Do pitcher wins even matter anymore?
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The greatest achievement in the sport of baseball, if not in all of sports, is to be selected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. However, the process of selecting the next members to have a plaque in Cooperstown is rather controversial, biased, and inconsistent. The game of baseball is constantly changing throughout time, which makes it incredibly difficult to compare players from different eras and evaluate their careers.
There is no uniform standard on what makes an MLB player worthy of being in the Hall of Fame. Writers can vary on how they rank the importance of sabermetrics, character and integrity, or milestone and accolades, which can make this selection process very subjective and opinionated.
Though the standards are not clear for what makes a Hall of Fame pitcher, there are still some achievements they all share. Of the 88 current Hall of Fame pitchers (including both starters and relievers), the average Hall of Fame pitcher has 237 Wins, 2043 Strikeouts, 66 WAR, and a 3.01 ERA. To add on, many of these pitchers have won the Cy Young Award, have been selected as All-Stars many times, have won the World Series, and much more.
The milestones that make a starting pitcher “untouchable” and a “for-sure” Hall of Famer are 300 wins and 3000 strikeouts. Yet, many are starting to question if 300 wins is even attainable in today’s MLB. Of all current MLB starting pitchers, Justin Verlander leads the all active players with 243 career wins. Should the standard be lowered to around 250 wins? Should the win column be disregarded when evaluating pitchers?
Those in favor of keeping wins as an important statistic to evaluate starters say that it is a starting pitcher’s primary responsibility to win ball games, and if they cannot do that, they are ineffective.
The other side argues that the win column is not in total control of the pitcher since the offense also needs to be good. To truly evaluate the pitcher as an individual, there should be a focus on other statistics like ERA and WHIP.
Both sides present a valid and intriguing argument on the importance of wins, and it is something the members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America have to pick a side on.
With the best attempt to eliminate all bias, here are three tiers of current MLB starting pitchers that make cases to be considered as Hall of Famers:
Tier 1: 100% chance
Each of these players listed below would make the Hall of Fame if they retired today. Their respective resumés speak for themselves. They are among the greatest pitchers of all time, and are truly a batter’s worst nightmare. The amazing thing is that they are still going and will continue to add on to their incredible careers. There is no valid argument that exists to prevent these four players from having their plaques in Cooperstown.
1) Justin Verlander
AL MVP (2011)
3x AL Cy Young Award (2011, 2019, 2022)
2x World Series Champion
Career Stats: 77.6 WAR, 244 wins, 3198 strikeouts, 3.24 ERA, and a 1.117 WHIP
2) Max Scherzer
1x AL Cy Young Award (2013)
2x NL Cy Young Award (2016 and 2017)
World Series Champion
8x All Star
2x ERA Title
Career Stats: 71.7 WAR, 201 Wins, 3193 Strikeouts, and a 1.074 WHIP
NL MVP (2014)
3x NL Cy Young Award (2011, 2013, 2014)
World Series Champion
5x ERA Title
Career Stats: 75.9 WAR, 197 Wins, 2807 Strikeouts, and a 1.001 WHIP
4) Zach Grienke
2009 AL Cy Young Award
6x Gold Glove Award
2x ERA Title
Career Stats: 76.5 WAR, 3.42 ERA, 223 Wins, 2882 Strikeouts, and a 1.167 WHIP
Tier 2: 50/50
1) Jacob deGrom (~50% chance)
2x NL Cy Young Award (2018 and 2019)
1x ERA Title
Career Stats: 43.8 WAR, 2.52 ERA, 82 Wins, 1607 Strikeouts, and a 0.998 WHIP
When reading deGrom’s stats, the 82 career wins stick out the most. If deGrom retired today he would be tied for 82nd overall amongst Hall of Fame pitchers for career wins (tied with Mariano Rivera). Most Hall of Fame relievers have accumulated more wins than starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, and for the Hall of Fame to accept deGrom would mean that wins are not significant when evaluating pitchers in today’s game.
Making the case for deGrom to be a Hall of Famer would require the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to completely change their standards, and practically speaking that does not seem likely. However, it is important to note that deGrom has achieved these incredible stats and accolades within just a 9 year span in the MLB.
Additionally, over his career, deGrom had the run support from a subpar, or at best an average, Mets offense. In order to win games, your team has to put up runs, and if you are pitching for the New York Mets, that can be incredibly difficult. To evaluate the career of deGrom based on shortage of wins is somewhat invalid since he lacked adequate run support.
In 2018, the year in which he won his first NL Cy Young Award, his record was 10-9, and he had a 1.70 ERA, 0.912 WHIP, and 1.98 FIP, clearly proving that the win-loss record does not say much about the pitcher.
To add on, the character, sportsmanship, and integrity are not factors that prevent deGrom from making the Hall of Fame. Jacob deGrom is a quiet guy, who does not cause controversy on the field or off the field, who just goes in and does his job, and lets his game speak for itself. He is the type of player every baseball organization wants in their clubhouse.
Jacob deGrom may not have the wins or longevity to his name, but he has accomplished almost everything a starting pitcher can do in this sport in this short amount of time, making him at least deserving of consideration to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
2) Corey Kluber (~45% chance)
2x AL Cy Young Award (2014 and 2017)
1x ERA Title
Career Stats: 34.7 WAR, 3.31 ERA, 113 Wins, 1683 Strikeouts, and a 1.112 WHIP
Corey Kluber is another starting pitcher who has the accolades, yet lacks the longevity and wins to be considered a consensus Hall of Famer. The argument for Kluber to have a spot in Cooperstown rests mainly on him winning 2 Cy Young Awards.
Winning multiple Cy Young Awards places Kluber in an exclusive list of 21 pitchers, 11 being current Hall of Famers, and 3 certain future Hall of Famers (Kershaw, Verlander, and Scherzer). The Cy Young Award is the most prestigious award for a pitcher, and to win that twice over the course of a career is truly remarkable.
Though Kluber does not have consistent numbers over a long period of time, his prime form was incredible. His prime stats are just as good, if not better, than those considered as the greatest pitchers of all time.
Let’s compare Kluber’s 2014-2018 prime to Roger Clemens’ prime, arguably from 1986-1991, in which Clemens won 3 Cy Young Awards and 1 MVP,
Kluber had a 2.85 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 10.13 K/9, 7.31 H/9, 1.84 BB/9, and 2.83 FIP.
Clemens had a 2.70 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.49 K/9, 7.37 H/9, 2.46 BB/9 and 2.64 FIP.
These numbers are incredibly close to one another, thus showing the greatness of Kluber’s peak.
Compared to deGrom, Kluber has worse individual stats like WAR, ERA, and WHIP. To add on, with three more years in the big leagues, Kluber only has 31 more wins and 76 more strikeouts. Given these small differences, Kluber has an even worse chance of making the Hall of Fame.
Though Kluber lacks the longevity and significant milestones in his career, his incredibly high peak, accolades, and accomplishments give him the potential to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
TIER 3: Longshot / Still a Lot to Prove
2021 NL Cy Young Award
10.4 WAR, ERA of 3.21, 35 Wins, 670 Strikeouts, and 1.049 WHIP.
Corbin Burnes has been in the big leagues for five years and is already off to an incredible start. He is currently 28 years old and definitely has the potential to have a Hall of Fame career. He has already won the most prestigious award for a pitcher, automatically separating himself from the majority of pitchers currently in the MLB.
However, for Burnes to be a certain Hall of Famer a lot needs to go right within the next 15 years or so. He has to stay healthy, pitch at a dominant and elite level with consistency, have integrity and respect the game (not use PEDs), reach or approach the 300 wins and 3000 strikeouts milestones, and much more. A Hall of Fame career requires a lot, but Burnes is an incredibly talented pitcher and is certainly up to the task.
2) Blake Snell
2018 AL Cy Young Award
15 WAR, 3.41 ERA, 57 Wins, 989 Strikeouts, 1.245 WHIP.
Since his magical 2018 Cy Young season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Blake Snell has completely fallen off. He has gone from the ace of his staff, to the third pitcher in the Padres’ rotation.
However, Blake Snell is only 30 years old, and has a lot of time left in his career to prove himself. We know that he has what it takes to be one of the best pitchers in the major leagues. In order to be even considered as a Hall of Fame pitcher, Snell has to find that magic again from his 2018 season, and maintain that elite level of pitching for a long period of time.
It is an incredibly tough road to the Hall of Fame, but maybe this move to San Diego has put him in a perfect position to rebound and resurge as one of the best pitchers in the MLB. Surrounded by great teammates like Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, Manny Machado, and other all-stars, a winning culture definitely exists in San Diego.
More importantly, the lineup’s run support can exist to pad Snell’s win count. The Padres are also certainly bound for tons of postseason baseball in the future, which also gives Snell the opportunity to excel and prove himself in clutch moments.
In this environment, it is definitely possible for Snell to produce great numbers, win individual awards, and even win a World Series in order to cement his legacy as a Hall of Fame pitcher.
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