A familiar name on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot is former Mets closer Billy Wagner. While he would likely wear an Astros hat on his plaque, Wagner solidified his place in Mets history as closer for the 2006-2008 teams. The 7-time All Star is certainly one of the best closers of all time, but is he HOF worthy?
If you count John Smoltz, six closers currently have a place in the Hall of Fame. Trevor Hoffman, who got 67.3% of the vote on his first ballot, seems to be on his way as well. With Mariano Rivera certainly getting inducted on his first ballot a few years from now, that makes seven full-time closers (not including Smoltz), including Hoyt Wilhelm, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, and “Goose” Rich Gossage. How does Billy Wagner stack up against them?
While they are not necessarily the best metric to gauge the value of relievers, Billy Wagner is 6th on the all time saves list with 422. In 5th place is former Mets captain John Franco with 424. It is worth noting that despite recording the most saves by a lefty all time, Franco did not make it past the first ballot, receiving only 27 votes (4.6%).
Wagner also has more saves than HOF closers Eckersley (390), Fingers (341), Gossage (310), Sutter (300), and Wilhelm (228). Ahead of him are Rivera (652), Hoffman (601), Lee Smith (478), Francisco Rodriguez (430 and counting), and Franco (424).
As you can see, Wagner has more saves than any pitcher currently in the Hall Of Fame. However, 87% of them were one-inning saves. Many of those firemen in the Hall would record three-inning saves to make a living. For example, 27% of Dennis Eckersley‘s saves were longer than one inning compared to Wagner’s 9%.
An important statistic to look at when evaluating any player’s HOF resumé is how effective they are in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Wagner, there is a big red flag here. In 11.2 playoff innings, Wagner went 1-1 with a 10.03 ERA and 1.971 WHIP.
For the Mets in the 2006 playoffs, he recorded three saves in the NLDS but blew game two of the NLCS against the Cardinals, allowing three earned runs in 2/3 of an inning. He also pitched in game six, and despite getting a no-decision in the win, he allowed another two earned runs in one inning.
During the regular season, he was much harder to hit. In 903 career innings, he sported a stellar 2.31 ERA and 0.998 WHIP. Among pitchers with more than 800 innings, his 11.9 K/9 ratio is the best all time by a longshot. Out of all the batters Wagner faced in his career, he struck out 33.2% of them. The next closest numbers are Octavio Dotel with 10.9 K/9 and Stephen Strasburg with 29% respectively.
Wagner’s 0.998 WHIP is second best all time behind Addie Joss (0.968) who pitched from 1902-1910. Barely beating Mariano Rivera‘s 1.000, that essentially means that he would allow one baserunner per inning, whether via a hit or base on balls.
The only player with a better ERA and ERA+ than Wagner (2.31, 187) is Mariano Rivera (2.21, 205). To have a FIP lower than Wagner’s 2.73, you have to be a lefty Dodger as only Clayton Kershaw and Sandy Koufax have better career marks.
A hugely important statistic when evaluating relievers is how many runners they strand. Wagner’s career mark of 82% left on base is the best all time for relievers having thrown at least 500 innings by far. Going down the list includes Rivera’s 80.5%, John Franco‘s 77.5%, Lee Smith‘s 77.1%, Rich Gossage‘s 76.9%, and Trevor Hoffman‘s 76.7%.
While Billy Wagner certainly has a strong case for the Hall of Fame statistically, many writers don’t like voting for closers nowadays because they only pitch one inning. There are certainly more ways to evaluate relievers than the statistics in this article, however the metrics outlined are certainly important.
Wagner played for the Astros, Phillies, Mets, Red Sox, and Braves in his 15-year career. After getting only 10.5% of the votes in 2016, do you think he deserves some more recognition? Comment below!