Tuesday, January 26, 2010

John Smoltz: Hall Of Famer Or Not?

  • John Smoltz may not be such an automatic after all:

With the Mets said to be seriously considering signing John Smoltz, I took a look at his numbers to try and gauge if he really had anything left to offer as a starter or reliever. Before anything else, having watched him pitch last year for both the Red Sox and Cardinals, I do think Smoltz still has the stuff to get big league hitters out even if his results were rotten (with the Red Sox); and so-so (with the Cardinals). It's unwise to count on him as anything more than an extra piece/leader-type who can add to the club on and off the field, but he's still got something to contribute.

This led to an examination of his overall numbers; which led to the Hall of Fame argument for John Smoltz.

It's long been said that all three of the Braves star pitchers of the late 90s are "automatic" Hall of Famers. Of course Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are first ballot inductees; but what of Smoltz? On the surface, he looks like a Hall of Famer because of his consistency; his brilliance as a starter and a reliever; and his flashy post-season performances; but overall, does he cut it? Is John Smoltz a Hall of Famer?

If Smoltz retired right now, his numbers would warrant him consideration, but are not----under any circumstances----guarantees of enshrinement. Smoltz won one Cy Young Award in 1996 with a 24-8 record. He finished fourth in 1998; third in 2002 as a closer; seventh in 2006 and sixth in 2007 as a starter again. Aside from that, he was never in the top ten in the voting. His career record is 213-155----impressive, but not as impressive as one would think considering the team he played for.

His other numbers are very, very good as well. A 3.33 ERA; 3,084 strikeouts; and solid performance and durability across the board; but is "solid" enough to warrant going into the Hall of Fame as easily as Smoltz is expected to?

What separates Smoltz from other iffy candidates in the eyes of many observers was his success as both a starter and reliever----he was a great closer----then went back into the starting rotation and pitched excellent ball. Adding his post-season brilliance into the mix and he looks even more like a Hall of Famer.

Smoltz has been one of the best clutch playoff pitchers in history. A 15-4 record and a reputation for sports-related heroism has lifted him into the conversation for the HOF in some circles as "automatic"; but it may not be as cut and dried as is implied. If you check Baseball-Reference.com on the above link to Smoltz's stats and scroll down to comparable pitchers and you see names that were just as good----if not better----and have almost no chance at the Hall of Fame.

If you had to choose between Orel Hershiser at the top of his game and John Smoltz, who would you take? Having watched Hershiser singlehandedly destroy the Mets and Athletics in the 1988 post-season and the work he did in other big games, I'd take Hershiser. (Speaking of Hershiser, I believe Smoltz could have a similar function for the 2010 Mets as Hershiser did for the 1999 Mets.)

What about Curt Schilling? Schilling's numbers are nearly identical to Smoltz's and Schilling is a debatable Hall of Famer; and don't forget that Schilling spent a third of his career pitching for a bad Phillies team while Smoltz was rolling along pitching for the Braves; and Schilling was in fact better than Smoltz in the playoffs. Curt Schilling is by no means a sure-bet Hall of Famer. So, why then should be John Smoltz?

All three pitchers----Smoltz, Hershiser and Schilling----came back from devastating injuries to regain their form and beyond. All three have cases for the Hall of Fame, but that doesn't mean the cases will yield a positive result for them in the final analysis.

There's no question that John Smoltz was a great pitcher and I haven't looked at his gamelogs in depth as I did with Bert Blyleven several weeks ago. I plan to do so on a slow newsday, but on the surface, his reputation as an "automatic" isn't as much of a formality as many seem to think it is. In fact, the same questioning tone that greets Schilling and Mike Mussina should apply to Smoltz. He's not getting in on the first ballot and, like Don Drysdale, may have to wait awhile to get in, if he gets in at all.

  • Orioles sign Miguel Tejada...to play third base:

For one year and $6 million, what's there to lose for the Orioles? They needed a third baseman; Tejada's a well-liked person on and off the field; and they got him short-term and cheaply.

Obviously, Tejada's not going to put up the PED-aided power numbers he did with the Athletics, but he can still hit; moving to third base will mask the steps he's lost defensively; and he'll help the Orioles.

The Orioles are going to be a very interesting team this year. Their lineup will score some runs and their bullpen will be solid; they're in a similar position as the Rays were in 2008 in which the improvements are clear, but no one can gauge how far and fast they can take the next step. The key is that young starting rotation. If they can stay competitive until June 1st, the young pitching behind Kevin Millwood will have gained enough confidence that they'll believe in themselves; that they can pitch in the big leagues; and if that happens, they could make a run at or around .500.

The AL East is hellish, but not as rough as it's been in recent years. The Blue Jays are reloading; the Rays are going to need a managerial change (so might the Orioles in fact); but the Red Sox are weakened as well. Keep an eye on the Orioles; they might be legit.

Andy MacPhail is thisclose to turning them around.

  • Maybe the Yankees should give Brett Gardner a shot:

Until Johnny Damon signs somewhere, his presence will be a hovering over the Yankees constantly. It's clear that they'll have him back under their terms, and those terms seem to be at a bargain basement price. Damon's pride will be wounded that it would be hard for him to accept a lowball offer even if it means he has to go to Oakland or Detroit or wherever rather than face the perception of crawling back to the Yankees although that's where he wants to be.

With that in mind, the Yankees are waiting for Damon's answer (so too, I would think, is baseball's version of a an active player/gossip columnist----Jerry Hairston Jr----so he can be a yenta and open his big mouth telling tales out of school) and are weighing their options that are said to include Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds. I've been under the impression that Brett Gardner doesn't hit enough to be a semi-regular, but after looking at his numbers in both the Majors and Minors, I'm changing my tune.

Defensively, Gardner is light years ahead of Damon. At the plate, he has no power but he can absolutely fly on the bases and did have a penchant for getting on base in the minors. If the Yankees bat him ninth, as the game wears on, it'll be like they have a second leadoff hitter. He even hit well enough against both righties and lefties that they could consider----consider----him as a semi-regular; I'm talking 400 at bats to see what they have; or at least give him the job until mid-season and make a move if they feel they need an upgrade such as David DeJesus from the Royals.

That Yankees lineup can carry him if he's mediocre, but judging from what he did last year and in the minors, Gardner might be able to handle the job on a full-time basis. I'd give him the chance.


Joe said...

Smoltz and Schilling were better than Hershiser.


Anonymous said...

Schilling and Mussina were both better than Glavine. Smoltz probably was too. But of all those guys, Glavine's considered the biggest lock of them all because of the ~magical~ 300 wins stat. I'm not trying to say that Glavine was anything other than an extremely good pitcher, but that's just kind of sad when you look at their stats.

3.54 ERA, 118 ERA+, 4413.1 IP, 2607 K, 5.3 K/9, 1.74 K/BB, 1.314 WHIP.

3.68 ERA, 123 ERA+, 3562.2 IP, 2813 K, 7.1 K/9, 3.58 K/BB, 1.192 WHIP.
(He put up these numbers while spending his entire career in the AL East.)

3.45 ERA, 127 ERA+, 3261 IP, 3116 K, 8.6 K/9, 4.38 K/BB, 1.137 WHIP.

3.33 ERA, 125 ERA+, 3743 IP, 3084 K, 8 K/9, 3.05 K/BB, 1.176 WHIP.

After Glavine, Smoltz is the most borderline of those, because a lot of those numbers got prettier because he worked as a reliever. However, for ten years, he was still very very solid as a starter (3.29 ERA, 124 ERA+, 1.174 WHIP).

When Schilling is eligible for the Hall, I predict that the articles defending/dismissing him will reach, like, an all-time stupid level. You'll have people voting for him because of the ZOMG 2004, bloody sock!!!! factor and nothing else. (I saw some blog post or something that said Schilling should be in the Hall and not Moose because "you can't tell the history of baseball without Schilling and you can tell it without Moose." Whaaa?) You'll have people that will never vote for him because "he's a jackass," "he wasn't the best pitcher on his own team," and he only has 216 wins. I'm a Yankee fan and I can't stand the guy, but I don't really see the argument against him, unless you are an extremely small-Hall type, which is fine.

Also, I love Andy Pettitte more than life itself and, while I appreciate what Moose did for my team, I think he's a whiny baby. That said, unless Pettitte has a CRAZY good few years before he retires, the people that vote for Pettitte and not Mussina for the Hall will annoy me, too.