What a Relief!

The day after my JAWS-flavored take on the starting pitchers on the 2008 Hall of Fame ballot ran at Baseball Prospectus, my take on the relievers is up as well, thus — to my great relief — completing this year’s series (the reliever portion is free, the starter one is sub-only). For those who have been following the series from year to year, the results among the pitchers shouldn’t come as a surprise; my system identified Bert Blyleven, Rich Gossage and Lee Smith as Hall-worthy and the rest… not so much. That trio joins Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and Mark McGwire from among the hitters to make up the JAWS Class of 2008 photo.

As I wrote in the starters piece, Blyleven ranks among the top 20 pitchers of all time according to JAWS. He’s the highest-ranked pitcher who’s eligible for the Hall but not in:

Pitcher            PRAA  PRAR  WARP3   Peak   JAWS   SUP
Walter Johnson 818 1994 209.6 109.5 159.6 HOF
Cy Young 943 2024 213.8 99.5 156.7 HOF
Roger Clemens 666 2016 199.6 83.9 141.8
Greg Maddux 481 1689 180.3 86.0 133.2
Pete Alexander 593 1520 160.1 91.0 125.6 HOF
Christy Mathewson 480 1285 149.1 92.9 121.0 HOF
Tom Seaver 439 1576 152.2 75.8 114.0 96 HOF
Warren Spahn 324 1598 153.3 72.9 113.1 HOF
Randy Johnson 428 1570 147.0 77.3 112.2
Lefty Grove 520 1456 138.5 81.9 110.2 HOF
Kid Nichols 494 1248 131.2 84.1 107.7 HOF
Steve Carlton 264 1509 137.0 71.6 104.3 104 HOF
Phil Niekro 262 1485 137.7 67.5 102.6 97 HOF
Robin Roberts 304 1448 129.8 74.8 102.3 HOF
Gaylord Perry 266 1512 132.9 68.8 100.9 96 HOF
Tom Glavine 296 1341 137.4 63.7 100.6
Bert Blyleven 323 1546 135.1 65.3 100.2 97
Bob Gibson 329 1260 120.7 76.3 98.5 HOF
Hal Newhouser 311 1109 111.0 83.0 97.0 HOF
Fergie Jenkins 290 1384 125.1 68.4 96.8 101 HOF
...
Nolan Ryan 210 1661 128.1 59.4 93.8 95 HOF
Jim Palmer 203 1116 100.8 63.9 82.4 109 HOF
Don Sutton 141 1371 112.2 48.2 80.2 105 HOF
Catfish Hunter 1 820 70.0 51.9 61.0 112 HOF

It’s true Blyleven has one of the lowest WARP peaks shown above, but he more than holds his own with his enshrined contemporaries. His secondary peak measure, PRAA, puts him 30-60 runs past Carlton, Niekro, Perry, and Jenkins, and more than 100 beyond his other enshrined contemporaries — Ryan, Palmer, Sutton and Hunter; only Seaver outdistances him. Spoiled by the half-dozen of those aforementioned peers who won 300 games from the mid-’60s to the mid-’80s, when the days of the four-man rotation dominated, the BBWAA hasn’t elected a starter with fewer than 300 wins since Jenkins in 1991. Note the last column, which compares the run support of those contemporaries in a park- and league-adjusted index similar to ERA+, where 100 is average; Blyleven got three percent less support than the average starter during his time, comparable to many of those contemporaries but nonetheless something which kept him from attaining 300 wins.

For the relievers, I use some extra information — BP’s Reliever Expected Wins Added (WXRL) stat:

WXRL accounts for the discovery that a reliever at the end of a ballgame has a quantitatively greater impact on winning and losing (a ratio called leverage) than a starter does. It measures that impact by comparing a team’s chances of winning based on the game state (bases, outs, score differential) before he enters and after he leaves. For the purposes of measuring a pitcher’s Hall-worthiness, it functions as something of a career/peak hybrid; one can accumulate a high total via performing well under high-pressure situations for shorter periods or in more moderate pressure situations for longer. Two years ago, I put aside an earlier kludge and began incorporating WXRL totals into a Reliever’s Adjusted JAWS score via the formula RAJAWS: ((0.5 x WXRL) + JAWS).

…Given the small sample size of Hall of Fame relievers, it’s worthwhile to check out the RAJAWS leaderboard for some perspective. The list is somewhat incomplete, as our play-by-play database currently only goes back to 1959, so it’s missing the first seven years of [Hoyt] Wilhelm’s career, four years of Lindy McDaniel, and seven of Stu Miller (all denoted with asterisks below), to say nothing of their forebears. Nonetheless, we can get a pretty solid idea of where this year’s candidates rank with regards to the enshrined and the two active pitchers who are likely bets to reach the Hall soon after retirement, Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. Here’s the provisional version of the RAJAWS Top 20:

Pitcher             WARP   Peak   JAWS   WXRL  RAJAWS
Mariano Rivera 93.9 62.6 78.3 62.5 109.5
Dennis Eckersley 120.8 53.7 87.3 35.1 104.8 HoF
Rich Gossage 88.4 56.0 72.2 53.8 99.1
Trevor Hoffman 82.2 49.2 65.7 62.3 96.9
Hoyt Wilhelm 96.5 47.6 72.1 39.0 91.5* HoF
Lee Smith 83.7 47.3 65.5 47.0 89.0
Rollie Fingers 80.1 49.4 64.8 45.8 87.6 HOF
John Franco 80.9 41.2 61.1 44.8 83.5
Tom Gordon 85.5 46.7 66.1 33.8 83.0
Billy Wagner 66.7 49.2 58.0 44.9 80.4
Doug Jones 66.5 48.2 57.4 33.0 73.8
Lindy McDaniel 72.0 44.1 58.1 31.3 73.7*
Bruce Sutter 59.0 47.6 53.3 37.4 72.0 HOF
Roberto Hernandez 66.8 46.5 56.7 28.2 70.7
Stu Miller 63.5 43.6 53.6 34.1 70.6*
John Wetteland 58.5 46.5 52.5 35.0 70.0
Tom Henke 59.9 42.7 51.3 36.8 69.7
Tug McGraw 60.1 38.5 49.3 39.6 69.1
Dan Quisenberry 55.2 48.2 51.7 34.0 68.7
Kent Tekulve 64.7 40.3 52.5 30.3 67.7

Rivera surpassed Eckersley atop this list last year. With Gossage apparently poised for enshrinement after receiving 71.2 percent of the vote last year, the day where six of the top seven relievers via my system are enshrined isn’t far off. In that regard, the election of Sutter two years ago may have been the best thing to happen to the Goose. As I said on my XM spot with Chuck Wilson yesterday, Sutter as the save specialist and Eckersley as the ninth-inning specialist represented easily definable data points for the evolution of the modern closer. The recognition of Gossage’s transcendence of that ever-narrowing niche has created a groundswell of support such that his vote totals have increased dramatically over the last four votes:

Year  Votes   Pct
2004 206 40.7% Eckersley elected
2005 285 55.2%
2006 336 64.6% Sutter elected
2007 388 71.2%

It’s probably just a coincidence that those numbers parallel the widening exposure of my JAWS project, which began in ’04 as well, but I can’t help feeling a tiny measure of satisfaction at this trend nonetheless.

In any event, I’ve got a fair bit of Hall of Fame-related media lining up for next week:

• a radio appearance on KTRH 740 AM in Houston, Monday at 7 a.m. ET / 6 a.m. CT, discussing Roger Clemens’ appearance on 60 Minutes. You can listen via their website. I may be doing more Fox affiliate “phoners” that morning as well.

• a BP chat on Tuesday, 2 PM Eastern, just as the voting results are announced.

• a radio appearance on Sports Xtra 1360 AM in San Diego, Tuesday at 3:40 p.m. ET / 12:40 p.m. PT. You can listen via their website.

• my regularly scheduled appearance on Sports Radio 1470 in Toledo, Wednesday at 4:10 p.m. ET.

• an XM Radio appearance to be named later.

Should be another busy week!

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