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July 6, 2009

Tim Wakefield FINALLY gets the call

So there you have it, sportsfans, following in the footsteps of the selection shows for both the BCS Bowl Games and March Madness…TBS found it necessary to air (once again) the MLB All-Star Selection Show.

Really, TBS…is this necessary?!?

Let me guess, because “this one counts”…we get to be subjected to David Wells (with former teammate Cal Ripken, Jr. sitting next to him) talking all about how great it was to have Derek Jeter playing shortstop behind him and Dennis Eckersley referring to himself as “Eck” while introducing himself.

To be honest, I watched less than five minutes of the TBS abortion before switching back to the IndyCar race over on ABC and hopping online to see who will be playing in this year’s version of the Mid-Summer Classic.

To my happy surprise…Tim Wakefield made the cut.


Hall contributor David Allan recently took in a game at Fenway Park and left with a few thoughts knocking around in his head about the Boston knuckleballer.

We’ve seen the signs around the ballpark: Wake for President, Wakefield for Mayor, I’m going to say it…TIM WAKEFIELD FOR THE HALL OF FAME!

God, I love shocking discussion to life.

Wait, wait, wait...before you scroll to the comments section and blast me, hear me out.

I’m not saying that tonight, the same night he was selected for his first All-Star Game, Wakefield is a lock for the Hall.

I’m not even saying that Tim-ah, as the locals call him, is worthy.

My thoughts began to wander a few weeks ago as Wakefield worked his way through eight innings of five-hit, one-run baseball.

My first thought was, how does a guy 42 years old pull this off? My next thought was…who had done it better?

The truth is Phil Niekro holds the record for most wins after the age of 40 with 121 and is a Hall of Famer on the strength of a 318-274 record and 3342 strikeouts over the course of his 24-season career.

But I’m not here to debate his Hall of Fame standing.

There are 72 pitchers in the Hall of Fame, from Don Drysdale and Nolan Ryan, to Cy Young and Hilton Smith.

Nobody has more wins (or losses, for that matter) than Cy Young. Nobody has more strikeouts than Nolan Ryan. And nobody has a lower ERA than Ed Walsh.

I’m not suggesting that Tim Wakefield will pass any of them.

So as I sat in my seat at Fenway behind home plate (Section 21, Row 07, Seat 15, entered through Gate A in case anyone wanted to know) I couldn’t help thinking that Wakefield looked better than ever.

Then I looked at what Wakefield had done in 2009 when I got home…and here was what I learned.

Through his first eight starts (remember I was at a game in May), Timmy was 5 and 2 and had fashioned an ERA of 3.59. As the mystery that is the knuckler goes, he had given up 21 earned runs in eight starts, 12 of them coming in just two outings that accounted for 9.2 of 52.2 innings.

Why do I bring this up? Because I think you can compare Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield.

Sure, the eras were different, but are they all that different when they are dealing?

Prior to turning 40 before the 1979 season, “Knucksie” had won 197 and lost 171. Wake, on the other hand, had fashioned a record of 151 and 134.

The first thing people will notice is that the pre-40 Niekro is plus-46 in the win column and is also plus-37 in the loss column. Also…before the age of 40, Niekro made 86 additional appearances with 83 of those being starts.

His additional 83 decisions is not surprising when you see that, as a product of his era, Niekro had 245 career complete games, compared to Wakefield’s 62.

I would submit to you that part of the strength of Phil Niekro’s Hall of Fame case is that he is one of only 16 players with 3000-plus strikeouts. But when you look at Niekro vs. Wakefield in a head-to-head comparison, Wake strikes out 6.1 per nine innings for his career, whereas Niekro Ks only 5.6.

For the record, Wakefield, who is not known for the K, would be 16th among Hall of Famers in strikeouts per nine. That stat places him in front of Don Sutton, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Walter Johnson, Gaylord Perry AND Niekro.

Remember that stat of 72 pitchers in the Hall?

Well, if Wakefield is able to duplicate Niekro’s 121 wins after the age of 40, he will have more wins than 36 of them.

Niekro, going into what would seem to be the twilight of any career, was 26 games over .500. From age 40 through 48 he was an additional 18 games over .500.

Now I mention this because, Wakefield since hitting the big four-zero, has gone 32 and 25. He’s won .561 percent of his decisions, which is actually 26 points higher than his career average.

Over the 17 years so far, Wakefield has mustered an average of 13 wins per year and a percentage of .535. To put that in perspective, Niekro’s winning percentage is .537, and he averaged 14 wins per season.

Wakefield has never led the league in wins, which Niekro did on two occasions…in 1974 and 1979 (at age 40).

On the other hand, Wake only led the league in losses once, compared to Knucksie’s four…each season from 1977 through 1980 in fact.

What about walks?

Great question...1809 for PK and 1095 for WK…so both turn in an average of 78 free passes per season.

Now that only puts him ahead of Rich “Goose” Gossage and Hal Newhouser in the walks per nine category. But again, throwing the knuckleball doesn’t exactly increase your stats that indicate control.

Consider that we are in the era of the reliever and closer, an era of fewer starts and decisions. 121 wins after the age of 40 may seem more difficult to catch than the knuckleball itself.

Considering his strikeout per nine ratio, it’s not unreasonable that Wakefield could get to 2,600 to 2,800 strikeouts, or between 25th and 17th. I’d ask, is it that unreasonable?

I can hear it now; “he’s a compiler”. Only in baseball is longevity a curse.

He started, he relieved, he closed. He was on the mound to give up the Aaron Boone home run…you know, when it mattered most.

He also has two World Series Trophies in his pocket and now, finally, he’s an All-Star.

As he was putting the finishing touches on an eight-inning gem at age 42 and Fenway was starting to sway to "Sweet Caroline," I couldn’t help but wonder…Wakefield for the Hall of Fame?

BallHype: hype it up!

5 comments: said...

Hi David, I believe that Wakefield won't make it because as opposed to Niekro or Sutton who did stack lots of complete games and both did win 20 games, something Wakefield hasn't done. Wakefield did play with more over.500 teams than Niekro, therefore having support Niekro often lacked. I like Wakefield and glad to see him get to be an All-Star but if we are comparing, Niekro did more with less. That seems to go miles in the minds of the HOF voters. I agree with you that Wakefield is NOT a compiler, he is in fact a quality pitcher who has been an integral part of the Bosox 2 WS Championships
and mastered the toughest pitch in baseball. If I could vote, I would not vote against him. His accomplishments deserve more respect
and regard and he shouldn't be punished for longevity. Great writing David!

Brandon said...

Wakefield deserves a lot of respect and, I agree, he shouldn't be punished for longevity or being a "compiler". However, I don't think someone who's average (or even "good") but plays for an exceptionally long time deserves to make it to the hall. Longevity and peak have to both play a bit of a part in voting, and so far Wakefield has not shown the peak at all.

Wins as a whole are a bit of a silly metric to judge a pitcher on. He may be 10-3 now this season, but his ERA+ is just slightly above average at 108. Wakefield has, in fact, only really had 2 great seasons (1995 and 2002) and only one more season on top of that (2001) with a sub-4.00 ERA. That simply isn't hall worthy in the least. A career ERA of 4.32 wont cut it, nor will a 1.08 ERA+, a 1.35 WHIP, under 2500 strikeouts, etc. etc.

Even if we're talking wins, his career winnings percentage isn't that fantastic, and it'd take a hell of a stretch for him to reach even 250 wins. He does not deserve much hall consideration at all in my mind, and I would highly doubt he'll ever make it.

Jesus Melendez said...

I know it wasn't his intent, but I think what DA did was to show why Phil Niekro probably SHOULDN'T be in the Hall...rather than why Tim Wakefield should.

My prediction...Wakefield will be one and done after his lone year on the ballot. Let's face it, if Charlie Hough could only must FOUR votes in 2000, Wakefield won't do much better.

Sorry Beantown.

Brandon said...

Well, if Jay Bell could get 2 votes, Wakefield might get enough to garner a second or third try. ;-)

Jesus Melendez said...

Shit...Albert Belle couldn't get enough to stick around and his numbers are better than a gaggle of folks in Cooperstown.

So yeah, you might be right.