Should Closer Be In the Hall of Fame?


Right now Trevor Hoffman would very much like to be just the third Padre to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, following in the footsteps of Dave Winfield and the late Tony Gwynn. As writer Ali Siddiqui recently pointed out though – that might not happen at least this year. Will it ever?

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The biggest problem with Hoffman is that he is second all time in a category that is still evolving. Also just exactly how valuable relievers are?

David Schoenfield of ESPN sums up his feelings on the argument this way:

"Hoffman was a great closer. But he wasn’t a greater player than Edgar Martinez or Larry Walker or Alan Trammell or Schilling or Mussina. I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote (yet), but Hoffman wouldn’t make my ballot of 10."

I get the point, and I do think that right now the Baseball Hall of Fame is very crowded with lots of deserving players. Many argue that putting closers in the Hall of Fame is like putting punters in the NFL Hall of Fame. Sure, they were good at their position – but are you really putting in a good punter over a running back of above average talent?

Furthermore, Schoenfield argues, Hoffman was horrific in many of the biggest games of his career. For my memory, I think to Game 163 against the Rockies when the Padres had fought for the lead in the 13th inning and saved Hoffman for just that moment…only to watch him completely blow it. Two days previously he also blew a save that would’ve made Game 163 obsolete to being with.

For myself however, I tend to argue that Hoffman does belong in the Hall of Fame. With the specialty development of the closer role – the great ones like Hoffman and Mariano Rivera mean all that much more.

The highest active saves leader on the all time list is Francisco Rodriguez who comes in with 386 saves and 7th all time. Still a long way to go for sure, and of course one stat that makes reconciling the closer HOF debate is that so much of a save depends on the teams you are on. Hoffman saved all those games on the Padres, while Mariano Rivera had the fortune of playing for Yankees teams that won the division every year he was closer.

As the steroid users murky the magical 500 home run number for the Hall of Fame, so too gets muddled 300 wins for starting pitchers and no magical save number has yet been developed. Perhaps what hurts Hoffman the worst is that number 3 on the saves list, Lee Smith, was never really considered a HOF candidate much at all. He initially received 47.8% of the vote before sliding drastically the following year all the way down to 29.9%.

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Whether history ends up helping Hoffman by closers failing to have the longevity that Hoffman showed, or hurts him by more guys have 7 good years closing and racking up more “saves”, still the most consistent measurement of a closers success. After all, the only difference between a Trevor Hoffman and a Scott Linebrink is which inning you end up pitching and where the pressure mounts the most. That, essentially, is what the save is measuring.

My guess is that Hoffman won’t get in this year, or even next. I think by the third year though we might already see more of the current active closers start fading away. Consistency and longevity is what Hoffman a Hall of Fame pitcher, in addition of course to that great changeup.