The bane of existence for the Hall of Fame is what I lovingly call the “if…then” fallacy. Essentially, it goes like this: “If Player A is in the Hall of Fame then Player B should be too. After all, Player B’s numbers are just as good.” Heck, in some cases this may be true. Player B may be just as good if not better than Player A. It is never quite that simple though.
The “if…then” fallacy assumes a couple of things that are not always true. First of all, it assumes that Player A deserved to be in at all. As we have seen throughout our studies, that is not always the case. The Veterans Committee in general has watered down the Hall of Fame because they added mistakes to other mistakes because they apply the standard that once you are in you deserved to be in. Secondly, it also presupposes that all numbers generated are equal.
What does this even mean? Well, we can start by acknowledging the fact that the second tier Hall of Famers on this list are more well-known than the list I am about to share. That isn’t just because they are in the Hall of Fame. When someone produces is often more important than whether they produce at all. We all know Don Larsen’s name. Had he pitched a perfect game in July we might not know his name. One brilliant season is imprinted in our brains more often than three really good ones.
I’m not sure what you call it except serendipity. There is a great debate amongst the bigger minds in the sport about whether clutch performance exists in any systematic way. Did David Ortiz have the “clutch gene”? When Madison Bumgarner becomes eligible for this list does he get a bump for October? I’ll dispense with the drama and say that maybe only one of these guys has the index score to warrant their addition, but it is interesting to compare them with guys that are in with similar scores.
These names range anywhere from near misses like Cooper and Ferrell to guys you need to immediately look up. Cooper and Ferrell have interesting cases for enshrinement even if they aren’t overwhelming. If we remove obvious examples like Babe Ruth, Ferrell could be considered the best hitting pitcher in history. He sported a .280/.351/.446 slash line in over 1300 plate appearances. All three career value totals include his offensive contributions, but that gets trickier when we look at peak value.
Besides, are we putting you in the Hall of Fame for being a great pitcher or a great hitting pitcher? The question sounds glib, but it really isn’t. It’s similar when a pretty good player also becomes a pretty good manager. There is some thought that someone can be put in for career contributions in a number of areas. We aren’t here to evaluate his hitting, but it is a part of the conversation.
Cooper was the best pitcher on one of the underappreciated teams in the National League. In the century’s first 20 years, the National League was almost universally represented in the World Series by the Cubs, Giants, or Pirates. Yet, by the end of the period they were usually playing second fiddle to someone. That is the difference between the modern game and the 16-team version. There was only one champion in each league.
Ferrell reaches the 300 mark on the strength of being a great two-way player. That means he deserves to be in by that standard, but our question isn’t whether he is a Hall of Famer, but whether he is the most qualified player not in the Hall of Fame. That might be a different answer and it will depend on not only the index, but the other tests we look at.
Any time you can use an adjective like venerable to describe someone then you know they hung on for a while. Quinn could probably be best compared to Jamie Moyer. Neither was ever excellent, but they were solid for a really long time. Is that Hall of Fame worthy? I tend to prefer some level of greatness at some point, but others might feel differently.
Cooper and Shocker are lesser examples of the same thing. Were they ever truly great? The numbers would seem to indicate no. So, they don’t have any seasons or even any moments that are burned into our collective consciousness. More dialed in fans will recognize their names, but that is about it.
I typically hate two things when evaluating pitchers: wins and saves. Both statistics are misleading and have led to a lot of pitchers being either overrated or underappreciated. Let’s take the case of Cooper. If you take his ERA+ and multiple it by his total decisions, you get 229 victories. Well, 13 victories also means 13 fewer losses. That would be a .580 winning percentage to match his ERA+.
These things are never that simple. Where do those 13 victories come? Does he have two or three more 20-win seasons or maybe he has a season where he wins 25 games? Would that change the calculus of where the beat writers saw him? Anything is possible. His FIP was actually higher than his ERA, so if you assume absolutely neutral support, he might turn out to be right where he is. Still, it shows that a whole lot more goes into wins and losses than simple pitcher performance.
Ferrell gets docked because he didn’t win 200 games. Wins are to pitchers as hits are to hitters. No, we cannot completely discount them, but when they become the focus of our analysis, we miss a great deal. Even if we just added winning percentage, we would have to give him a little extra credit.
There are very few August and September games we remember 50 years later. It just doesn’t happen that way. October is where the sport is at and if you can’t get to October then you can’t get on that stage. Bridges is the only one that got significant opportunities in October and he deserves credit for making the most of it. Still, how does one rag on a Cooper or Ferrell for never making it to October?
During Cooper’s career, the Pirates finished in the first division more often than they didn’t. Had there been a division round and league championship series you could imagine him getting some opportunities. Ferrell may not have gotten as many, but baseball history is full of guys that were excellent players on bad teams. So, the long and short of it is that there really isn’t much we can glean from these numbers.
BWAR Cy Young Points
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So, are you looking for the best pitcher in the group? Based on all of the tests that would be Cooper. Are you looking for the best baseball player in the group? That would be Ferrell. If we suspend the best player on the outside question, we could tackle the question of whether either is a Hall of Famer. As interesting as that question, it ends up muddying the issue. I like both players fine, but neither really blows my skirt up. Sometimes you are just a really good player and still come up short.
The rest are better than some people in the Hall of Fame. That’s a hard fact to handle if you are a fan (or family member) of any of them. I doubt too many people have heard of George Uhle. Still, he was the best pitcher in the league one season and put up better numbers than some luminaries like Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Dizzy Dean, and Lefty Gomez. We can play the if…then game all day.