January 11, 2006
Bruce Sutter elected to Hall of Fame

Relief pitcher Bruce Sutter is the lone inductee to baseball's Hall of Fame this year.

Sutter, the first pitcher elected to the Hall with no career starts, was listed on 76.9 percent of the ballots cast by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The split-finger pioneer collected 400 of a record 520 ballots.

"It was a call that you always hope for, but you never really expect it to happen," Sutter said, adding that he cried when he received the notification. "I didn't think it would affect me or hit me as hard as it did."

Players needed 390 votes (75 percent) to gain election. Boston Red Sox slugger Jim Rice fell 53 short, finishing second with 337 votes (64.8 percent), one ahead of reliever Goose Gossage.


Andre Dawson was fourth with 317 votes, followed by Bert Blyleven (277), Lee Smith (234), Jack Morris (214), Tommy John (154) and Steve Garvey (135).


Sutter said fellow relievers Gossage and Smith also should be in the Hall.

"I just think sometimes that the voters try to compare us with the starting pitchers," he said. "We can't compete with their statistics, their innings or their strikeouts. I think if you compare us against each other, I think you'll see we're all pretty equal. ... Without us, it's tough to win."

I'm happy for Sutter, who was certainly a dominant reliever. If this eventually helps Goose Gossage get in, that'll be great. But with all due respect, Sutter and Gossage were not equal. The Goose was better, and for longer. Joe Sheehan demonstrates:

Let's try something here. Sutter threw the fewest innings, by far, of the three pitchers. Let's use Sutter's career as a baseline, then subtract it from the careers of Gossage and Smith to see what they did above and beyond Sutter's performance. Come on, it'll be fun!


Sutter 68 71 661 300 1042.3 879 370 328 77 309 861 2.83
Smith 68 71 661 300 1042.3 879 370 328 77 309 861 2.83
Gossage 68 71 661 300 1042.3 879 370 328 77 309 861 2.83


Sutter 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ---
Smith 3 21 361 178 247.0 254 105 106 12 177 390 3.86
Gossage 56 36 341 10 767.0 618 300 277 42 423 641 3.25

Do you see the problem here? Sutter's career value isn't just behind that of the other two; it's so far behind them that to induct Sutter is to set the bar in a place that forces you to vote for Gossage, Smith and a whole hell of a lot of other guys in the next 15 years. Smith, who no one really takes seriously as a candidate, vote totals aside, had Sutter's career and then three whole seasons on top of that of league-average relief pitching. Gossage had Sutter's career and another ten seasons of work. Each was, at minimum, 20 wins more valuable than Sutter in their careers.

David Pinto put it in terms of Win Shares, but the point is the same: Gossage was an effective pitcher for a lot longer than Sutter was, and his peak was as good for as long.

It's not that Sutter is a bad choice for the Hall - as Jay Jaffe says, there are worse players currently enshrined. It's that Sutter wasn't the best player on the ballot, and it's not really close - besides Gossage, there's still Bert Blyleven, who at least had a nice jump in his vote total this year. The writers tend to err on the side of not electing anyone questionable instead of letting everyone in a la the Veterans Committee. This time, though, they blew it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 11, 2006 to Baseball | TrackBack

No one takes Smith seriously? I do. Career leader in saves? How could you not?

Posted by: Linkmeister on January 11, 2006 12:24 PM

I think Sheehan means that the bulk of the voters are not taking Smith's candidacy seriously. Smith had a reputation, especially later in his career, for racking up "easy" saves, the one-inning, three-run-lead kind. Fair or not, I think that has an effect.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on January 11, 2006 1:22 PM

I don't see how they blew it. Sutter is a very worthy choice. He may not have had a very long career, but he was still the dominant player at his position in the game for nearly a decade (in addition to pioneering a new pitch in dramatic fashion).

Anyway, I think medium-term (7-10 yr) dominance should weigh more than long term (15-20 yr) good-ness.

Perhaps they blew it by not electing Gossage, but he will clearly get in soon, so that is not a major issue.

Posted by: P.M.Bryant on January 11, 2006 2:22 PM

Gossage and Blyleven are more deserving than Sutter.

Posted by: Gary on January 11, 2006 6:14 PM

2 1/2 words: split-finger fastball.

Posted by: paperpusher on January 12, 2006 10:24 AM

I'm with Paperpusher on this one. Sutter probably got in as much for his perfecting the split-finger fastball as he did for his ability as a relief pitcher. Also, give Sutter credit for coming in during the 7th or 8th inning, unlike today's one inning specialists. By that standard, however, I must wonder why Gossage did not get voted in as well. I don't think anyone was more intimidating in the late innings during the late 1970s and early 1980s than Goose Gossage.

Posted by: William Hughes on January 12, 2006 10:49 AM