Tommy John and Jim Kaat
Sean weighs in on two prominent southpaws.
I was the one who proposed this rundown of the HOF ballot, so I’m
stepping to the plate with two pitchers who have been on the ballot
for quite awhile, Tommy John and Jim Kaat. Two peas in a pod, these
two are each other’s most similar pitcher and probably will share the
same fate regarding induction. Both are from the Midwest, John from
Terre Haute and Kaat from Zeeland, Michigan. Both are lefties around
6’3”-6’4”. Both pitched in multiple World Series (though Kaat is the
only one with a ring). Both pitched well into their 40’s, Kaat until
age 44 and John until age 46. Bill James ranks them 63rd and 65th in
the NHBA with Catfish Hunter between them. Thus it makes sense to
deal with them together.
Jim Kaat (
Stats) debuted as a 20-year-old with the Washington Senators in
1959 and pitched in 898 games (625 starts) through his final season in
1983. His 283-237 record came with five franchises, though he is
predominantly a Senator/Twin. As for career marks, he is 28th in
wins, 15th in games, 24th in innings, 13th in games started, but on
the negative side of the ledger he is 16th in losses, 15th in earned
runs allowed and 15th in hits allowed after leading the league four
times in that mark. His main trait is his considerable durability and
his fielding talents that lead to 36 Gold Glove Awards. Rumor has it
he finished third in last year’s AL balloting based on reputation
Kaat first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1989 and has
remained on it ever since. However, he has never cracked a third of
the ballots cast and has not been increasing or losing votes. He
pretty much has one-third of the support necessary to make it into the
Hall of Fame.
Tommy John (
Stats) debuted as a 20-year-old for Cleveland in 1963 and pitched
in 760 games (700 starts) through his final season in 1989. His
288-231 record came with six franchises. I always think of him as a
Yankee being I grew up during the 70’s and 80’s, but his best seasons
were with the Dodgers and White Sox. He would probably be inducted
with Frank Jobe’s picture on his hat. His career totals make him 18th
in innings pitched 42nd in strikeouts, sixth in starts, tenth in hits
allowed, 19th in losses and 14th in earned runs allowed.
John first appeared on the ballot in 1995, and has done
incrementally better than Kaat, by seven and eighteen more votes the
last two years. To compare these gentlemen to a recent inductee who
was in ballot purgatory for quite awhile, Tony Perez did much better
in his elections typically falling 50-100 votes short before finally
clearing the bar in 2000. Kaat and John are not going to make it in
through the BBWAA.
I’m going to run through the Keltner test here and see if that adds
any information to whether they should be in.
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did
anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player
John: Nope. If we go by win shares, it isn’t even close.
John’s best season was a 276 inning, 138 ERA+, 21-9 effort in 1979
which was good for 23 win shares. A quick scan shows a half dozen
seasons at least ten win shares better than that season.
Kaat: Nope. ditto for Kaat. His best year was a 304
inning, 131 ERA+, 25-13 season with the Minnesota Twins.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
John: Definitely not as his best years were on a loaded
Dodgers team (Cey, Garvey, Lopes, Sutton, and Marshall) and a loaded
Yankees team (Munson, Randolph, Jackson, Guidry, Gossage). He was a
good complementary player.
Kaat: He did lead the staff of an 89-73 Twins team in 1966,
but clearly Oliva and Killebrew were more valuable players for the
Twins throughout the 1960’s. Kaat was the best pitcher on the 60’s
Twins with 139 WS for the decade, just a bit better than Camilio
Pascual and Jim Perry.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he
the best player in the league at his position?
John: He wasn’t, but he did finish second in the Cy Young
voting twice (in 1977 and 1979), and he was 8th in 1978. Over that
three-year period he had the fourth-most points in the Cy Young voting
behind Guidry, Mike Flanagan and Gaylord Perry, and ahead of Steve
Carlton and Bruce Sutter. He was a top pitcher those three years.
Kaat: finished fourth in the Cy Young voting in 1975 with a
20-14 record, but he undoubtedly would have garnered more votes if not
for the voting system. Until 1970, the voters named only a single
pitcher on their ballot. And until 1966, the award was only given to
one pitcher across both leagues. In 1966, Kaat led the league in wins
with 25 leading Denny McLain with 20 and was first in innings by 40
and was fourth in adjusted ERA. He would have won the AL Cy Young had
it been awarded.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
John: Yes, John threw six shutouts for the 1980 WS Yankee
team and was the number three starter for the 1978 Dodgers. John was
6-3 in the postseason with three complete games and a 2.65 ERA,
including a three-run complete game win in game one of the 1982 ALCS at
Kaat: From 1962 to 1970, the Twins finished first or second
five times, so yes. He was 1-3 in four postseason series with a 4.02
ERA. He won game two of the 1965 World Series with a one-run complete
game, but lost games five and seven.
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing
John: He pitched until he was 46.
Kaat: He pitched until he was 44.
6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in
the Hall of Fame?
John & Kaat: Nope, they aren’t the best pitchers not in
either. Bert Blyleven is their peer and clearly better.
7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall
John: Yes (* - signifies in the HOF)
1. Jim Kaat (923)
2. Robin Roberts (898) *
3. Bert Blyleven (889)
4. Fergie Jenkins (885) *
5. Early Wynn (870) *
6. Burleigh Grimes (865) *
7. Tony Mullane (864)
8. Don Sutton (861) *
9. Eppa Rixey (857) *
10. Red Ruffing (857) *
1. Tommy John (923)
2. Robin Roberts (917) *
3. Fergie Jenkins (891) *
4. Eppa Rixey (875) *
5. Bert Blyleven (854)
6. Early Wynn (849) *
7. Burleigh Grimes (846) *
8. Frank Tanana (845)
9. Red Ruffing (839) *
10. Ted Lyons (837) *
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
John: Not quite, John scores an 8 on black ink (40 is
average), 44 on HOF standards (50 is average) and 100 on the monitor
(100 is likely induction).
Kaat: Kaat does a little better with 19 in black ink, 44 on
standards and 120.5 on the monitor (thank you Gold Gloves).
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was
significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
John: John played for some pretty good teams. The teams he
played on would have averaged 273-246 in his decisions without him,
compared to Blyleven who was on teams at or around .500. This is a
crude estimate based team winning percentage alone.
Kaat: A summary of Kaat’s teams gives a 278-242 record.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for
the Hall of Fame?
John & Kaat: No, see above.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an
MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
John: He finished 12th in 1977 (3rd among pitchers).
Kaat: No, though Kaat did finish 5th in 1966, which was
the best finish by a pitcher by a good margin. He received a few odd
votes in 1967 and 1975.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many
All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in
this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?
John: John was named to four All-Star rosters, including
three straight from 1978 to 1980. He appeared in the 1968 game and
the 1980 game taking the loss. 340 players (89 of them pitchers) have
appeared in four or more All-Star games—170 since expansion in 1969.
Kaat: Kaat was an All-Star three times, including 1962 as a
rookie. He appeared in the 1966 and 1975 games. 495 players have
appeared in three or more All-Star games.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be
likely that the team could win the pennant?
John & Kaat: Nope.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he
responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment?
Did he change the game in any way?
John: Well, if you consider a new elbow ligament a new piece
of equipment, then yes.
Kaat:Besides the ridiculous number of gold gloves, not
really. He has stayed active as an announcer.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and
character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs
us to consider?
John: As far as I’m aware of. Bill James call him “a hell
of a nice man.”
Kaat: As far as I’m aware of.
I think they are both Hall of Famers. I’d pick John if forced to
pick one or the other. I also think they make it without that much
finagling. They were consistently good for a remarkably long
time. They each were among the top pitchers in the league for a
couple of years, and with a couple of breaks they would have a couple
of Cy Youngs between them. The Hall would be richer for having them.
Posted: December 26, 2002 at 05:00 AM | 16 comment(s)
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