Last year, less than one month into a pandemic that shut the sports world down completely, and about one month before I adopted a puppy that distracted me from the depressing reality that was the spring of 2020, I sat down and created a Hall of Fame ballot dedicated specifically to middle relievers.
With true one-inning closers (Mariano Rivera) and designated hitters (Edgar Martinez) finally getting their due in the actual National Baseball Hall of Fame, I thought it would be fun for us all to remember some guys and vote on which middle relievers, not closers, not spot starters, but the true middle guys were the best of the bunch.
So I created a bracket of 30 of the best middle relievers (methodology explained below) and held a month-long vote to determine who would make the inaugural HOF class. Unfortunately, while voter turnout was overwhelmingly strong, no player on last year’s ballot earned the required 75% threshold for induction.
That means that here in year two – with 13 new players added to the ballot – we all get a chance to induct the first middle relievers into their very own Hall of Fame.
Most of the leg work getting this ballot set up was done last year, so I’ll leave the overall explanation of how a player is qualified as a “middle reliever” below, before touching on the changes made ahead of year two.
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 outings 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.
This initial process left me 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 currently “qualify” for the middle relief Hall of Fame, but are still active. Obviously, those players could eventually lose their eligibility if they end up starting or closing a lot of games for the rest of their career; although, if you look through the list you’ll see that seems rather unlikely. Most players fall into being middle relievers and stay there, not the other way around.
The Voting, and the Newcomers
While the 75% threshold for induction remains the same as the threshold for the regular Hall of Fame, any player who does not garner 15% or more of the vote will be eliminated, rather than the Hall’s 5% threshold – because I did not set a limit to how many players everyone can vote for, I upped the requirement to remain on the ballot. Anyone who is in the middle will remain on the ballot next year, a ballot which will also include the newcomers who retired in 2017 and will therefore be eligible in 2022, a very strong group that features Craig Breslow, Jonathan Broxton, Joaquin Benoit, Chad Qualls, JP Howell, and Jason Grilli.
Additionally, if there is anyone who is eligible (link 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 will add some of them to future ballots. If you see someone listed on the write-in tab that you would 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.
This year’s ballot will be bigger than last year’s, as we only had four pitchers (Gary LaVelle, Bob Locker, Steve Reed, Dave Veres) fail to reach the 15% threshold, while 13 newcomers (10 write-ins and three newly eligible) will be added on.
The following players were added to the ballot as write-ins: Alejandro Pena, Felix Rodriguez, Guillermo Mota, Kyle Farnsworth, Matt Guerrier, Paul Quantrill, Doug Brocail, Scott Downs, Bill Henry, and Dan Plesac. The newcomers joining the ballot for the first time after retiring in 2016 include Matt Thornton, Joel Peralta, and Javier Lopez.
You still 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 (such as 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 reliever’s overall performance, but was far less of a part of baseball back 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 among the many 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 previous year results, and future-eligible relievers. Again, feel free to nominate anyone as a write-in if you wish.
The ballot will remain open until June 30, when I will close it up and post the results. Thank you for voting!
While I encourage you all to look at the spreadsheet (or baseball-reference, or FanGraphs, or YouTube) for more information on each candidate, I wrote some of it here for you all to take a look at. (Candidates listed in alphabetical order)
Larry Andersen (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+ (2013 All-Star)
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+
Doug Brocail (1992-2009)
626 games, 880 innings pitched, 4.00 ERA, 16.9 K%, 109 ERA+
Clay Carroll (1964-1978)
731 games, 1,353.1 innings pitched, 2.94 ERA, 12.0 K%, 121 ERA+ (2x All-Star, 5th in Cy Young Voting (1972))
Norm Charlton (1988-2001)
605 games, 899.1 innings pitched, 3.71 ERA, 21.0 K%, 112 ERA+ (1992 All-Star)
Jesse Crain (2004-2013)
532 games, 532 innings pitched, 3.05 ERA, 19.8 K%, 143 ERA+ (2013 All-Star)
Octavio Dotel (1999-2013)
758 games, 951 innings pitched, 3.78 ERA, 28.4 K%, 119 ERA+
Scott Downs (2000-2014)
619 games, 751.1 innings pitched, 3.56 ERA, 17.9 K%, 121 ERA+
Mark Eichhorn (1982-1996)
563 games, 885.2 innings pitched, 3.00 ERA, 17.3 K%, 142 ERA+ (6th in Cy Young Voting (1986))
Kyle Farnsworth (1999-2014)
893 games, 988.2 innings pitched, 4.26 ERA, 22.5 K%, 101 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+
Matt Guerrier (2004-2014)
555 games, 623 innings pitched, 3.52 ERA, 15.7 K%, 119 ERA+
Shigetoshi Hasegawa (1997-2005)
517 games, 720.1 innings pitched, 3.70 ERA, 14.8 K%, 125 ERA+ (2003 All-Star)
LaTroy Hawkins (1995-2015)
1,042 games, 1,467.1 innings pitched, 4.31 ERA, 15.6 K%, 106 ERA+
Bill Henry (1952-1969)
527 games, 913 innings pitched, 3.26 ERA, 16.2 K%, 120 ERA+ (1960 All-Star)
Al Hrabosky (1970-1982)
545 games, 722 innings pitched, 3.10 ERA, 17.9 K%, 122 ERA+ (Top 5 Cy Young Voting (1974/1975))
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+
Javier Lopez (2003-2016)
839 games, 533.1 innings pitched, 3.48 ERA, 15.8 K%, 121 ERA+
Damaso Marte (1999-2010)
570 games, 503.2 innings pitched, 3.48 ERA, 25.2 K%, 130 ERA+
Guillermo Mota (1999-2012)
743 games, 856.2 innings pitched, 3.94 ERA, 19.3 K%, 104 ERA+
Jeff Nelson (1992-2006)
798 games, 784.2 innings pitched, 3.41 ERA, 24.4 K%, 133 ERA+ (2001 All-Star)
Jesse Orosco (1979-2003)
1,252 games, 1,295.1 innings pitched, 3.16 ERA, 21.6 K%, 126 ERA+ (2x All-Star, 3rd in Cy Young Voting (1983))
Paul Quantrill (1992-2005)
841 games, 1,255.2 innings pitched, 3.83 ERA, 13.4 K%, 118 ERA+ (2001 All-Star)
Alejandro Pena (1981-1996)
503 games, 1,057.2 innings pitched, 3.11 ERA, 19.1 K%, 119 ERA+ (1984 ERA Title)
Joel Peralta (2005-2016)
620 games, 648 innings pitched, 4.03 ERA, 23 K%, 103 ERA+
Dan Plesac (1986-2003)
1,064 games, 1,072 innings pitched, 3.64 ERA, 22.9 K%, 117 ERA+ (3x All-Star)
Arthur Rhodes (1991-2011)
900 games, 1,187.2 innings pitched, 4.08 ERA, 23.0 K%, 109 ERA+ (2010 All-Star)
Ricardo Rincon (1997-2008)
565 games, 443.2 innings pitched, 3.59 ERA, 21.1 K%, 126 ERA+
Felix Rodriguez (1995-2006)
563 games, 586.1 innings pitched, 3.71 ERA, 20.1 K%, 113 ERA+
Mike Stanton (1989-2007)
1,178 games, 1,114 innings pitched, 3.92 ERA, 18.8 K%, 112 ERA+ (2001 All-Star)
Matt Thornton (2004-2016)
748 games, 662.2 innings pitched, 3.41 ERA, 22.9 K%, 129 ERA+ (2010 All-Star)
Mike Timlin (1991-2008)
1,058 games, 1,204.1 innings pitched, 3.63 ERA, 17.2 K%, 125 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)