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Is Billy Wagner a Hall of Famer?

Yesterday, R.J. Anderson discussed just how impressive Billy Wagner‘s career has been and how magnificently he is pitching this season:

FIP supports that Wagner has pitched extremely well. His 2.12 figure would actually be the second best seasonal total of his career, which is a bit breath-taking within itself. Wagner gets lost in the shuffle with Mariano Rivera doing his thing as the premier salt-and-pepper whiskered closer, but he’s right there with him. Evidently Wagner is talking about retiring at season’s end.

Braves fans should convince him to reconsider given how he’s pitching.

There is no question that Wagner has had a phenomenal career. He has never had an ERA above 3.00 during a full season in the major leagues. Since 1997, his season-high FIP has been 3.09 in 2007 (a year in which he had a 2.88 tERA and 2.63 ERA), which is his only season with a FIP over 3.00 since his rookie year. Simply put, Billy Wagner has been one of the best closers/pitchers in baseball since he came to the major leagues, and has simply dominated.

Although the Hall of Fame is something that analytical folks tend not to worry about, I still think it has a certain genuine lure and appeal that things like the All-Star Game and Gold Gloves just do not. Call me a softie, but I still like thinking about the Hall of Fame, however messed up the process may be to get in (and it’s extremely messed up).

By objective value standards which we use at Fangraphs, Wagner has produced 23.8 WAR thus far in his career (Rally’s WAR database currently has him at 27). For comparison, we also have Robin Ventura at 61.3 WAR and Bret Boone at 25.4 WAR. Those guys aren’t knocking on the Hall’s doors any time soon.

But we know that we have to value relievers differently than we do starting pitchers and positional players. Wagner has had a positive WPA every year in his career save one (2000). His career WPA/LI is higher than Goose Gossage’s. There are a few things holding him back in terms of mainstream importance:

1) Living in the shadow of Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman
2) No World Series appearances/rings
3) Relative lack of Saves (he has 17 fewer Saves than John Franco)
4) Never started a major league game (see Eckersley and Gossage)

Don’t think those shortcomings actually play a tangible factor? Here’s Ron Chimelis, a member of the BBWAA who will likely be voting on Wagner’s candidacy in the future:

Can a one-inning guy be an immortal? Mariano Rivera proves he can.

As for Wagner, in 15 years, has pitched all of 822 innings. It took him 769 games to do it.

The Hall of Fame’s small roster of closers consists of Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter.

Eckersley made it partly because he was also a starter. That will no doubt get John Smoltz in, too.

The other three enshrined closers were multiple-inning guys. They also helped define the art…

Among left-handers, John Franco ranks first with 424 saves. Wagner is second.

Is Franco a Hall of Famer? I don’t think so….

So, who gets in? Rivera, for sure.

It’s hard to dispute Hoffman, the all-time leader….

There are other reasons to dismiss him, though. No World Series (also not his fault), and an 8.71 playoff ERA.

In his only League Championship Series, in 2006 with the Mets, Wagner’s ERA was 16.88.

Is Boston’s new reliever a Hall of Famer? I don’t think so, whether he reaches 400 saves or not.

Wagner has had an amazing career. Somehow, the success of the Atlanta Braves this year, as well as his performance in a couple of innings in the playoffs in October, could be the tipping point in his Hall of Fame candidacy. Now there’s a reason why the process, and not the concept, is so messed up.