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What is a Hall of Fame Pitcher? Part 2

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel files, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

On the other side of the ledger from my last post is what the Veteran's Committee considers a Hall of Fame pitcher. We already established that the standards for the BBWAA uses for induction are quite high: literally only the absolute best ever make it through their process. The Veteran's Committee? Completely different story. While the BBWAA hems and haws over Mike Mussina (who's a top 30 or so pitcher of all time) the Veteran's Committee is happy to consider far lesser quality of pitchers. The last pitchers the Vets inducted are: Jim Kaat, Lee Smith, Jack Morris, and all the way back in 1996: Jim Bunning. None of these pitchers are as good as the BBWAA crop. Jack Morris spent the full 15 years on the BBWAA and while he did garner over 60% of the vote: he was quite controversial and ranks well below 100th in JAWS. Jim Kaat was a better pitcher than Morris in my view, but ranks only 109th in JAWS. Jim Bunning was a worthy inclusion, and ranks 52nd.

None of these pitchers (with the possible exception of Bunning) belong in the conversation with Maddux, Randy, Mussina, Pedro, or Glavine but the Hall of Fame itself does not distinguish between BBWAA inductees and Veteran's Committee inductees: they all get the same plaque in the room.

Which brings us to the topic of conversation: Andy Pettitte, Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson.

Andy Pettitte, SP (81st) 60.2/34.1/47.2; AVG 73.0/49.8/61.4

Mark Buehrle, SP (78th) 59.0/35.8/47.4; AVG 73.0/49.8/61.4

Tim Hudson, SP (72nd) 57.9/38.3/48.1; AVG 73.0/49.8/61.4

Let's start with the obvious: none of these pitchers really come close to the standard, and there is no shame in that, being above the standard makes you a slam dunk, first ballot Hall of Famer (in most cases). Furthermore none of these three meet the criteria for BBWAA starters either. The last time the BBWAA inducted a starter with similar credentials to the Hall was when they inducted Catfish Hunter in 1987, and Catfish had some advantages over these three: first Catfish was a legend in his own time. Bob Dylan wrote songs about him, he was a famous free agent and pitched well in the World Series. Catfish was overrated, of course, but he also brought a legend of his own to the Hall of Fame.

That being said, just because these three do not meet the traditional BBWAA standard does not make them automatically unworthy to enter the Hall. Jim Kaat and Jack Morris are Hall of Famers: so we should not close the door on these three automatically due to their comparatively low JAWS.

All three of these pitchers are quite similar, and frankly if one is Hall worthy I struggle to see why all three should not earn induction. All three were durable starters in an era where durable starters were less common. All three were solid pitchers who were overshadowed by far superior teammates:

-Tim Hudson spent his early career in Oakland where Mark Mulder and Barry Zito took the glory (and Zito winning a Cy Young in 2002). Then Hudson played with John Smoltz in Atlanta, and finally was overshadowed by Madison Bumgarner in the twilight of his career in San Francisco.

-Andy Pettitte played with Mariano Rivera, Roger Clemens, David Cone, and then C.C. Sabathia. Rarely was Pettitte the best player on his own team, even when he went to Houston: Clemens & Oswalt were superior to him.

-Mark Buehrle was the star when he pitched in Chicago (and had a really memorable year in 2008 when he set an American League record for most consecutive batters retired in a row, including a Perfect Game). But Ozzie Guillen went with Jose Contreas in the 2005 postseason, including the World Series. In his later years Mark was less memorable.

All three regularly ranked in the top 10 of their league in appearances and innings pitched, but also rarely ranked or led in much else.

What you are left with are three muddled cases. All three had solid, but not spectacular, run prevention. By ERA+ they are Buehrle & Pettitte at 117, Hudson at 120. That's in the mix for Hall of Fame contention; Tom Glavine's ERA+ is 118, for instance. But typically that ERA+ is bloated by lengthy careers. While all three were durable none reached amazing heights in innings pitched; 3,126 for Hudson, 3,283 for Buehrle and 3,316 for Pettitte. Glavine pitched over 1,000 more innings, which is around five more seasons worth, that these four pitchers.

In some ways these three remind me of Don Sutton. Sutton was rarely the best pitcher, or particularly close to the best pitcher, in his league. If Don Sutton was anything: he was present. Sutton was basically indestructible and pitched from his age 21 season until he was 43. Sutton frequently was on the top 10 for innings pitched and batters face, but never led the league in adjusted ERA, and his career ERA+ of 108 is in line with Buehrle, Pettitte and Hudson. Finally, Sutton was overshadowed by better and more famous teammates namely Sandy Koufax & Don Drysdale. But even this comparison falls flat; Sutton pitched over 5,000 innings and won over 300 games.

But here in lies the problem: Don Sutton earned induction entirely due to his longevity; many questioned whether Sutton was truly great. But every pitcher with 300 wins at that point earned induction, and Sutton was no different. Now, were Pettitte, Buehrle and Hudson 'greater' than Sutton at their best? Over a long career which lasted 23 seasons: Sutton only ranked in the top 10 in pitchers bWAR four times, the highest ranking being 2nd in 1980. Despite ranking 2nd: Sutton was nowhere near the best pitcher in the NL that season as that honor fell to Steve Carlton who posted a tremendous year.

Taking them individually: Andy Petitte only ranked in the top 10 three times, also topped out at 2nd in 1997 and (like Sutton) was clearly lesser than Roger Clemens (pitching for Toronto then). Granted, Pettitte's '97 was much better than Sutton's '80 and in a more regular season probably would have led the league. Mark Buehrle ranked in the top 10 six times, topping out at 3rd, in a close race between Buehrle and Mussina. He probably could have won the Cy Young that year, although the honor went to Roger Clemens who won 20 games. Finally, Tim Hudson ranked in the top 10 seven times, topping out at 3rd in a real tight pack behind Pedro Martinez and Roy Halladay. I do not think he was better than Doc, nor Pedro.

Each of the three had seasons where they were near the best in their league, but really only for a single season and it was never clear. Looking at their contemporaries we already have: Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez & Mike Mussina in the Hall. I do not think these three were better than any of them; not even for a season. Johan Santana, at his best, was much better than this trio but did not last as long. Finally we have C.C. Sabathia who was better in his prime but is actually a fair comparison. Here's C.C.'s line:

C.C. Sabathia, SP (55th): 62.5/39.4/50.9; AVG 73.0/49.8/61.4

Again, quite close. The difference between Sabathia and these three is fairly small. Sabathia, technically, never led the league in bWAR for pitchers but if you combine both halves of his 2008 in Cleveland and Milwaukee he surpasses the field. But Sabathia, like Sutton, lasted longer and was a better strikeout pitcher: Sabathia did reach 3,000 strikeouts and ranked in the top 10 in strikeout rate seven times. Petitte and Hudson only ranked in the top 10 twice, and Buehrle never ranked in the top 10.

Overall all four of these pitchers: Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Andy Pettitte, and C.C. Sabathia are in some ways throw backs or the last gasp of a different era in starting pitching when pitchers were expected to go fairly deep into games, stayed healthy, and were handed the ball every fifth day before specialized bullpens changed the game. Unlike your typical Hall of Fame pitcher: none ever reigned as the sport or league's top pitcher for any length of time. The best of them was Sabathia, who also coincidentally lasted the longest, which is why I think he may earn induction on the first ballot or so. The rest have languished at the bottom.

Conclusion

My personal feelings on these three are torn. They are largely contemporaries, and they are in an awkward spot between two generations. Here are the latest starting pitchers into the Hall by the BBWAA by debut year: Greg Maddux (1986), Tom Glavine (1987), Randy Johnson (1988), John Smoltz (1988), Mike Mussina (1991), Pedro Martinez (1992). If we toss in Curt Schilling (1988) and Roger Clemens (1984) we get a picture of the dominant pitchers of the late '80s, '90s and '00s. All eight of these pitchers retired at nearly the same time: Clemens & Schilling in 2007, Glavine, Maddux & Mussina in 2008, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez in 2009. None of these pitchers really fall into the same generation as the Buehrle, Pettitte, and Hudson trio.

Additionally, if we set the bar at where the previous generation pitched: none are Hall of Famers and frankly none are particularly close. But if the bar is Don Sutton, Jack Morris & Jim Kaat then all three are worthy candidates. I also think all three of these pitchers are more worthy than Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner. If we briefly consider the generation of starters they compared to:

Andy Pettitte debuted the earliest in 1995, but persisted into 2013, Tim Hudson from 1999 to 2015, and Mark Buehrle from 2000 to 2015. They share the same rough starting point as Roy Halladay (1998), C.C. Sabathia (2001), Bartolo Colon (1997), Roy Oswalt (2001) and Johan Santana (2000). In a weird similarity to the 1980s: all of the best pitchers burned bright but faded quickly like a shooting star. Johan, Oswalt, and Doc all struggled to make it to 3,000 innings while the pitchers who persisted were solid but not spectacular. Roy Halladay, due to his 2 Cy Young Awards and being the only one of the Johan, Oswalt and Halladay trio to win 200 games, earned induction immediately while Johan and Oswalt fell off the ballot.

Roy Halladay is clearly a Hall of Famer in my mind, and I would put Sabathia in as well. I also feel I judged Johan Santana too harshly: he was the best pitcher in the AL for three straight years, and it really was not particularly close. He won two Cy Youngs, and frankly was robbed of a 3rd in 2005. With three CYA I think Johan Santana gets in; every other non-controversial pitcher with 3 CYA is either in the Hall or destined to (Kershaw, Verlander and Scherzer). After that I think you could rank Pettitte, Hudson, & Buehrle in no particular order (all on the HOF bubble), with Colon and Oswalt being short.

Are there differences between the three? Sure, but none stand out to me. Pettitte pitched the most for best teams and racked up lots of starts in the new postseason, but was not particularly fabulous in any of them and also won the most games because he literally never played for a losing team. Hudson has the best run prevention, while Buehrle was the most consistent and the best fielder. Throw a dart and you can pick the best between them; if one belongs they all do.

If I had to vote for one: I'd vote for Tim Hudson, but only because I'm worried he'll fall off the ballot. I do have nine players clearly ahead of them, which makes them all a 'No' for now.

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