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Should Tommy John Be in the Hall-of-Fame?

I have previously examined the candidacies of former Yankees Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly in regard to the Hall-of-Fame.

The only other former Yankee on the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Ballot is Tommy John.

Let’s take a look at his candidacy…

The Low Bar

In the previous articles, I used Harold Baines as the low bar test for inclusion in the Hall-of-Fame. In short, since Harold Baines has such a low lifetime WAR, I feel a player has to at least surpass Baines in lifetime WAR in order to have any legitimacy to even be discussed for be voted into the Hall.

Since Tommy John was a pitcher and Baines an outfielder/designated hitter, I will not use Baines as the low bar. Instead I wanted to use a Hall-of-Fame pitcher who also has a very low lifetime WAR. The first problem with this that I had is the fact that most of the Hall-of-Fame pitchers with the lowest WAR have special circumstances surrounding their careers:

Hank O’Day (8.81) pitched in the 1880’s

Satchel Paige (10.14) was excluded due to the color of his skin from Major League Baseball for most of his career

Babe Ruth (20.32) isn’t necessarily in the Hall-of-Fame for his pitching…

Bruce Sutter (24.46), Rollie Fingers (24.96), Trevor Hoffman (28.10), and Lee Smith (29.33) were all relief pitchers

John Ward (28.06) was also a pre-1900’s player who also played infield

And so I settled on Rube Marquard as my low bar starting point. Marquard (who pitched from 1908 to 1925) had a lifetime WAR of 34.90 and is ranked 217th all-time (tied with Dan Chance) in WAR for pitchers.

I don’t want to admit this, because he helped usher in the great Yankees mini-dynasty in the late 1970’s, but the starting pitcher (post 1950) with the lowest WAR is Jim “Catfish” Hunter (36.30) who is, regrettably, if one uses WAR as a barometer, a questionable member of the Hall. I didn’t want the low bar test to be the “Catfish Hunter Test” (this is a Yankees site after all) so Rube Marquard gets this dubious honor.

For Tommy John to even be considered by me for the Hall-of-Fame, he’d have to have a lifetime WAR above Marquard’s 34.90.

Fortunately, Tommy John’s WAR ranks considerably higher at 62.1.

Before diving into the numbers, I also had this belief that a pitcher being considered for the Hall-of-Fame should at least be among the top 100 pitchers all time in WAR. (I was surprised that Marquard was so low at 217th. Yes, surprised, and sad, that Catfish is 205th. Ouch.)

Being in the top 100 was going to be my next measure…

TOP 100?

Not all of baseball’s top 100 pitchers are in the Hall-of-Fame, but I figured as a measure that Tommy John should be in order to even be considered. As a starting point here, Kenny Rogers is 99th all-time in pitcher WAR at 50.5. My goodness, a pitcher should have to rank above Kenny Rogers in order to get any consideration.

(Side note… Kenny Rogers ranks a full 106 players above ol’ Catfish? Ugggg.)

The only recent Hall-of-Fame starting pitchers who are not in the top 100 pitchers of all-time in WAR are Catfish and Jack Morris, another very questionable inductee. Morris at 43.54 ranks 144th all-time.

So, where does Tommy John rank? Did he make the top 100?

He most certainly did…and with plenty of room to spare.

Tommy John’s 62.1 earns him 53rd place all-time. By WAR, Tommy John was the 53rd best pitcher of all-time.

Wow!

Hall-of-Famers Behind Tommy

Among starting pitchers who pitched after 1950, there is a good collection of Hall-of-Famers who rank below Tommy John. These are:

Juan Marichal 61.7

Don Drysdale 61.3

Jim Bunning 60.3

Hal Newhouser 59.96

Whitey Ford 53.48

Sandy Koufax 53.05

Early Wynn 51.56

That’s some pretty good company… This also helps Tommy John’s candidacy.

Above, But Not Worthy

Now I had to see the pitchers who ranked above Tommy John who are not in the Hall-of-Fame. I wanted to try to determine if Tommy John is the best pitcher, by WAR, who isn’t in there.

I found that it’s not a long list:

C.C. Sabathia (62.5) – He’s not eligible yet and he will certainly go in

Clayton Kershaw (65.4) – He’s still pitching, but he’ll go in

Luis Tiant (65.6) – A case could be made…

Zack Grienke (66.7) – Still pitching, and a likely future inductee

Rick Reuschel (68.1) – I’m always amazed that he ranks so high. I remember watching him as a Yankee in 1982 and then reading Bill James many years later claiming what a good pitcher he was. Talk about cognitive dissonance. Reuschel should not be in the Hall-of-Fame. Sometimes there is just an outlier.

Kevin Brown (68.2) – I’ve read a lot about how much better he was than his numbers. When the Yankees got him, his career was just about over. Brown was a great pitcher for a time, but not a Hall-of-Famer. Sometimes there are two outliers.

Justin Verlander (71.4) – He’s going in once he retires

Curt Shilling (80.5) – He will get in as well

Roger Clemens (138.7) – He will also get in, one day

And that’s it.

There aren’t too many pitchers ranked above Tommy John that don’t belong in the Hall-of-Fame. That also seems to strengthen John’s case.

Other Factors

Although he didn’t do the surgery, the procedure that bears his name, Tommy John Surgery, has changed baseball, and sports, and medicine in fact, radically. Although he wasn’t the doctor, Tommy John was the patient willing to have the revolutionary procedure performed on him. Tommy John was the player willing to take that chance. For that reason, Tommy John was a player whose significance on the game has been enormous. Can the story of baseball today be told without referencing Tommy John? The answer is no. Other trend setters are in the Hall-of-Fame. The fact that Tommy John was such a great pitcher and the fact that he was someone who influenced the game in such a large fashion speaks strongly to his case.

300 wins, of course, is a Hall-of-Fame total. Pitchers with 300 wins always get in. Tommy John has 288 wins. Tommy John missed the 1975 season due to his injury and the surgery. In the five seasons prior to 1975, Tommy John averaged 13 wins a year. Give Tommy 12 wins in 1975 and he reaches 300. The point isn’t that we should do that, the point is that, for all intents and purposes, over a career that lasted from 1963 to 1989, twelve wins is nothing. In the grand scheme of things, 288 is in the same ballpark as 300. 300 is just a nice round number that looks good. 288 looks pretty good as well. Tommy John has the most wins (26th all-time) of any pitcher (post 1900) not in the Hall-of-Fame (save for Clemens). Yeah, 288 is very good. It counts – a lot.

Tommy John pitched 4710.1 innings. Yes, he has the most innings pitched of any pitcher (post 1900, not named Roger Clemens) not in the Hall-of-Fame.

Tommy John pitched on three World Series teams. (This is a fun bit of information – in 1977 and 1978, he was on the Dodgers who lost to the Yankees. In 1981, he was on the Yankees, who lost to the Dodgers.) John owns a 6-3, 2.65 post-season record.

Survey Says

Yes. Tommy John is Hall-of-Fame worthy.

Absolutely.

The man deserves to be in.

(And yes, his lifetime WAR is way higher than Harold Baines’ 38.7.)

#TommyJohn

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