Trevor Hoffman announced his retirement from baseball as the all-time leader in saves, and roughly 95% of all human-like lifeforms (our dogs voted 2/3 in favor of) I polled think he’s a first-ballot Hall of Fame guy. Go elsewhere for the complete stats on Hoffman, because I don’t much care how many guys he intentionally walked. The 601 saves is good enough for me. Pretty much every sports-related show I watched last night covered Hoffman’s retirement in one form or another, but it was something on MLB Network’s Hot Stove show that caught my attention. Someone mentioned that retiring as the all-time leader in saves made him a first ballot HOFer.
Really? How did that work out for Lee Smith?
Before you jump to any conclusions, consider a few things:
- Pitcher A – 2.87 ERA, 1089 1/3 innings, 1133 strikeouts, 307 BB, 141 ERA+, 30.7 WAR in 18 seasons
- Pitcher B – 3.03 ERA, 1289 1/3 innings, 1251 strikeouts, 486 BB, 132 ERA+, 30.3 WAR in 18 seasons
One had 478 saves and the other had 601 saves. In part, that’s a function of the relative success of their teams, though. Are the two pitchers all that different in terms of career numbers? “Pitcher A” is Hoffman, and “Pitcher B” is Smith. If Hoffman is an “automatic”, then why is Lee Smith still on the outside looking in? Does the 0.4 WAR difference over 18 seasons make that big of a difference?
I think not.
When you re-frame Lee Smith‘s career this way, it suddenly takes on a whole new look. It can be appreciated differently, even though he’s being compared to one of the greatest closers of all-time. Usually a comparison like that works against a player who has come up short in HOF voting. Maybe this time will be different. Spread the word. I’m not saying Lee Smith was as good as Hoffman, but maybe he should have been an AC/DC fan.
Considering how much the Cubs underpaid him all those years in Chicago, maybe “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” should have blared at Wrigley every time he took the mound.
TIDBITS: Lee Smith pitched a few years in St. Louis, and it was long enough to make him one of my favorite St. Louis closers behind Bruce Sutter. Sutter made the HOF with only 300 saves, but to his credit he pitched 1042 innings, had a 2.83 ERA (136 ERA+), and he basically made the splitter fashionable.
BITS OF TID: I was a little disappointed that Hoffman didn’t do the one day contract to retire as a member of the San Diego Padres. It’s not an important detail, but he’s just so identifiable with that organization that it would have been a nice gesture on both sides after the acrimonious split so many years ago. Nice to see that new management/ownership means a new relationship there.
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