I think I’m losing it.
Although I work from home and cover the NFL professionally, which is somehow still happening, it’s hard to function normally without the ability to leave my Seattle-area home thanks to COVID-19, and without constantly worrying about my wife, who is a nurse in the area.
So, instead, I’m going to channel my energy into a project I’ve wanted to do for quite some time but never got around to putting completely together. A Hall of Fame dedicated exclusively to middle relievers—because who doesn’t want that?
I decided to pull baseball’s most underappreciated performers into a sheet so that we can vote on which of your favorite middle relievers are truly the best of the best. While no one will mix up any of these players with actual Hall of Famers, it could be a fun way to remember some guys, and to evaluate players against their true peers, and across generations.
Or, maybe, it just serves as a weird 15-minute distraction. Whatever. We could all use it.
The hard part here was parsing out players who spent a lot of their career as closers, or as starters. I really wanted a list of pure middle relievers, or at least as pure as possible. It’s impossible to find guys who had no career starts or saves, as everyone who pitched a long time got those kinds of opportunities at some point. Few pitchers are bred into middle relief roles, they either fail as starters or fail as closers – which is how they end up pitching in the seventh inning of 6-1 games.
I started out by using Baseball-Reference’s play index to pull a list of all pitchers who appeared in over 500 games. That felt like the appropriate baseline for total appearances and gave me a hearty group to work with.
Next, I had to eliminate the starters and the closers. I tinkered quite a bit with overall percentages here and eventually landed on eliminating all the pitchers who appeared in over 15% of their games as starters, or who had over 20% of their games result in a save.
It’s not a perfect methodology, but it helped eliminate many players who I felt weren’t truly middle relievers while keeping many who I felt were. I could have parsed it down even more, but that would have eliminated some of the most well-known middle guys, like Jesse Orosco and Arthur Rhodes, and I wanted them included. My ballot, my rules.
I was left with a list of 160 or so names. So, I decided we would adopt the real Hall of Fame’s rule about waiting five years for induction. In the spreadsheet, linked below, you’ll notice that I have tabs for players who will be eligible in the upcoming years, as well as which players would currently qualify for the middle relief Hall of Fame, but who are still active. Obviously, those players could eventually lose their eligibility if they end up starting or closing a lot of games going forward – although if you look through the list you’ll see that seems rather unlikely.
So, our current list of all players who are eligible for this ballot came down to 120 names. Whew. For your sanity (and mine) I didn’t create a ballot for you all to vote on that includes all 120 names – that’s too much.
I eventually settled on 30 players I will place on this year’s ballot. I will not have a voting limit, unlike the actual Hall of Fame, so if you want to vote for more than 10 players, feel free!
However, I will follow the Hall’s rules on percentages. Any player who does not garner 5% or more of the vote will be eliminated, while anyone over 75% will get inducted. Anyone who is in the middle will remain on the ballot for next year, which will also include the three newcomers who retired in 2016 and will therefore be eligible in 2021 (Matt Thornton, Javier Lopez, and Joel Peralta).
Additionally, if there is anyone who is eligible (link to the full spreadsheet below) who you would like to see on the ballot who didn’t make it this time around, please let me know! I want to give all of these guys a chance to get voted on in time, so I’ll add some of them to future ballots. If you see someone in the write-in tab that you’d like to nominate, I’ll have a write-in section at the bottom of the ballot that you can use, and I’ll make sure they make next year’s ballot.
You with me? Cool? Cool.
As for how to vote, well that’s up to you! Many of the debates that rage on among BBWAA voters for the real Hall of Fame can apply here. Does a player who had a great peak but a short overall career (Jesse Crain) get the nod over someone with a longer career and more milestones, but inferior rate stats, like LaTroy Hawkins? How about strikeout rate, which is a key component of a middle relievers overall performance, but was far less impactful in the ’60s and ’70s? Is it fair to judge Clay Carroll on his 12.0 % strikeout rate when he was used far more often in a multi-inning role and pitched in an era with more contact?
These are all the questions for you to decide, and should make the results very interesting to discuss!
As you can see, the players eligible on this ballot are in the far left tab, while players who are write-in eligible are in the next column, followed by future-eligible relievers. Again, feel free to nominate anyone as a write-in if you wish.
The ballot will remain open until May 1, in which case I will close the ballot and post the results. Thank you for voting!
While I encourage you all to look at the spreadsheet for more information on each candidate, I wrote some of it here for you all to take a look at:
Larry Anderson (1975-1994)
699 games, 995.1 innings pitched, 3.15 ERA, 18.2 K%, 121 ERA+
Paul Assenmacher (1986-1999)
884 games, 855.2 innings pitched, 3.53 ERA, 22.0 K%, 118 ERA+
Luis Ayala (2003-2013)
534 games, 554.1 innings pitched, 3.34 ERA, 15.7 K%, 129 ERA+
Grant Balfour (2001-2015)
534 games, 539.2 innings pitched, 3.49 ERA, 25.5 K%, 119 ERA+
Rafael Betancourt (2003-2015)
680 games, 685.2 innings pitched, 3.36 ERA, 26.0 K%, 133 ERA+
Chad Bradford (1998-2009)
561 games, 515.2 innings pitched, 3.26 ERA, 14.4 K%, 138 ERA+
Clay Carroll (1964-1978)
731 games, 1,353.1 innings pitched, 2.94 ERA, 12.0 K%, 121 ERA+
Norm Charlton (1988-2001)
605 games, 899.1 innings pitched, 3.71 ERA, 21.0 K%, 112 ERA+
Jesse Crain (2004-2013)
532 games, 532 innings pitched, 3.05 ERA, 19.8 K%, 143 ERA+
Octavio Dotel (1999-2013)
758 games, 951 innings pitched, 3.78 ERA, 28.4 K%, 119 ERA+
Mark Eichhorn (1982-1996)
563 games, 885.2 innings pitched, 3.00 ERA, 17.3 K%, 142 ERA+
Jason Frasor (2004-2015)
679 games, 646.2 innings pitched, 3.49 ERA, 22.4 K%, 125 ERA+
Mike Gonzalez (2003-2013)
509 games, 444.1 innings pitched, 3.14 ERA, 26.9 K%, 134 ERA+
Shigetoshi Hasegawa (1997-2005)
517 games, 720.1 innings pitched, 3.70 ERA, 14.8 K%, 125 ERA+
LaTroy Hawkins (1995-2015)
1,042 games, 1,467.1 innings pitched, 4.31 ERA, 15.6 K%, 106 ERA+
Al Hrabosky (1970-1982)
545 games, 722 innings pitched, 3.10 ERA, 17.9 K%, 122 ERA+
Michael Jackson (1986-2004)
1,005 games, 1,188.1 innings pitched, 3.42 ERA, 20.3 K%, 126 ERA+
Ray King (1999-2008)
593 games, 411 innings pitched, 3.46 ERA, 15.9 K%, 126 ERA+
Steve Kline (1997-2007)
796 games, 682.1 innings pitched, 3.51 ERA, 16.8 K%, 125 ERA+
Gary Lavelle (1974-1987)
745 games, 1,085 innings pitched, 2.93 ERA, 16.7 K%, 126 ERA+
Bob Locker (1965-1975)
576 games, 879 innings pitched, 2.75 ERA, 15.8 K%, 122 ERA+
Damaso Marte (1999-2010)
570 games, 503.2 innings pitched, 3.48 ERA, 25.2 K%, 130 ERA+
Jeff Nelson (1992-2006)
798 games, 784.2 innings pitched, 3.41 ERA, 24.4 K%, 133 ERA+
Jesse Orosco (1979-2003)
1,252 games, 1,295.1 innings pitched, 3.16 ERA, 21.6 K%, 126 ERA+
Steve Reed (1992-2005)
833 games, 870.2 innings pitched, 3.63 ERA, 17.2 K%, 132 ERA+
Arthur Rhodes (1991-2011)
900 games, 1,187.2 innings pitched, 4.08 ERA, 23.0 K%, 109 ERA+
Ricardo Rincon (1997-2008)
565 games, 443.2 innings pitched, 3.59 ERA, 21.1 K%, 126 ERA+
Mike Stanton (1989-2007)
1,178 games, 1,114 innings pitched, 3.92 ERA, 18.8 K%, 112 ERA+
Mike Timlin (1991-2008)
1,058 games, 1,204.1 innings pitched, 3.63 ERA, 17.2 K%, 125 ERA+
Dave Veres (1994-2003)
605 games, 694 innings pitched, 3.44 ERA, 20.9 K%, 131 ERA+
I had so much fun putting this together, and I look forward to discussing your ballots and the results in the comments and on the Discord! Happy Voting!
Feature Graphic Designed by James Peterson (Follow @jhp_design714 on Instagram & Twitter)