Wednesday, August 17, 2005

HOFfing with Smoltzy

Anabolic steroids. It enhances muscle mass, aids muscle recovery, slows down the effects of aging, and gives you some seriously nasty backne. It also shrinks your testicles. The president has spoken about it. Kids have died from overdose. But what concerns me most about steroids aren't the health issues, dangerous as it may be. It's that rampant steroid use by baseball players has fucked up the favorite parlor game for baseball statheads, Who's a Hall-of-Famer?

Before the steroid era, you've got some simple benchmarks for induction into the Hall of Fame: 300 wins, 3000 hits, and/or 500 homers will get you in. Short of that, the voters will look at whether you were a dominant player for a long stretch, or an all-star-but-not-quite-MVP material for an even longer stretch. It's harder to evaluate those essential qualities, though primo stathead site Baseball Reference gives you four different metrics to evaluate potential HOFers.

However, BR has not yet incorporated the new cutting-edge "metric," which is hat-size-to-home-run-ratio. Example: you start out donning a size-7 baseball cap, and after five years of mysterious head-growth, you're now at a Charlie Brown size-8. Well, bud, not only do you start looking like a big-headed doofus, your 550 homers might not cut it. (625 homers should be the bare minimum for 1 hat-size increase over five years.) Seriously, I don't know that Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa deserve entry into the Hall, given that their credentials -- unlike, say, Barry Bonds' -- depend entirely on their career home run totals. And those dinger totals are more than likely padded by the Juice. Raffy, of course, is also on the fence, mainly because unlike Sammy and Big Mac, Palmeiro was never a dominant player. He was a pretty good player who somehow become a hall-of-fame candidate when his career took a big spike while the man's in his early 30s. Frank Thomas, I think, has a better case.

You see where this post is going, but I'm gonna make an abrupt detour and look at pitchers, particularly the one who intrigues most: John Smoltz. Smoltz has been a dominant pitcher, but only spottily so. He's finished in the top 5 Cy Young voting three times, but failed to finish in the top ten in every other season. He's won the Cy outright in '96, has been a dominant closer, and boasts a glittering postseason ERA. But he's also been injured too many times, and will be lucky to reach 200 wins/3,000 KO, which puts him where almost-HOFers like Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina are. However, he's notched 150+ saves, and will probably go back to closing before his career ends. As Jack Morris is in the HoFer debates now, Smoltz will be the subject of the most furious and interesting debates when he's up for induction. (Schilling is a no. Mussina, if he has two or three more good seasons, a yes.) It's no surprise then that, on BR, his numbers show Smoltz has reached HoF levels by two metrics, but not so by two others.

Smoltz is back starting and doing well, but I think he needs at least three more solid seasons to be a strong candidate. The Hall's tougher on pitchers (no surprise since pitchers tend to have shorter careers and suffer greater risk of injury) as the inductee list shows. If we're lucky, perhaps five or six active pitchers over 30 will be HOFers one day. The Rocket, Greg Maddux and Pedro are locks, and the Big Unit and Mo Rivera near-certainties. Glavine will probably eke out 300 wins and get in, Don Sutton style. That leaves Smoltz, Schilling, and Mussina as the marginal candidates, guys who were star pitchers, but not quite the all-timers that belong. I wouldn't bet against Smoltzy (one of my favorite pitchers), but he needs to kick ass a few more years.

Speaking of the Rocket, I am in fucking awe. The man is having one of the best seasons ever. His ERA is at a Bob Gibsonesque 1.32. He may well post the lowest adjusted ERA+ (ERA relative to league ERA) post-1900, the best single stat in determining pitching performance. If Roger keeps it up, he'll surpass Pedro's inhuman 2000 season (currently the best adjusted ERA+ year, post-1900). ESPN posted a poll asking if this is Roger's best season ever. The other choices were:

Year W-L K ERA

1986 24-4 238 2.48 Cy Young and MVP
1990 21-6 209 1.93 1st sub-2 ERA by a starting pitcher in over ten years.
1997 21-7 292 2.05 Cy Young and pitching triple crown.

As good as Clemens has been over the years, to possibly post a sub-1.50 ERA at age 43 would be a greater accomplishment than even those great seasons. Due to the total lack of run support, Roger probably won't win the Cy since he won't finish with more than 15 wins. I guess that would be poetic justice for having snatched the Cy away from Randy Johnson last year due to generous run support. (Run support is beyond a pitcher's control, buds. ERA isn't -- mostly.) The Cy Young voters might be braindead, but that doesn't diminish Clemens' likely-to-be-historic season.

[Just as I post this, there's a rumor apparently going around the ESPN studios that Clemens has been busted for 'roids. Man, I hope it's not true.]