Former Phillies closer missed the Hall of Fame by an agonizing number of votes

Billy Wagner just missed election this year, and with one more year on the ballot, what are his chances of getting into Cooperstown?
Expos v Phillies
Expos v Phillies / Jamie Squire/GettyImages

It was a shutout for former Philadelphia Phillies players on the ballot for induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. Bobby Abreu (14.8 percent), Jimmy Rollins (14.8 percent), Chase Utley (28.8 percent), and Billy Wagner (73.8 percent) all fell short of the 75 percent of BBWAA votes needed to gain entry into Cooperstown.

While Abreu, Rollins, and Utley were never close to securing induction this year, former Phillies closer Billy Wagner seemed like a lock to be voted in when early ballots were being tallied, but the former All-Star fell short when results were announced on Tuesday evening. How short? Five ballots.

Wagner will have one more opportunity for induction next year when his name appears on the ballot for the tenth and final time. The 2025 class has one lock to be inducted first ballot with Ichiro Suzuki, but newcomers to the ballot include fringe candidates CC Sabathia, Félix Hernández, Dustin Pedroia, and Curtis Granderson. The drop-off in talent might benefit Wagner in his final chance next winter.

Wagner spent two seasons with the Phillies from 2004 to 2005, pitching 126 innings with a stellar 1.86 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and 59 saves in 66 opportunities.

Current members of MLB's 400-save club may face a similar fate as Wagner

Billy Wagner was far and away one of the best closers of his era, yet his 422 saves and 2.31 career ERA in 16 seasons were not enough to punch his ticket to Cooperstown in his first nine years of Hall of Fame eligibility. Do BBWAA writers have a bias against the importance of a closer?

This past season, two new names were added into the 400 saves club. Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Craig Kimbrel (417 saves) and Boston Red Sox closer Kenley Jansen (420 saves) both reached the milestone during the 2023 season. If current voting trends remain, Kimbrel and Jansen seem to have an uncertain future when their names are added to the ballot.

Of the seven closers elected to the Hall of Fame, two have recorded 600-plus saves, Mariano Rivera (652) and Trevor Hoffman (601). Next on the list is Lee Smith (478), who was voted into the Hall on a committee ballot years after his first period of eligibility ended. Curiously, the remaining closers who have punched their tickets to Cooperstown all saved under 400 games.

Billy Wagner was an elite closer during his MLB career. It's difficult to picture a situation where he doesn't receive the five votes he missed from writers on next year's ballot. If we have learned anything from Wagner's situation, the 400-save milestone doesn't carry the same weight as a career with 3,000 hits. Call it bias if you want, but Wagner's situation speaks volumes of what writers think of closers' importance in the game.