Trevor Hoffman’s Place Among Hall of Fame Relievers

Trevor Hoffman decided to call it a career yesterday, exiting the game as the all-time career saves leader with 601. Hoffman’s career was no doubt one of the best reliever careers of all time, as Hoffman appeared in over 1,000 games and compiled a career ERA of 2.87. But Lee Smith, the last career saves leader to hit the Hall of Fame ballots, is still waiting for a call to Cooperstown that likely will not come at this point. When it comes to evaluating career performance and particularly when it comes to the Hall, relievers are an odd bunch. Let’s examine Hoffman’s spot among relievers and among the best players in Major League history.

If we go simply by WAR, there would be no need to even put Hoffman’s name on the ballot. By our implementation, Hoffman  accrued only 22.9 WAR. He grades better in Baseball-References implementation, but his 30.7 WAR are still well short of any Hall of Fame standards for position players or starting pitchers. Many consider Jack Morris‘s 39 WAR to be a dealbreaker, for example.

Of course, WAR isn’t an end-all, be-all statistic for player evaluation, and it certainly isn’t for Hall of Fame voters. The Hall currently contains four pitchers who were primarily relievers: Hoyt Wilhelm, Rich Gossage, Rollie Fingers, and Bruce Sutter. Dennis Eckersley also counts if you consider “primarily reliever” to mean “half of career appearances in relief,” but Eckersley made 361 career starts and much of his career value comes from those 2,400+ innings.

None of those four pitchers accrued more than 42 WAR according to Baseball-Reference. Sutter’s choice appears dubious on a statistical level – only 661 games, 25 WAR, and a 136 ERA+ which ranks 20th among relievers with at least 500 IP – but he may be enshrined partially for his pioneering of the splitter. Fingers also has a weak statistical profile – nearly identical WAR but in more games and with a relatively pedestrian 120 ERA+ – but again, Fingers was a pioneer, this time of the closer role. Gossage and Wilhelm both sport WARs in the 40s and far longer careers, but still not Hall of Fame caliber numbers from any other role. Again, their enshrinement seems to be inspired by their roles in baseball history – Wilhelm as one of the premiere knuckleballers and Gossage as one of the first successful relief pitchers.

Hoffman’s 30 WAR, 1,100 inning, 141 ERA+ career puts him in a similar statistical realm as Fingers and Sutter. Just as with Lee Smith, however, I can’t think of anything Hoffman did that shaped baseball’s history in a meaningful way outside of the sheer volume of his save total. He didn’t define a role like Fingers. His changeup was excellent, but it wasn’t a definitive pitch in the game’s history like Wilhelm’s knuckleball or Sutter’s splitter. He didn’t prove that some pitchers could have value in the bullpen despite flaming out as starters like Gossage.

While Hoffman’s career is statistically similar to Sutter and Fingers, it is also very similar to those of John Franco, Dan Quisenberry, and Kent Tekulve, who all pitched around 1,000 effective innings out of the bullpen. The key difference between Hoffman and that trio is the number 601. To me, it’s clear that there has to be something beyond a relief pitcher’s body of work for him to make the Hall of Fame, something that transcends the necessarily unimpressive number that the role begets. In that case, five years from now when Hoffman appears on the ballot, we’ll find out if the writers find the number 601 to be enough to earn Hoffman a bust in Cooperstown.




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96 Responses to “Trevor Hoffman’s Place Among Hall of Fame Relievers”

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  1. Ricky Bobby says:

    First!

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  2. John says:

    I have to believe 601 will let him cruise in…though in 5 years the quality of the ballot (depending on how things go with the upcoming classes) could keep him out a year or two.

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  3. Cliff Lee's Changeup says:

    If the hall is interested in opening up and taking players from traditionally under served positions, like catcher and reliever/closer, then this guy is as good a place as any to start for the bullpen boys.

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    • John says:

      I’ve never understood why they seem to keep those types of players out. If you play a position in baseball, and just so happen to be one of the best of all time at that position, then you should be commemorated in the Hall of Fame.

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      • Tedfordfan says:

        Even if the position is mostly made up of people who failed at other, more important positions?

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        See recent discussion on FG of how Alomar wasn’t that great because he only played 2B.

        There is a real obsession with judging career totals at the plate for batters. Total HR, and total hits really matter. Players who’s position is actually difficult to play are chosen more for their ability to play the position than their ability to bat.

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      • JRoth says:

        By this argument, every non-failed SP is worth more than every RP (except maybe Mo). Would you have traded Hoffman straight-up for, say, Josh Fogg in 2003?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Even if the position is mostly made up of people who failed at other, more important positions?

        Okay, so you just said the comment I hate perhaps more than any other comment in baseball.

        So, applying that logic consistently, why are there anything other than shortstops in the HoF.

        All other positions are just made up of guys that aren’t good enough to play short.

        A short-term closer is, I agree, an easily replaced position. But, relievers/closers have short shelf-lives.

        A closer that has essentially been dominant over his entire long career is a completely different situation.

        We, as a community, are all over the map in terms of consistency.

        Yes to DH.

        No, to closer. They are just failed starting pitchers.

        Yes, to other positions that are just failed shortstops.

        When was the last time ANY of us thought legitimately of Chase Utley as a failed shortstop? Or even Edgar Martinez as a failed position player?

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      • rluzinski says:

        “So, applying that logic consistently, why are there anything other than shortstops in the HoF.”

        The way I see it, that’s not consistent logic. Players with defensive shortcomings generally make up for it with superior offense.

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      • Steve says:

        Well, you could say the same for relievers.

        Relievers are held to a higher standard of run prevention than starters, much in the same way that players down the defensive spectrum are held to a higher offensive standard. Not a perfect analogy, I will grant you, but no one is going to line up to vote in a reliever with 1000 innings of 120 ERA+ even though that ERA+ might get a starter in over enough innings.

        Just playing devil’s advocate, I do get your general point.

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      • Hank says:

        I believe the HOF has many inductees from the position of pitcher?

        Closer is just an artificial name, not a position. The Hall does not induct the all time pinchhitter or LOOGY or setup man or pinchrunner.

        If the voters deem his pitching merits Hall worthy, then fine, but Hoffman is one of the best of all time as defined by what? (Save totals?)

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      • Danmay says:

        @ CircleChange11

        I don’t think you are being logically consistent here.

        If players were enshrined based soley on the value that they add defensively, then it would be relevant to say that a 2B is just a failed SS; but they aren’t.

        This isn’t to say that there aren’t qualities that a closer may possess which any failed starter may lack, but I do think you are being inconsistent yourself. [Feel free to point out if I'm not understanding you correctly, because generally (here and at insidethebook) I don't find a reason to counter you points.]

        In regards to DHs being a yes: I was making this point over at Athletics Nation earlier today; yes, a DH is a specialist kind of like a closer, however a DH is still capable of creating enough value with his bat to overcome his defensive absence (as measured by fWAR) while a reliever isn’t generally capable of creating enough value in high leverage situations to overcome his lack of innings pitched.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I just get tired of the “relievers are failed starters” bit being applied to top level closers.

        It quite possibly is true in the regard that if they could pitch 200 innings with good quality, the team would certainly use them in that capacity.

        But, it is also untrue in the regard that top closer with a long career is far different than the 10th best pitcher on the team that pitches in the 7th.

        Rather than view them as a “failed starter”, I view them as a person that does one dominant thing well. Either they throw serious gas, or have one dominant pitch, or whatever.

        I’m not saying treat every good closer as one would every good starter, that’s not comparable value. But, we’re discussing the 1-2 closers of all-time here.

        I don’t think we currently have a really accurate or effective method for evaluating closers. No other position is put in the direct position of “if you screw up this inning, we lose”, and that presents a problem with evaluating them the same way we do everyone else.

        Truthfully, I’m fine with no DH or no closer in the HoF … but that ship has already sailed.

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      • Danmay says:

        I think you make a good point about the elite, career closers. I suppose the “failed starter” line is more likely to apply to good or great relievers. Mariano Rivera’s cutter probably works better as a closer than it ever would as a starter [although I would love to see him start a game, just to see how he would do (of course he wouldn't be physically in the right shape for this, but I want to see it.]

        As an A’s fan, I immediately think of Andrew Bailey when talking about closers as failed starters. However, (1) Bailey is hardly your average closer considering that he uses quite a few pitches, and (2) he has yet to show that he can do it successfully for a career (certainly health is likely to get in the way there).

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  4. grandbranyan says:

    By the time Hoffman’s name is on the ballot Rivera will have broken his all time saves record and the other numbers just aren’t there. Hall of Very Good for sure and definitely seemed like a great teammate/class act.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      That’s likely a good point. But if being overshadowed by the the greatest at your position is enough to keep one out of the HoF, then let’s stop talking about Raines and Whitaker.

      I’m not arguing one or the other, just requesting a consistent approach (from the voting and advocating).

      We understand that relievers are volatile, and that they can be up and down … which, to me, means that a closer with a long career is likely due to sustained excellence. Guys that can throw very hard for short-term that can close, seem to always be available. They dominate for a few years, then disappear.

      If one were to say that no closer should be the in HoF, I think I could agree with that. But, the precedent has already been set. I think if Fingers and Sutter are both in, than Hoffman and Rivera could also justifiably both be in.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        I’m asking half because of your name on FG, but what would you say about Frank Viola?

        He won the CYA, had a great peak from 1987 to 1991, but had only a 40 WAR (baseball ref.).and even thought he imploded on the Mets, he did put in several good years after that.

        Plus, he was (was he?) the first MLB pitcher to throw the circle change.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        Oops, I meant to add this to your reply to the main thread two down.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Oh hell no.

        Hoffman throwing the change-up has no bearing to whether I think he is the HoF or not.

        The person was just asking if there was anything special about Hoffman, like there was the splitter for Sutter.

        Hoffman is generally given a lot of respect for having to “out-think hitters” and get them on change of speeds and locations, rather than just blowing 98mph by them.

        To me, all that matters is that you shut the team down. Exactly how is beside the point. 601 saves is 601 saves, whether you threw underhand, curveballs, splitters, 105mph, etc.

        I am definitely not saying put Hoffman in the HoF because throwing a CC is more impressive than not. i was just stating that he, as a closer, is different in one way.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        @CC

        Interesting, but I was asking about Viola.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Hell no to Viola. Not even close.

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  5. Zach Kolodin says:

    It may be worthwhile to evaluate relievers from the standpoint of WPA in addition to WAR, since that’s really what’s its all about from their own (and managers’) standpoint.

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  6. CircleChange11 says:

    can’t think of anything Hoffman did that shaped baseball’s history in a meaningful way outside of the sheer volume of his save total.

    Can we name any other closer whose best pitch was a change-up. Not a vulcan change, but something he developed so that it looks and rotates like a fastball. It’s actually kind of interesting.

    But no, it’s not Roger Craig and the slider, or Bruce Sutter and the splitter.

    Counting stats matter in HoF. Smith has 478. Hoffman has 601. That’s a significant difference.

    Plus, everyone likes Hoffman. Fans like him, writers like him, players like him, etc. So, he does get a bump in that regard. He is known as one of the really good guys in the sport and his work through charity is documented (Branch Rickey award).

    But, all that is secondary to 6-0-1.

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  7. Jeffrey Gross says:

    Five years from now, Mo will be the all time saves leader, so 601 will be irrelevant in that regard. The Hoff will just be Lee Smith 2: Return of the second-best saves total

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  8. Vegemitch says:

    Maybe I’m a little bit ignorant of how WAR is calculated for relief pitchers, but I don’t understand how Hoffman only ends up with 22.9 WAR by Fangraphs analysis.
    If we were to distribute his 1,089 IP to only 5 seasons, like a starter, and kept his rate stats equal, that would be about 40-45 WAR over those 5 hypothetical seasons, right? Why does spreading those innings out lower his WAR so drastically? Consider also that his actual IP were supposed to be higher leverage than an average inning pitched.
    What gives? I require some enlightenment…

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    • AustinRHL says:

      This may not be the full story, but one major factor is that it’s invalid to assign the same rate statistics to a starting role. It’s much easier to perform well in relief because you don’t have to face hitters several times or think much about conserving your energy. If I recall correctly, the average change in ERA or FIP between the bullpen and the rotation is about 25% for any given pitcher who switches roles, and that’s a huge difference. Try that with Hoffman’s career numbers and see what they look like then.

      Hoffman is going to get a lot of support, but I have a very hard time seeing him reach 75%, at least initially. Quite a few voters are likely to realize that his non-save numbers aren’t that special for a reliever, and at any rate, there will be a big backlog of suspected steroid users clogging up the ballot come 2016, getting too much of the vote to fall off the ballot but to little to be elected.

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      • Vegemitch says:

        Oh I understand it is certainly “easier” to be a relief pitcher than starter, and relief pitchers are generally fungible and volatile, factors that are taken into consideration for a prospective analysis. But in this retrospective analysis, we know that Hoffman was consistently excellent.

        I can’t dig up the concrete facts right now but I don’t believe that relief IP show a drastic statistical elevation over starter’s IP thus rendering Hoffman’s excellent performance closer to replacement value.

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    • aweb says:

      I’m not an expert, but the “replacement” level for a reliever is higher than a starter. Relievers tend to have lower ERAs and higher K rates (not sure on BB and HR rates). A replacement level for a starter might be around a FIP of 5.5 (just guessing), but a reliever might be around 4.5.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      here is the relevant FG post

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/pitcher-win-values-explained-part-four

      Which reads, “Running the numbers through the formula gives us a 4.68 FIP (traditional, not scaled to RA) for an AL reliever and 5.63 for an AL starters.”

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    • Steve says:

      Because the R stands for “Replacement Level” and replacement level is different for starters and relievers.

      It’s a good question though, and I like the thought behind it.

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  9. Mike says:

    Hoffman’s counting numbers are impressive (far more so than Lee Smith), and he will get a few extra votes because he’s a quality, very likable guy (although that doesn’t seem to have helped Alan Trammell). The biggest thing Hoffman will have to contend with is his body of work in the post-season — specifically, it’s pretty limited, and what’s there isn’t real good. If Rivera had a mere 200 saves in the regular season instead of fast-approaching-600, his post-season work alone would make him a stronger candidate than Hoffman for the HOF

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    • Scotty Brosius says:

      Hells Bells this!!!

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    • Hank says:

      To further the point: 11ER in 139 postseason innings

      While I realize it’s different and easier doing it 1-3 innings at a time, to put this in perspective Cliff Lee gave up 9ER in just under 12innings in the WS last year (against the SF offense).

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    • Marver says:

      Need I remind you that Mariano emphatically blew game seven of a World Series? For all his postseason success, the magnitude of that World Series failure is so large — nearly -0.85 World Series — that you can’t possibly consider his postseason career a success.

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  10. JayT says:

    Hoffman and Lee Smith are pretty darn close to each other statistically, and Lee Smith was the saves leader when he quit, but he still hasn’t made it in, so I think Hoffman will have an uphill road to Cooperstown.

    On the other hand, Smith was (IMO) way better then Sutter or Fingers, and they are both in, so who knows what the BWAA is going to do.

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    • Ryan says:

      Hoffman versus Lee is an interesting discussion, but I think Hoffman has a lot of things going for him in that regard.

      Hoffman did the vast majority of his work with 1 team and played for 3 teams. Lee played for 8 teams.

      Like Blyleven of Sheffield, getting bounced around the league often doesn’t “look” like a hall of fame career.

      Hoffman has 123 more saves, counting stats matter and apply that difference in home runs and you’re looking at the difference between say Jason Giambi (415) and Mickey Mantle (536)

      Hoffman has a better ERA (2.87 to 3.03…and don’t doubt that if Lee had a 2.99 ERA it wouldn’t seem like a big deal) a better ERA+(141 to 132), a better WHIP (1.05 to 1.25) and more strikouts/9 (9.4 to 8.7)

      They both had a losing win loss record, and not a long playoff record, both had 7 all star games, votes in 4 seasons for Cy Young and frankly Smith is a lot better numerically than i would have guessed but hall voting for relief pitchers is very much still an aesthetic thing and Hoffman’s numbers “look” just a little better than Smith’s.

      I don’t think he’s first ballot, but 2nd or 3rd.

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  11. Steve says:

    Was Trevor Hoffman the greatest, or among the greatest, at his position (closer) in baseball, of all time? Yes. He belongs. End. Of. Story.

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    • William says:

      Billy Wagner, anyone?

      He had a much lower ERA, more Ks, and higher WAR. That creates problems for Hoffman, imho.

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      • Steve says:

        Good point.

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      • lexomatic says:

        Maybe Wagner causes problems, maybe he doesn`t get to 450 saves and he falls off the ballot right away. He`s going to have to pitch a few more years to even appear comparable to Hoffman to most people.

        I like what the Slasher14 says. The era has changed, if you don`t recognize the role of the closer, you`re not voting on how the game is acutally played, but imposing your biases on how it *should* be played. That`s a horrible way to vote, it`s the exact things that tons of people decry on the internet whenever the HOF vote happens. Ultimately I only see 2 better than Hoffmann, Mo & Wagner. Hoffmann has been consistently excellent over a length of time that most closers don`t match (roughly 3x as long, I`d guess.) This makes him among the greatest of all time at his position. Tat deserves a vote

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    • Joe says:

      Hoffman’s position is pitcher, not closer. Closer is a descriptor not a position.

      I don’t want the alltime pinch hitter, pinch runner, LOOGY or setup man in the HOF.

      And it’s not clear if he really is one of the greatest relievers of alltime unless you lean very heavily on the save stat. (he’s not far down the list, but if you look beyond the save stat, is he top 5?)

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      • Dann M. says:

        Then isn’t it easy to ignore the specific positions beyond “catcher,” “infielder,” and “outfielder”? A shortstop who converts to second base has changed his position. Likewise, a career starter like Eckstein or Tejada who finds himself out of a job diversifies to other positions and becomes a utility man, no longer a pure shortstop. A position is a general location on the field of play. But beyond that primary definition, when we apply the terms to actual people, we must recognize that the descriptor is context dependent.

        When a player is playing “out of position” we recognize that he is filling a role he generally doesn’t perform. Similarly, when a team’s long reliever is forced into a spot start because of injury (or a setup guy has to pitch a close 9th because the closer has thrown 3 days in a row), the pitcher in question is filling an unfamiliar role.

        The eight defensive positions each require a unique set of skills. Players like Tony Phillips and Jose Oquendo were competent at many, while players like Scott Podsednik and Adam Dunn are barely competent at one. We recognize these roles easily because they are spatial, occurring within the plane of the baseball field.

        Viewing pitching roles as positions is more difficult to grasp because there is little spatial differentiation (bullpen versus dugout aside). Rather, the differentiation is temporal. It is not a question of where the man plays, but when.

        Obviously we place the greatest value on those who occupy the greatest amount of temporal space, i.e. starting pitchers. They have more opportunities to effect the game, and thus can accrue greater overall value.

        But we need only look at the 2010 Cubs to see the value of relief pitching. Their starting pitching (Dempster, Wells, Zambrano, Gorzelanny, Silva, Lilly, Coleman) was worth 15.3 WAR in a little under 950 IP. The stable of middle relievers combined for an impressive -2.3 cumulative WAR in about 315 IP. And their back-end duo of Marmol and Marshall provided a combined 5.3 WAR in 150 innings of work. 5.3 wins and 50 runs from 2 pitchers combining for a 5th starter’s expected workload. Neither man would likely reach his relief success in a starting rotation over the long haul. They are better at relieving than at starting. They were, generally, dominant within the context of their assigned role.

        If Sean Marshall were to move back to the rotation next year, he would modify his game. He’d likely keep the same repertoire, but he would lose velocity on his already-middling fastball. He’d lose the ability to pitch “backward” once teams have seen him once through the order. How is the transition from short relief to starting not a positional change? It’s not the same as a 4th outfielder stealing a starting job because the main players in a bullpen aren’t “reserves,” but rather players whose position is one of time and not space.

        Therefore, we can’t evaluate Trevor Hoffman in comparison to a contemporary career starter, such as Greg Maddux. We have to compare him historically to other true relievers, people who excelled in the same temporal space as Hoffman (Sutter, Gossage, etc.). Consider, then, Eckersley’s case: was most of his value accrued as a starter? His peak closer value of 3.2 WAR in 73 innings in 1990 compares quite impressively to his starter peak value of 4.4 WAR in 169 innings in 1985. Wouldn’t you rather have a pitcher provide 1.7 to 3.2 wins in under 80 innings than 1.7 to 4.4 wins in 150 to 225 innings? His value was as a closer: that’s what got him into the Hall, not being the ace of a middle-of-the-pack Red Sox staff. That helped (just like, conversely, Smoltz’s 3 years as closer will pad his stats enough for sure entry), but it was secondary.

        If people don’t agree with my argument for “position,” then fine. But the idea of role is certainly important, equally important to a player’s spot in the batting order. Players who didn’t hit 3-4-5 for most of their careers are held to a lower offensive standard because of their position or virtually ignored because they “underperformed” for their position. Well, shouldn’t we treat pitchers at least with this modicum of respect, separating out the truly fungible LOOGYs, ROOGYs, and mop-up men from the outstanding and select few who truly can alter the game in such short bursts, just as the Grace/Olerud class of first basement need not apply for entry to Cooperstown?

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  12. Ben Hall says:

    Zach said this: It may be worthwhile to evaluate relievers from the standpoint of WPA in addition to WAR, since that’s really what’s its all about from their own (and managers’) standpoint.

    This is exactly what I was thinking. WPA has its issues, since it gives all credit (or blame) to pitchers and hitters, and leaves fielders out of the equation, but the high-leverage situations that relievers are accounted for in a way that WAR doesn’t in my opinion. So here is the pitching WPA leaderboard from 1993-2010 (Hoffman’s career): http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=n&type=3&season=2010&month=0&season1=1993

    Which puts him amidst Mussina, Smoltz, Kevin Brown, and Glavine.

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  13. Bas says:

    Jack, I think when it comes to closers it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to look at context-neutral stats like WAR. Most of the the closers’ value stems exactly from the fact that the context is not neutral. Closers appear mostly in high leverage situations and therefore measures like WAR tend to underrate them vis-a-vis starting pitchers and position players. A better way to evaluate closers would be to look at WPA. Here Hoffmann ranks ahead of every one of the relief pitchers you mentioned. Additionally, he ranks ahead of Hall of Famers such as Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Bert Blyleven and Steve Carlton.

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  14. Marver says:

    WAR seems like a peculiar statistic to use for relievers. WPA would be much more prudent since the innings these guys pitch are anything but ordinary innings, as WAR treats everything. And, seeing as he has the best — or did when he left the Padres — save percentage in history, I’d be willing to bet his WPA outperforms his WAR.

    Think of it mathematically. Hoffman saves 600 at about 90% success rate. In order for a replacement level player to have been worth worth 22 less wins over that time-span, you’re talking about a replacement save percentage of 83% (making an incredibly crude assumption that the odds of winning post-blown is 50%). Clearly, that save percentage is not correct for replacement level.

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    • Blue says:

      I like it, very much. A good and concise description of how WAR is misleading–how many games would have a replacement level pitcher saved.

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    • Jason B says:

      I’m not sure that that save percentage of 83% *isn’t* about correct for replacement level. Considering a lot of 2 and 3-run leads which Jose Lima (god rest him) could probably protect.

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      • TFINY says:

        I am, in fact, pretty sure that an average relief pitcher does save about 80%-85% of games. That is one of the reasons that closers are overrated; nearly anyone can plug in and succeed to an acceptable level (Rauch and Capps with the Twins).

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      • Marver says:

        There’s a significant difference between ‘average reliever’ and ‘replacement level’; and here we’re comparing WPA and WAR.

        A ~5.30 FIP pitcher would not convert 83% of his saves, not even close.

        If the drop from Hoffman’s convertion percentage to an average relief pitchers’ is worth 22 wins — in this crude analysis — then certainly he’s worth far more than 22 wins over a replacement level pitcher. That was the point I was illustrating: WAR doesn’t make sense for high leverage pitchers.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I am, in fact, pretty sure that an average relief pitcher does save about 80%-85% of games.

        I am glad you brought this up.

        Let’s assume your stat is true.

        * Average relief pitcher 80-85% SV%
        * Elite closer saves 95% Sv% (guesstimating based on 2010).
        * Closers on good teams get about 50 SvOpp per year
        * Diff of 10% in SvOpp over 50 games.
        * Average reliever, 5 more blown saves in 50 games.

        I’m not sure what the % is in regards to blown saves turning into losses, but leads in the 9th inning are most often certain wins, and leads lost in the 9th are lamost always certain losses. We know this. You’re much better off losing the lead in the 7th than you are in the 9th (which is why I don’t put a ton of faith in the “user your closer in the 7th inning” argument … then you’re using a lesser reliever in the 9th is just as important of a situation).

        So, basically elite level closers are worth what? 2-5 REAL wins per season? Meaning, these aren’t theoretical wins where a player contributions are converted to runs and then to wins and compared to the replacement level or league average.

        These are games, where if the closer does not protect the lead, the team loses. The difference between top closers and the average reliever is probably around 2-5 of these games (more games, more importance).

        How much would teams value these wins just on the wins alone?

        Facor in : playoff contention, saving the bullpen IP, team morale.

        Also, What % of the top player’s performance can the average player at any position provide over a span of 60 games (as compared to very good)? It may very well be 80%. The closer position v. average reliever may not be any different than the “very good player v. league average” once it’s scaled down to 60 games or appropriate playing time. 80%.

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  15. PL says:

    There are only 2 relief pitchers who belong in the Hall Of Fame.

    #1: Dennis Eckersley, and he gets in because he had a bunch of great years as a SP in addition to his 88-92 peak as a closer

    #2: Mariano Rivera. Who has ELEVEN seasons of 200+ ERA+ and 2 of 300+.

    To compare, Hoffman had three years of 200+. Thats it. Hoffman doesnt belong…..but neither does Sutter, Gossage and Fingers dont belong either, but there they are. In closing I think “Hoffman: first ballot” is ludicrous and wont happen, but he will get in after a few years.

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    • Marver says:

      Mariano also blew a World Series pretty emphatically. For all his added value over the years, he essentially wiped out a great chunk with one appearance.

      -9 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • PL says:

        In 15 ALDS, 9 ALCS and 7 WS, his ERA is under 1 for each of those.

        I don’t believe in small 1 game samples. Mariano deserves the HOF more than any closer ever.

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      • Marver says:

        It’s more like (5*0.1) < (1*0.9).

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      • Marver says:

        I absolutely agree that Mariano is deserving and extremely better than what he showed in game seven of the World Series. But what he did — two throwing errors, two hits, an HBP — that cost his team almost a full World Series is often forgotten when comparing him to other closers.

        Fairly or unfairly, a great chunk of the overall value Mariano added was wiped out in one appearance and I’m not sure how that doesn’t count against him.

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      • Steve says:

        Wow, well that’s insane and basically runs counter to every single idea that has evolved in SABR thinking over the last decade.

        Mariano is not responsible for the entire WS b/c he gave up the final runs. He shares the responsibility with all of his teammates who did not win earlier games or did not build up a greater than one run lead going into the 9th inning.

        If he’s up 5-1, and does the same thing, his team wins. So we can only assign the portion of the loss to him that he was responsible for.

        This is SABR 101.

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      • Kirk Gibson says:

        Dennis Eckersley is NOT a Hall of Famer!!

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      • Marver says:

        Yes, but to dismiss WPA on a website that a good portion of us here found because it gave live probability graphs is pretty silly.

        And the fact of the matter is that, in game seven, WPA might as well be called World Series PA. You can argue that it isn’t representative of the player, which is fine. I’m arguing that he cost the Yankees an incredibly significant portion of a World Series with that one outing — and he did. To not count that against him would be incredibly selective on your part.

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      • Bas says:

        Any way you slice it it was still just one game. Do you really think that one game was so important that it negates a carrer of greatness (I don’t). Just like Joe Carter’s series winning home run didn’t negate a carrer of mediocrity and drove him to the Hall of Fame, Mariano’s game seven implosion does not negate a carrer as the best closer of all time. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame

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      • Marver says:

        No, I still think Rivera is HOF worthy. Pretty clearly. But I do not think the gap between Rivera and Hoffman is significant, or even exists at all, and a large reason for that is that Rivera absolutely cost his team nearly a full World Series.

        They got to a situation where their odds of winning the World Series was 80%, and they left with 0% of a World Series victory. How you don’t atrribute 4/5th’s of a World Series loss to Mariano, in at least some capacity, is beyond me.

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      • Jason B says:

        “How you don’t atrribute 4/5th’s of a World Series loss to Mariano, in at least some capacity, is beyond me.”

        Really?!?!?!?!1?11?!?!!

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      • Bas says:

        Obviously, I disagree with you. If you look at WPA Mariano is 18 wins better than Hoffman in the regular season (51-33). That is quite significant. In addition to this has produced more in the postseason (4.9-0.1) (stats only seem to go as far back as 2002). I don’t know what the marginal value of winning the world series (as opposed to “only” winning the pennant) is but I think it is less than 18 regular season wins and 5.5 playoff wins. I don’t think you can give the advantage to Hoffmann purely based on the fact that he has never been in a position to record the final out to win (or lose) a world series, whereas Mariano has been in that position five times and he has been succesfull four of those times. If you want to duck him for the -.8 WPA he lost in ’01 at least you should also give him credit for the .8 WPA he had in similar situations in ’99, ’00, ’03 and ’09.

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      • Marver says:

        That’s bad math: he’s never closed a game seven. Closing game four only carries with it a small percentage of World Series PA, since
        - the odds of winning the game are already about 80%, you only add .2 WPA by increasing it to 1.
        - If he blows that game, they still have three games to win again, so the World Series PA is significantly less than .2 for closing that game.

        Game seven is an incredibly unique, ridiculously high leverage situation and, regardless of the rest of his postseason resume and regardless of the fact this is just one outing out of many, it’s worth outweighs the cumulative worth of the rest of his postseason work, and then some.

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      • Bas says:

        Okay, that’s a fair point however if you only want to look at game 7 saves that’s okay but there have only been three of them in the past quarter century. So if you want to argue that Troy Percival, Jeff Reardon, or Jesse Orosco is a better pitcher that Mariano that’s okay but I don’t agree with you. I think you weigh a world series win way more heavily than I do. Even winning the pennant is a pretty darned good season. So I take exception to your assumption that the season is somehow a complete failure if you win the pennant but fail to win the world series. If indeed winning the world series is the only thing that matters then an elimination game of anothe series would be the closest we could come to the leverage of a game seven. Here the 2007 NL play-in game comes to mind where Hoffman blew a two-run lead in the 13th spectacular fashion. While this didn’t was the same leverage as a game seven it was the closest Hoffman ever came.

        It’s true that Mariano blew the highest leverage save of his career. But if this is going to lead to more that a trivia tidbit, the relevant question to ask is what does that mean to how we view his career. In situations of the same leverage over the last 25 years the success rate is 0%. That’s rigth. The only other one-run lead going into the 9th of a game seven was José Mesa for the Indians against the Marlins in 1997. So maybe the ods of holding a one-run lead in the ninth inning of game seven of the world series not as great as one would think.

        Even though he blew the highest leverage save of his career he still came through on the four next highest leverage situations in his career. This in addition to the fact that no other HOF closer has been in a similar situation means that there is very little basis for comparison. When we take into consideration his body of work there is no doubt in my mind that he is the greatest closer ever.

        Furthermore, I think we shold be very carefull with reading too much into a single appearence especially in a big moment like the world series. While it is great to remember the great moments it rarely tells us something valuable about the rest of their careers. E.g. Jack Morris’ game seven in 1991, Joe Carter’s home run in 1993, and Mariano Rivera’s blown save in 2001.

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      • William says:

        I don’t use the word lightly, but saying that Hoffman is on par with Mo because of Mo’s postseason blowup in one game is absolutely RETARDED.

        Postseason????? When you count that, Hoffman goes from distant in the mirror to invisible. He pitched the equivalent of two FULL closer seaons in, as you point out, the highest leverage situations you can get, and you think that the fact that in one of those, however “highest leverage”, innings of 139 counts more than the rest, and so wipes out the fact that not only has he done WAY more in the postseason than any reliever ever on this planet, but that his already “best of breed” regular season numbers actually PALE in comparision when the leverage really jumps up … to whit, post-season: better than career avg. K/BB and ERA, significantly more IP per appearance, and makes an absolute mockery of “luck” in his control of those metrics … ALL WHILE FACING THE BEST COMPETITION OF EACH OF THOSE SEASONS.

        You, sir, are an idiot.

        +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • William says:

        Hoffman’s postseason, by the way (all whopping 13 innings of which): WORSE than career avg. K/BB and WORSE than career average ERA.

        Ridiculous.

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      • Marver says:

        You’re entirely missing the point: for all of Mariano’s postseason domination — when weighting each inning equally — the World Series victories he added, in his postseason performance, is not positive. Yes, it would be overwhelmingly positive had he not pitched that game or had he closed that game, but that isn’t the case. He pitched that game and he blew it. So while the overall numbers are more indicative of his talent, the value of his performances — when properly weighted — is not remotely close to the value you’d expect by looking at the overall numbers.

        That you fail to properly weight his value, with respect to how many World Series — the point of playing !!! — he has added, is a critical error in your evaluation of his career.

        -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • phoenix2042 says:

        it’s one appearance. you can argue that it cost them the WS, but so did not having a 2 run lead. you can’t blame that on mo. nor can you blame losing 3 games before that on mo. how about closing elimination games at other rounds on the postseason? then the team would not even get a shot at the WS, nevermind a game 7. one game, no matter how big, cannot outweigh 139 innings of some of the best pitching ever seen. ERA’s under 1 at every level of the postseason (ALDS, ALCS, WS), even after factoring in the blowup, means he won them quite a few games they would not have won to get their 5 rings. mo was one of the reasons that they lost that year, but he was also one of the reasons they got that far and one of the reasons why they won it 5 times with him and one of the reasons why they have made the postseason in all but one of the seasons he has played. i think adding 51 regular season WAR and 5.5 postseason WAR outweighs -.8 WPA. and whether or not you like it, the voters like counting stats like saves, so being the all time saves leader (assuming he doesn’t collapse in the next 2 years) can only help him. also 11 seasons with an ERA+ over 200 and 2 seasons with an ERA+ over 300 doesn’t hurt either!

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve says:

        But I do not think the gap between Rivera and Hoffman is significant, or even exists at all, and a large reason for that is that Rivera absolutely cost his team nearly a full World Series.

        This is probably the dumbest thing anyone has ever written on this site.

        You don’t remember Trevor Hoffman getting torched by Scott Brosius to blow a World Series game?

        Oh, but b/c his team couldn’t win any of the other games anyway, Hoffman is not on par with Rivera even though one gave up a broken bat single to a juiced-up Luis Gonzalez and the other gave up a monster HR to Brosius.

        Makes sense.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Marver says:

        Obviously, blowing the game in game three of a series in which you’re already down two games to none has significantly less negative implications than blowing game seven. That’s just basic probability theory, something which is noticably absent from any retort to my argument thus far.

        Mariano cost his team ~4/5ths of a World Series. I don’t see how that is arguable. He entered the game with an 80% chance of winning the World Series and left with 0% chance of winning the World Series. Had he closed it out, he would have profited by 0.2 WS PA; instead he lost 0.8 WS PA. And his previous playoff performance — and perfomance since then — was not equivalent to +0.8 WS PA. Therefore, that negative WS PA must leak into his regular season statistics.

        Since it is very difficult to make a comparison on how much 1 WAR or 1 WPA contributes to 1 World Series Championship, it is very difficult to say how much the negative postseason value Rivera accumulated diminishes his overall statistics; but I am certain it does.

        Sure, it’s unfortunate that Mariano’s true talent — evident in the non-weighted sum of his performance — has to be clouded by the single-largest negative World Series PA in history, but it must be; it’s part of his career.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. THE_SLASHER14 says:

    The argument that closers don’t belong in the HOF needs to take into account the fact that in the era in which baseball came under close statistical scrutiny for the first time, the role of closer was developed by the men who assemble and manage teams, and THAT HAS NOT CHANGED. This is not something held over from the days of Connie Mack, that Bill James showed was clearly nonsense. The people who have the responsibility think closer is a critical role on their teams, and it’s hard to argue that they haven’t given it enough thought — at least, it is by now.

    My reading of the numbers is that Hoffman falls in line behind Rivera as the best ever. The rate stats are ambivalent but the counting stats, which speak to the longevity of his effectiveness, are not. And that matters in a role which has been notorious for careers that were brilliant but not for long.

    Hoffman would get my vote.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Blue says:

      My hypothesis is that closers provide great value to playoff teams. If you look at their generation of WAR per inning it is much greater than position players or starters. In addition, the unique feature of a closer is that you can deploy this higher rate of WAR generation to games in which you are likely to win; Hoffman didn’t have any two homer games when his team was blown out 2 to 10 like happens to a hitter.

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    • William says:

      I’m not sure what you mean: I COUNT more innings for Mo, in addition to the fact that each one was much more effective. I COUNT many more saves to far fewer blown saves (in those years each were kept record of) for Mo versus Hoffman.

      By my “count”, appearing more often and doing better in each appearance decimates any comparison.

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  17. Jimbo says:

    My view on the HoF is simple…who (from my lifetime) was dominant enough that I’d want to tell my kids/grandkids about them.

    Hoffman’s effectiveness, his prolonged dominance (yes, I give credit for ‘cumulative stats’ when they are top of class over time…versus average over time), his importance to the team and city (he was the face of the franchise for many years), all add up to a player in MLB history I think should be remembered.

    I’ll admit to some bias though, having experienced his entrance to Hell’s Bells. Man that stadium went nuts!

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    • Jimbo says:

      Didn’t realize he was in such good company for career K/9.

      Career leaders:
      Randy Johnson
      Kerry Wood
      Pedro Martinez
      Nolan Ryan
      Trevor Hoffman
      Sandy Koufax

      (it ends there, as Oliver Perez is next…)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Nick says:

    For those who think WPA is important for a reliever, here are stats for WPA/G for Hoffman, Mo and a few others for context.

    Mo: 0.053
    Joe Nathan: 0.048
    Gossage: 0.035
    Wagner: 0.034
    Hoffman: 0.032
    Troy Percival: 0.031
    Sutter: 0.030
    Fingers: 0.016

    So, Mo’s impact as measured by WPA was on average about 40% greater than Hoffman. Hoffman’s ranked 16th in relievers since 1974 in WPA per game.

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  19. Aki_Izayoi says:

    Well, it is a misallocation of relief-pitching talent to place the best reliever on a team to be the set-up man, loogy, or middle reliever.
    (My use of the term “relief-pitching talent” indicates that the abilities of a relief-pitcher are somewhat independent of their ability to be starter – so one can be an excellent relief pitcher but a horrible starter; thus it is incorrect to say that relievers are merely failed starters that lacked pitching ability.) The closer is the usually the best relief pitching, and accumulating so many saves over one’s career is indicative of the closer’s talent, since unlike university professors, closers do not have tenure and have to earn the opportunity to collect saves by at least being relatively better than other relief pitchers in the MLB and minor league system. Many relief pitchers are competing for the role of the closer, and a closer making too many mistakes would be relegated to a set-up man or a middle reliever, as the closer position is volatile.

    601 saves indicates talent although i don’t know the absolute value of that talent in terms of WAR. Are baseball Reference’s WAR figures leverage adjusted? Nevertheless, it is clear the Hoffman is relatively superior in providing wins to many relief pitchers over their entire careers.

    But saves are obviously an imperfect metric (when taken in isolation) of a closer’s talent; a talented relief pitcher, such as Daniel Bard, playing on a team with good relief pitching may just be a set-up man if a good closer, based on their past or present performance, already occupies the role such as Jonathan Pappelbon (as he had a good past).

    I hope his quirkiness helps him:
    good peripheral stats, especially his K/9, despite lacking superlative velocity.

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  20. Double D says:

    Hoffman started his career in an era where 1-inning saves became the norm. Lee Smith pitched half his career in this era. He had one of the best changeups in the game, ask anyone who hit off him. He was top 7 in the NL in saves 15 of 16 straight years, only missing it the 16th time because of injury. For the past 20 years, the three best closers have been Hoffman, Wagner, and Rivera. They all deserve to go in.

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  21. Double D says:

    Also, better to use WPA, not WAR as a metric for relievers, especially closers. His was excellent.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. Mike H says:

    Something to think about. What will 601 mean, five years from now, if Mariano Rivera has eclipsed it?

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Doesn’t it depend?

      If I am remembering my numbers correctly, Hoff is #1 w/ 601, and Smith is #2 with 473?

      So, he’s #1 ~130 saves. That’s quite a big difference.

      So, doesn’t it depend on whether Rivera ends with with 625 or 725? In terms of how we view 601?

      ——————————–

      As a side note, I am noticing that some of the season/career numbers with saves sorta correspond with what we think are “good HR” numbers of even “HoF Milestones”.

      I wonder if we ever get to the point with relievers where “500 saves” becomes the “in” number for closers and HoF?

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  23. Griggs says:

    Regarding the new batch of closers, after Saves I think the percentage of Saves is the next most important stat. Blown Saves was not an official stat until the late 90s(perhaps there is an unofficial source for this information). Here is a fairly complete(>150 saves during the blown save era and a few recent and active players are not listed because they have a long way to go) list:

    Gagne – 91.7% (187)
    Rivera – 90.6% (475)
    Hoffman – 89.6% (413)
    Nathan – 89.5% (247)
    Wagner – 87.0% (360)
    Wickman – 86.5% (230)
    Percival – 85.9% (250)
    Rodriguez – 85.6% (268)
    Foulke – 85.4% (187)
    Nen – 85.1% (166)
    Benetiz – 83.4% (252)
    Cordero – 81.9% (290) <—-Francisco not Chad

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    • Griggs says:

      1st year Relief Pitching 10 year peak period analysis:
      SAVE ERA G IP IP/G HWG KG K/BB
      61 Hoyt Wilhelm 158 2.10 569 1038 1.8 9.1 7.2 2.7
      68 Sparky Lyle 196 2.45 594 922 1.6 11.0 6.4 2.0
      72 Rollie Fingers 241 2.64 660 1123 1.7 10.3 7.4 2.9
      75 Kent Tekulve 158 2.61 711 1005 1.4 11.1 4.9 1.5
      76 Bruce Sutter 283 2.71 607 978 1.6 10.1 7.4 2.8
      77 Goose Gossage 248 2.27 537 898 1.7 9.7 8.6 2.8
      80 Dan Quisenberry 239 2.67 637 997 1.6 10.5 3.3 2.4
      80 Dave Smith 176 2.54 514 702 1.4 10.8 6.1 2.0
      81 Jesse Orosco 121 2.67 533 756 1.4 10.9 7.9 2.1
      83 Lee Smith 337 2.83 657 861 1.3 11.0 9.2 2.8
      86 Tom Henke 295 2.57 573 690 1.2 9.5 10.0 3.6
      87 Dennis Eckersley 350 2.78 588 700 1.2 8.7 9.1 7.2
      87 John Franco 278 2.56 517 597 1.2 11.7 6.8 2.1
      88 Randy Myers 313 2.98 601 740 1.2 11.6 9.0 2.2
      88 Jeff Montgomery 256 2.81 581 742 1.3 10.6 7.8 2.6
      91 John Wetteland 329 2.66 565 619 1.1 10.1 9.8 3.3
      93 Robb Nen 314 2.98 643 715 1.1 10.9 10.0 3.1
      95 Troy Percival 316 2.99 579 587 1.0 9.9 10.4 2.7
      96 Trevor Hoffman 380 2.51 586 623 1.1 9.0 10.3 4.3
      97 Armando Benitez 274 2.77 634 650 1.0 10.6 10.9 2.4
      98 Billy Wagner 326 2.36 620 653 1.1 8.9 11.6 4.2
      97 Mariano Rivera 408 2.01 640 707 1.1 9.0 7.7 3.7

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      • Griggs says:

        More explanation on how to read this, sorry for the columns not lining up. The number on the far left is the first year of the players peak 10 year period. So for Wilhelm it was 1961-1970. The first three digits to the right of their name is Saves during that 10 year period (Wilhelm 158). Then you have ERA with 2 decimal places, G, IP, etc.

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    • Griggs says:

      I cut and pasted a table I prepared a few years back and it may not be updated but essentialy it is a list of relievers in the last 50 years or so that had a 10 year peak period ERA under 3. It is most interesting in the way it shows the changes the different eras(time periods) have on these numbers. When I rank(top 12) these guys(case for the HOF – RP only):

      Rivera
      Wilhelm
      Gossage
      Hoffman
      Fingers
      Sutter
      Wagner
      L. Smith
      Eckersley <—- belongs in HOF when you add in starter work
      Quisenberry
      Franco
      Henke

      Hoffman gets my vote.

      Another note: The number in parenthesis on my first table is saves in the period when blown saves were counted.

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  24. I wonder if it disappears totally or partially. To me, partial may appear to be more logical. Or else a page with quite a few nofollow hyperlinks (let’s say a well-liked weblog publish) may lead to almost not placing the capacity to pass on any pagerank at all.

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