Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When Will Smoltzie Have His Day?

When this year’s class of the Hall of Fame was announced, the heavy representation of Atlanta Braves brought back memories of the good ol’ days.  The Streak has long ago faded into the past as an accomplishment of yesteryear, but the announcement of Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine going into the Hall of Fame during the same year had to make even the most cynical Braves fans smile.

There was one possible way to add the proverbial cherry to the top.  The remaining member of “The Big Three,” John Smoltz, made a decision that cost him the opportunity of joining the other Braves in the Hall this season.  He pitched one forgetful season while playing for the Cardinals and Red Sox before finally hanging it up.  That took him out of contention to join Maddux and Glavine

But will his arrival in the Hall happen next season?  Probably not.

Smoltz will be a victim to two things, though the second has zero to do with him.  His career lacks the numbers that accompany people who often get into the Hall of Fame during their first year.  It’s stupid because if you are a Hall of Fame player, you shouldn’t have to be punished because you aren’t a good enough Hall of Fame player to go in during your first year.  Either you are Hall-worthy or you’re not, right?

It’s sacrilegious among Braves fans to mention this because Smoltzie is our guy.  He left it all out there.  But his 3.33 ERA will rank fourth among potential candidates next year.  His WHIP and strikeouts will rank fifth.  Now, one of the players ahead of him is Roger Clemens, whose involvement in steroids has him waiting yet another year, but the other players are “clean” and deserving of a selection.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that Smoltz’s career not only compares insanely well to Curt Schilling, but that Schilling has missed out for two years, receiving only 29.2% of the vote and that was nearly 10% less than he received in 2013.  Schilling lacks the Cy Young Award that Smoltz won, but his numbers are often as good, if not slightly better, than Smoltz and no one seems to think he was a roid-head.  He may have been a bone-head at time for his remarks, but if Smoltz has the numbers, Schilling has the numbers.

The only real difference between the two may have been the years Smoltz spent as a closer.  In roughly three years as a closer, Smoltz saved 154 games for the Braves.  The Hall voters don’t seem to put too much value in saves, though.  Lee Smith retired as the game’s leader in saves and in his 12th year of voting, Smith received .7% more votes than Schilling.  Nevertheless, Smoltz is the only player in history with 200 wins and 150 saves.  Maybe that would be enough to differentiate Smoltz from Schilling.

Beyond that, the Hall voters are very prickly about electing “too many people.”  We saw during the announcement for the Hall that voters specifically limited themselves even beyond the 10-person limit the Hall puts on voters.  It helps explain why Craig Biggio finished where he did.  If you combine “not first-time ballot numbers” with “can’t vote for too many people,” you get stuck with a very limited ballot where you need other-worldly numbers to get into the Hall on your first try.

When you look at 2015’s ballot, you see two automatic Hall of Famers named Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.  Add in Biggio, who finished .2% away from selection this year, and the chances that three people reach selection again seems very strong.  If Schilling can’t get in (not to mention Mike Mussina), does Smoltz stand a shot in 2015 when the Big Unit and Pedro get their chances at selection?  Especially considering what a travesty it would be to select “too many people.”

Smoltz stands a better chance in 2016, but first-timers like Ken Griffey Jr and Trevor Hoffman could make it very difficult during that ballot selection as well.  PED concerns could open up things for Smoltz in 2017 as first-timers include Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Vladimir Guerrero.

We will have a better idea where Smoltz stands in the mind of the BBWAA once the voting results are released next year.  I don’t foresee Smoltz getting in, but a 50% vote could go a long way to getting Smoltz into the Hall of Fame before people have to manufacture a movement in efforts to garner support for him (ala Bert Blyleven).  It would be fairly depressing to see Chipper Jones reach the Hall before Smoltz.

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