This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.
Five Yankee starting pitchers have strong cases for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but probably not strong enough for most of them.
Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, David Cone, Luis Tiant and Jim Kaat were among the greatest pitchers of their times, but fall short of the standards that normally get pitchers into Cooperstown.
In earlier posts in this series, I dealt with the Yankee Hall of Famers, 300-game winners who pitched for the Yankees and three Yankee starters who belong in the Hall of Fame.
These pitchers are a notch below the others. I won’t argue if an Era Committee someday welcomes one of these pitchers to Cooperstown, and they probably belong there, but I’d be surprised if they all make it and won’t campaign for any of them.
Moose passed on a shot at ensuring his spot at Cooperstown, retiring at the top of his game after 18 years. He had his only 20-win season in his final year, winning exactly 20 at age 39 and retiring with 270 wins.
Roger Clemens, who’s being kept out of the Hall of Fame only because of suspicions about performance-enhancing drugs, is the only 300-game winner who’s not in Cooperstown. You can’t be sure that a pitcher entering his 40s has 30 more wins in him. But a healthy and durable pitcher who wins 20 in his late 30s probably can win 30 more over two or three more years.
But Moose stuck with his announced retirement. And it’s hard to picture the Hall of Fame voters embracing a 270-game winner with only one 20-win season.
Moose’s case for the Hall of Fame is pretty similar to Bert Blyleven‘s or Don Sutton‘s (except that Sutton stuck around long enough to reach 300 wins). Like them, he never won a Cy Young Award or had a really great season. But he had a lot of good seasons. Nine times Mussina was in the top six in the Cy Young voting, but the closest he came was second, to unanimous-choice Pedro Martinez in 1999.
In 10 years with the Orioles and eight with New York, Mussina led the American League once in wins, once in winning percentage and once in shutouts. He also led the league once in innings pitched and twice in starts. But never in ERA or strikeouts.
Moose finished higher in Cy Young voting more often than either Sutton or Blyleven. He was a league leader about as many times as Blyleven and more times than Sutton. And both also had just one 20-win season.
Mussina was an All-Star five times, the same as Sutton, and Blyleven made only two All-Star games. Moose won seven Gold Gloves and neither of the others ever did.
Sutton never won less than 50 percent of the Hall of Fame vote and was elected his fifth year of eligibility, crossing the 75-percent threshold with 82 percent. His 324 wins ensured his election and he made it relatively quickly.
Blyleven started out getting in the teens in the voting, but his percentages gradually increased, reaching 80 percent in 2011, his 14th year on the ballot.
Mussina started out faring better in Hall of Fame voting than Blyleven, getting 20 percent his first year and 25 percent this year, his second on the ballot. Blyleven didn’t reach that level until his fifth year on the ballot.
I can see Moose making the Hall of Fame in his final years on the writers’ ballot, as Blyleven did, or being an eventual Era Committee choice. He’s definitely comparable to Hall of Famers, but he’s a borderline candidate, and I don’t argue strenuously for borderline candidates. At least three Yankee starters — Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds — were notably greater pitchers than Mussina and belong in the Hall of Fame before him.
For several Yankees, a big part of my case for putting them in the Hall of Fame is their excellence in the post-season and World Series play. Mussina was average in October, 7-8 in post-season and 1-1 in World Series play.
But the Hall of Fame voters don’t care about post-season play and they do tend to smile on those who play well for long careers. So Moose has a shot.
If Bleacher Report’s rankings reflect Hall voting, Mussina has a good shot. He rank 35th all-time on the list, ahead of about half of the starters in the Hall of Fame. That’s higher than I would rank him.
The Hall of Fame voters’ disdain for post-season performance is the reason Andy Pettitte probably wouldn’t have made the Hall of Fame, even if his reputation hadn’t been tainted by his admitted use of human growth hormone.
Pettitte won 256 games, usually enough to get a pitcher into Cooperstown. Of the nine pitchers with more wins than Pettitte who are not in the Hall of Fame, four were Yankees: Mussina, Roger Clemens, Tommy John and Jim Kaat (only briefly a Yankee; more on him shortly).
And no one in history has more post-season wins than Pettitte’s 19. Only John Smoltz has more post-season strikeouts. Pettitte was the anchor of the starting rotation for a dynasty that won four World Series in five years and another nine years later. In addition to his October prowess, he led the Yankees in wins and innings pitched in two of their championship years an in innings in a third.
As with Bernie Williams, Pettitte will be hurt by how differently baseball’s Hall of Fame voters regard championships (which is because of their anti-Yankee bias). You simply can’t name a football or basketball player who was as important to a championship dynasty as Pettitte who isn’t in his sport’s Hall of Fame.
But, as I noted the first time he retired, Pettitte is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, and Yankees who are borderline simply don’t get in. Add his drug involvement, even though he was one of the few PED users who readily admitted his use, and I don’t think he has much of a shot at Cooperstown.
He retired in 2013 and has to wait another three years before he can be on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Of course, if Pettitte’s 19-11 post-season record isn’t going to help him get into the Hall of Fame, Cone’s 8-3 record won’t do the trick either. He lasted just one year on the writers’ ballot, getting just 3.9 percent of the vote.
But here’s why there’s some hope for Cone, Pettitte and Mussina to make it to Cooperstown eventually: They were among the best dozen or so pitchers of their time, and that many pitchers from an era usually make the Hall of Fame.
I assigned Hall of Fame pitchers to decades, giving multiple decades to some pitchers if they achieved some Hall of Fame credentials in that decade. For instance, Nolan Ryan didn’t achieve much with the 1968 or ’69 Mets, so he doesn’t count as one of the Hall of Famers from the ’60s. He had great decades in the ’70s and ’80s, so of course he counts there. He pitched only four years of the ’90s, and didn’t win many games then. But he won the last of his 11 strikeout crowns in 1990 at age 43. He pitched his sixth and seventh no-hitters in the 1990s, not to mention placing his famous headlock on Robin Ventura in 1993, his final year, at age 46. So I count Ryan as a Hall of Famer from the last three of his four decades.
Five different decades had a dozen or more Hall of Famers: the 1900s, Teens, ’20s, ’30s, ’60s and ’70s.
The 1980s, ’90s and beyond will get more Hall of Famers as time goes ons. The low numbers of Hall of Famers from the 1930s (9), ’40s (7) and ’50s (8) may reflect careers shortened by service in World War II or lives lost in the war.
The 1990s have already produced six Hall of Fame starting pitchers: Ryan, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Clemens makes seven pitchers from the era who were clearly better than this Yankee trio, though we don’t know when, if ever, Hall of Fame voters will decide they have meted out enough punishment to Clemens and other greats whose fame includes suspicion of drug use.
If the ’90s are going to get a dozen starting pitchers into the Hall of Fame, you really can’t get there without Mussina, Pettitte and Cone, even if Clemens gets there eventually.
Jack Morris and Curt Schilling were arguably better than the Yankee trio, but neither won as many games as Mussina or Pettitte. Schilling and Cone tied for the lowest ERAs of the group, 3.46. Mussina and Pettitte had lower ERAs than Morris’s 3.90.
Cone was the only Cy Young Award winner in the bunch, though Schilling finished second three times and Pettitte once (he was screwed in 1996). Counting the times they led their leagues in wins, winning percentage, ERA, shutouts or strikeouts, Schilling and Cone each had five, Morris four, Mussina three and Pettitte one.
Morris and Schilling both were great in the post-season (let’s pretend a moment that that matters in Hall of Fame selection), but Pettitte won more post-season games than both of them combined. Schilling’s 11-2 October record is stellar, but Cone’s 8-3 is better than Morris’s 7-4.
Moving into the 2000s, when each of the Yankee trio had great years, as did Clemens and the five of the six Hall of Famers from the ’90s (all but Ryan), and Roy Halladay is a contender. His 203 wins usually wouldn’t be enough to make Cooperstown, but he’s a two-time Cy Young winner who led his leagues six times in the key categories mentioned above. His 3-2 record in the post-season includes a no-hitter.
With the exception of Clayton Kershaw, other star pitchers of this century either had injury-shortened careers (Chris Carpenter and Johan Santana) or are too early in their careers to project their Hall of Fame chances (David Price, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez) or appear likely to fall short of Hall of Fame standards (CC Sabathia, whom I’ll discuss in a later post in this series). None of the best Hall of Fame prospects of this century overlapped significantly with the three Yankees under consideration here.
Other pitchers of the 1990s and early 2000s with some sort of Hall of Fame credentials don’t match up well with Mussina, Pettitte and Cone. Jamie Moyer pitched forever and won 269 games, just one behind Mussina. He won 20 twice, led the league in winning percentage once and was in the top six Cy Young vote-getters three times. Just one comparison: Moose was in the top six nine times, Pettitte and Cone five each. Moyer was an All-Star once, compared to five times each for Cone and Moose and three for Pettitte. Moyer does hold one major league record: most home runs allowed.
Other leading pitchers of their era include a bunch who spent time with the Yankees (and will be discussed later in this series): Doug Drabek, Jack McDowell, Bartolo Colón, Jimmy Key, Denny Neagle, David Wells, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia. A bunch of non-Yankees also were among the best pitchers of the time: Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Bob Welch, Orel Hershiser, Chuck Finley, Tim Wakefield, Barry Zito, Pat Hentgen, Mark Mulder, John Burkett, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Dontrelle Willis, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Kevin Appier.
Though some of those are still pitching, none of them has a Hall of Fame case as strong as Mussina, Pettitte or Cone. Except for Clemens, Schilling, Morris, Halladay, and the Hall of Famers, the best contemporaries lag behind this Yankee trio (usually behind two, sometimes all three) in most if not all of these measures: career wins, ERA, strikeouts, 20-win seasons, leading the league, All-Star appearances, Cy Young voting, post-season performance.
By any criteria you want to choose, Mussina, Pettitte and Cone were among the best pitchers of their time.
So if Hall of Fame selection of pitchers from the 1900s and early 2000s results in a dozen starters (including Clemens; I’ll settle for 11 Hall of Famers if he never makes it), the group will be Ryan, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Johnson, Martinez and five of these six pitchers: Schilling, Morris, Halladay, Mussina, Pettitte and Cone.
I suspect, given the Hall of Fame voters’ bias for longevity, that Moose has the best shot of the Yankees. I think Cone was the best pitcher of the three. Pettitte might pay a price for his drug use.
I expect at least one will make it eventually, and I’ll be surprised if all three do.
Tiant was a Yankee only briefly and late in his career, winning 13 and eight games for them in 1979 and ’80.
He was best known as the ace of the 1970s Red Sox, who lost the World Series to the Reds in seven games and lost the AL East title to the Yankees in a one-game playoff (he didn’t pitch that game; Mike Torrez was the starter). But he had great seasons for the Indians, too.
El Tiante was a character and a gamer. Here’s why he should be in the Hall of Fame:
- He won 229 games, more than Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, Catfish Hunter, or Sandy Koufax, contemporaries of Tiant who made the Hall of Fame.
- He won 20 games four times, more than contemporaries Bert Blyleven, Bunning, Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Koufax, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan or Don Sutton.
- Tiant led his league in ERA twice (1968 and 1972), both times with ERAs under 2.00. Blyleven, Bunning, Steve Carlton, Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Hunter, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal, Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts and Sutton were players whose careers overlapped with Tiant’s who didn’t lead their leagues twice in ERA. Ford, Jim Palmer and Ryan matched Tiant’s two ERA crowns.
- Tiant led his league in shutouts twice. Contemporaries Carlton, Drysdale, Hunter, Jenkins, Niekro, Perry, Roberts and Sutton led their leagues only once in shutouts or never posted the most shutouts. Blyleven, Bunning, Ford, Marichal, Palmer, Ryan and Tom Seaver matched Tiant with two shutout titles.
- He was 3-0 in post-season play, undefeated in the 1975 post-season with a playoff win over the three-time defending World Series champion Oakland A’s and two wins over Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the World Series. Bunning, Marichal, Niekro, Perry, Roberts and Ryan didn’t match Tiant’s three post-season wins (some also played most of their careers before league playoff started). Drysdale and Seaver were 3-3 in the post-season, (Drysdale all in the World Series). Other contemporaries in the Hall of Fame had more post-season wins than Tiant, but weren’t undefeated.
You can’t examine the careers of Tiant and his contemporaries and say he doesn’t belong in Cooperstown along with them. But he’s not there.
Here’s why Tiant won’t be in the Hall of Fame: He wasn’t in the top dozen pitchers of his time. Tiant’s great years fell in the 1960s and ’70s. The 1960s and ’70s already have 17 pitchers in the Hall of Fame (the 16 named above, plus Warren Spahn, who bested Tiant and most of his contemporaries in all the categories I examined).
I don’t think those pitchers were all better than Tiant, but 17 of Tiant’s contemporaries are in the Hall of Fame. I’ve argued that Ron Guidry and Tommy John should be there, too. Guidry probably won’t make it, but John probably will. And you could make about a strong a case for Mickey Lolich (not as strong as for Tiant, I think, but similar).
Tiant pitched in an era of great pitchers, and maybe a few more will make it. Red Sox tend to fare well in Hall of Fame selection, but Tiant never got more than 31 percent of the writers’ vote. I wouldn’t be surprised if he never makes it to Cooperstown.
But man, I enjoyed watching him pitch, and I’ll cheer him on if a Golden Era or Expansion Era Committee ever lets him in. The dividing line between the eras is 1973, about halfway through Tiant’s career. The Golden Era Committee rejected him last year.
(I’ll deal with Tiant again next week in a post about racial discrimination in Hall of Fame elections.)
Here’s a fun fact: Since Kaat pitched parts of two seasons for the Yankees in his 40s, the three post-19th-century pitchers with the most wins who aren’t in the Hall of Fame were all Yankees. Roger Clemens won 354 (I don’t have to explain again why he’s not in the Hall of Fame, do I?). Tommy John, who, of course, belongs in Cooperstown, won 288. And Kaat is next at 283.
Add three 20-win seasons for Kaat and 16 Gold Gloves (a record broken by Greg Maddux) and Kaat has a strong case, but the Golden Era Committee rejected him along with Tiant last year anyway. Two of his 20-win seasons came in 1974-75, so he could possibly get Expansion Era consideration, too.
Another fun fact: Kaat’s career spanned four decades, starting in 1959 with the Washington Senators and ending in 1983 with the Cardinals. Tiant’s whole career fit within Kaat’s. I won’t try to figure out how many more Hall of Famers he overlapped with than Tiant, but Early Wynn comes to mind.
I value peak performance more than longevity, so I’d favor Tiant if only one of them ever makes the Hall of Fame. Voters favor longevity, though, so I think Kaat might have the better shot.
Both men are long shots for the Hall of Fame. Here’s how I’d order the chances of the men in this post for making Cooperstown:
All are better than some in the Hall of Fame, and anti-Yankee bias is probably no factor in Kaat and Tiant’s cases. But I’ll be surprised if more than one or two make the Hall of Fame, shocked if they all do.
Also in this series
Other posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:
Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.
Correction invitation: I wrote this series of blog posts over several months, mostly late at night while unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.