Should pitcher hitting count for Hall of Fame consideration?

The arbitrary cut-off I use for what is to be considered a great season is a minimum of 6 WAR.  Or 6 wins.  This is the cut-off for many.  Some others will count a say, 5.8, as a 6.  But I don’t.  I use a strict baseline.  It benefits some, hurts others.  But in reality does nothing, since I have no vote for any award that Major League Baseball currently has.

Since I wrote about Tom Glavine not quite being great enough to receive my hypothetical Hall of Fame vote,  I received a bunch of feedback.  Readers of the piece said I shouldn’t use FIP, that it is not as relevant over the course of a long career.  A point well-received.  A point that certainly has some validity behind it.

Many chose to use bWAR in Glavine’s defense instead since it takes into account runs allowed, rather than just the three true outcomes a pitcher encounters.

Here are Glavine’s numbers:

Glavine’s pitcher bWAR: 74.  two seasons of 6 or more WAR.

Glavine’s pitcher fWAR: 63.9. no seasons of 6+ WAR.

But according to Baseball Reference, Glavine added 7.5 wins at the plate.  Yes, his career .454 OPS actually added value.  Adjusted, that is an OPS+ of 22.

At Fangraphs, he added 5.7 wins with his bat, while having his career .214 wOBA.

But the question here  is, should we include Glavine’s offensive game?  We are comparing one player to another in cases like these and not every pitcher has the chance to hit in his career.  Or at least a consistent chance to hit and accumulate value by hitting.

It’s not like a general manager would try to sign a free agent pitcher that could hit and use lingo like, “You know, you have a pretty good stick for a pitcher.  If you sign with us in the NL, that will probably increase your total WAR when the statistic is invented in the future, and give you a better Hall of Fame case.”

Of course, the general manager probably would use the fact that he could hit as a “selling point.”  But obviously not the way I described the scenario above.

So if you add in Tom Glavine’s hitting, he all of a sudden has four seasons of 6+ bWAR and two seasons of 6+fWAR.

Neither are particularly dominating, or truly great, but they definitely help his case a little.

But let’s take a pitcher such as  Mike Mussina, who seems to be a good comp in people’s eyes to that of Glavine.

Mussina pitched in the American League his entire career.  He accrued -0.1 wins as a hitter.  He didn’t hit.  He pitched.

He totaled 82 fWAR with three seasons of 6+ wins.

And totaled 82 bWAR with four seasons of 6+ wins.

He has a better case for the Hall of Fame with or without Glavine’s bat.  But that is kind of aside from the point.

So I ask the question: should a pitcher, who hits terribly, but based on opportunity and even more terrible hitting by other pitchers, get credit for it in terms of value?  In particular, in terms of Hall of Fame voting?

It’s a legitimate argument.  But it seems to be unfair to American League pitching.  And when we compare Hall of Fame pitchers to one another, we compare them from both leagues.

Glavine still isn’t a sure-fire Hall of Famer, no matter which way you look at it.  He was never nearly as dominant as a Maddux or Randy Johnson.

But then again, he didn’t have to be.  He just had to be good enough to make a strong enough impression on the voters.

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Joe is a retired blogger who has come out of retirement, and is even better than before. Used to write under the name Statistician Magician, but someone else now has the domain, as they couldn't come up with anything more original. Or original at all for that matter. Red Sox fan. Favorite players all-time are: Pedroia, Mauer, Griffey. Nomar.

17 Responses to “Should pitcher hitting count for Hall of Fame consideration?”

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  1. Matty Brown says:

    Interesting quandary. On the one hand I believe a pitcher’s contribution, or detrimental influence, with the bat should effect his value, however on the other hand I fail to see how one should be credited with value while sporting an OPS+ of 22.

    For the intents and purposes of this specific question, I would say a pitcher’s hitting should NOT count for Hall of Fame consideration.

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  2. Andreas says:

    Yes, it should count, for the same reason pitcher defense should count, as should postseason results, etc. If it happened on the field, it should count. Now, I don’t think WAR is a great metric for determining HOF credentials, but that’s another discussion.

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  3. pft says:

    Losing sight of the forest for a small tree, ignore it.

    Babe Ruth performance as a pitcher could have been used if his hitting was borderline HOF, but I am not aware of any pitchers in the modern era with a significant contribution. Glavine was below replacement level for even the weakest offensive position (other than pitcher).

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  4. Joe Veno says:

    Yes but he still has 4+ win(bref) seasons if you add in his bat, rather than 2. A 6 or better WAR is considered by many to be MVP/Cy/HOF caliber.

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  5. NWein44 says:

    I think the idea is very interesting, but it seems pretty unfair in the DH era. It’s not that an AL pitcher doesn’t add value with the bat, it’s that he simply cannot, so I don’t know how useful it would be for HOF voting going forward.

    However, it did make me think about the value of a good hitting pitcher when building a roster. A top flight pitcher-hitter who is a little worse on the mound might be cheaper but produce the same overall value. Interesting thought, especially in light of Dave’s recent tweets about the Pirates offense. Their NP bats are 11th in wRC+ but they’re in the bottom third in runs scored, due in some part to their historically bad pitcher-hitting. It does matter at some level.

    Don’t know what it means, but you’ve given me some fun stuff about which to think!

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  6. Doug Lampert says:

    I don’t think counting pitcher hitting is unfair to AL pitchers. If the American league pitcher were significantly above average (for a pitcher) with a bat then it’s likely they’d have ended up with an NL team.

    Trades are a thing and teams tend to draft players they think will help in their league. I assume NL scouts apply some trivial bonus to their evaluation for good hitting pitchers and then players get traded to teams that can use their skills, pitcher hitting is a skill.

    Now, it may be unfair to below average hitting NL pitchers, as they are being compared to a pool of better hitting pitchers. So I could see dropping pitcher hitting for NL pitchers who are below average and whose case is hurt by adding hitting, but I think if it helps a pitchers case it should be included, it’s a useful baseball skill that helps his team win, why would you NOT count it?

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  7. Joe Veno says:

    Le’t s not ignore the almost all pitchers are going where the money is, not where they can hit…

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  8. Matt says:

    Interesting question, and really it points out to me the folly of using a hard minimum WAR to determine HOF worthiness.

    As posters above have mentioned, it happened on the field. It added value. Therefore, it should be considered.

    Let’s say you’ve got a great hitter who could probably play decent 1B but doesn’t get a chance because he’s behind a star 1Bman, and thus ends up being a great-hitting DH his whole career. Is he being unfairly penalized in the HOF vote because he *could* have played 1B and accrued more value?

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  9. Joe Veno says:

    Good point, Matt. And what about if a team has two great 22 year-old CF’s and one moves to left and the one that stays in center gets a few extra wins during their time there. Unlikely scenario, but it could happen.

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  10. Jon L. says:

    On the general point, I think you have to consider what a player actually did, including hitting for pitchers, when you evaluate their performance. I think this approach only becomes problematic when you depend on exact WAR values to determine HOF worthiness.

    On the specific point, Tom Glavine is getting into the Hall of Fame, so this is all academic.

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  11. It don’t matter if the pitcher don’t get the opportunity to hit much or not. Each performs within the context of what they are allowed. I would note too that their ERA suffers from being in the AL, but are there adjustments made to WAR relative to which league a pitcher pitches in?

    Turn that around, should we be using defensive WAR in the measurement then since there area number of DH’s who don’t have any chance to accumulate that? Of course we should, one reason a DH is playing that is because he’s so poor defensively that he would be tremendously negative, he’s lucky we don’t take away from his WAR for that probability.

    To your question, for sure you have to count their hitting. It may not be much, but the point is whether it adds value or not, not that you don’t want to value a 22 OPS+. A pitcher who can hit like a scrub (poor hitting position player) can add one win per season to their team (I used the lineup calculator for an average team and pitcher and used pythag).

    And it for sure would not even be a question if Babe Ruth never became a position player full time, if he stayed a starting pitcher (mostly, since he started a lot of games when not starting) for his whole career.

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  12. Matthew Cornwell says:

    Pitcher batting WAR compares the pitcher to an average pitcher. So if Glavine had a OPS+ 50 points higher than the average pitcher, of course he deserves positive WAR for that. If a pitcher gets on base and sluggs .075 better than what is expected from a pitcher, it is a positive thing. The fact that a position player would do better in that spot doesn’t matter. That is why pitchers can still get positive WAR for hitting. And that WAR forest gets over 10% bigger with those 7.5 trees. Regardless, until the number of post 1972 AL-heavy pitchers gets closer to the number of pitchers with significant ABs – I will not worry too much about being unfair. It would be far more unfair, at this point, to ignore the majority who spent significant time without the DH. Imagine giving Kershaw credit for his complete game SO opening day but not for the home run he hit. Or bigger picture, pretend Glaine didn’t help his team win 7.5 games over average pitcher just because the other league decided to have a DH 3/4 through baseball history. Is that fair ? Not to mention the older guys with significant contributions, like Ruffing and Lemon and Ferrell. That is more unfair, to me, than the chance of costing a Stieb or Gudry or Mussina or a couple more guys a WAR or two. Or help them a WAR or two if they luckily dodged the NL. While we deal with hypotheticals regarding Kevin Appier, we have quantifiable with Glavine.

    I can get behind leaving out batting if comparing John Smoltz to Andy Pettitte directly. But when comparing a baseball player to the HOF standards- everything should be considered. Postseason and pitcher offense included. BTW- BBRef includes pitcher offense in their master WAR list of all players. So does the Hall of Stats. So does Baseball Prospectus. So does Baseball Guage.

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  13. Matthew Cornwell says:

    Great point about the DH. Some of the DHs that are or have been in HOF conversations may have not been in the game too long prior to 1972.

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  14. pat rocket says:

    If it is on the field it counts. How can it be otherwise? And to add to the unfair issues noted above, NL pitchers might have fewer counting stats if regularly pulled early for a PH. No idea if this is true or not. Anyway, Im not concerned about the apparent unfairness of calculating stats for different positions but I sure wish MLB had one set of rules. At this point I dont even care which, just make it one game.

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  15. cass says:

    I’m not sure why you mysteriously leave out RA9-Wins in this article, which provides a better measure for a pitcher like Glavine over his whole career.

    There’s no debate here, though. American League pitchers aren’t suffering. They aren’t getting a penalty. They’re just in a different league. A National League pitcher who was below replacement at hitting might lose WAR. American Leaguers don’t need to worry about that. I do wish hitting WAR was just included in pitching WAR the way fielding is included in hitting WAR.

    But you measure players by their contributions. Glavine’s hits counted. Of course you include them. They helped his team win ballgames. He didn’t get the benefit of a DH hitting for him. He did it himself. How could you possibly not include his hitting when looking at his HoF case?

    Not that he needs them. He’s a sure-fire HoFer without them.

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  16. Adam W says:

    The “NL vs. AL” argument actually goes both ways, since you could also look at it and say that AL pitchers might be artificially inflating their career WARs by not having to hit. Batting WAR goes both ways, positive and negative, so AL pitchers don’t have the opportunity to create negative value with their terrible hitting. For all we know, alternate universe Mike Mussina could have finished his career with 5 less WAR had he been forced to bat 3 times per start.

    As far as the Hall voting goes, I think you have to account for the player’s overall contribution to winning and losing, so pitcher hitting should of course be weighted. If Roy Oswalt could hit like Amos Otis, it would be downright silly to pretend that didn’t matter.

    Of course, as even the most durable pitchers only accrue ~100 PA per year, you would need an extreme scenario such as the above example for this to be relevant to the discussion of HOF credentials.

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  17. John Thacker says:

    It’s absurd to me that anyone could think that it wouldn’t count. An NL pitcher with a positive WAR helps his team win.

    To say that “perhaps an AL pitcher could have batted that well if he had the opportunity” doesn’t matter. He didn’t. One might as well argue that a given player could have earned more WAR playing at his preferred defensive position, but that he didn’t because of who his team had there.

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