Starting pitchers

Of the 13 pitchers on the 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, seven spent the majority of their careers as starters. The following table provides an overview of their career stats.

Starting pitchers on the 2006 ballot
Tim Belcher146-1404.1615194218
Bert Blyleven287-2503.31370124260
Alex Fernandez107-873.7412523310
Dwight Gooden194-1123.5122936824
Orel Hershiser204-1503.4820146825
Tommy John288-2313.34224516246
Jack Morris254-1863.90247817528

  • This is the first year on the ballot for Belcher, Fernandez, Gooden and Hershiser.

  • Bert Blyleven contributed to two World Series wins, going 5-1 in the postseason with a 2.47 ERA. He was an All-Star selection twice, and pitched a no-hitter on September 22, 1970.

  • Dwight Gooden won the Cy Young award in 1985 with a 24-4 record, a 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts, 16 complete games and 8 shutouts. He was a four time All-Star and was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1984. He pitched a no-hitter on May 14, 1996.

  • Hershiser was selected to the All-Star game in 1987, 1988, and 1989. He won the Cy Young and a Gold Glove in 1988 -- his record was 23-8 with a 2.26 ERA. He was the MVP of the 1995 ALCS.

    In 1988, Hershiser pitched 67 consecutive scoreless innings. a streak that extended into the ninth inning of his game one outing against the NY Mets in the NLCS. During the Dodgers World Series Championship run that year, Hershiser's postseason record was 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA. He pitched 3 complete games, including two shutouts, and picked up a save. In game two of the Series he batted 3-3 with two doubles, a run scored and an RBI while pitching a complete game two hit shutout. He was the MVP of both the NLCS and the World Series.

  • Tommy John was selected to the All-Star game in 1969, 1978, 1979, and 1980. In 14 postseason appearances he posted a 6-3 record and a 2.65 ERA. After suffering a career threatening elbow injury in 1974, he became the first to undergo the tendon transplant procedure now known as 'Tommy John surgery' and went on to pitch for another 15 seasons.

  • Jack Morris was a five time All-Star and two time World Series MVP. He pitched a no-hitter on April 7, 1984.

At their peaks, Gooden and Hershiser were the best pitchers in this group. Like Darryl Strawberry last year, Gooden will be punished by the voters for not living up to his potential. He'll look especially bad to Hall voters in comparison to Hershiser, another pitcher whose career numbers didn't hit the milestones that one would have expected on the basis of his early success. The difference is that Hershiser stuck around and won over 100 games on grit after blowing out his shoulder in 1990, while Gooden's career was derailed by substance abuse.

There's an argument to be made that Gooden's problems with alcohol and cocaine are no less medical than Hershiser's problems with his shoulder, but whatever the merits of that argument the truth on the ground is that our society holds substance abusers responsible for the damage they do to their lives. Expect Hershiser to get serious consideration for Cooperstown and Gooden to drop off the ballot.

Tommy John and Bert Blyleven's career wins and ERA are comparable, but their Hall fortunes seem to be headed in different directions, with John's vote totals remaining fairly stagnant while support for Blyleven continues to grow. Though he still needs another 175 or so votes to gain election, Blyleven got 211 votes last year -- a jump of 32 votes -- and has gained almost 100 votes over the past three years. Tommy John, in contrast, peaked at 146 votes in 2001 and had dropped to 123 by last year.

Blyleven's rennaissance is partly explained by the fact that his 287 wins look a lot more impressive now, with only two active 300 game winners and no others on the horizon, than they would have looked ten years ago. But why hasn't the almost-got-to-300 cachet helped Tommy John?

Part of the answer is that Blyleven was a much more domininat pitcher, as demonstrated by his 60 shutouts, 3700 odd strikeouts, and no-hitter. I've argued before that 50 shutouts ought to punch your ticket for the Hall, so of course I don't begrudge Blyleven his votes. That said, some voters may think that Blyleven's power numbers show him to be a real talent, whereas Tommy John was just a grinder. If that were so, though, you'd expect John to have a lot more career starts and a lower winning percentage, which he doesn't. Tommy John started 700 games and posted a career winning percentage of .555, while Blyleven started 685 and won at a .534 clip. Also, Tommy John had 46 shutouts himself, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Even beside all of that, Tommy John is historically significant in a way that Blyleven isn't. While it's true enough that if Tommy John hadn't had that experimental arm surgery first somebody else would have, the fact remains that he was the first. That ought to matter enough to get John into the Hall even though he fell short of 300 wins.

In any case, I think we're in the midst of a transition from a 300 win plateau to something lower. I'd bet on 275, but wouldn't be surprised if 250 eventually became the standard. Blyleven has a slightly stronger Hall case than John, and the gradual progress of his candidacy is best explained as tracking the slow process of voters adjusting to the idea of supporting a pitcher with fewer than 300 wins. Once a consensus is reached regarding the new plateau, expect John to catch up with Blyleven and both to see themselves enshrined.

Of the rest, Jack Morris is the only one with any shot at all. Like Blyleven, his campaign has been gaining ground for the last several years. Unlike Blyleven, I have no idea why. Morris was a nice pitcher, an intimidating presence on the mound who regularly made it into the top ten in Cy Young voting, but even in his best years he wasn't what you would call a stopper.

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