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Friday, July 25, 2014

Wisch: Cooperstown Shouldn’t Close Out Lee Smith

Outside of Hyapatia…I haven’t seen a Lee screwed this badly since “Three’s a Crowd” got cancelled and Lee Ving was out of a gig!

One could argue that their accomplishments have diminished the greatest line on Smith’s Hall of Fame resume, but that makes no sense to me. After all, if only current record holders were considered Hall-worthy, there would be a lot of Hall-worthy guys who should be bumped from Cooperstown.

What matters is that Smith was the saves leader when he retired. That was his legacy, and it still should be today. Beyond that, of the four relievers who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame already – Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter – each of them rank behind Smith on the saves list. Sutter, in fact, finished with only 300 saves, the same number as Jason Isringhausen for what’s now No. 25 on the all-time list.

Of course, Eckersley and Fingers both won MVP awards and Sutter a Cy Young award, while Smith never came closer than second in Cy Young voting (finishing runner-up to Tom Glavine in 1991). But a lack of hardware earned through a single season’s accomplishments shouldn’t diminish the record-setting dominance of Smith’s collective career.

Come 2016, Hoffman becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame. Smith’s eligibility runs out in 2017. I believe Smith should get in before Hoffman starts getting votes of his own, but Smith clearly has an enormous amount of ground to make up if he’s to earn induction.

However, it did take 13 years for Sutter to finally get his nod. So perhaps Smith will find a way to slip into the Hall of Fame during the ninth inning of his eligibility. After all, that would be fitting. Because how many men have closed stronger than Lee Smith?

What would be the real shame is if Cooperstown ends up closing him out completely.

Repoz Posted: July 25, 2014 at 04:35 PM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: chicago, hof

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   1. tfbg9 Posted: July 25, 2014 at 05:15 PM (#4757768)
First of all, its "Big Lee Smith".
   2. Walt Davis Posted: July 25, 2014 at 05:26 PM (#4757778)
Sutter, in fact, finished with only 300 saves, the same number as Jason Isringhausen for what’s now No. 25 on the all-time list.

This could be a hint.

Anyway, I don't like relievers in the HoF but, given they are there, I would have no major problem with Smith being added. It's not gonna happen -- an odd HoF ballot history with a pretty strong debut an essentially no progress and no decline since. He'll probably stand a decent chance with a future VC.

   3. A triple short of the cycle Posted: July 25, 2014 at 05:39 PM (#4757795)
Quintessential Repoz intro.
   4. Benji Gil Gamesh Rises Posted: July 25, 2014 at 05:41 PM (#4757797)
What matters is that Smith was the saves leader when he retired.
Firpo Marberry for the Hall!! Who's with me??
   5. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: July 25, 2014 at 06:06 PM (#4757808)
Anyway, I don't like relievers in the HoF but, given they are there, I would have no major problem with Smith being added.


This is about where I come down. With relievers I tend to be of the "did he feel like a Hall of Famer?" variety and Smith had "it" when he played. I realize I probably have to turn in my SABR membership with comments like that but there was something about him ambling in from the bullpen that was a lot of fun.
   6. BDC Posted: July 25, 2014 at 06:15 PM (#4757811)
Smith was indeed outstanding in his role; the problem is only in how one evaluates that role. I don't know that the BBWAA has really set consistent standards there, leaving open some if-then arguments.
   7. SoCalDemon Posted: July 25, 2014 at 06:44 PM (#4757826)
Re #4: I would absolutely put Marberry in the hall before Lee. They actually had similar value over their careers (Firpo had 31.7 WAR/11.1 WAA; Lee had 29.4 WAR/ 13.8 WAA) and I think Marberry should get a pretty big-time pioneer credit. Back in the real world, I think that neither is anywhere near the hall, but in a bigger hall world, I would definitely put Marberry in substantially earlier than Lee.
   8. Batman Posted: July 25, 2014 at 06:51 PM (#4757831)
Cooperstown Shouldn’t Designated Hit Edgar Martinez Out
   9. Walt Davis Posted: July 25, 2014 at 07:18 PM (#4757838)
Smith was indeed outstanding in his role; the problem is only in how one evaluates that role. I don't know that the BBWAA has really set consistent standards there, leaving open some if-then arguments.

If you're going to accept relievers, I think they've done a pretty good job actually. Wilhelm, Eck, Goose, Sutter are probably the first 4 I'd put into the "closer HoF". Fingers I think was over-rated but am not certain I'd move Smith ahead of him.

The voters had to deal with the issue that it was not only a new role but that the usage was constantly changing for the first 30 years or so of the "saves era." It might represent one of the BBWAA's better efforts at era adjustments (low hurdle).

That said ... just for kicks, Lee Smith vs. Mariano Rivera

Smith ... 478 saves in 581 opps, 82%
Rivera ... 652 saves in 732 opps, 89%

But ... first look at the gap in save opps yet their careers are of equal length. Shows some of the shifting usage. That shifting usage also affects the save percentage. Smith only enjoyed the (roughly) 1 inning per appearance closer model from 1991 to 1995. For those 5 seasons he was 206 for 237, an 87% conversion rate.

Changing usage shows up in inherited runners too. Smith inherited 510 runners, allowing 28% of them to score. Rivera inherited just 367, allowing 29% of them to score.

Smith had a aLI of 1.865, Rivera of 1.868. Smith was slightly less likely to enter the game in a high leverage situation (about 58% vs. 60%) but more likely to enter behind/tied and of course with runners on and earlier.

Of course Smith can't begin to touch Rivera's batter against performance so there's no doubt that Rivera is way ahead. But in terms of what we think a reliever's job is -- nail down the save, don't let inherited runners score -- they were equals. And I suspect most other closers have fairly similar numbers.

Which is just a way of saying that the save has become possibly the most misleading, useless statistic out there. It probably worked reasonably well in the fireman era when it was designed. But it's probably even more opportunity-driven and even less talent-related than the RBI now.
   10. Moeball Posted: July 25, 2014 at 07:22 PM (#4757843)
While I watched Trevor close out a zillion games for the Padres over the years, in all honesty I don't think he belongs in Cooperstown. He barely pitched over 1000 innings in his career and IMHO that just doesn't get it done.

Come 2016, Hoffman becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame. Smith’s eligibility runs out in 2017. I believe Smith should get in before Hoffman starts getting votes of his own


Disagree. Neither one of them should get in. Both were "good" - neither was "great".

Of course, if the writers are crazy enough to elect Trevor, I'll still go to his induction ceremony.
   11. Howie Menckel Posted: July 25, 2014 at 09:37 PM (#4757900)

"Fingers I think was over-rated but am not certain I'd move Smith ahead of him."

HOM had some great stuff during his discussion about his insane runners inherited and stranded numbers. That skill is not even in play anymore.

Granted, if that isn't part of the Wizard's WAR formula, it doesn't count, but I found it intriguing anyway.

   12. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: July 25, 2014 at 09:55 PM (#4757906)
the best at smuggling a game into the clubhouse in history.


That's a Jim Murray quote in the article and that is a terrific way to describe a closer. I am absolutely stealing that.
   13. cardsfanboy Posted: July 25, 2014 at 10:01 PM (#4757909)
On the role of reliever, I accept that my opinion that relievers probably don't belong goes against the history of the hof voting, so I throw that thought out the window and look at what they have inducted.

There are five relievers in the hof, trying to avoid the "less than the weakest in the hall" argument, it means if I support another candidate he needs to be better than fifth best player at his position.. You have Eckersley, Gossage, Sutter, Fingers, Wilhelm in the hall.

I have Lee Smith, at best as the 4th best reliever not in the hall (Rivera, Wagner, Hoffman are all absolutely clearly better), and even guys like Quisenberry, Franco, or Lyle were arguably better(personally I think Quiz was also clearly better, but put him in the second category to hedge my bets)

Outside of the save stat, I just don't see any way to argue for Smith in the hof without massively expanding the qualifiers for people deserving enshrinement.
   14. cardsfanboy Posted: July 25, 2014 at 10:05 PM (#4757910)
Changing usage shows up in inherited runners too. Smith inherited 510 runners, allowing 28% of them to score. Rivera inherited just 367, allowing 29% of them to score.


Inherited runners is why I like Hoffman more than I used to. When he comes up for a vote, if people aren't mentioning his IR percentage in every article, then they aren't doing their job. (He has the lowest percentage of inherited runners scored by anyone with over 200 saves) 20.23% vs his contemporary, Rivera with 29.16%
   15. John Northey Posted: July 25, 2014 at 11:18 PM (#4757928)
I don't recall ever thinking of Smith as a HOF'er during his career until he got the save record. Quiz? Yes. Eck? Oh yeah. Gossage? Yup. Fingers was right around the time I was getting into baseball and didn't really notice him beyond the stash. Sutter I always saw as far, far too short a career to make it with his stats (12 years in majors, 4 times with ERA+'s under 100, 5 times led in saves which is good but not 'wow', K/9 nothing amazing at 7.4).

Lee Smith and the guy he passed for Save leader, Jeff Reardon, were both solid relievers but never really seen as 'best in the business'. Smith had just 4 save titles in 18 seasons, 14 of which he was a teams primary closer. Solid but got the record mainly because he was good and steady for a long, long time.
   16. Ziggy Posted: July 25, 2014 at 11:34 PM (#4757931)
Let's undo all of this mess and kick the relief pitcher out of the hall. (Sorry Wilhelm.) All they give us are limited value (because of the low number of innings pitched) and performances that look impressive but aren't (because of sample small sample sizes; same problem, just on a year-by-year basis instead of career basis). We'll get back to Lee Smith after he's pitched about 3000 innings.
   17. Walt Davis Posted: July 25, 2014 at 11:40 PM (#4757932)
But then Hoffman also inherited just 346 runners. I'll let somebody else do the digging (not sure I even know where to dig) but I would guess that a larger proportion of Smith's baserunners were in scoring position than Hoffman/Rivera. Wagner inherited just 166 runners.

I have Lee Smith, at best as the 4th best reliever not in the hall (Rivera, Wagner, Hoffman are all absolutely clearly better),

And I think that's close to impossible to judge because of shifting usage. Wagner barely made it past 900 innings, he was used in a completely different manner. Smith had a run of K'ing 10/9 during an era when guys K's a lot less and he didn't have the luxury of being a 1-inning reliever ... I wouldn't be at all confident in saying that he couldn't have matched Wagner's numbers relative to his era. The other guys are fairly straightforward comps with Lyle really being the "era" before.

Smith might be the hardest one to judge. He was among the last to operate under the old fireman model. From 1982-86, he threw 509 innings with a 138 ERA+. Fingers operated under that model (and heavier) for 12 seasons, throwing 1400 innings but an ERA+ of 116. From 87-90, it was about 1.3 innings per outing (80+ per year) and the ERA+ was 144 ... and over 10 K/9. From 91 to 95, now 33-37, he was a 1-inning guy and posted just a 128 ERA+, not particularly impressive, maybe age/previous workload related. At 38 and 39 he wasn't really Lee Smith anymore.

But I don't have a horse in this race really. I don't have a problem with Quiz, Franco, Lyle being considered his approximate equal and I'm not worried about arguing the edges to decide who's better. That's essentially just the debate as to whether any of them should be in at all or that we can judge which should be -- they don't amass innings, the role is only 40 years old, the 1-inning closer is only about 20 years old.

Unless we want to accept that Papelbon is halfway to the HoF. K-Rod is still "just" 32 and is less than 400 innings away from Rivera's total. He might be closing in on the saves record too if he hadn't been dropped from closer for most of 30-31.

When we think about guys who were all-time best at their positions, they're usually guys who not only had great career numbers but put up seasonal numbers that have rarely been matched. But Papelbon's halfway there and even his ERA+ is not that far off. Joe Nathan had a 6-year run with a 237 ERA+, 11 K/9 and 41 saves a year. Soria was on track for 5 years before he got hurt (back with nice numbers this year). We don't know how long he'll last but Kimbrel is destroying Rivera's numbers. Chapman is K'ing 18/9 this year and has a FIP of .51 ... and an ERA of 2.40 somehow. Greg Holland has an ERA+ over 200 for the last 4 years. For ages 36-39, Koji has a 250 ERA+ and a near 12/1 K/BB.

For 2011-14, 100% relief, min 170 IP there are 4 guys with an ERA+ over 200 -- Koji, Kimbrel, Holland and Robertson. There are 7 guys K'ing at least 12/9. Moved out of a starter role, even the fearsome Greg Perkins K's more than 10/9 with a 163 ERA+ and the FIP to match.

Obviously the thing that separates Rivera from most modern closers is the durability and consistency. But it's not like we see lots of OFs hit like Babe Ruth or even Hank Aaron for 5 years then disappear, much less 4 of them at once. For Trout comps we've got to reach back to Mantle and Mays, not a guy who retired last year.

I don't think we truly know with certainty what a great reliever is. I don't think we know how rare a Rivera might turn out to be. From 2000-2013, we saw 118 relievers with at least 60 IP in a season, 100% relief and an ERA+ of 200 or better. That's 9 guys a year.

We're in the sillyball era for relievers.
   18. Booey Posted: July 25, 2014 at 11:48 PM (#4757936)
I don't think Smith belongs anywhere near the HOF, but his election wouldn't have bothered me quite so bad if it had happened several years back, before the recent flood of real candidates. But to take the time to write a column arguing for the election of a guy that's clearly not amongst the top 20 players on the current ballot just seems kinda silly.
   19. Howie Menckel Posted: July 25, 2014 at 11:50 PM (#4757937)
and for that No. 17 blasphemy, I intend to be present for the appropriate burning at the stake.
   20. Howie Menckel Posted: July 25, 2014 at 11:59 PM (#4757941)

"Let's undo all of this mess and kick the relief pitcher out of the hall. (Sorry Wilhelm.) All they give us are limited value (because of the low number of innings pitched"


tough crowd

Wilhelm debuts at age 29 in 1952, wins NL ERA title, all relief IP, goes 15-3

finally gains a SP gig in 1959 with Orioles, wins ERA title again


againone think Mariano in any role could have matched those two seasons?

   21. Howie Menckel Posted: July 26, 2014 at 12:17 AM (#4757942)

ah, "anyone"

don't post and think you can perform a chore before the bizarre BBTF trap door shuts again
   22. bobm Posted: July 26, 2014 at 12:40 AM (#4757946)
[9] Changing usage shows up in inherited runners too. Smith inherited 510 runners, allowing 28% of them to score. Rivera inherited just 367, allowing 29% of them to score.

[17] But then Hoffman also inherited just 346 runners. I'll let somebody else do the digging (not sure I even know where to dig) but I would guess that a larger proportion of Smith's baserunners were in scoring position than Hoffman/Rivera.

My analysis, based on BB REF PI Event Finder data (*apparently missing a few IR for each of the pitchers below)

   Runners  1-- 12- 123 1-3 -2- -23 --3 RISP TOTAL* %RISP
  Smith IR   77 168  75  74  59  38  14  282    505    56
Hoffman IR   31 128  81  38  21  40   5  203    344    59
 Rivera IR   62 136  51  52  31  24   7  190    363    52


   23. bobm Posted: July 26, 2014 at 12:50 AM (#4757948)
ETA: Wagner inherited just 166 runners.

Here's Billy Wagner (ETA: again, My analysis, based on BB REF PI Event Finder data [*apparently missing 1 IR for Wagner])

  Runners  1-- 12- 123 1-3 -2- -23 --3 RISP TOTAL* %RISP
Wagner IR   40  48  21  16  17  12  11   86    165    52
   24. Mike Emeigh Posted: July 26, 2014 at 08:55 AM (#4757971)
I've said this before, and I'll say it again. If Lee Smith comes along 5 years earlier, he's just behind Goose Gossage. If he comes along 10 years later, he's just behind Rivera. And we probably wouldn't be having the debate about whether or not he should be in the Hall.

We also wouldn't be having the debate if he hadn't chosen the worst time of his career to blow a game: Game 4 of the 1984 NLCS. Forgetting that Gossage had done the same thing just an inning earlier...

-- MWE
   25. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 26, 2014 at 10:41 AM (#4757991)
don't post and think you can perform a chore before the bizarre BBTF trap door shuts again

So how long does it take you to proofread a post of four short sentences? Fifteen seconds?
   26. BDC Posted: July 26, 2014 at 10:47 AM (#4757994)
I once edited a BBTF comment all morning. I took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back.
   27. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: July 26, 2014 at 11:01 AM (#4757998)
I once edited a BBTF comment all morning. I took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back.

you were right both times
   28. jdennis Posted: July 26, 2014 at 03:22 PM (#4758123)
The original Hyapatia was screwed way more severely than Hyapatia Lee.
   29. jdennis Posted: July 26, 2014 at 03:35 PM (#4758130)
As for relievers in the hall, I don't remember where I have Lee Smith, honestly. I think I have him right with Sutter, Fingers, and Gossage. But in reference to #4, Firpo is not a horrible selection. To me he provided as much value as some of the worst starters in the hall, more than a handful of them, which says a lot. Among the relievers, he's above Sutter, Gossage, and Fingers in career value for me. But not above my PHOM/F standard. The only three mortal locks IMO should be Rivera, Wilhelm, and Eck. They are the only three that pass even my starter "obvious in" standard. Hoffman is not a bad choice, I have him with as much value as a run-of-the mill lower-level HOF starter like a Glavine, Ryan, Bender, or Lemon. He's one of those borderline guys that I put in based on more sentimental stuff like being the all time leader and playing mostly for one team, etc. Haven't evaluated Wagner, he retired too recently.

So my PHOM/F reliever corps is: Rivera, Eck, Wilhelm, Hoffman.

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