Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? John Smoltz

Claim to fame: I just wrote about Jack Morris, and now, it seems only fair to feature his opponent from Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. John Smoltz’s line– 7.1 shutout innings, six hits, four strikeouts— doesn’t get talked about like Morris’s 10-inning shutout, but it may rank among the best losing-end efforts in postseason history. It’s up there with Sal Maglie’s complete game in Don Larsen’s perfecto in 1956 and Bill Bevens, who lost a no-hitter, and the game, with two outs in the ninth in 1947, and it got me reviewing Smoltz’s stats. Turns out besides being a great starter and closer, Smoltz was perhaps the best playoff pitcher of his generation.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Smoltz retired following the 2009 season and will be eligible for enshrinement in 2015 through the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? In short: Yes, though I wonder when Smoltz will receive his plaque in Cooperstown (and if it could hang with his stellar Atlanta Braves teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, though that may be discussion for another time.)

Smoltz is going to be an interesting case for the writers, since he went to the bullpen after a catastrophic injury mid-career and lost a few years of starting and perhaps 50 wins. His career line of 213-155 with a 3.33 ERA and 3,084 strikeouts is Hall of Fame-caliber for a starting pitcher, but it’s at the lower end of the spectrum. His top 10 list of pitchers he’s most similar to based on stats include three Hall of Famers, Jim Bunning, Catfish Hunter, and Don Drysdale, and none were first ballot choices. Bunning was a Veterans Committee pick, Hunter got in on his third try with the writers, and Drysdale made it, barely, on his tenth.

Still, if there’s justice among the BBWAA, the full range of Smoltz’s achievements will be considered, from the 154 saves he amassed mid-career to his lifetime postseason record, which looks more like a Cy Young season.

Andy Pettitte has more postseason wins in his career than Smoltz– 19 to 15– though in a series-deciding game, there’s no question who I’d rather have on the mound. In almost every statistical category, Smoltz trounces Pettitte.

Here’s a chart with their career postseason records:

Smoltz 15 4 2.67 41 27 2 1 209 62 199 1.144
Pettitte 19 10 3.83 42 42 0 0 263 112 173 1.304

There’s one other thing worth mentioning, and while I doubt it will matter to voters, I think it should. Early in his career, Smoltz had clear emotional problems, and after starting the 1991 season 2-11, he began seeing a sports psychologist and righted course. This is rare. I’ve written about aces like Dontrelle Willis or Steve Blass who encountered issues of their own. Generally, once a hurler starts down this road, it’s the point of no return (with one exception aside from Smoltz being Zack Greinke, who overcame an anxiety disorder to win the 2009 American League Cy Young Award.)

It’s one more way Smoltz was in rare company as a pitcher.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, Keith Hernandez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rocky Colavito, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines

6 Replies to “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? John Smoltz”

  1. I could go either way. Baseball-Reference has him 38th in career WAR for pitchers. That would make it a definite yes. But I like to see some great peak value. I don’t see where he was maybe one of the top 5 pitchers in the league for 3 straight years in any stat. He was 2, 4, 9, and 5 in SO/BB from 96-99. That is pretty good.

  2. Smoltz definitely belongs in the Hall. He might not get in on the first ballot, but the numbers are undeniable and as we clearly see he was a phenomenal postseason pitcher — one of the best ever. Certainly he seemed to come up bigger in the playoffs and World Series than certain first-ballot great Greg Maddux. Smoltz can perhaps be compared to Dennis Eckersley, who was an excellent starter who then flourished as a closer, although one could easily argue that Smoltz was the better starter, and might well have become as great a closer as Eck if he had performed the role longer. For the most part, Smoltz was overshadowed in the Braves’ rotation during the regular season by Maddux and Tom Glavine, and was derailed for a while by injury, but he was the ultimate big-game pitcher of his generation. I’d put him in on the first ballot, but since Maddux and Glavine are probably shoo-ins for that honor I think Smoltz will get the call on his second or third chance.

    1. Bob, thanks for weighing in, and while I’ve definitely been reading the Eck/Smoltz comparisons since my post went up, you’re the first to suggest Smoltz may have been a better closer. Interesting take.

      I agree with you that Smoltz won’t be a first ballot pick, but for all intents and purposes should be.

  3. Wow!If Smoltz is in then where is JackMorris? He had more wins more championships(3) and was THE most dominant pitcher of the 80’s!No discredit to Smoltz but it is time to vote in well deserved Morris. If placing the stats on a scale for consideration to the Hall I think playoffs and championships should warrant heavy consideration .After all,isn’t greatness defined by reaching the pinnacle of your profession ? Oh yea,andMorris beat Smoltz in the best pitched game in MLB history.

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