So the other day, I was thinking about the Hall of Fame voting results, and how Mike Mussina‘s still not getting the support we think he deserves while lesser candidates have earned a higher percentage of votes (or been elected.)
Of course, I feel this way every time Mussina’s not elected to the Hall of Fame, it’s just that my target changes. This year, though, it wasn’t a specific player whose vote totals bothered me. It was a group of players.
I don’t even like typing that phrase because I think it’s the phrasing that’s the problem. Hall of Fame voting has traditionally treated relief pitchers and starting pitchers as entirely different animals*, and frankly, I just don’t get it.
*Dennis Eckersley being the obvious exception.
This is going to sound controversial, but I’m going to say it anyway: Pitchers are one position. Every baseball player whose job consists of standing on a mound 60 feet, 6 inches away from a batter will eventually do the exact same thing: Throw a baseball to try and get that hitter out, That is their job, and it does not change from pitcher to pitcher.
Yet for some reason, the guys who enter the game in the 7th, 8th, or 9th innings have somehow, in the minds of voters, morphed into something totally different from guys like Mike Mussina. And this makes no sense to me.
Trevor Hoffman was not doing anything different than Mike Mussina when he stood on the mound. He was throwing a baseball, trying to get hitters out. Why should he be judged by a completely different standard for the Hall of Fame when he’s did the exact same things while playing?
Trevor Hoffman did the exact same thing as Mike Mussina, except he did it for about 1/3 as long, and under much easier circumstances. Now, you might balk at the second part of that sentence, but it’s true.
We now have data that shows that pitchers tend to fair worse each time they go through the order. For example. here are batters’ triple-slash lines against Mussina each time through the order:
While the numbers do go down for the 4th time, they’re still worse than the 1st time, and look at the increase from 1st to 3rd.
You know who doesn’t have to go through the order more than once? Guys who pitch almost exclusively in the 9th inning—like Trevor Hoffman. He faced hitters a second time just 48 times in his career.
That’s not all, friends. When you only pitch one inning at a time, you get other advantages. For example, in his career, Trevor Hoffman faced the number 1 through 4 hitters in a lineup 42.7% of the time. For Mussina, that number was 48.3%. Here’s another way to put it: Trevor Hoffman faced the leadoff hitter in a lineup 34 fewer times than he faced the #9 hitter. Mike Mussina faced the leadoff hitter 467 more times than he faced the #9 hitter. Where do good hitters tend to be in the lineup?
So to recap, pitchers like Hoffman (or Mariano Rivera, lest you think I’m picking on San Diego) have the exact same job, they just:
- Do it much less frequently
- Face easier circumstances when they do (on the whole)
And yet, somehow, despite throwing 2,500 fewer and easier innings, Hoffman is receiving 67.3% of the vote while Mussina’s at 40%. Rivera meanwhile, is going to sail in on the first ballot*
*I’m not arguing against putting Hoffman or Rivera in the Hall, per se. But the idea that they are more deserving pitchers than Mussina for this honor strikes me as false.