Astros: Billy Wagner should be easy call for Hall of Fame

8 Apr 2001: Billy Wagner #13 of the Houston Astros winds back to pitch the ball during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Enron Field in Houston, Texas. The Pirates defeated the Astros 9-3.Mandatory Credit: Ronald Martinez /Allsport
8 Apr 2001: Billy Wagner #13 of the Houston Astros winds back to pitch the ball during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Enron Field in Houston, Texas. The Pirates defeated the Astros 9-3.Mandatory Credit: Ronald Martinez /Allsport /
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Former Astros closer Billy Wagner should be an easy pick for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It’s that time of year. The Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2020 will be announced later this month, and fans are tracking public ballots thanks to some diligent work by Ryan Thibodaux and his team. One of the former Astros players on the ballot is closer Billy Wagner, and his case is interesting.

As of the time of this writing, Wagner had been selected on 33.3 percent of publicly revealed ballots. A player needs to be named on 75 percent of total ballots to gain induction, so his chances of getting in this year are virtually nonexistent.

But a player gets 10 tries at it, and this will be Wagner’s fifth year on the ballot. His highest vote total thus far came in 2019 when he was named on 16.7 percent of ballots. So he’s already on track to beat that, though his final vote total will likely be lower than the 33.3 percent mark he’s currently showing. Still, there’s a solid chance he breaks the 20 percent mark.

At this point, his candidacy is a long-term struggle relying on gaining ground each year. As the ballot becomes less crowded with deserving players, Wagner will warrant a longer look by many voters. What they should find, however, is that it should be an easy choice to vote for him.

A Surprising Comparison

The best case for Wagner’s candidacy is to stack his numbers up against a current member of the Hall of Fame — Trevor Hoffman. Both were among the top closers of their era, so it’s fairly easy to compare the two, and it’s an interesting comparison to say the least.

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Hoffman is second all-time in both saves and games finished, while Wagner is sixth in both. But Hoffman’s advantages end there, and they mainly come from having pitched a couple of extra seasons. Take that away and you’ll find Wagner was clearly the superior pitcher.

Wagner has Hoffman beat in career ERA (2.31 vs 2.87), ERA+ (187 vs 141), FIP (2.73 vs 3.08), WHIP (0.998 vs 1.058), hits per nine innings (6.0 vs 7.0) and strikeouts per nine (11.9 vs 9.4). In fact, Wagner had more total strikeouts despite throwing 186.1 fewer innings.

If it’s consistent excellence you want, Hoffman had nine seasons in his career in which he finished with an ERA above 2.85. By contrast, Wagner had only one such season, and that was an injury-marred 2000 campaign. Stack his numbers up against the game’s best closers and you’ll find a compelling argument that he’s the best relief pitcher not named Mariano Rivera.

Wagner could’ve padded his saves total if he wanted, as he retired after an age-38 season in which he put up a career-best 1.43 ERA. But he went out on top, and it’s not right that he should be penalized for that. His 422 saves and sheer dominance should be more than enough to get him elected.

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For now, the simple hope is that more voters will recognize this each year, gradually building momentum toward what could end up being a final push in his 10th and final year on the ballot. We’re still a few years away from that, but hopefully that’s enough time for the voters to realize just how deserving Wagner is of being enshrined among the game’s all-time greats.

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