HOWARD MEGDAL: This is not to say that Jamie Moyer, were he to retire today, would be a Hall of Famer. But the duration of his career as a solid pitcher leads inevitably to the question: just how close is he? The point is, there simply has to be a point when Moyer’s longevity gets him into Cooperstown, and a point when it should.
Let’s take a look at what makes a Hall of Famer. Simply put, it is peak value and career value, to use the Bill James terms. Peak value refers to just how good a player is at his best, while career value marks the length of time a player manages to provide positive contribution to his team.
Don Sutton is a good example of a pitcher who made the Hall on career value: a lifetime ERA+ of just 108, but 23 seasons and 324 wins. Ralph Kiner is a good example of peak value: just ten seasons, but 369 home runs in those ten seasons.
And naturally, there are others who pitched for a long time- Charlie Hough, 25 seasons, but not at a high enough level to reach the Hall- and those who had huge peaks but not for quite long enough, like Al Rosen, for instance.
Still, if we consider the question to be one of total value, then just how long would Moyer have to pitch to qualify for Hall of Fame value?
Well, let’s take Sutton for an example. His 324 wins over 23 seasons made for a winning percentage of .559. Now, whatever you think of wins as a stat- I happen to think it relatively worthless- there is no doubt that Sutton made the Hall on the strength of his victories, particularly scaling that magical wall of 300.
Moyer, on the strength of his two-hit shutout last week, is at 262-197- a .571 winning percentage. He’s averaged 14 wins per season, both in his career, and in his last three full seasons (ages 44-46!) with the Phillies. That puts him on pace to reach 300 right at the end of the 2012 season- when he’ll be 49.
Will the writers really deny him a ticket to Cooperstown, should he get to 300? More to the point, should they?
There is something to be said for honoring those who do something new in baseball. Candy Cummings is in the Hall for his curveball, for instance. Moyer will be, simply put, breaking new ground for pitchers his age- largely because there haven’t been any, particularly in the non-knuckleball category.
And career value comes into play here. Moyer was an above-average starter in 1988- ERA+ of 105- and an above-average starter in 2008- ERA+ of 118. To put that in perspective, Moyer’s 1988 ERA+ mark, for National League starters, put him just above John Smiley, who has been retired since 1997, and just below Eric Show, who has been dead since 1994.
His 2008 ERA+ mark of 118 tied him with Matt Cain, who was three years old for much of the 1988 season, and Ubaldo Jimenez, who was four years old during the 1988 season.
In short, Moyer has been a useful pitcher for a long time. He’s not remotely what we think of as a typical Hall of Famer. But just as some players were so dominant that their short career length wasn’t enough to keep them out, Moyer rapidly seems to be approaching the reverse territory: a career so long that his relative lack of peak seasons can’t keep him out, either.
JON DALY: Howard, it’s funny you should mention Don Sutton. I inherited the full run of The Sporting News for 1986 somehow. The June 30th edition had Moyer’s first boxscore. Can you imagine having to wait close to two weeks for a boxscore? The biggest news in baseball (other than Bo Jackson agreeing to join the Royals) was Sutton winning his 300th game. Len Bias made the cover for dying right after the Celtics drafted him. The Hand of God goal happened less than a week after Moyer’s debut. Somewhere in all that history, I graduated from high school. Charlie Hough, another name you mentioned, was in TSN for nearly missing a no-hitter the day that Moyer debuted.
Another name I’d throw in here is Jim Kaat. He was another relatively peakless hurler who was a four decade man. Like Sutton, he had an ERA+ of 108, but he fell shy of 300 wins.
It’s the relatively flat terrain of his career that bothers me. He was a late bloomer and his prime was form roughly 1998 to 2003 when he put together quality pitching with a lot of innings. Even then, he only made one All-Star team, finished no higher than fourth in Cy Young voting, and was maybe the 5th best American League pitcher behind Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, and Mike Mussina for starters. Doc Halliday was starting to rev up around then, as were Hudson and Zito,
Moyer’s an interesting story, no doubt. His approach seemed suited for fin de seicle Seattle. But I’m not sure the uniqueness of his resume should garner him a ticket to Cooperstown. In closing, it’s a pity that Robin Roberts won’t be around to see him give up his 506th home run.