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Monday, August 27, 2012

Closing time Lee Smith specialty but Hall of Fame shut to him

“I can’t say much has happened since
But closing time, closing time”

While Smith was once baseball’s career saves leader, he hasn’t even come close to the ultimate reward of election to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Asked what was wrong with Hall of Fame voters, he responded politely but sternly, “If you find out, let me know.”

...“I guess they think the relief pitching thing is easy,” Smith said of baseball writers who vote on Hall of Fame selection. “I don’t like to compare stats, but you can look at the numbers.”

... While today’s closers often enter the game to start the ninth inning and record a three-out save, Smith pitched in an era in which he often pitched more than an inning. In fact, he even pitched three innings in an All-Star Game, getting the win when the National League won in extra innings.

“It was harder to close back then,” he said. “I actually pitched in tight games. I pitched in games where we were losing in the seventh inning (but Cubs’ coaches wanted to keep the game close with a chance to win at the end).

“And I would love to know why (then-Cub manager) Jim Frey thought I could only pitch with a guy on second base and a one-run lead.”

Repoz Posted: August 27, 2012 at 09:46 AM | 13 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hall of fame lawn

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   1. AROM Posted: August 27, 2012 at 10:24 AM (#4219055)
A stat like WPA will give credit to the guy who comes in for the 7th, losing by a run, and keeps his time in the ballgame until they pull out a win.

Among pitchers who relieved 80% of their games, Smith is at +21.4, good for 12th place. The top 4 are Rivera (by a mile, gap between #1 and 2 as large as between #2 and #35), Hoffman, Gossage, and Wilhelm. Two HOFers, one guaranteed lock for the HOF barring a positive PED test, and a guy who will get his share of votes.

Lee Smith is ahead of Bruce Sutter, he has more WPA, more saves, and more innings, but so does Todd Jones. That just shows how turrible a selection of Sutter was.
   2. AROM Posted: August 27, 2012 at 10:33 AM (#4219060)
While Smith did record tougher saves than what today's closer faces, I just don't see him as particularly close in value to Gossage, which is about the minimum for me to consider a reliever for HOF.

Two guys who were very valuable relievers, and didn't get anywhere near the big save numbers because of the different usage patterns were Stu Miller and Tug McGraw. McGraw has the added bonus of playing for 2 WS winners. He didn't pitch in the 1969 WS, but closed out the 1980 series. I see Miller didn't pitch in the 1966 series. Wasn't needed, as the last 3 games of the series were complete game shutouts by the Oriole starters.
   3. Steve N Posted: August 27, 2012 at 12:31 PM (#4219158)
"Complete game shutouts" seems redundant to me. A starter does not have a shutout unless it is a complete game. Teams can get "complete game shutouts" but not pitcher. At least so it seems to me.
   4. John DiFool2 Posted: August 27, 2012 at 12:46 PM (#4219175)
Smith pitched in front of worse defenses and mostly hitter's ballparks-his BABIP was .294, while Goose's was .270. Fangraphs as a consequence has Smith at 29 WAR, Goose at 32, tho Goose likely wins on peak. Not that this means diddly to the voters.
   5. Tippecanoe Posted: August 27, 2012 at 01:15 PM (#4219193)
Comparing relievers to Sutter is not relevant, as Sutter's election almost certainly reflects his place in the history of the game outside of pure on-field accumulation of value. It isn't quite like benchmarking starting pitchers against Candy Cummings, but it's along those lines.
   6. Srul Itza Posted: August 27, 2012 at 03:18 PM (#4219308)
Fangraphs as a consequence has Smith at 29 WAR, Goose at 32


I thought Fangraphs WAR was based on FIP or xFIP -- meaning it is useless.

Smith threw 1289.1 innings at a 132 ERA+
Goose threw 1809.1 innings at a 126 ERA+

Takes a whole lot of finagling to get Smith close to Goose, especially based on non-PBP defensive metrics. B-Ref WAR has the difference at 39.9 to 27.9.

   7. SoSH U at work Posted: August 27, 2012 at 03:24 PM (#4219317)
Takes a whole lot of finagling to get Smith close to Goose, especially based on non-PBP defensive metrics. B-Ref WAR has the difference at 39.9 to 27.9.


And B-Ref WAR has thoroughly undeserving Hall of Famer Jim Rice at 44. The question isn't whether Smith is as worthy as Goose, it's why the hell these guys are being considered at all (Mo excepted, obviously, and Hoyt if you're Big Hally).

   8. Tippecanoe Posted: August 27, 2012 at 03:59 PM (#4219357)
Leverage.
   9. SoSH U at work Posted: August 27, 2012 at 04:06 PM (#4219362)
Leverage.


As escapist basic cable entertainment, it's doing fine work. As a condition strong enough to turn a part-timer player into a Hall of Famer, not really.

   10. AROM Posted: August 27, 2012 at 04:35 PM (#4219399)
Leverage is built into those WAR numbers.

There seems to be a desire among many people to think that the best of the closers were on the same level of star players in other roles or positions. I just don't see it that way. Lee Smith was good, but teams did not value him during his career as much as the ace starters of his time, the cleanup hitters of his time, or the center fielders of his time. At his peak, would he be traded for peak David Cone, Orel Hershiser, Ryne Sandberg, or Kirby Puckett?

Of course, when you consider money that makes trades not so much about baseball value, obviously we don't consider James Loney to be of equal value to Adrian Gonzalez. But in a theoretical, baseball skills only consideration, I just don't see Smith, in his 90 innings per year, being on the level of those guys.

The closest thing I see to a pure baseball trade in Smith's history is that when the Red Sox had two closers (had signed Jeff Reardon) they traded Smith straight up for Tom Brunansky. Smith had a better career than Bruno, but that seems about right to me. He was a lot closer in value to Bruno than he was to Kirby Puckett.
   11. Srul Itza Posted: August 27, 2012 at 06:25 PM (#4219521)
Hoyt if you're Big Hally


Hoyt had a great narrative, don't forget. A wily knuckle-baller who pitched until he was 49, and ended up with 2,254 innings (pitched at 147 ERA+), and held the record for most appearances and for his 124 wins in relief.

If you are guided only by WAR numbers (and 47.4 ain't that bad), he won't be in your Hall. If you are guided by a love of the game and its great stories, he absolutely belongs.



   12. SoSH U at work Posted: August 27, 2012 at 06:33 PM (#4219532)

Hoyt had a great narrative, don't forget. A wily knuckle-baller who pitched until he was 49, and ended up with 2,254 innings (pitched at 147 ERA+), and held the record for most appearances and for his 124 wins in relief.

If you are guided only by WAR numbers (and 47.4 ain't that bad), he won't be in your Hall. If you are guided by a love of the game and its great stories, he absolutely belongs.


Oh, he'd be in mine. But my hall doesn't go deeper than two relievers.

   13. Robinson Cano Plate Like Home Posted: August 27, 2012 at 11:31 PM (#4219754)
12 ftw

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