Hall Watch 2005-Tom Glavine

Friday, January 27 2006 @ 08:15 AM EST

Contributed by: Mike Green

Superficially, Tom Glavine seemed to have a ho-hum age 39 season in 2005, 13-13 with a 3.53 ERA in Shea, but 12 homers, 61 walks and 105 strikeouts in 211 innings for a crafty lefty suggests that he might have a surprise season or two left for his forties, as Warren Spahn and Tommy John did.

Tom Glavine was drafted out of high school by the Braves in the 2nd round of the 1984 draft, and pitched well in rookie league, striking out more than a batter per inning, that summer. He dominated A ball in 1985, again striking out more than a batter per inning. In 1986, he started in double A and pitched well enough, but did not overpower the league (70 walks and 114 strikeouts in 145 innings). Nonetheless, he was promoted to triple A late in the season where he struggled mightily. In 1987, he started in triple A again, did better than in 1986 but again was not overpowering (56 walks and 91 strikeouts in 150 innings). Still, the Braves promoted him to the Show late in the season. He was battered about in 9 starts, continuing his pattern of late season promotion struggles.

Undeterred, the Braves kept him in the rotation for 1988 in his age 22 season. He struggled that year and for the next 2. There were signs of gradual improvement as his strikeout rate inched up. Most importantly, he stayed healthy. In 1991, he and the Braves exploded on the league. Glavine threw 246 innings, still his career high, and struck out a career high 192 batters, won 20 games and won the Cy Young award. The Braves improved by 29 games in the standings and began their string of division titles.

From 1991 to 2002, Glavine was consistently very good and occasionally great. His modus operandi was simple. He threw strikes and kept the ball down. He got his share of strikeouts courtesy of an effective change, even though his fastball is ordinary. The Braves had a good defence for most of his time there, particularly after Andruw Jones arrived in 1997, and Glavine had the ability to take advantage of Jones' defensive brilliance.

After 2002, Glavine signed with the Mets as a free agent, and has delivered one sub-par season and two good ones. He turns 40 in March, and we now turn to his Hall of Fame chances. Our comparison points will be Warren Spahn, Jim Palmer, Ted Lyons, Red Ruffing, and Jack Morris.

Here's how they did through age 39 (Ruffing missed his age 38 and 39 seasons due to the Second World War):

Pitcher     IP(seasons)   ERA+   K/9IP(Lg)   W/9IP(Lg)  HR/9IP(Lg)  Team DER(Lg)  W-L

Glavine     3951.7(16.7)  120    5.4(6.5)    3.0(3.4)   0.7(1.0)    689(693)      275-184
Morris      3824.0(14.8)  105    5.8(5.1)    3.3(3.3)   0.9(0.9)    708(700)      254-186
Palmer      3948.0(14.0)  125    5.0(5.3)    3.0(3.4)   0.7(0.8)    722(707)      268-152
Spahn       4080.0(15.8)  121    4.6(4.3)    2.6(3.4)   0.7(0.8)    709(708)      288-182
Lyons       3750.7(14.6)  116    2.9(3.3)    2.5(3.4)   0.5(0.6)    691(684)      233-210
Ruffing     4152.7(16.2)  110    4.2(3.3)    3.2(3.4)   0.5(0.6)    690(684)      258-216 

The shocking comparison for me in this list was the Glavine-Palmer one. I had thought that Jim Palmer was a significantly better pitcher than Tom Glavine, but on sober second thought, it doesn't seem so obvious. Palmer played on great teams throughout his career, and great defensive teams. The names Brooks Robinson, Belanger, Grich, Blair and Murray spring to mind in a flash. The Braves of Glavine's first 3 years were a butt-ugly ballclub. Don't believe me? Check out the 1989 club. You might say that they were the 1989 version of last year's Kansas City Royals. I also think of Palmer as exceptionally durable because he threw 300 innings four times in his career. But, that was not an exceptional number for a starter in the American League in the seventies. I still do think that Palmer was better, but the distance between Glavine and Palmer is a lot smaller than say Morris and Glavine.

So, should Glavine go into the Hall of Fame? Will he? The answer to the first question to my mind is a clear yes, even if he never pitches again. He's been a significantly better pitcher than Ted Lyons or Red Ruffing. He is not quite in the Spahn/Palmer class, but might get close with a late career push. Whether he will go is an entirely different matter. The difference in value between Glavine and Sutter is huge, but Glavine lacks the profile of Sutter or the 300 wins that would probably make a difference to the writers. I say that the writers vote him in if he makes 300, and otherwise he will have to wait for the Veteran's Committee, but eventually his accomplishments will be recognized.

Next up is Mike Mussina.