Ten Greatest Starting Pitchers Not In The Hall Of Fame
Lost in the Mets clinching the playoffs last night was that Max Scherzer also won his 200th career game. This period of time is a little like the the early/mid 1980's when you had a number of great starting pitchers nearing the end of their careers. Back then, you had Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro and Don Sutton all winding down. All would make the Hall of Fame.
Now it's Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke who will all be calling it quits sooner rather than later and I expect all will make the Hall pretty easily. You could even add Adam Wainwright to that list as someone who could have a legitimate shot. It got me thinking where these guys stack up with other elite starting pitchers in history who aren't in the Hall of Fame.
I used WAR (for pitching only) to determine the list so I wouldn't be biased assembling it. I didn't include pitchers from the 1800's because they pitched every other day back then and the stats are wonky. Some of the names who didn't crack the Top 10 surprised me. CC Sabathia, who I think will be a Hall of Famer in a few years once he gets on the ballot. Also, Andy Pettitte and Mark Buehrle didn't crack the Top 10 list either and both will be on next year's HOF ballot.
Here's the Top 10 Starting Pitchers not in the Hall of Fame according to WAR:
10. Tommy John
He was the both the beneficiary and victim of timing. Had he been born ten years earlier, his career would have ended when he blew out his elbow and obviously would never had the surgery that would up being named after him. Had he been born ten years later, he wouldn't have been in the same Seaver/Carlton generation I mentioned earlier and his 288 career wins might have seemed more special.
His whole career was the definition of so close. He was only 12 wins away from 300. He was a Cy Young runner up in 1977. He made it to three World Series…but lost every one. Over the past decade, he's been on the Veteran's/Era committee's short list to get into Cooperstown but fell short each time. He'll next be up for eligibility in 2023.
Will he get in the HOF? Yes. With Jim Kaat getting in this past year, the door is wide open for John in 2023.
What hat would be on his plaque? He spent the majority of his time with three teams: White Sox, Dodgers and Yankees. I think he should wear a Dodgers cap because that's where he was when he had the surgery and pitched so well right after. That period of time is what he is most famous for.
9. Luis Tiant
Tiant's career is like an unfinished puzzle every time I look at it. All the pieces are there but it doesn't quite come together. He won two ERA titles. Won 20+ games four times. He had some postseason success and by all accounts, was a thrilling pitcher to watch. But when you look at his final career numbers…it's just not that impressive. He certainly had a good career but he also pitched in that same generation I mentioned with Tommy John. His numbers (229 career wins, 3.30 ERA) don't stack up to the rest of that class of guys.
He was on the ballot for all 15 years he was eligible but he never came close to making the Hall. He even almost fall off the ballot a couple times. Since then, he has appeared on the formerly named Veterans Committee's list a couple times but had guys like Kaat and John ahead of him. Maybe he deserves a second look. I would never had guessed he had a higher WAR than Sabathia.
Will he get into the HOF? I don't think so. At least not for years. They keep changing the Era Committee rules but he still has Tommy John in front of him and with Kaat just getting in, would they pull another starting pitcher from that era next time they meet?
What hat would be on his plaque? Boston Red Sox
8. Rick Reuschel
This is someone I never expected to be on this list. Big Daddy had a nice career going 214-191 with a 3.37 and pitched long enough to be teammates with both Ron Santo and Rod Beck. But I don't remember anyone in the 1980's ever mentioning the Hall of Fame and his name in the same sentence. But he had some nice seasons. He won 20 games for a mediocre Cubs team in 1977. After missing all of 1982 with a rotator cuff injury, he was very good starting pitcher for the Pirates. He even helped lead the 1989 Giants to the World Series as their number 2 starting pitcher at 40 years old.
Reuschel fell off the HOF ballot after his first year when he only got two votes. He has not received consideration from the Veteran's Committee. It's wild he's on this list.
Will he get into the HOF? No.
What hat would be on his plaque? Chicago Cubs
7. Kevin Brown
Brown was a good pitcher for the Rangers and the Orioles who became a great one for the Marlins, Padres and Dodgers. Somewhere along the way he used steroids. He was named in the Mitchell Report after his career but that spoke exclusively of his time with the Dodgers. It tanked any chance he had of making the Hall of Fame and he was gone after only getting 2.3% of the vote on the first ballot.
From 1996-2000, Kevin Brown was as good as any pitcher in baseball not named Pedro Martinez. He was the best pitcher on the World Champion 1997 Marlins and then when he was traded to the Padres, he led them to the World Series and was the best player on THAT team. He had one of the best sinking fastballs in baseball history. He's the most forgotten dominant player of my lifetime.
Will he get into the HOF? No.
What hat would he wear on his HOF plaque? It probably should be the Dodgers but the perception is that contract was bad. It doesn't matter. He's not getting in.
6. Max Scherzer
Our first active pitcher on this list, Scherzer is absolutely getting into the Hall Of Fame. As I mentioned, he now has 200 wins and 3 Cy Young Awards. You can make a case that he's one of the greatest free agents in baseball history. I put Maddux and Bonds ahead of him on that list but he's right there. The Diamondbacks trading him after his first full season for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy should be mentioned more as one of the worst trades ever.
As a Mets fan, I'm very invested with how much longer he can keep pitching at this level. This will be the first non-COVID affected season where he's had less than 27 starts. But when he's out there, he's still elite. Last night, he pitched six perfect innings before being taken out. He's signed through next year with a $43 million option for 2024.
Will he get into the HOF? Yes. First ballot.
What hat would he wear on his HOF plaque? He'll be the first person with a HOF plaque with a Washington Nationals hat.
5. Zack Greinke
Scherzer might pass Greinke in WAR before the season is over. Greinke is also the first guy of these four greats to lose his effectiveness. I wonder if he'll retire in the offseason. He's been an average starting pitcher the last couple of years and I am sure the Royals would welcome him back next year. Since Greinke might be the most non-conformist player in baseball, I could also see him pitching as long as he possibly can.
Will he get into the HOF? Yes. Might not be first ballot though.
What hat would he wear on his HOF plaque? It should be the Royals and I am guessing him going back there this season helps that cause.
4. Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw has the highest WAR of any player in Dodgers history. I'm not just counting Los Angeles. That's Brooklyn too. That's higher than Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider and Don Drysdale. It's even higher than Jackie Robinson. Kershaw has been so great for so long, he's become underrated. Like Scherzer, he also has three Cy Young Awards but he has also led the NL in ERA five times. He is nearing 200 wins as well (he's at 193) and he's still only 34.
Kershaw hinted at retirement last offseason when he was a free agent. Rumors were that if he didn't sign with the Dodgers or his hometown Rangers, he'd call it quits. The Dodgers did sign him to a one year deal and he's been good this season. It's become a trend with him that he'll miss portions of each season (he hasn't made 29 starts in a season since 2015) but when he is out there, he's still great. I am guessing he'll come back next year and go get his 200th win.
Will he get into the HOF? Yes. First ballot. It doesn't matter if he gets 200 wins or not.
What hat would he wear on his HOF plaque: Only guy on this list that pitched for one team.
3. Justin Verlander
Of the active pitcher greats, Verlander is the oldest of them but also having the best season. Since joining the Astros, he's been 60-18 with a 2.29 ERA in 99 starts. After only pitching six innings the last two years combined, he's come back to lead the AL in ERA this season. I would assume that not pitching for two years would take a lot of physical pressure off a pitcher but how long can he realistically keep this up? He'll pitch about 50 innings less this season than he used to before he had Tommy John surgery. He has a $25 million player option for next year.
Will he get into the HOF? Yes. First ballot
What hat would he wear on his HOF plaque? Detroit Tigers
2. Curt Schilling
The Schilling/HOF debate is so painfully stupid on all sides. The reporters are idiots for letting his politics affect voting for him for the Hall of Fame. Most of the things that he said that offended the baseball writers so much happened after his playing career. Schilling is an idiot for trying to take his name off the ballot for the last season and being a bombastic asshole. Both parties are in the wrong. Also, Curt Schilling is absolutely a Hall of Famer. He's one of, if not the greatest postseason pitcher ever. He also had a brilliant career in the regular season. He's 17th all-time in strikeouts and was Top 10 in ERA nine times.
Will he get into the HOF? He'll get in through the Era Committee eventually. I could see him and Fred McGriff both getting announced in December. Both will be eligible. Maybe Schilling will shut his fucking mouth until then. His induction speech will be fire though.
What hat would he wear on his HOF plaque? He said he won't wear a Red Sox hat because he hates the ownership. Guessing he picks the Diamondbacks.
1. Roger Clemens
The only pitchers in baseball history with a higher WAR than Roger Clemens are Cy Young and Walter Johnson. Clemens, like Brown was listed on the Mitchell Report and that's why he's on this list. But, you knew that. The whole Clemens/Bonds not being in the HOF just makes me sad at this point. Both were Hall of Famers before they started using PED's. That's different than Kevin Brown or Rafael Palmeiro who likely wouldn't be in the discussion without PED's. Should an exception be made for Clemens and Bonds?
Will he get into the HOF? It will take many years but I do think he gets in. So does Bonds. It might take a couple generations but eventually people will be so removed from the scandals, they will look solely on the numbers and elect them in.
What hat would we wear on his HOF plaque? Boston Red Sox. He was a mercenary for so much of his career but he has been inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame and has even called a few games for them over the radio. That relationship seems pretty repaired at this point.
It might be a long time before we see four pitchers at the level of Scherzer, Kershaw, Verlander and Grienke all still starting games while already having HOF credentials. After those guys, Wainwright and David Price (who sounds like he might retire) the next active leaders in wins are Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner, Gerritt Cole and Lance Lynn.
All have under 145 wins.