I think there’s an interesting question to be raised when the next ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame comes out.
The 2 new candidates on the ballot who stand the best chance of election will be Ichiro Suzuki and CC Sabathia.
Ichiro is a no-doubt lock and it wouldn’t surprise me if he matched or bettered Adrián Beltré’s 95% from this year’s Hall of Fame class.
But what about Sabathia?
If we use statistical evaluation tools to evaluate his candidacy, he’s really, really close. Baseball-Reference tracks a player’s Hall of Fame Career Standards Score from a method devised by Bill James. Sabathia scores a 48. The average Hall of Famer scores a 50.
Using more recently developed methodologies, Sabathia scores a 491.2 on Bill’s Hall of Fame Value stat, a stat devised in 2019 for which 500 was the intended target for the Hall.
And in Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, he ranks 55th among starting pitchers. His bWAR and 7-year peak WAR come out about 10.5 WAR below the average Hall-of-Famer.
The question for voters is going to be, where do you set your personal bar among Sabathia’s contemporaries?
There are some no-doubters that should be ahead of Sabathia on the Hall of Fame candidate list. Among active pitchers, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer fit that description. Zack Greinke checks out very well too even if he never throws another pitch. Some contemporaries are already in and deservedly so, like Roy Halladay.
Statistically speaking, Sabathia slides in behind those guys but ahead of the likes of Mark Buehrle (who got 8% of the vote on the last ballot), Tim Hudson (5% and 3% on 2 ballots), Cole Hamels (not yet eligible), Adam Wainwright (not eligible), and another pitcher on the upcoming ballot, Félix Hernández.
Sabathia’s credentials include
– 251 wins and 3,093 strikeouts
– The 2007 AL Cy Young Award and 4 other Top-5 Cy Young finishes
– 6 All-Star selections
– A World Series ring on a 2009 Yankees team for which he was an ace
– An epic finish to his 2008 season
(1.65 ERA in last 17 starts, pitched the Brewers to the Wild Card)
– Good standing in baseball as vice-president of The Player’s Alliance
The thing that hurts his standing is his 3.74 career ERA, one that jumped almost a quarter-point in the last 7 years of his career when he was not as good as he was in his prime, as he learned to adjust to diminished velocity.
But while 3.74 doesn’t look great on the surface, his ERA+ (ERA adjusted for the time he played and the ballparks he pitched in) is 116.
There are definitely good pitchers with an ERA+ right around 116, guys you wouldn’t think of as Hall-of-Famers. But there are some all-time greats from other time periods too, like Hall-of-Famers Ferguson Jenkins (115) and Steve Carlton (115).
My point here is that Sabathia’s ERA, relative to when he pitched, can be a diminishing factor but not an eliminating factor when it comes to a Hall vote. He’s still a good candidate even with a 3.74 ERA.
I want to touch on one other point that I think favors Sabathia: his 3,577 1/3 innings pitched. No one has more among pitchers who debuted in the last 35 seasons.
From 2007 to 2009, three years in which Sabathia was his best self, he threw 724 regular season innings and another 55 1/3 innings in the postseason. His regular season ERA, adjusted for ballpark was 44% better than league average.
In the last 3 seasons, the pitcher closest to Sabathia’s combined 779 1/3 total innings pitched in that time is Aaron Nola (628 innings pitched combining regular and postseason). That’s 151 fewer innings pitched. We can make a similar point if we look at 4,5, 6, or 7 seasons.
Starting pitcher function is markedly different in 2024 than it was for most of Sabathia’s career. Once Greinke, Verlander, Scherzer, and Kershaw retire, it might be awhile before anyone reaches 3,000 innings. Gerrit Cole is probably 6 healthy years away.
I’m of the belief that pitchers from Sabathia’s era should garner a level of appreciation commensurate with the workload those pitchers took on. That’s why I look at Sabathia with great respect. Pitchers are going to be hard pressed to pitch as much as he did and accomplish what he accomplished.
Now, you could make a similar, perhaps even a better case about a lot of pitchers that came from other eras: Rick Reuschel, Dave Stieb, Kevin Brown just to name a few. But that’s not what we’re here for. They’re not on the BBWAA ballot anymore.
We’re here to show that Sabathia, as good as you think he was, was arguably even better than you think. And he is a highly viable candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame who deserves immediate consideration for the game’s top honor.
We discuss Hall of Fame candidacies with SIS VP of Baseball Bobby Scales along with an interview of Orioles pitching strategy coach Ryan Klimek, and scouting reports on Yoshinobu Yamamoto and others from Brandon Tew on our latest baseball podcast.