When Atlanta inked Billy Wagner to a one-year, $7 million contract in December it looked like they were grabbing for whatever closer they could nab.
The lefty hadn’t saved a game since July 2008 and the Braves had just extended their postseason drought to four seasons.
This season, Atlanta is atop the National League and the 38 year-old Wagner is having, in what he has already announced as his final year, a resurgence that can only be compared to that of the mythical Phoenix.
With 16 saves, a 5-0 record and a miniscule 1.39 ERA, the 16-year veteran is having an All-Star caliber season that was made all the more storybook this past week when he became just the fifth closer (and second lefty) in history to eclipse 400 saves.
Now, all one can wonder is where Wagner will end up all-time and whether or not the baseball writers will reward him with a place in Cooperstown.
You see, having the fifth most saves all-time means precious little, given the voting history of the BBWAA. Sure, Bruce Sutter (inducted in 2006) and Goose Gossage (2008) have gotten in in recent years, but it took them a combine 22 years on the ballot to do so.
Former all-time leader Lee Smith hasn’t sniffed more than 45% of the vote in his seven years on the ballot and John Franco’s first chance to crack the code is this upcoming January.
So what to make of Billy Wagner?
As I’ve said before, his career ERA of 2.34 is out of this world! Only once, during an injury plagued 2000 season, did Wagner’s ERA jump above 2.85. By comparison, Eckersley has a career ERA of just that (2.85) out of the pen…while Hoffman hovers around in the same neighborhood at 2.73.
Wagner’s 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings is equally as sick and to say that the 5’10” lefty doesn’t bring the heat would be like saying Quentin Tarantino’s latest “Inglourious Basterds” lacked violence. 1141 punch outs in 865 innings is amazing.
In 1999, he was the National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year after closing out 39 games and holding opponents to a diminutive .135 batting average. He’s a six time All-Star, appeared in the post-season six times (with three different teams) and in 2003, even closed out a no-hitter.
With the input of former Kansas City Royals closer Jeff Montgomery, I broke down what I think of Wagner’s chances last fall, but what do you think?
Leave your comments below and be sure to cast your vote!