Now that Smoltz’s season and quite possibly his career are over, his enshrinement will be one of the immediate baseball debates. He’s a fascinating case when you look at it from all angles.
As a starter: Smoltz won, by my count, 206 games. (He won three games in relief during the ’02 season and one game during the ’01 season. Even with a Cy Young and a World Series win, 206 wins would not get him in as a starter alone. Strictly looking at what he did as a starter, he’s the equivalent of Orel Hershiser, and Orel’s vote total isn’t close.
When you look at his numbers, there are three that jump out at me; two of which are on the good side.
1. 3011 strikeouts. That’s a lot. Enough to put him at #16 on the all time list.
2. 3.26 ERA. Only once in his career did he have an ERA over 4.00 and that was 4.14 back in the strike-shortened year of 1994. Even in the National League, that’s impressive.
Now the number that stumps me. Actually, instead of putting this right out there, I’ll have you guess. Fourteen different seasons Smoltz made at least 26 starts. In how many of those seasons did he win more than 15 games?
The answer: three. That’s it, just three. And two of those were 16 in ’06 and 17 in ’98. So what we are saying is the guy won at least 18 games only once in his career. I could make a long list of very bad pitchers who won at least 18 games once in their career.
As a closer: He was damn good. I’m not sure he was ever considered the best closer in the game since he was in the same era as Rivera and Hoffman, but his numbers put him right up there. In his three full years as a closer, Smoltz saved 144 games and blew only 13. To put that in perspective, Mariano’s best three year stretch was 136 saves with 14 blown. And remember, this isn’t Smoltz’s best three year stretch, it’s his only three year stretch.
Smoltz is also the only pitcher to win 200 games and save 150. This may be because many pitchers who won 200 games never got a chance to close, but the point is made that he was successful at both, no matter how many others could have been.
Does all this add up to a ticket to Cooperstown? Eventually, I think it does. First, the voters must get through the automatic inductions to pitchers like Maddux, Johnson, Pedro, Glavine, Hoffman and Rivera. These guys are first balloters all the way. After that, it may be a long time until we get another crop of first ballot pitchers. Maybe 15 years. Maybe longer. In the meantime, there have to be some pitchers that get in. I think Smoltz is one of them.