The results are in! After six weeks of open balloting, the PitcherList middle reliever Hall of Fame Class of 2021 is set!
As a reminder, this project initially opened during the spring of 2020, when we all had nothing better to do. It serves as a fun way to remember some guys, particularly a group of players who often only get remembered by diehard fans of the teams they played for.
Voting was open for about a month, but no one on the ballot in year one earned over 75% of the vote, leaving the door open for our first inductees here in year two.
You can read a more detailed account of the methodology I used to create the ballot, as well as a look at the ballot itself, in my earlier post.
Now, however, it is time to reveal the results of the voting, meet our new Hall of Famer(s?), as well as discuss what will happen next with this project.
With 39 players on the ballot, we narrowly avoided a second straight year of no inductees. However, longtime New York Mets reliever Jesse Orosco received a yes vote on exactly 75% of the ballots, making him the first and (to date) the only member of the PitcherList middle reliever Hall of Fame!
If there is only going to be one inductee in the first Hall of Fame class, Orosco is definitely the correct choice. The ageless left-hander made his big league debut in 1979 as a 22-year-old barely removed from his time at Santa Barbara City College. He spent the next two and a half decades in the major leagues, finally retiring after the 2003 season at the ripe old age of 46.
In between, he set the record for most games played by a pitcher of all-time, a record that still stands to this day, and may stand for a long time now that managers are more careful about protecting their relievers, often refusing to throw them on back-to-back days – something Orosco did plenty of in his career.
The two-time All-Star spent the vast majority of his career pitching in the middle innings. While he did rack up 144 career saves, 102 of them came between 1983-1987, a five-year stretch of dominance where he posted a 2.61 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP while throwing at least 77 innings each season. That included 110 innings pitched during his incredible 1983 season, where he finished third in Cy Young voting with a 13-7 record, 17 saves, a 1.47 ERA, and a 1.03 WHIP.
The rest of his career after that dominant run looks a bit more like your typical middle reliever. From 1988-2002, Orosco changed hands six times, playing with the Dodgers, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Baltimore, St. Louis, and back to LA before spending 2003 with three different teams.
During that 15 year stretch, Orosco managed a 129 ERA+ thanks to a 3.31 ERA across 665.2 innings. He only racked up 35 saves and only finished 242 of his 815 games pitched in that time, a clear sign he was the best middle reliever in the game.
Orosco’s 23.2 bWAR is four runs higher than second place on this ballot (Mark Eichhorn with 19.1) and his 126 ERA+ makes it clear he wasn’t just hanging on for over two decades, but that he was consistently above average and always among the best non-closing relievers in the game.
While Orosco was the most deserving candidate on this ballot, he was very nearly joined by two other middle-inning stalwarts in LaTroy Hawkins (73.3%) and Octavio Dotel (71.7%) who were both just a handful of yes votes away from joining Orosco in “Cooperstown”.
Below are the full voting results, which can also be sorted on this spreadsheet.
LaTroy Hawkins: 73.3%
Octavio Dotel: 71.7%
Arthur Rhodes: 58.3%
Grant Balfour: 55%
Mike Stanton: 53.3%
Jeff Nelson: 51.7%
Chad Bradford: 50%
Rafael Betancourt: 48.3%
Dan Plesac: 48.3%
Paul Quantrill: 45%
Mike Timlin: 38.3%
Norm Charlton: 38.3%
Javier Lopez: 36.7%
Al Hrabosky: 35%
Kyle Farnsworth: 33.3%
Ricardo Rincon: 33.3%
Matt Thornton: 31.7%
Mark Eichhorn: 26.7%
Larry Anderson: 25%
Shigetoshi Hasegawa: 25%
Damaso Marte: 25%
Guillermo Mota: 25%
Clay Carroll: 21.7%
Alejandro Pena: 21.7%
Jesse Crain: 20%
Jason Frasor: 20%
Michael Jackson: 20%
Paul Assenmacher: 16.7%
Scott Downs: 16.7%
Under 15% (Off Ballot for 2022)
Doug Brocail: 13.3%
Mike Gonzalez: 13.3%
Ray King: 13.3%
Luis Ayala: 11.7%
Bill Henry: 11.7%
Steve Kline: 11.7%
Joel Peralta: 11.7%
Felix Rodriguez: 11.7%
Matt Guerrier: 5%
The majority of these players were holdovers from the previous ballot, and in most cases, the percentages didn’t change all that dramatically. In fact, 19 of the 26 holdovers were within six percent of their total percentages from 2020 to 2021, a clear sign the voting public views these players similarly – always a risk when the people voting changes so dramatically from year to year.
A few players that stand out against that grain include Grant Balfour, who went from 37.7% in 2020 to 55% in 2021, while Hawkins climbed from 60.9% to 73.3% and Al Hrabosky went from 24.5% to 35%. Mike Timlin fell from 46.4% to 38.3%, and the biggest faller was Jesse Crain, who went from 32.5% of the vote in year one to just 20% in year two.
The top-four vote-getters don’t surprise me, as they are probably the most recognizable names on this list, and each of them had incredible longevity. I don’t think they are the five best pitchers, however, as the top pitchers in ERA+ on this ballot include Crain (20%), Eichhorn (26.7%), and Bradford (50%).
Voters seemed to value total innings pitched, which I can understand, although Hawkins and Rhodes actually have two of the lowest ERA+ marks of the group at 106 and 109, respectively, despite earning the second and fourth most votes.
Only two players on this ballot had a career ERA at or below 3.00 – Clay Carroll and Mark Eichhorn. Neither received over 27% of the vote, however, which is either a shift in how we view ERA when looking over a player’s career, or simply a result of folks not being as familiar with these two players who pitched over 30 years ago.
Strikeout rate also seemed like a good predictor of success on this ballot, as four of the top-five in K percentage (Dotel, Betancourt, Balfour, and Marte) all remained on the ballot, and three of them received over 48% of the vote.
That could be in part to voters leaning toward more recent players, a trend that hurt the candidacy of qualified candidates like Eichhorn, Carroll, and Andersen, who each had excellent stats in middle relief roles but who did not have the traditional strikeout numbers, or name recognition, of others on the ballot.
Looking Ahead to 2022
Well, everyone will remain on the ballot for 10 voting cycles, just like the real Hall of Fame, except that instead of a 5% threshold to remain on the ballot I set the minimum at 15%, which only seems fair considering there is no rule limiting the number of pitchers someone can vote for – unlike the real Hall’s rule which imposes a 10-man maximum.
So the nine players listed above will fall off the ballot, which including Orosco’s induction means we are clearing 10 names off the ballot heading into 2022.
Additionally, since we are following the HOF’s rules about a five-year waiting period for induction, next year’s class will include six newcomers who all retired after the 2017 season: Craig Breslow, Jonathan Broxton, Joaquin Benoit, Chad Qualls, J.P. Howell, and Jason Grilli.
And lastly, I gave an option for folks who voted to also submit write-in candidates—and if the player is eligible (i.e retired for at least five years, 500 or more games pitched, less than 20% of their games resulted in saves, and less than 10% were starts) I will include them on next year’s ballot. Here is who you all wrote-in, and which ones will be added for 2021:
(Note: You can see all the eligible write-in candidates on the write-in tab of the spreadsheet, linked throughout this article)
Will Be Added for 2021
Graeme Lloyd (was included on three ballots as a write-in)
So, between the six newcomers and three write-in candidates, next year’s ballot will include 38 middle relievers – one less than this year – and the third time could be the charm for a few close but not quite there candidates, including Hawkins, Dotel, and Rhodes, as well as promising newcomer Jonathan Broxton, who seems like a strong candidate for first time induction thanks to his 121 ERA+, 3.41 ERA (3.15 FIP) and his stellar 26.7% career strikeout rate, which will be the second-highest on next year’s ballot, behind Dotel.
Other Write-ins (who were not eligible):
There were a handful of other players who folks wrote in, and I included them below with the explanation for why they are not being included.
Darren Oliver (Doesn’t qualify as a middle reliever)
Bob Wickman (Doesn’t qualify as a middle reliever)
Pedro Strop (Still active)
Matt Belisle (will be eligible in 2023)
Brett Cecil (under 500 games played)
Ramiro Mendoza (under 500 games played)
I am amenable to making changes to the rules, most notably the 500 games limit, as that excludes potentially Hall-worthy relievers like Cecil and Mendoza, listed above, as well as guys like Mike Adams, Neal Cotts, and Sam LeCure, who might otherwise receive votes.
Lastly, a big thanks to all of you who voted. This has been a sincerely fun project and one I hope to continue to do every offseason. Hopefully, we can get some more inductees next year, but I mostly enjoy the conversation and the evaluation of a group of baseball players history tends to forget.
Feature Graphic Designed by James Peterson (Follow @jhp_design714 on Instagram & Twitter)