Jim Kaat’s induction Sunday into Hall of Fame raises questions about others’ worthiness
How about taking a closer look at Jamie Moyer and Tommy John, two other pitchers with Chicago connections?
Jim Kaat’s induction Sunday into the Hall of Fame raises a long-running issue.
How do you weigh career value against peak value? How big do career numbers have to be before a player is as Hall-worthy as someone with a shorter stretch of MVP-level performance?
And are there any other former Chicago pitchers who might follow Kaat’s path, waiting nearly 40 years for enshrinement?
Kaat was one of seven players inducted Sunday, and three have a Chicago connection. Minnie Miñoso, the major leagues’ first Black Latin player, starred for the White Sox. Longtime Negro Leagues player and manager Buck O’Neil was a Cubs scout and coach.
Kaat had two of his three 20-plus victory seasons in two full and one partial season with the Sox. He was 21-13 with a 2.92 ERA in 1974 and 20-14 with a 3.11 ERA in 1975.
All told, Kaat — who won a career-best 25 games in 1966 for the Twins — won 283 games in a 25-year career that ended in 1983.
Kaat’s case rests mainly on career value. He won in the teens nine times, with two seasons of 18 victories, one each of 17, 16 and 15, three of 14 and one of 13. Beyond that, the most durable impression of Kaat is as a great fielder, with 16 Gold Gloves.
Adjusted for parks and competition, Kaat’s 3.45 career ERA yielded a 108 ERA+, meaning he was 8% more successful than average at preventing earned runs.
JAWS, the Jaffe WAR Score system devised by Jay Jaffe, weighs career and peak values. It uses the Baseball-Reference.com version of WAR to average the career total with a player’s seven-year peak.
Kaat’s 50.5 career pitching WAR (not including contributions at bat) and 38.1 in his best seven seasons average to a 44.3 JAWS. Those are below the 73.0/49.8/61.4 average for a Hall of Fame starting pitcher — a tough standard to be sure. They put Kaat firmly in the ‘‘maybe’’ range, ahead of Jack Morris (43.5/32.5/38.0) but not in the stratosphere with Pedro Martinez (83.9/58.2/71.1).
Among 20th- and 21st-century pitchers not in the Hall of Fame, the victory leader is Roger Clemens (354), whose 10-year run on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot expired in the last voting cycle. He was dogged by accusations of steroid use.
The next two have Chicago connections: Tommy John, who won 288 games in 1963-89, put in seven seasons with the Sox starting in 1965. Jamie Moyer, a Cub for the first three of his 25 seasons starting in 1986, won 269 games.
Moyer’s metrics are similar to Kaat’s, with a 103 ERA+ and career WAR/peak WAR/JAWS of 49.8/32.8/41.3.
John ranks a tad higher. Like Kaat, he had three seasons with 20 or more victories and added extended performance with seven seasons of 13 to 18 victories. His 111 ERA+ and WAR and JAWS line of 61.5/34.6/48.1 rank higher than Kaat’s.
And if ‘‘fame’’ is a qualification, John lives on as the first to have the ulnar collateral ligament surgery that bears his name.
As with Kaat, John’s record doesn’t demand enshrinement. But it’s worth a second, third or fourth look.