This morning, we covered the four hitters who will be free agents this winter that are basically a lock for Cooperstown. The pitching class dwarfs even that impressive crop of hitters.
Randy Johnson, LHP – 292 wins, 3.26 ERA, 52.63 WPA/LI
The Big Unit is the most dominant left-handed pitcher baseball has seen since a guy named Sandy Koufax. Even though he didn’t pitch his first full big league season until age 25, he’s still just eight wins shy of 300 and has an outside shot at 5,000 strikeouts, depending on how long he wants to keep pitching. His 1997 to 2002 stretch is something out of a legend, and while he turns 45 in a few months, he’s still blowing hitters away. Dominance and endurance make an obvious case for Cooperstown.
Greg Maddux, RHP – 350 wins, 3.14 ERA, 57.64 WPA/LI
While Johnson’s 100 MPH fastball made it easy to see why he could blow hitters away, Maddux was always more of an artist than a gladiator. His strikeout rate is just over 6 batters per 9 innings, a modest total considering he spent his entire career in the National League. But his impeccable command and ability to get his pitches to dive and sink made him untouchable from 1988 to 2003, a brilliant 15 year peak that would fit in with the primes of any of the all time greats. That he pitched his best when offense was taking off around him speaks all the more to his greatness.
Pedro Martinez, RHP – 212 wins, 2.86 ERA, 51.96 WPA/LI
His career totals aren’t as impressive as others, as he’s battled problems with injuries and isn’t going to last as long as the greats listed above. But if we look at just his prime, Pedro’s 1999 to 2002 peak is better than anyone has ever pitched in the history of baseball. His FIP is 1999 in 1.39! 37 walks, 313 strikeouts, and just 9 home runs allowed? That’s… I don’t even have anything to add to that.
Tom Glavine, LHP – 305 wins, 3.53 ERA, 28.35 WPA/LI
Glavine was never the best pitcher in baseball, but from 1991 to 2002, he was always hanging around the conversation. Like his long time teammate Maddux, he didn’t blow hitters away, but succeeded by painting the outside corner and keeping the ball in the park. The opposite of Pedro, he didn’t have a Hall of Fame peak, but his ability to be good for a long time gets him in, even if not by much.
Trevor Hoffman, RHP – 545 saves, 2.79 ERA, 15.84 WPA/LI
Despite my affection for WPA/LI, it doesn’t work well for relievers, who are more valuable than their non-leveraged totals reflect because of their constant work in high pressure situations. And while the closer might be an overrated position, there are few better 9th inning relievers in the history of baseball than Hoffman. He may be overshadowed on this list of inner circle types, but he’s clearly a Hall of Famer.
Those five guys are basically locks for the Hall. They aren’t the only ones, though – you could make a really good case for Mike Mussina as well, though right now, I think the BBWAA would keep him out, unfortunately. Also not included are John Smoltz and Curt Schilling, neither of whom are as much free agents this winter as they are rehabbing potential retirees. The list also doesn’t include the involuntarily retired Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds, who have some obvious off-the-field issues that make their candidacy a little more clouded than it should be.
All in all, however, there are nine absolute mortal lock Hall of Fame players available as real assets this winter, with a half dozen others who have a real shot to get in. I can’t imagine free agency has ever seen a greater class, and this will almost certainly go down as the greatest group of players (from a career standpoint) to ever hit free agency at the same time.
Can you imagine your reaction 10 years ago if you knew you’d have a single off-season where Pudge, Manny, Griffey, Thomas, Pedro, Johnson, Maddux, Glavine, and Hoffman would all be available? It’s pretty remarkable.