Phillies Billy Wagner now better positioned for the Hall of Fame
Lee Smith’s election to the Hall of Fame only means good things for a former Phillies closer
Many Baseball Hall of Fame voters opt not to vote for relief pitchers when marking their ballot, which has hurt former Phillies closer Billy Wagner. However, Wagner’s chances of being enshrined into Cooperstown might have taken a big step forward this week.
The Today’s Game Era Committee elected designated hitter Harold Baines and closer Lee Smith to the Hall of Fame on Sunday night. Much of the conversation has revolved around whether Baines is a worthy candidate, while Lee’s selection wasn’t as surprising.
Lee’s 478 career saves made him the all-time saves leader after 18 seasons with eight different clubs, but he’s since been passed by Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman and likely inductee Mariano Rivera.
The former Cub’s selection could potentially set a new standard for relief pitchers to make the Baseball Hall of Fame. There are currently just seven players who have been elected as relievers in Cooperstown (Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, Hoffman, and Smith) and Rivera is expected to join that exclusive club next summer.
While Wagner had 56 fewer saves than Smith, the rest of his numbers are either comparable or better. Wagner played 169 fewer games and nearly 400 fewer innings than Smith, but he only had 55 fewer strikeouts, finishing with four shy of 2,000.
Where Wagner really stands out from the pack is his ERA, which stands at a remarkable 2.31. Both made the seven All-Star games in their respective careers, and Wager’s career WAR is only 1.3 points behind Smith.
Wagner’s career ERA is better than five of his Cooperstown predecessors: Hoffman, Gossage, Hoydt, Fingers, and Eckersley.
According to the Hall of Fame Monitor statistic Wagner comes in at 107, which is seven points higher than a likely Hall of Famer. He does fall short compared to the six relievers currently in Cooperstown when it comes to JAWS and his seven-year peak WAR.
Another knock on Wagner is that he never led the league in saves, but he played in the same era as Rivera and Hoffman.
In all fairness to Wagner, he was never on any tremendous teams after nine years with the Astros. He was an All-Star for the Phillies before becoming enemy number one as a Met, and his career finished strong in 2010 for the Braves when he posted 37 saves in his final season.
When Wagner was on a playoff team he struggled to play up to his standards, finishing with a 10.03 ERA in 14 postseason appearances.
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I’m not saying Wagner should be a lock for the Hall of Fame, and his chances are slim after receiving just 11.1 percent of the vote last year, a minuscule climb in his third year on the ballot.
With less than eight percent of ballots made public thus far Wagner has received just 6.3 percent of the vote. Hall of Fame ballot tracker Ryan Thibodaux notes that Wager (thus far) hasn’t lost any votes from writers who previously voted for him. His percentage of the votes is likely to go up a hair more, but Wagner’s chances of being elected by the baseball writers are slim to none.
Hopefully with Smith’s induction via the Today’s Game Era Committee fringe candidates such as Wagner will get another look. Unfortunately, Wagner will likely hold enough votes to stay on the ballot for all 10 years of his eligibility, pushing his day in court with the Today’s Game Era Committee back even more.