The Case for Glavine

Having delved too deeply into Frank Thomas’ career to deal with two Hall of Fame cases in one piece, today I’ve got a look at Tom Glavine’s case for Cooperstown. Even with his 305 wins, I was actually surprised at the strength of his case on the traditional merits:

Glavine made 10 All-Star teams, and was the starting pitcher in both 1991 and 1992, though his double-digit total is padded by the fact that he didn’t actually pitch in four of those games (two of which were managed by Braves skipper Bobby Cox, who wasn’t born last night). He won the 1991 and 1998 NL Cy Young awards, making him one of just 15 multiple award winners, and the one with the longest time between awards (Gaylord Perry, who won in 1972 and 1978, is next). He also had four other top-three finishes, three of them during Maddux’s 1992-1995 run. Quite simply, he was regarded as one of the best pitchers of his day.

Glavine won 20 games five times, a total that ranks second only to Clemens since the dawn of the designated hitter era (1973 onward), and is in a five-way tie for sixth since the advent of expansion (1961 onward). The other nine pitchers with five or more 20-win seasons in that latter group are all in the Hall except for Clemens. Now, here at Baseball Prospectus we preach the gospel that pitcher wins aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, as they depend upon offensive, defensive, and—increasingly since the dawn of the DH—bullpen support. According to my 2005 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, Glavine received offensive support that was three percent better than the park-adjusted league average up through 2004; just eyeballing it, he may have added another point or two to that rate over the final few years of his career, a period covering his latter-day tenure with the Mets as well as his swan song in Atlanta. Even so, it’s quite impressive how proficient he was at garnering the W. From 1991 through 2002, the strongest portion of his career, Glavine’s 209 wins rank second only to Maddux’s 213.

Glavine looks great according to JAWS, ranking 24th among pitchers all-time:

Rk  Pitcher             WARP3   Peak   JAWS
1 Walter Johnson* 161.5 87.1 124.3
2 Grover Alexander* 124.4 78.2 101.3
3 Cy Young* 142.6 59.7 101.2
4 Roger Clemens 135.1 64.6 99.9
5 Christy Mathewson* 109.6 71.1 90.4
6 Greg Maddux 115.8 59.6 87.7
7 Tom Seaver* 104.9 55.4 80.2
8 Warren Spahn* 105.3 52.9 79.1
9 Phil Niekro* 98.5 52.8 75.7
10 Steve Carlton* 91.6 55.9 73.8
11 Bob Gibson* 86.5 58.8 72.7
12T Randy Johnson 89.7 53.2 71.5
Ed Walsh** 72.7 70.2 71.5
Gaylord Perry* 91.1 51.8 71.5
15 Bert Blyleven 92.4 49.3 70.9
16 Eddie Plank** 87.7 52.5 70.1
17 Lefty Grove* 84.7 51.0 67.9
18 Fergie Jenkins* 85.5 50.1 67.8
19 Mariano Rivera 82.6 52.0 67.3
20 Robin Roberts* 82.0 49.7 65.9
21 Hal Newhouser** 68.2 56.0 62.1
22 Amos Rusie** 64.7 57.8 61.3
23 Kid Nichols** 75.7 46.2 61.0
24 Tom Glavine 81.4 40.3 60.9<<<
25T Carl Hubbell* 70.9 50.1 60.5
Pedro Martinez 71.0 49.9 60.5
27 Don Drysdale* 72.9 46.5 59.7
28 Dennis Eckersley* 77.9 40.8 59.4
AVG HOF SP 70.3 47.7 59.0

29 John Clarkson** 64.0 53.5 58.8
30 Rick Reuschel 72.5 44.7 58.6
31 Nolan Ryan* 74.0 43.1 58.6
32 Mike Mussina 74.0 41.1 57.6
33 Juan Marichal* 63.0 51.4 57.2
34 John Smoltz 74.3 39.4 56.9
*BBWAA-elected Hall of Famer
**VC-elected Hall of Famer

Glavine’s career WARP ranks 21st, though his peak mark ranks just 76th, as he had just three seasons above 6.0 WARP thanks to his low strikeout rate (since his defenses were thus awarded more of the credit for his work than for a high-strikeout pitcher)… Glavine is about two points above the JAWS standard for starting pitchers, with a mark that among his contemporaries is topped only by Clemens, Maddux, Johnson and Rivera. He’ll be a citizen in good standing when the Hall comes calling.

The real question will be how quickly Glavine gets into the Hall of Fame given how crowded the 2013 (Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza) and 2014 (Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent) ballots will be. It’s hardly unprecedented for 300-game winners to have to wait for entry; in fact, I count only four of the 24 such pitchers who DID gain entry on their first try (not including Veterans Committee selections): Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, and Nolan Ryan. In the end, I think it’s quite possible both Maddux and Glavine will join that bunch, because any writer with a story to file will have a hard time resisting voting for teammates.

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