Here are some of the pitchers who, since the rule’s institution in 1979, surprisingly didn’t get the 5 percent they needed for a second year on the ballot. Although, maybe they should have, because they compare favorably to some of their compatriots in the Hall of Fame.
Kevin Brown, RHP, 1986-2005
Career stats: 211-144, 3.28 ERA, 3,256 1/3 IP, 2,397 K, 17 SHO, 68.5 WAR (Baseball-Reference)
HOF voting: 2.1 percent of ballots in 2011
At his peak, Brown was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. In a five-year run from 1996-2000, he had a 2.51 ERA, averaged 242 innings and 212 strikeouts a season and threw 10 shutouts. He led the league in ERA and WHIP twice — including a Major League-best 1.89 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 1996 — finished in the top six of Cy Young voting four times, threw a no-hitter and helped the Marlins win their first World Series in 1997.
Brown on his Marlins years
Brown discusses his two years with Marlins
Former Marlins pitcher Kevin Brown discusses his two years with the team, which included a World Championship in 1997
Of all starting pitchers, Brown’s 2.51 ERA and 36.9 WAR across those five seasons were second only to Pedro Martinez. He didn’t hit the 300-win or 3,000-strikeout milestones, but Brown’s traditional stats are more than respectable, as is his career WAR of nearly 70.
Compares favorably to: John Smoltz. Smoltz had the saves (154) and the strikeouts (3,084), but Brown’s WAR just beats Smoltz’s, 68.5 to 66.5, and his best seasons stack up well. Brown had two eight-WAR seasons; Smoltz had none. Brown had a six-plus WAR five times; Smoltz did only once. In Brown’s five best years, he totaled 36.9 WAR; Smoltz totaled 28.3.
David Cone, RHP, 1986-2003
Career stats: 194-126, 3.46 ERA, 2,898 2/3 IP, 2,668 K, 22 SHO, 61.7 WAR
HOF voting: 3.9 percent in 2009
Cone, like Brown, didn’t collect the wins and strikeouts of some other Hall of Famers. But in his best years, he too was matched by few pitchers in the game. Between 1988 and ’99, Cone was an All-Star five times, won 20 games twice, led the Majors in strikeouts twice and, most importantly, won the AL Cy Young award in 1994.
Only Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux had a higher WAR than Cone’s 59.9 in that 12-year span, and only Randy Johnson and Clemens had more strikeouts than Cone’s 2,331. Cone also threw a perfect game on July 18, 1999, and won five World Series, with a 2.12 ERA in six appearances in the Fall Classic.
Look Back – Cone Perfect Game
Blurb Lay’s Looks Back – David Cone’s Perfect Game
On July 18, 1999, David Cone retired 27 consecutive Montreal Expos to become the third Yankees pitcher to throw a perfect game.
Compares favorably to: Whitey Ford. Ford and Cone were each part of Yankee dynasties, and Ford won six championships with New York to Cone’s four (Cone won once with the Blue Jays). But Cone’s advanced stats give him a leg up. Cone’s 61.7 WAR beats Ford’s 53.9, and his best years were better as well. Cone had two seven-WAR seasons, a mark Ford never reached. And Cone’s five-year peak WAR of 33.4 is well more than Ford’s 25.7.
Bret Saberhagen, RHP, 1984-2001
Career stats: 167-117, 3.34 ERA, 2,562 2/3 IP, 1,715 K, 16 SHO, 59.1 WAR
HOF voting: 1.3 percent in 2007
Saberhagen burst onto the scene as a 21-year-old with the Royals in 1985, winning the AL Cy Young in his first full season as a starter and leading Kansas City to a world championship. In the World Series, Saberhagen threw two complete-game gems, including a shutout in Game 7. Four years later, he won the Cy Young again. He’s one of only 18 pitchers to win multiple Cy Youngs.
That second Cy Young season, his best statistically, Saberhagen led the Majors in wins (going 23-6), ERA (2.16), WHIP (0.96), innings (262 1/3), complete games (12) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.49). He was also a three-time All-Star, and a Gold Glove winner, and he finished in the top 10 of MVP voting in both of his Cy Young seasons.
Saberhagen finishes no-hitter
CWS@KC: Bret Saberhagen completes no-hitter
8/26/91: Royals pitcher Bret Saberhagen gets Frank Thomas to ground out for the final out of his no-hitter
Compares favorably to: Catfish Hunter. Hunter, who also started his career with the Royals, had an excellent peak run from 1972-75, winning a Cy Young and finishing in the top four of voting all four years. But Saberhagen had some great seasons of his own, collecting 35.6 WAR over his best five years compared to Hunter’s 28 WAR in his top five. Saberhagen also has a 20-plus career WAR advantage over Hunter’s 36.6.
Dwight Gooden, RHP, 1984-2000
Career stats: 194-112, 3.51 ERA, 2,800 2/3 IP, 2,293 K, 24 SHO, 48.2 WAR
HOF voting: 3.3 percent in 2006
If Gooden’s off-the-field issues hadn’t derailed his career, he might have been a surefire Hall of Famer. He won National League Rookie of the Year in 1984, the Cy Young in ’85 and the World Series in ’86 — all before he turned 22 years old. The electric right-hander was at the heart of the ’86 Mets team that took New York City by storm, but it was Doc’s Cy Young season that was one of the best in Major League history.
MLB Network Remembers: Gooden
MLB Network Remembers: Gooden breaks rookie record
9/15/10: MLB Network remembers September of 1984 when Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden broke the Major League rookie record for strikeouts
Gooden’s 12.2 WAR in 1985 is the third-highest by any player in baseball’s modern era — behind only Walter Johnson’s 1912 and ’13. Gooden went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, 16 complete games, eight shutouts and 268 strikeouts. He led the Majors in wins, ERA and strikeouts — pitching’s Triple Crown — as well as complete games and innings pitched. Gooden was a four-time All-Star, and he pitched a no-hitter in 1996.
Compares favorably to: Dizzy Dean. Dean, like Gooden, is known for his best year. In 1934, he won the MVP after going 30-7, becoming the only NL pitcher to ever win 30 games in the live-ball era. But as good as Dean was that season, Gooden was better in ’85. By WAR, it is the best pitching season of the live-ball era, 3.6 WAR better than Dean’s MVP campaign. And Gooden should have been MVP — he was five WAR better than the winner, Willie McGee. Gooden also edges Dean in career WAR, 48.2 to 42.7.
Frank Tanana, LHP, 1973-93
Career stats: 240-236, 3.66 ERA, 4,188 1/3 IP, 2,773 K, 34 SHO, 57.5 WAR
HOF voting: Zero percent in 1999
Tanana is a testament to how a player can reinvent himself. In his early days with the Angels, Tanana dominated with a 100-mph fastball. George Brett, in a 2015 interview with the Albany Times Union, said that of the pitchers he faced earlier in his career, “The best guy with the best stuff was Frank Tanana.” From 1975-77, starting at age 21, Tanana went 50-28 with a 2.53 ERA and averaged 262 innings and 245 strikeouts a season, twice finishing in the top five of Cy Young voting.
He led the AL with 269 strikeouts in ’75, and had an AL-best 2.54 ERA and Major League-best seven shutouts in ’77. But soon after, arm injuries sapped his fastball velocity and forced Tanana to develop an off-speed-heavy repertoire. Even so, topping out in the 80s, the left-hander went on to pitch 21 big league seasons, accumulating 240 wins and 2,773 strikeouts — fifth-most of any non-Hall of Famer — with a 3.66 career ERA. But when Tanana’s name went onto the Hall of Fame ballot in 1999, the three-time All-Star didn’t receive a single vote.
Compares favorably to: Early Wynn. Wynn and Tanana both pitched long careers, each throwing more than 4,000 innings over two-plus decades. Wynn ended up with exactly 300 wins, a number that likely got him into the Hall of Fame, but Tanana’s career 57.5 WAR edges Wynn’s 51.6, and each of Tanana’s three best seasons (8.3, 7.5, 7.4 WAR) was better respectively than each of Wynn’s (7.8, 6.1, 5.4).
Source: Mets News / 5 pitchers who dropped off Hall ballot too soon