Earlier this year, Billy Wagner announced that he would be retiring after the 2010 season. While skimming his statistics, I hadn’t realized how good he had been over his career. After writing Hall of Fame analysis for Lee Smith (article link), Trevor Hoffman, and Mariano Rivera’s (article link) Hall of Fame credentials, I’ve decided to take a look at Billy Wagner’s Hall of Fame credentials and see what his chances are for getting into the Hall of Fame.
As discussed previously in my Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera article, there aren’t too many short inning closers with Hall of Fame voting history, therefore it is difficult to determine what qualifies as a Hall of Fame career. Dennis Eckersley is the only pitcher in the Hall of Fame to have been a short-inning closer, and he was a closer for only half of his career. So much of this analysis will be centered on comparing Billy Wagner to Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, and Dennis Eckersley. If some of those other players are Hall of Fame worthy, then it would reason that Billy Wagner is too.
Let’s take a look at the career statistics of all these closers for the time period they were closers. From 1987-1997, Dennis Eckersley had a 42-42 record, 386 saves, 2.87 ERA, 140 ERA+, and 0.980 WHIP. From 1996-2009, Mariano Rivera had a 69-49 record, 526 saves, 2.04 ERA, 223 ERA+, and 0.980 WHIP. From 1994-2009, Trevor Hoffman had a 55-62 record, 586 saves, 2.62 ERA, 153 ERA+, and 1.015 WHIP. From 1982-1995, Lee Smith had a 63-81 record, 470 saves, 2.91 ERA, 137 ERA+, and 1.225 WHIP. Finally, from 1996-2009, Billy Wagner had a 40-38 record, 385 saves, 2.39 ERA, 183 ERA+, and 1.009 WHIP. After the completion of the 2010 season, Billy Wagner will finish his career with approximately 415-420 career saves.
Looking at these numbers at a glance, it appears Billy Wagner is amongst the best short inning closers of all time. While he may not possess the career saves total of Lee Smith, Mariano Rivera, or Trevor Hoffman, his numbers are stunning. His ERA+ is 40-50 points greater than Eckersley, Hoffman, and Smith. His WHIP is on par with Trevor Hoffman and far better than Lee Smith’s. Based on these numbers, it would suggest that Billy Wagner should be considered with Hall of Fame credentials on a level similar to Trevor Hoffman’s.
Dennis Eckersley’s Hall of Fame credentials were especially highlighted by an 5 run of success that was off the charts. From 1988-1992 in which he had a 24-9 record, 220 saves, 1.90 ERA, 199 ERA+, and 0.792 WHIP. This run of success was highlighted by his Cy Young and MVP Awards in 1992. As discussed in a previous article, Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera have not had such an incredible 5 year run of success. However, Bill Wagner actually has had a 5 year run of excellence that may be viewed as actually superior to both Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera’s best 5 year stretch. From 2001-2005, Billy Wagner had a 15-14 record, 177 saves, 2.14 ERA, 208 ERA+, and 0.898 WHIP. While that 5 year stretch is really good, it still doesn’t match up to Dennis Eckersley’s.
What are the knocks against Billy Wagner? Similar to Lee Smith, Mariano Rivera, and Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner has never won a Cy Young award. He’s never placed higher than fourth in Cy Young voting, and has only been in the top 6 of voting two times total. In comparison, Lee Smith, Mariano Rivera, and Trevor Hoffman have all been atleast runner-ups in Cy Young voting and have been in the top 5 of Cy Young voting multiple times.
The ultimate knock against Billy Wagner may be his innings pitched. He will ultimately finish his career with a little less than 900 innings pitched. At the time of this writing, Billy Wagner’s career ERA+ is 185. If he qualified for the career leaders in ERA+ (1000 innings pitched), he would be second of all time, just short of Mariano Rivera. However, no pitcher has entered the Hall of Fame with fewer than 1000 innings pitched in a career.
With a lack of voting history on a player of Bill Wagner’s caliber, it’s hard to say how Hall of Fame voters will vote. However, the overall feeling I get is that Billy Wagner will likely fall a bit short. If Billy Wagner could have had a slightly longer career, or if you could have been luckier and not that had a few injury plagued seasons, his Hall of Fame credentials would be much stronger and his case would have been far more interesting. While he wouldn’t have had as many saves as Trevor Hoffman, several of his stronger career stats would have made the argument far more interesting.
Should Lee Smith Be In the Hall Of Fame?
Are Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera Hall of Fame Worthy?
“Baseball-Reference.com – Major League Baseball Statistics and History”, Baseball-Reference
Tim Kurkjian, “It’s the swan song of an amazing career”, ESPN.com