26 April, 2008

Relief Coming to Hall of Fame

For quite some time now I have been researching statistics of MLB players that are not currently eligible for the Hall of Fame to get a good idea of who may or may not qualify for the Hall.

I sent a list to a friend over at the "Weiled West" blog; and he posted the list over a year ago. I have continued my research and one name kept coming up that I continually rejected upon the surface. That was John Franco, RP.
When his name first came up in my research it was prior to the Sutter and Gossage nominations and I rejected it based solely upon the fact that relievers were such long shots to begin with. After revisiting the numbers following the Sutter nod, I still rejected his name simply because I felt like I was alone when considering him for the Hall of Fame.
Certainly John Franco would be fighting an uphill battle to get into the Hall. Three things are working against him; first, he will continually be compared to Lee Smith, who had more saves as a contemporary, furthermore some of the later closers such as Hoffman and Rivera will have saves totals dwarfing those of Franco. Second, there is almost no mention, if any, among mainstream media regarding John Franco and the Hall of Fame. Third, Franco was one of the first of the new generation of closers who closed by pitching one inning; Sutter and Gossage will always have an edge in multi-inning saves over those who have closed in this more modern era.

Looking closely at the numbers, however, reveals that Franco is at the very least worthy of serious consideration.

Here's how he stacks up against some other notable relievers:

Player-----Yrs--W-- L--- WL%-- ERA---- G---GF--- SV------- IP--- H-----BB---SO---ERA+
Franco-----21---90--87-- .508---2.89-- 1119-- 774-- 424---1245.7-- 1166-- 495-- 975---137
Sutter-----12---68--71-- .489----2.83-- 661 -- 512-- 300--1042.3-- 879 -- 309 --861 ---135
Gossage---22---124-107-- .537---3.01- 1002-- 681-- 310-- 1809.3--1497-- 732 --1502 --125
Smith------18---71- 92---.436----3.03- 1022-- 802-- 478-- 1289.3--1133-- 486--1251---131
Reardon---16---73--77---.487----3.16--- 880---695---367---1132.3--1000--358--877----121
Franco----21----90--87-- .508--- 2.89-- 1119-- 774-- 424---1245.7-- 1166-- 495-- 975---137
* Denotes active player. All statistics are from www.baseball-reference.com as of 4/26/08

He compares very favorably to this group. Looking at the ERA+ category he actually ranks about the same as Sutter and well ahead of Gossage. (Note: this statistic is adjusted for era and 100 is average) Only Wagner and Rivera dwarf him in this category. In the total saves category he ranks well ahead of both Sutter and Gossage who are already hall of famers. At the time of his retirement he was second only to Lee Smith in saves.

A negative that is easily seen is that Smith is not in the Hall, yet Franco's numbers are so similar. Franco has an edge in WL% while Smith gets the nod in Ks.

A deeper comparison shows that Franco won the Rolaids Relief Award twice, Smith three times; Franco led the league in saves 3 times, Smith four times. One big negative for Franco is the fact that he never cracked 40 saves in a season. Smith accomplished the feat 3 times.

Comparing Franco to anyone on the above list besides Smith or Reardon isn't too productive since the role of closers in different eras is not completely understood for comparison purposes yet. However, we see that Franco does compare very favorably to Lee Smith. While it is my opinion that Smith himself is fighting an uphill battle to get selected for the Hall of Fame it is clear to me that if Smith is elected, Franco ought to be elected.

With the recent selections of Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage, Hall of Fame voters will have to look more closely at the numbers that are being put up by modern day closers. As more understanding of their effect on the game is gained we will begin to have a greater appreciation for the elite closers of each era.

Hall of Fame voters are still showing a great reluctance to vote for relievers, but with today's game becoming more dependent on the role day-by-day, perhaps the voters will do the right thing by electing Lee Smith, John Franco and some of the greats who are following after them to what they are truly worthy of, the Hall of Fame.