Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, 300-win teammates, will enter the Hall of Fame together Sunday. And as cool Cooperstown scenes go, you can’t beat that one. But it's also a scene that might cause you to ask:
Who are the next Maddux and Glavine?
Hmmm. Good question.
And it's one I've been thinking about for weeks, ever since a veteran player asked me earlier this season: "Are there any starting pitchers in the game right now who you think are already Hall of Famers?"
And the honest answer, shockingly, is no. Am I missing anyone or anything?
It may be the Age of the Pitcher. And the planet may be as populated as it's ever been by pitchers with spectacular stuff and picturesque ERAs. But are any of them Hall of Famers right now?
I don't see it. Do you?
If we'd asked this question a year ago, there would have been an easy answer: Roy Halladay. Ten consecutive years of domination. Two Cy Youngs. Two no-hitters. Case closed.
And Andy Pettitte was at least in the argument. Eighteen seasons. Not a single losing season. Those 256 wins. And all those Octobers. An excellent candidate, although one with a high ERA (3.85) and an HGH asterisk.
But without those two around to debate, is there a single active pitcher who has done enough, won enough, dominated enough to carve a plaque in Cooperstown?
I don't think so. No telling how that might change if CC bounces back or Hudson keeps on doing his thing deep into his 40s. But are they Hall of Famers right now? Sorry. Not for me.
And since the Hall opened its doors nearly 80 years ago, there can't have been more than a handful of times when we could ever have said that.
But that doesn't mean there aren't pitchers in our midst right now who are headed for Cooperstown. They're just not there yet. So here's how I'd rank the guys with the best shot:
It wasn't easy trying to figure out whether to place Kershaw or Felix Hernandez first on this list. But it's hard to go wrong ranking the Best Pitcher in Baseball at No. 1 on any list. So if you don't believe this guy is on a Hall of Fame track, um, you've been watching too many NFL training camp two-a-days.
Two Cy Youngs. Probably should have won a third. And very possibly headed for another one this year, which would give him four top-two finishes in a row. Kershaw also had ripped off six straight seasons with an Adjusted ERA over 130 before he'd even turned 26. Which made him just the third starter with that many seasons that dominating (30 percent better than league average), at that age, in modern history. You may have heard of the other two: Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.
Bill James' Hall of Fame tracker gives Kershaw 27 HOF points already, through age 25. That's more points than any active player that young (or younger) at any position -- and also as many as Felix, who is two years older. Sounds like a fine tie-breaker to me.
2) Felix Hernandez
Still only 28 years old, with one Cy Young trophy in his den, a second in his sights this year, two more top-four Cy Young finishes and 121 wins, while pitching every season of his career for non-playoff teams.
Felix obviously isn't there yet. And playing for one of the most offensively challenged teams in history over the last few years is going to hurt him with the win-centric crowd. But he ranks third among all active pitchers in ERA (3.11), third in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and fourth in Adjusted ERA (130).
You can also make an argument he's pitching better now than he's ever pitched. So his arrow keeps pointing upward, if he can just stay healthy. Did you know that going into this year, he'd already accumulated more of those Bill James HOF points (27) than Buehrle (25), a man with 196 wins?
Guess who entered this season with more of those Bill James HOF points than any active starter? Verlander's the man, with 50. And James has written often that it takes 70 to get a guy into the Hall of Fame argument and 100 to make him a lock. So when any player reaches 50 points by age 30, as Verlander had, he's well on his way.
I think Verlander has all the hardware he needs already -- an MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year award to call his own, plus three other top-five Cy Young finishes and six All-Star appearances already. So he's put himself in perfect position -- as long as this season turns into just a blip on his radar screen.
If it turns out to be an indicator he's already in his decline phase, on the other hand, it's been a fun ride. Just not one that's leading him to upstate New York.
4) CC Sabathia
If CC's deteriorating knee cartilage is going to make it impossible for him to ever be the same again, it's hard to see how he makes it onto that Cooperstown stage -- even with 208 wins, a Cy Young, four more top-five Cy Young finishes and 13 straight seasons of incredible durability and dependability.
He came into the season with 43 HOF points. He's 34 years old. And he probably needed only two or three more good to excellent seasons to seal his case. But does he have any good seasons left? Only his orthopedist knows for sure.
5) Tim Hudson
I'm including Hudson on this list because I admire his body of work and the tenacious way he's gone about competing and reinventing himself through the years. He's also your official Active Wins Leader (213). And he's 95 games over .500 (213-118), which places him in the top 10 in winning percentage (.638) among all 100-game winners in the last half-century.
There are still voters who weigh stuff like that heavily. Unfortunately, if you look beyond that won-lost column, you have a guy who has never won a Cy Young (but did finish second once), has made just four All-Star teams in 16 seasons, and whose 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings don't allow him to fit the modern definition of "domination."
Bill James had awarded Hudson 33 HOF points coming into this season. And that ranked him fourth among active pitchers (behind Verlander's 50, CC's 43 and Cliff Lee's 36). At age 39, there's almost no shot he can climb high enough to reach the Cooperstown stars. But neither can Lee, who is a few weeks away from turning 36. And Hudson actually has a significantly higher Adjused ERA (124) than Lee does (118). So he at least ought to land in the top five.
My Next Five
6) Cliff Lee
8) David Price
9) Tim Lincecum
10) Chris Sale
Want to make your case for Buehrle, Zack Greinke or even Jose Fernandez? Go ahead. Disagree with any of this? Tweet at me. Email me. Curse at me. That's the fun of debates like this. Especially on weekends like this one, when we get to type that magical dateline, COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.