2020 Hall of Fame Ballot Series: Billy Wagner
Five facts about Billy Wagner:
The first two tables below present Billy Wagner's career as measured by Player won-lost records, in and out of context.
- Billy Wagner was named to seven All-Star teams in his career. He received Cy Young votes twice and MVP votes twice
- Billy Wagner had 30 or more saves in a season nine times. His 422 career saves are the sixth-most in major-league history.
- Wagner had a full-season ERA under 2.00 five times (including his 15.2 IP 2009 season). Wagner is one of only four pitchers in major-league history to have at least four seasons with 30 or more saves and an ERA below 2.00.
- Wagner's lowest full-season ERA in a season in which he pitched at least 30 innings (which he did 13 times) was 2.85.
- Among pitchers with at least 750 innings pitched in their career, Wagner ranks first in major-league history in strikeouts per nine innings (11.9). Among pitchers with at least 750 innings pitched, Wagner ranks second in ERA (2.31) and first in WHIP (0.998) since 1920.
This is Billy Wagner's fifth year on the Hall-of-Fame ballot. I have written articles about the Hall-of-Fame candidates every year in which Billy Wagner has been on the BBWAA ballot. Much of these earlier articles are somewhat obsolete due to changes to my Player won-lost records over time. But, for the sake of posterity, these old articles are linked at the end of my general article on Player won-lost records and the Hall of Fame.
Billy Wagner has appeared on four Hall-of-Fame ballots. His first three years, his vote total ranged from 45 to 47 (10.2% - 11.1%). Last year, his vote total increased from 47 (11.1%) to 71 (16.7%). Wagner was also named more often than any played except for Scott Rolen as a player who voters would have voted for but for the 10-player limit, according to Ryan Thibodeaux's wonderful Hall-of-Fame tracker.
All indications are that Wagner could be poised to see another surge in voting support this year. I'll be optimistic for Wagner and predict that his increase this year will double his increase from last year (which was 24 votes), which would push him up to about 27.9%.
Player Won-Lost Records and Billy Wagner
Relief pitchers are a somewhat difficult position to assess in relation to the Hall of Fame. By most pure sabermetric measures (e.g., WAR), the number of relief pitchers who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame is tiny - probably just one. But there are, instead, eight players in the Hall of Fame who are, I believe, generally thought of as relief pitchers. Of these eight pitchers, five of them held the career saves record at some point in their career and three of them won at least one Cy Young award. Only Goose Gossage failed to do either (Rollie Fingers did both).
Billy Wagner did neither of these things. His 422 career saves were the fifth-most in major-league history when he retired (they're sixth now) and Wagner's best finish in Cy Young voting was fourth place in 1999 (4-1, 39 saves, 1.57 ERA and 124 K in 74.2 IP).
The best statistical case for Billy Wagner - as measured by Player won-lost records - is to focus on eWins and to compare Wagner strictly to other relief pitchers. And it is a striking case. Here are the top 10 players in career eWins over positional average (eWOPA) earned exclusively as a relief pitcher.
Generally speaking, relief aces tend to look better in pWins than in eWins. This is largely due to the nature of their use, especially in modern baseball where closers overwhelmingly enter games only when their team is leading. Like most closers, Billy Wagner earned more pWins than eWins, but the gap between the two is unusually low for Wagner. Hence, modifying the previous table to rank relief pitchers by pWOPA instead of eWOPA pushes Wagner down the list somewhat.
I leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine what these two tables say about Billy Wagner's Hall-of-Fame case.
Article last updated: January 1, 2020
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