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John Smoltz had the most interesting year of all of the Hall pitching wannabes in 2005. Moved back to the rotation by the Braves after 3 and 1/2 years as a closer, he responded with an excellent age 38 season. There is every indication that he might have two or three more good ones left.

Hometown boy Smoltz was drafted as an 18 year old by the Tigers in 1985. His minor league career began at high A Lakeland in 1986 where he threw 96 innings. His performance measures were at best so-so, but his stuff was excellent, and he was promoted to double A in 1987, where he was battered about pretty thoroughly.

I hate to bring this up, but it is necessary to tell Smoltz' tale. The Tigers were in the hunt at the deadline in 1987, and so sent the struggling Smoltz to Atlanta for Doyle Alexander. Alexander delivered for them and the Tigers won a division title that they had no business winning, but they paid for it in spades. Smoltz was sent by the Braves to triple A Richmond for the end of 1987, and he struggled some more. In 1988, he mastered triple A, going 10-5 with a 2.79 ERA and classic Smoltzist ratios, and was called up in August. He struggled in the Show over his 12 starts, but in 1989, he arrived for good.

Smoltz has been a remarkably consistent pitcher. He has had 3 off-seasons in his 17 major league seasons, and even then, he was a little above average. After Tommy John surgery in 2000, he returned as a closer and was exceptionally good in that role. Smoltz has maintained his performance level in the post-season, throwing 206 innings with a 2.66 ERA (and peripheral statistics to support it) and a 15-4 record. In this respect, he has far out-performed his mates Maddux and Glavine.

Finding comparison points for Smoltz is difficult. To date, he has thrown 2929 innings, but for 3 and 1/2 years, he was a closer and throwing presumably higher leverage innings. I will use Dennis Eckersley and Curt Schilling.

For the Eckersley comparison, through age 38, we will divide up the careers into starting and relief phases:

Pitcher  Seasons  Innings  ERA+   K/9  W/9  HR/9  W-L
Smoltz   13       2644.0   123    7.7  2.8  0.7  171-120
Eck      12       2496.0   110    5.5  2.3  1.0  151-128

Smoltz   4        285.3    160    9.5  1.7  0.7
Eck      7        542.3    160    9.0  1.1  0.8

Not bad. Smoltz was clearly the better starter, and was about as effective in relief, albeit over 1/2 the innings.

The Schilling/Smoltz comparison suffers a bit because Schilling has had less than a season of relief. As a result, I will simply lump the starting and relief innings together:
Pitcher  Seasons  Innings  ERA+   K/9  W/9  HR/9  W-L
Smoltz   17       2929.3   126    7.9  2.7  0.7   177-128   
Schill   18       2906.0   128    8.8  2.0  0.9   192-131

I have Smoltz as somewhat better than Eckersley, and about even with Schilling. So, if the reader has been following this series, my opinion on his merit as a Hall of Fame candidate should be clear. I think that he should be in if he stops now, and there is little reason to believe that he will. On the other hand, it is not clear to me at all that he will get inducted unless he continues pitching well for quite a few more years. How many people, let alone Hall of Fame voters, are aware of Smoltz' remarkable post-season career- 15-4 with a 2.66 ERA over more than 200 innings? He does not have the impressive win or save totals, and the Braves only won the World Series once. It would be poetic if Smoltz went into the Hall at roughly the same time as Maddux and Glavine, but I would have to say that I see this as unlikely.

Next up: Andy Pettitte, followed by Tim Hudson.
Hall Watch 2005-John Smoltz | 6 comments | Create New Account
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Glevin - Friday, February 17 2006 @ 10:31 AM EST (#141330) #
I don't think Smoltz is HOF calibre at this point. There are two general ways to measure HOF worthiness (at least ones that I use). Peak value and career value. Smoltz is short on both accounts IMO. He only won 20 games once despite playing on a great team for most of his career. He only had one Cy Young and two other top-5 finishes for the Cy Young. Glavine by comparison, has had 5 20 win seasons, 2 Cy youngs and 6 top-5 finishes. Roy Oswalt already has two 20 win seasons and 4 top-5 Cy young finishes. Gagne has a Cy Young and 3 top-5 finishes as well. Eckersley had 6 top-5 finishes in Cy Young voting including a Cy Young. He won an MVP and had 4 seasons of top-10 voting for MVP. Smoltz really only had two dominant years as a starter ('96/'98) and he had the second and third best ERAs on his own team in those years respectively. When Smoltz was dominant as a closer, Gagne was even better. IMO, his counting stats are not good enough for the HOF at this point either. 177 wins (despite playing on a great team) and 154 saves. Eck, by comparison, had 197 wins and 390 saves.

Smoltz was also the third best pitcher on his team which will hurt him. (And at least a couple of years where he was the fourth best). If Smoltz has another couple of years at last year's level, I'd definitely reconsider, but as of now, he's not in.

CaramonLS - Friday, February 17 2006 @ 12:20 PM EST (#141342) #
At this point, I'd have to pass on Smoltz for the HOF, I really want him to be in, but I don't think he'd get in.

I think once he gets to 200 wins, you can pencil him in.

I don't know what it is about the guy, but even if you aren't a braves fan, he is a guy you want to see and a guy you root for.
John Northey - Friday, February 17 2006 @ 12:33 PM EST (#141344) #
Smoltz is, at the moment, a hall of the very good player imo.

It is interesting looking at his stats to see he has only been below league average in ERA in his rookie year. He has been in 24 playoff series with an ERA over 4 in 6 of them and an ERA below 2 in 12 of them, or 50% of the time! Wow. In the World Series his team has had problems (1-4) but he has an ERA of 2.49 with more K's than IP (all WS games were as a starter btw).

His grey ink and black ink are close, at 162 and 29 (HOF average is 185 and 40). HOF Standards he is at 37 (HOF average is 50) and HOF Monitor he is at 137 (likely HOF is 100 or more). He is also unique as no pitcher has a similarity score of 900 or better vs him.

A problem is only 1 of his 10 most similar is in the HOF, Dazzy Vance. Lots of very good, close but no cigar pitchers on his list - David Cone, Dave Stieb, Virgil Trucks, Dwight Gooden, Kevin Appier, Mike Cuellar, John Candelaria and at #1 Curt Schilling. Like his matches Smoltz is a close but not quite imo. He (like the others) wouldn't be an embarassment to the Hall but isn't quite there. 23 wins to crack 200 will do a lot to help, as would doing something unusual but darn good to lock him in voters memories and give him that little push needed - perhaps a perfect game or a playoff winning game ala Morris in '91. I hope Smoltz makes it someday personally but right now he is just a bit short.
Magpie - Friday, February 17 2006 @ 01:25 PM EST (#141347) #
I think I agree with the consensus but doesn't it seem odd? If only Smoltz hadn't wasted so many years being a significantly better starter than Eckersley, throwing 200+ innings and stuff, and instead put in more years as a comparable closer throwing 75 innings...
Mike Green - Friday, February 17 2006 @ 02:29 PM EST (#141351) #
So, should we come back to this one again after 2007 or after 2008?

I don't want to harp on this point too much, but the starting pitchers of the 90s were exceptional. Four no-doubt Hall of Famers (Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, Pedro), and five borderline calls (Glavine, Mussina, Schilling, Brown and Smoltz). Among other things, it makes the annual award much more competitive. For instance, the 1997 NL top 5 for the Cy Young were Pedro, Maddux, Neagle, Schilling and Kile; in the AL, it was Clemens, Johnson, Radke, Myers, Pettitte and Mussina. I am pretty sure that you couldn't find a better pitching staff from any CYA year. For comparison sake, here are the 1983 winners. Quite a difference, eh?
John Northey - Friday, February 17 2006 @ 02:49 PM EST (#141352) #
I think a key with the Eck/Smoltz comparison is what each is/will be remembered for.

Eck was an excellent closer who was also a solid starter.
Smoltz is a solid starter who was also an excellent closer.

The key is Smoltz is remembered as 'Solid starter who was great as a closer for a few years' while Eck is the reverse. Each was among the best ever as closers but Eck is remembered for it. Being viewed as among the best ever at a postition rather than 'just' a regular all-star is big. Get Smoltz up to 300 saves rather than 154 and he would be remembered as a top closer.

Lets do 'What If'. If Eck stopped closing after 3 full seasons and a partial ala Smoltz he would've had 141 saves, no Cy Young or MVP as a closer. He would've had a final year as closer with a 606 ERA+ but voters don't care about that. Add in, lets say, a 20 win season and another 20 wins over 2 more seasons before retiring as a starter then Eck would've had 28 fewer 'closer' wins and 40 more 'starter' wins giving him a net gain of 12 putting him at 209 wins and 141 saves. Would that have put him in? I seriously doubt it. Add even another 20-30 wins and he'd probably still come up short. His final 7 closing seasons (plus one setup season) from 1991 to 1998 provided 249 saves, 2 all-star appearances and his Cy Young and MVP (92). Put that on Smoltz's resume and he is in too I would expect.

The more I look at it Smoltz needs a lot to make it. He has great post-seasons but few seem to know it. He has been better than Eck as a starter and comparable as a closer, but it just isn't enough given the pitching quality Smoltz will face in HOF voters minds (mortal locks in Glavine/Maddux/Clemens/Pedro/Johnson) unless he can really have a great closing kick to his career. Btw, his ERA+ last year was the 3rd best as a starter over his 13 years as a starter so a great end is possible. Lets hope.
Hall Watch 2005-John Smoltz | 6 comments | Create New Account
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