Wednesday, April 23, 2008

John Smoltz: Hall of Famer?

Braves pitcher John Smoltz recorded his 3,000th strikeout yesterday, a milestone reached by only 15 other pitchers in baseball history. Since he's now 41 years old, it's fair to assess his career and ask the question: Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?

Without checking the numbers, my immediate response would have been yes. He's been on of the league's top pitchers for almost 20 years... or so I thought. But let's look closer at his career.

As of today, Smoltz has notched 210 victories against 146 losses for a pretty good .590 winning percentage. Considering he played almost his entire career for winning teams in Atlanta, however, I would have expected a better record. For example, his teammate Greg Maddux spent 11 years with the Braves and posted a .688 winning percentage. In Tom Glavine's 15-year Braves career (before this season), his winning percentage was .628. So with Smoltz, we're talking about arguably the third best pitcher on his team.

But maybe it's not fair to compare Smoltz to two other Hall of Famers. How many years was Smoltz truly one of the five best pitchers in baseball?

By my count, Smoltz had only three years as a starter and two as a reliever where an objective observer could call him a truly great pitcher. His career is filled with seasons like 1993: 15 wins, 11 losses, 3.62 ERA, 208 Ks in 243 innings.

Where he truly shines, however, is in the post-season, where his record is sterling: 15-4, 2.65 ERA, 194 Ks in 207 IP.

Adding it all up, I think Smoltz deserves to be in the Hall and will be elected on the first or second ballot. He belongs in the second or third tier of Hall of Famers, not in the Bob Gibson/Lefty Grove/Greg Maddux stratosphere, but more in the Don Drysdale/Catfish Hunter/Bob Lemon category. Still very good company.

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