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D-backs on the Hall of Fame ballot, #3: Randy Johnson

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I hope Randy Johnson is already working on his acceptance speech.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Career: 22 years, 618 games, 303-166, 3.29 ERA (135 ERA+), 104.3 bWAR
Arizona: 8 years, 233 games, 118-62, 2.83 ERA (164 ERA+), 53.0 bWAR

The question really isn't "if" Randy Johnson gets elected to the Hall of Fame, or even "when" Randy Johnson gets elected to the Hall of Fame, because that seems virtually guaranteed to take place on January 7. [Having already all but written the "Randy Johnson elected" piece, I'm going to be peeved if it doesn't happen!] His credentials are so obvious, they simply don't need re-iterating here. The question is, much more, how close to unanimous will Randy Johnson's election be? How far above the 75% necessary for qualification will Johnson be? Here are those, over the last 10 years of voting, who have made it in,. with the percentage of votes obtained.

  1. Cal Ripken, 98.5%
  2. Tony Gwynn, 97.6%
  3. Greg Maddux, 97.2%
  4. Rickie Henderson, 94.8%
  5. Tom Glavine, 91.9%
  6. Wade Boggs, 91.9%
  7. Roberto Alomar, 90.0%
  8. Barry Larkin, 86.4%
  9. Rich Gossage, 85.8%
  10. Frank Thomas, 83.7%
  11. Bert Blyleven, 79.7%
  12. Andre Dawson, 77.9%
  13. Bruce Sutter, 76.9%
  14. Jim Rice, 76.4%
  15. Ryne Sandberg, 76.2%

Even among that list of elite players, you can make the case that Johnson would be superior to many. Let's post his numbers, along with the other starting pitchers listed above, and the best of those listed alongside Johnson on this year's ballot. [All hail, Baseball-Reference.com!] The last three columns are career bWAR, WAR over the best seven years of their career (giving an indication of how dominant they were at their peak), and JAWS = a metric created by Jay Jaffe to give an objective measure of a player's HoF "worth". For comparison, the average starting pitcher currently in Cooperstown has a JAWS of 61.8.

Name G W L IP H R ER BB SO ERA FIP ERA+ WAR WAR7 JAWS
Bert Blyleven 692 287 250 4970.0 4632 2029 1830 1322 3701 3.31 3.19 118 95.3
50.7
73.0
Roger Clemens 709 354 184 4916.2 4185 1885 1707 1580 4672 3.12 3.09 143 140.3
66.3
61.8
Tom Glavine 682 305 203 4413.1 4298 1900 1734 1500 2607 3.54 3.95 118 81.4
44.3
62.9
Randy Johnson 618 303 166 4135.1 3346 1703 1513 1497 4875 3.29 3.19 135 102.1
62.0
82.0
Greg Maddux 744 355 227 5008.1 4726 1981 1756 999 3371 3.16 3.26 132 106.9
56.3
81.6
Pedro Martinez 476 219 100 2827.1 2221 1006 919 760 3154 2.93 2.91 154 84.0
58.2
71.1
Mike Mussina 537 270 153 3562.2 3460 1559 1458 785 2813 3.68 3.57 123 83.0
44.5
63.8
Curt Schilling 569 216 146 3261.0 2998 1318 1253 711 3116 3.46 3.23 127 79.9
49.0
64.5
John Smoltz 723 213 155 3473.0 3074 1391 1284 1010 3084 3.33 3.24 125 69.5
38.8
54.2

This largely backs up what I said: Johnson is among the super-elite, even if he didn't also have the 300 wins which is basically a lock for the Hall of Fame [and it might be a long while before anyone else joins him, since the active win leader is the 39-year-old Tim Hudson, on 214]. In particular, a lot of the numbers are very comparable to Maddux: the latter has an advantage in the counting stats, having made 126 more starts, but Randy's strikeouts and WAR7 show just how dominant he was at his peak. His 2001 and 2002 seasons are the only ones by an NL pitcher since 1985 to be worth ten bWAR.

It would make sense for Johnson's numbers to be at, or perhaps slightly above those of Maddux, maybe around 97.5%. However, he was famously brusque with the media, and the crowded state of this year's ballot may well work against Johnson too. There have already been complaints that the maximum of 10 selections isn't enough. For instance, Buster Olney is abstaining, to avoid damaging the chances of deserving candidates. It's possible that some may opt to skip Johnson, on the basis others will ensure he's selected, and use their previous ten X's for others who may need it more. Not a philosophy I would follow, but among the hundreds of voters, who can tell?

The cap question

If the "whether or not" he gets in question is almost rhetorical, the issue of what cap he'll wear is rather more open to debate. I certainly hope fervently that the Hall of Fame decide to send him in wearing a Diamondbacks cap, not least because, if he doesn't, we will likely have a very, very long wait before any other credible candidates to do so reach the ballot [is it too early to hope for Paul Goldschmidt at some point in the 2030's?] Let's review the stats for the Big Unit's career, broken down by team.

Team W L ERA G CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
SEA (10 yrs) 130 74 3.42 274 51 19 1838.1 1414 782 698 160 884 2162 128 3.34 1.250
ARI (8 yrs) 118 62 2.83 233 38 14 1630.1 1325 594 513 163 416 2077 164 2.73 1.068
MON (2 yrs) 3 4 4.69 11 1 0 55.2 52 33 29 5 33 51 77 3.88 1.527
NYY (2 yrs) 34 19 4.37 67 6 0 430.2 401 227 209 60 107 383 100 4.01 1.180
SFG (1 yr) 8 6 4.88 22 0 0 96.0 97 55 52 19 31 86 87 4.91 1.333
HOU (1 yr) 10 1 1.28 11 4 4 84.1 57 12 12 4 26 116 322 2.04 0.984

The Mariners had his services for longest, but there's no doubt that Johnson was at his best when he was with the Diamondbacks. As noted above, his 2001-02 seasons were, by WAR, the best by any NL pitcher in close to 30 years, he won four of his five Cy Young awards here, and also picked up a World Series co-MVP, as well as throwing his perfect game. Even the local Seattle Times, from whom a spot of homerism would be understandable, admitted last month, "It’s safe to say that Johnson will be wearing a D’Backs hat on his Hall of Fame bust." However, since Greg Maddux and Tony La Russa both are in Cooperstown with blank lids, it may not be as certain as all that...