Astros: Time to get Wags4HoF going to support Billy Wagner?

rsweeney
HOUSTON - JUNE 28: Closing pitcher Billy Wagner #13 of the Houston Astros delivers a pitch against the Texas Rangers during the MLB interleague game at Minute Maid Park on June 28, 2003 in Houston, Texas. The Astros won 2-0. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
HOUSTON - JUNE 28: Closing pitcher Billy Wagner #13 of the Houston Astros delivers a pitch against the Texas Rangers during the MLB interleague game at Minute Maid Park on June 28, 2003 in Houston, Texas. The Astros won 2-0. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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Former Astros closer Billy Wagner was good, but not Hall of Fame good.

As some of you may know, I ran an aggressive (some would say “obnoxious,” but those people are not to be trusted) campaign advocating for Jeff Bagwell’s Hall of Fame candidacy. Who knows how successful it ultimately was, if at all. But it certainly caught the attention of plenty of Astros fans.

As such, with Bagwell’s election last year providing me ample amounts of free time, several fans have asked if I’d be willing to direct all that Bagwell effort and energy into a campaign for other Astros needing a Hall of Fame boost. Specifically, Billy Wagner, who’s languishing at the bottom of the ballot and in danger of likely falling off of it completely this year.

And the short answer is… Nah, I’m good.

The considerably longer answer has nothing to do with Wagner, per se, but my own bias against any relievers being elected to the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Trevor Hoffman should get in, either, nor would I (retroactively) support campaigns for Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage or Bruce Sutter, either.

(Yes, I’d vote for Mariano Rivera as the lone exception because of his stellar postseason track record. I don’t place tremendous value on a regular season save, which I’ll try and detail below- but a postseason save? Those are objectively valuable, and there’s never been anyone as good as Rivera at nailing down must-wins in October.)

Wagner was a terrific closer. Let’s not bury the lede. He averaged 12 strikeouts per nine innings and finished with a 187 ERA+ and 2.73 FIP. If I thought relievers belonged in the Hall of Fame, he’s a tremendous candidate I’d almost certainly support.

But Wagner only totaled 903 innings during his 16-year career; he faced 3,600 batters. When Justin Verlander retires, he’ll have more than three times as many innings and five times as many batters faced. I know the counter-argument is that Wagner’s innings were high-leverage and that it makes up some of the discrepancies – but I’ve never bought that argument. It creates an inning hierarchy that suggests one inning is more important than another and I don’t buy that.

Saves that big a deal?

Look at it this way…. let’s say you’re Astros reliever Will Harris who, other than a brief spell in 2016, has exclusively been a non-closer relief pitcher. Do you think Harris views the outs he’s asked to secure in the 7th or 8th inning as “easy”? Understand: I’m not asking if YOU believe they are easier, I’m asking if you think Harris, whose livelihood depends on his ability to get outs, regardless of inning, thinks they’re easier?

Maybe they are; Harris did struggle when he closed games during the summer of 2016, posting a 5.57 ERA while collecting 12 saves (a career high). But what about the nights where Harris is protecting a 1-run lead and sets down the 4-5-6 hitters in the 8th and leaves batters 7-8-9 to Ken Giles in the ninth – which is “easier”?

Not every save is the same – yet, statistically, they are: a one-run save in the heat of a September pennant race counts the same as a three-run save on a Tuesday afternoon game against the White Sox in May. We make no effort to qualify saves. Say what you want about the quality start metric (complete at least six innings while allowing no more than three earned runs) but at least it provides *some* context.

Looking at the stats.

Yes, I know there are clutch stats – but if we’re going to elevate the role of closer to the point of eschewing standard statistical milestones (like innings pitched), we should have a better, more thorough way to measure a reliever’s total effectiveness.

But we don’t, and we know this because Hoffman is going into the Hall of Fame almost exclusively because he compiled a large number of saves. Significantly more than Wagner, in fact, even though Wagner had the objectively better career:

Wagner

Hoffman

ERA

2.31

2.87

ERA+

187

141

FIP

2.73

3.08

K/9

11.9

9.4

WHIP

.998

1.06

WAR

27.7

28.0

IP

903

1089.1

Saves

422

601

Wagner even has the better 10-year peak:

Wagner (’99-’08)

Hoffman (’96-’05)

ERA

2.32

2.51

ERA+

191

159

FIP

2.77

2.66

K/9

11.2

10.3

WHIP

.965

1.00

WAR

20.9

19.1

IP

639.2

623

Saves

323

380

Conclusion.

There is no logical argument for selecting Hoffman to the Hall of Fame and not Wagner … except that Hoffman totaled considerably more saves. That’s it – that’s why Hoffman will be a Hall of Famer. Quick: recount Hoffman’s career-defining save. Or recount any Hoffman save. And then look at those numbers again: which guy would YOU rather have shutting down a one-run game?

Wagner was great; his story deserves to be told or, at the very least, not forgotten. And if your standard is, “If Hoffman is in, Wagner should be in, too!” – you’ll get no argument from me.

Next: Astros: Why Jake Arrieta would make sense for Houston

Except… I don’t believe either should be in the Hall of Fame.

What do you think Astros? Let me hear from you.

****Stats from Baseball-Reference***

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