Patrick Dubuque at Baseball Prospectus analyzed how we judge starting pitchers has shifted over time, and how that affects the Hall of Fame, using former Dodgers pitcher Don Sutton as an inflection point in the perception. Since Sutton’s election to Cooperstown in 1998, only nine starting pitchers have been voted into the Hall by the BBWAA in 25 years.
There will be tests in the coming years, like when Felix Hernández joins the ballot for 2025, just seven years after two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana fell off the ballot after only one year.
Dubuque explains how the role of starting pitchers has changed over time, with teams more relying on bullpens to finish things out. This was true of Sutton as well, to an extent, which seems weird to say considering the right-hander ranks seventh all-time with 5,282⅓ innings pitched and his 756 the third-most in baseball history. Dubuque explains:
The irony here is that Sutton’s reputation was hurt not by compiling so many innings, but by not pitching enough. As Steve Goldman wrote in his obituary, Sutton was, compared to his colleagues, a seven-and-dive pitcher, happy to let his relievers finish the job while guys like Carlton and Seaver were racking up complete games. Sutton claimed that he knew his limitations, that handing the ball over gave his team the best chance to win, and the numbers (and his durability) back that assessment up. At the same time, that awareness probably spread into the conversation about him, cementing his legacy as a second-tier starter.
It took Sutton five years on the writers’ ballot before he was elected to the Hall of Fame. It will be up to future voters to decide how to rate current starting pitchers, whose role has changed dramatically over the last three decades or so.
Andre Ethier was one of seven players to receive zero votes in this year’s Hall of Fame election, with 12 of the 28 players failing to receive the five percent necessary to remain on the ballot going forward. But as Jay Jaffe at FanGraphs noted, just making the ballot is a feat in itself.
“According to Baseball Reference, 234 players last appeared in the majors in 2017. Just 14 of them — slightly less than 6% — lasted long enough and had careers substantial enough to make onto this ballot,” Jaffe wrote. “So this bears repeating annually: There is no shame in being shut out on a Hall of Fame ballot.”
Mookie Betts will host a charity bowling tournament on February 8 at Lucky Strike in downtown Los Angeles, including a silent auction of various sports memorabilia to start the event. Tickets are available at the 5050 Foundation.