With the announcement of the new class of Hall of Famers coming next week, and with former Padres great Trevor Hoffman getting a lot of support on the publicly released ballots, we asked a panel of ESPN writers about closers and the Hall of Fame. Does Hoffman belong for notching 601 saves and his longevity? Or was his career simply a product of the way closers are used in the modern era? David Schoenfield, Jerry Crasnick and Bradford Doolittle all have their own points of view on these questions, so we put them together with moderator Christina Kahrl to get their takes on Hoffman's case for Cooperstown.
Christina Kahrl: We've seen just six pitchers make the Hall of Fame owing a big chunk of their cases to their careers as top relievers: Rollie Fingers, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage, Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz. Where do you stand on putting relievers in Cooperstown?
Jerry Crasnick: We need to be selective about closers, given the dubious nature of the save stat as the defining measure of the role. But closers are an important part of baseball, like it or not. I don't understand how people can flat out say, "I'll never vote for a closer."
Bradford Doolittle: It would be tough to have a representative Hall of Fame that ignores relief pitching completely. But this is a tricky issue that evolves by the year. Closers, as we now think of them, simply haven't been around that long. It seemed like a big deal when Fingers, Sutter and Gossage hit 300 saves, but now that's nothing. What will the benchmarks look like in 20 years? To me, we have to consider relievers, but the standard needs to be very high.
David Schoenfield: I'm generally anti-reliever. Eckersley became a Hall of Famer only after flaming out as a starter. Sutter is probably the worst selection ever by the BBWAA, a reliever who had a short run of dominance. Fingers is also a bit overrated, although he was at least a key performer on three World Series champs. That's one of the issues I have with Trevor Hoffman this year: The five relievers elected (I count Smoltz as a starter) were all closers on World Series winners, whereas Hoffman gakked it up in every big game of his career.
Crasnick: I agree that postseason performance is heightened for closers. But Hoffman threw a total of 13 postseason innings in his career. That's a pretty small sample size to label him a chronic gakker, isn't it?
Schoenfield: Sure, but you don't get large sample sizes in the postseason. You have to perform when you get those opportunities, and Hoffman blew that tiebreaker game, blew that World Series game against the Yankees. But that's only a small part of my argument against Hoffman. I have many more!
Doolittle: Hoffman's win probability added was minus-1.8 in those innings. It's a data point, but I'm not sure you can put Hoffman in or out based on that. It doesn't help his case.
Crasnick: From 1993 to 2010, Hoffman led the majors with 1,035 appearances. He was tremendously consistent over a very long period of time. Would I feel stronger about his candidacy if he came into games and recorded two- or three-inning saves the way Goose Gossage did in the old days? Sure. But that's the way the position has evolved, and he performed it extraordinarily well for a very long time. I think the anti-Hoffman crowd ignores the value of the stability he provided in San Diego over a very lengthy period.