As the calendar turns to January, marking the start of a new year, the 2016 Hall of Fame class is coming into clearer focus. With names like Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey Jr , Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and others filling the ballot, there is no shortage of names to select from this year.
While most years have at least one candidate who seems to be a shoo in, this year that seems to be Griffey, this year has more potentially,deserving candidates than in years past, making picking only ten players on each ballot quite a task. As the January 6th deadline draws near, the Hall of Fame cases of every player eligible are scrutinized further than ever before. One person who may be overlooked on this year’s ballot is San Diego Padres hall of famer Trevor Hoffman.
Hoffman, having played in San Diego for the majority of his career, is dwarfed in terms of star power by the likes of Griffey, Clemens, Bonds, Bagwell, and even fellow reliever Billy Wagner. Despite this, Hoffman still has a strong case to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Even so, does Trevor Hoffman deserve to be elected to the Hall of Fame this year, or in the future? To better understand Hoffman’s case, his career numbers must be further critiqued.
To begin with, the stats that everyone knows. An 18 year career. 7 time All Star. 2 second place Cy Young finishes. 1,035 appearances. 601 saves( At one time the all time saves leader before being passed by Mariano Rivera). 2.87 career ERA. 1,133 strikeouts. These are the old school numbers that we are used to seeing when talking about Hoffman. Based on these numbers alone, it is pretty clear that Hoffman is the one of the greatest closers of all time, perhaps only behind the great Mariano Rivera.
However, Hoffman’s Hall of Fame case is more complicated than these simple measures show. To better understand his potential Hall of Fame credentials, a deeper dive into more advanced statistics is necessary.
One of the best ways to measure a player’s Hall of Fame credentials is through JAWS (Jaffe WAR score system), originally created by Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus in 2004. To sum it up rather simplistically, the JAWS system is used to measure a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing his body of work to those already in the hall at the same position. The measure uses both advanced statistics and statistical adjustments to account for differences based on time period to get a good approximation of player value by comparison. At its basis, JAWS is an average of a player’s career WAR and his seven year peak WAR, which is not necessarily consecutive years, to get a number that can be compared across eras for players of the same position.
To start with, there are currently only five relief pitchers who have been enshrined into the Hall. For reference, those are Rollie Fingers, Hoyt Wilhelm, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Dennis Eckersley. Of those, only two, Rollie Fingers and Hoyt Wilhelm, actually spent the vast majority of their careers in that relief role. For further comparison, we will add both Billy Wagner and Lee Smith, who are also trying to get elected into the Hall of Fame from the relief pitcher position this year. For fun, I will also be throwing in Mariano Rivera, who is almost a lock to be elected to the Hall of Fame once he becomes eligible.
Below is a chart that compares all the player’s listed above, as well as Trevor Hoffman, based on career WAR, the cumulative WAR of their seven peak seasons, and their respective JAW scores. One important distinction that must be made on the below information can be seen in row five, which states the averages for career WAR, seven year peak WAR, and JAWS scores for each of the five relief pitchers already inducted into the hall of fame. Those numbers are an average career WAR of 40.6, a seven year peak WAR of 28.2, and a JAWS score of 34.4.
For reference, the table above is in order of JAWS scores, with the players rankings among all relief pitchers in baseball history to the left of their name (for the purposes of this comparison, some players were taken out).
Based on the table, it is easy to see where Trevor Hoffman ranks. In terms of all three measurements, career WAR, seven year peak WAR, and JAWS, Hoffman falls below the average of the five current Hall of Fame relief pitchers. While Hoffman does fall 8th on the list in terms of JAWs scores, he does have a higher such score than Hall of Fame inductee Rollie Fingers. In terms of career WAR, Hoffman finishes sixth on this list, once again ahead of current Hall of Famer Fingers and also Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter. Finally, in terms of seven year peak WAR, Hoffman comes in 8th place, but is one more time ahead of Fingers.
These numbers bring back a somewhat inconclusive result. Perhaps Hoffman did have a better career than, or at least a career on par with, current Hall of Fame relievers Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter. Despite that, Hoffman did fall below the average of the five current Hall of Fame relievers on all three categories measured. Based on those numbers alone, one could make a case either way that Hoffman deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. With such a deep potential class in 2016, this year may not be the year Hoffman gets in. However, based on his performance over his career with the Padres, notching 601 saves as one of the faces of the franchise, Hoffman should be elected to the Hall of Fame at some point in the future.