guys who crack the 50 bWAR mark debuting in a ten year stretch, none of whom break 60 bWAR, and then 17 starting pitchers who debut from 1983-1992 who put up at least 50 bWAR, including three who break the 100 bWAR mark and three more who log at least 80 bWAR.
And then...another relative desert. Another lengthy stretch with a lack of obvious, clear-cut Hall of Fame caliber starting pitchers. As we noted above, Roy Halladay, who has a career bWAR of 65.4, is the only starting pitcher who has debuted after 1992 who has made it into the Hall of Fame.
Only three starting pitchers who have debuted after 1992 have more bWAR than Halladay — Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw, all of whom debuted in the mid-00s. The only others to have at least 60 bWAR and to have debuted since then are:
Andy Pettitte (1995)
Mark Buehrle (2000)
C.C. Sabathia (2001)
Max Scherzer (2008)
And there should be an asterisk for Buehrle, since he is at exactly 60.0 (and if you factor in his awful hitting he’s at 59.1 bWAR, but we can ignore that for these purposes).
There’s also not a group of guys still active who are knocking on the door of 60 bWAR who debuted in the aughts. Chris Sale debuted in 2010, and has 45.4 bWAR. Cole Hamels debuted in 2006, has 58.4 bWAR, and its questionable whether he’s really still “active.” Jon Lester is at 45.0 and Felix Hernandez is at 50.3, but Lester is near the end of his career, and Felix’s career may be done.
Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw almost certainly will be in the Hall of Fame — they represent a cluster of mid-aughts debuts who will make it into the Hall. The question the candidacies of Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson raise, however, is whether there is any starting pitcher besides Roy Halladay who broke in during the decade between Pedro’s debut and Greinke’s debut who is worthy of the being a Hall of Famer?
And the answer may very well be “no” — during that decade, Halladay is the only Hall-worthy pitcher who entered the major leagues. Or it may be that we disagree on who is Hall-worthy — I would vote for Johan Santana, for example, who debuted in 2000 and had a career 51.1 bWAR. Maybe someone else would pick C.C. Sabathia or (despite the PED issue) Andy Pettitte.
But if we are talking about the best starting pitchers from this time period, Hudson and Buehrle are near the top of the list.