1959 White Sox pitcher Billy Pierce

Billy Pierce was very good, but not worthy of Hall of Fame

SHARE Billy Pierce was very good, but not worthy of Hall of Fame
SHARE Billy Pierce was very good, but not worthy of Hall of Fame

By John Grochowski

For the Sun-Times

Left-hander Billy Pierce, who died last week, was beloved by White Sox fans of the 1950s. That’s natural enough for

a pitcher who went 186-152 for the Sox from 1949 to 1961 and

also went 25-17 for the Tigers

and Giants in a career that

ended in 1964.

But Pierce hasn’t received a whole lot of love from Hall of Fame voters. In five years of consideration before he fell off the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, Pierce’s highest vote total was seven in 1971, with 270 needed for election. As one of nine players and one executive considered for 2015 induction by the 16-member Golden Era committee, Pierce was listed as receiving three or fewer votes.

Clearly, Pierce doesn’t have numbers among the Hall of Fame electorate, but where does his performance rank among Hall of Famers by the numbers?

Start with victories, where Pierce’s 211 are tied for 93rd in history among the 1,200 pitchers listed on a search at Baseball-Reference.com. Among Hall of Famers, though, Pierce falls well below the midpoint.

There are 63 Hall of Fame pitchers who were starters in at least 60 percent of their appearances and pitched at least 1,500 innings (to take relievers and those who made the Hall primarily as position players out of the equation). Pierce’s 211 victories would rank 50th in that group, just behind John Smoltz (213) and Chief Bender (212) and just ahead of Jesse Haines (210) and Don Drysdale (209).

But victories are influenced greatly by team defense and run support. To focus on earned-run average instead, Pierce’s 3.27 equals that of Jim Bunning, who is 48th in the Hall group. That’s just behind Catfish Hunter and Don Sutton (both 3.26) and just ahead of Randy Johnson (3.29) and Bert Blyleven (3.31).

But ERA has outside influences, too, and it’s not a straight-up comparison to match Pierce against Ed Walsh (1.82), a pitcher from the dead-ball era, or Bob Gibson (2.91), who pitched in an era of expanded strike zones.

ERA+ can help there, adjusting for park and normalizing so 100 signifies league average. Pierce’s 119 career ERA+ is closer to the midpoint among Hall of Fame starters, tied for 34th with Warren Spahn, Bob Lemon, Red Faber, John Ward and Old Hoss Radbourne.

In his best ERA+ season, Pierce reached 200 in 1955. That’s one of only 34 200-plus seasons in baseball history. But the Sox averaged only 3.7 runs in his starts that season, he lost three 1-0 games and he finished 15-10 with a 1.97 ERA.

By wins above replacement at Baseball-Reference.com, Pierce finished at 53.1, just behind Sandy Koufax (50th in the Hall of Fame group at 53.2) and just ahead of Early Wynn (51.6).

The bottom line is that while Pierce was a better pitcher than some Hall of Famers, he was below the midpoint for the group and his numbers fall short of demanding induction. Still, he was an outstanding pitcher who deserves the Hall comparisons, and older Sox fans should have very warm memories of his time on the South Side.

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