The case of closers and the HOF

With the upcoming Hall of Fame vote, I wrote this article for the Cuban baseball magazine Universo Beisbol.

Closers and the  Baseball Hall of Fame; it always has been an issue.
In general the baseball writers that vote for the players are rather conservative. How long did it take them to vote the first DH into the HOF? Frank Thomas entered Cooperstown in 2014.

One can only wonder why  there are so little closers in the HOF.

How many closers have entered Cooperstown as a HOF member?  So far only four relief pitchers that are marked as closer: Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter and Rich “Goose” Gossage. I tend to say that Hoyt Wilhelm cannot be considered a real closer as he pitched in far more games than those in which he had a save opportunity, even though the stat save opportunity was officially used for the first time in 1969. But of course closers are not only used in save situations.  The other two who have closed games are Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz, but both have been starting pitchers before they were converted into a closer.

The two closers that were one of a kind are Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera. Hoffman pitched the majority of his career with the Padres but he clinched his 600th save after being traded to the Brewers. In 1,035 appearances, he saved 601 games in 677 save opportunities. He posted a 2.87 career ERA.
Mariano Rivera surpassed Hoffman shortly after the latter clinched the MLB record breaking number of saves. Eventually Mo appeared in 1,115 games and clinched 652 saves in 732 opportunities, so percentage wise Hoffman did better but Mo had a better career ERA with 2.21.

Anyhow, Hoffman and Rivera were so good in what they were hired for that they certainly deserve a spot in the HOF as a closer. I am really looking forward to the next vote to see if Hoffman will get the nod.

Of the fifteen writers that work for, ten voted for Hoffman. So that is 66%. Decent, but not good enough to get voted into the Hall of Fame. Last year 549 writers casted a vote. But this year the HOF has decided to withdraw the rights of those writers that haven’t voted for ten years. This means that about 20-30 writers will lose their right to vote.
So let’s say that this year a number of 519 writers will cast a ballot. This means that the ten of are not even two percent. Sure there will be other writers that will vote for Trevor Hoffman, but I fear that he will not make the HOF in his first year of eligibility.

Perhaps it is my bias as a Yankee fan, since the Yankees had one of the best, if not the best, closers in the history of baseball in the person of Mariano Rivera. But IMHO the closer role is rather overrated. If you have a couple of good relievers that can handle the pressure of a close game, you can use two or perhaps three pitchers to close a game and platoon them.

A tweet of a Japanese baseball fan that I follow, made me realize that closer is not an official position in the game, unlike DH.

Perhaps that is the reason why so little closers are inducted in the Hall of Fame, and not conservatism.

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