Lee Smith: A Hall of Fame Case


Lee Smith, who finished his career first all-time with 478 saves, has a case that can be made for his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In nearly 1,300 innings pitched, Smith finished with a3.03 ERA (132 ERA+) and 1.26 WHIP.

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I spent my Saturday night watching both Hall of Fame specials that aired on the MLB Network this week. Despite the sure things, there are those players that seem to be overlooked despite their naming having appeared on the ballot for over ten years. One is none other than the former closer for the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs, amongst other teams. Smith pitched for 18 seasons in the Major Leagues, mostly with the Cubs.

Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera are going to go into the Hall of Fame for what they did in the ninth inning of the game. But for what they did as closers, why isn’t somebody like Smith getting more attraction from the voters?

It wasn’t until last year’s very stacked ballot in which Smith’s voting totals took a big dive. In 2012, Smith garnered 50.6% of the BBWAA vote, dropping to 47.8% in 2013. With a stacked ballot in 2014 in which only 50% of the voting members used all ten spots, Smith’s nosedive saw him earning only 29.% of support. The 2015 ballot is Smith’s 13th year on the ballot. He’s grandfathered in and will be on the ballot for two more years.

Smith will likely get around the same support this year as those voters who voted for Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas will replace them with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz.

The only closers in the Hall of Fame are Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Hoyt Wilhelm and Goose Gossage. Dennis Eckersley made 361 starts before he was converted into a reliever.

Billy Wagner won’t be on the ballot until next year but I’ll be interested in seeing how well he performs as both pitchers have a similar case that can be made.

Sports Illustrated‘s Jay Jaffe breaks down Smith’s JAWS rating (35.0 career, 25.7 peak, 30.4 JAWS) as compared to the other relievers that are currently inducted in Cooperstown.

"Smith, who made six starts and none after 1982, nevertheless ranks 14th in JAWS. Because of the way Eckersley’s WAR total skews the standards, it’s perhaps more instructive to note that among those enshrined, Smith tops only Fingers (26.1) and Sutter (24.6) in career WAR, and only Fingers (19.2) in peak WAR."

Jaffe concludes that Smith’s case will play better in front of the Expansion Era Committee than the BBWAA as the BBWAA is still trying to figure out what is their standard for relievers.