- Kerry Wood may have pitched the most dominant game in baseball history, but he'll fall off the ballot after this voting cycle. Also, a look back at the careers of Jamie Moyer, Carlos Zambrano and Kevin Millwood.
The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year's ballot, please see here. For an introduction to JAWS, see here.
Continuing the final phase of my 2018 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot breakdown, here is the second installment of first-time candidates whose stays on the ballot will be short, as they won’t receive even the 5% of the vote necessary to retain eligibility. That’s no great injustice, given that with one exception—that’s one out of 13 one-and-done players, from among the 33 total on the ballot—their JAWS are at least 20 points below the standards at their positions. All the same, these players' careers are worth another look before they head into the sunset. Some were Hall of Fame-caliber talents whose bodies couldn’t hold together for long enough to make a serious bid for Cooperstown. Others were late-bloomers for whom reaching the 10-year minimum required to appear on the ballot was a triumph unto itself. Many of them will be most fondly remembered as part of championship teams.
My annual project would not be complete without including them. This is the 15th year I’ve evaluated candidates using JAWS (which didn’t acquire its catchy name until a little over a year in), and I’ve never let one go by. In the first installment, I covered four pitchers; here are the next four, alphabetically, with the position players up next.
|Pitcher||Career WAR||Peak WAR||JAWS||Wins||Losses||Saves||ERA||ERA+|
|Avg. HOF SP||73.9||50.3||62.1|
|Avg. HOF RP||40.6||28.2||34.4|
While he wasn't the equal of Hall of Fame rotation-mates Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, Kevin Millwood was an important part of the turn-of-the-millennium Braves teams that dominated the NL East, and a solid starter for the better part of a decade after being traded away. Though he only made one All-Star team, he had some big seasons, won an ERA title, and joined some rare company by pitching a complete game no-hitter and part of a combined no-hitter.
An 11th-round 1993 pick out of a North Carolina high school, Millwood made his major league debut for the Braves on July 14, 1997 and started eight times that year. He entered the 1998 season as the fifth starter behind the Hall of Fame trio and Denny Neagle, who had won 20 games the year before, and thanks to strong offensive support went 17–8 with a 4.08 ERA for the 106-win team. His 1999 season was his best, as he trimmed his ERA to 2.68 while going 18–7, with 205 strikeouts and 6.1 WAR, good for fourth in the league, not to mention his lone All-Star selection. In his first taste of postseason action, he one-hit the Astros in Game 2 of the Division Series (Ken Caminiti's solo homer was the only blemish), notched a 12th-inning save in Game 3, and made a strong NLCS Game 2 start against the Mets, but he lasted just two innings in his World Series Game 2 start against the Yankees, who swept the Braves.
After a pair of mediocre seasons, the second one shortened by a shoulder injury, Millwood rebounded to go 18–8 with a 3.24 ERA in 2002, them made a pair of solid starts in the Division Series against the Giants, the second a Game 5 turn on three days' rest. The Braves lost, however, and in a December cost-cutting move that sent shockwaves through the blogosphere, Millwood was traded to the division rival Phillies for 26-year-old backup catcher Johnny Estrada. On April 27, 2003, he no-hit the Giants, which was just the second no-hitter thrown by a Phillie at Veterans Stadium.
Millwood spent two seasons in Philadelphia, then a year in Cleveland, where his 2.86 ERA led the AL (despite a 9–11 record) and keyed a five-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers. He spent four seasons in Arlington, two with ERAs above 5.00, then was traded to Baltimore, where he was pummeled for a 4–16 record and a 5.01 ERA in 2010. Unable to get a big league contract the following spring, he toiled in the minor league systems of the Yankees and Red Sox before re-emerging with the Rockies, then spent 2012 with the Mariners. On June 8, he threw six no-hit innings against the Dodgers before exiting with a groin strain; five relievers finished the job. He joined Vida Blue, Kent Mercker and Mike Witt as the only pitchers to throw a full no-hitter and part of another; Cole Hamels has since joined that group. Millwood retired the following winter.
One of the majors' great stories of survival and persistence, Jamie Moyer was the epitome of the ageless, crafty lefty. Moyer spent 25 seasons in the majors between 1986 and 2012, with eight different teams, peaking in his age 34–40 seasons with the Mariners and pitching until he was 49 years old. He's the oldest pitcher ever to start multiple games in a season.
A sixth-round pick by the Cubs out of St. Joseph's University in 1984, Moyer was 23 when he debuted on June 16, 1986 opposite a Phillies lineup that included Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton. Roughed up for ERAs above 5.00 in his first two years, he was traded to the Rangers after his first solid season (9–15, 3.48 ERA, 3.4 WAR in 1988), part of a nine-player deal alongside Rafael Palmeiro. He struggled in Texas while battling shoulder inflammation, and after being released following the 1990 season, pitched so badly in ’91 (0–5, 5.74 ERA) that he spent most of that year and all of ’92 back in Triple A. To that point, he was a 29-year-old with a 34–54 record and a 4.56 ERA (87 ERA+). After beginning the 1993 season in the minors, he resurfaced with the Orioles and resurrected his career by going 12–9 with a 3.43 ERA (130 ERA+) and 3.0 WAR in 25 starts.
Moyer's next two years in Baltimore were forgettable, as was a half-season in Boston, but a July 30, 1996 trade to the Mariners (for outfielder Darren Bragg) turned out to be the break that the soft-tossing flyballer needed. Moyer spent parts of 11 seasons with the Mariners, helping them to AL West titles in 1997 and 2001. From 1997-2003, he averaged 16 wins, 202 innings, a 3.75 ERA (119 ERA+) and 4.2 WAR—only nine pitchers were more valuable in that span—with five top ten finishes in ERA and four in WAR (his 6.6 was second in 1999). He won 20 games in 2001, his age-38 season, which made him the oldest first-timer until 39-year-old Mike Mussina did so in 2008; he won 21 in '03 (age 40), the lone season in which he made an All-Star team. Though still a 200-inning workhorse, his performance in Seattle declined to around league average thereafter.
Traded to the Phillies in August 2006, Moyer continued to eat innings for a team that won four straight NL East titles; his best year came in 2008 (his age-45 season), when he went 16–7 with a 3.71 ERA for the world champions. Though his Division Series and NLCS starts were brief and unimpressive, he allowed three runs in 6 1/3 solid innings against the Rays in Philadelphia's World Series Game 3 victory, becoming the oldest pitcher to start a Series game since 47-year-old Jack Quinn in 1930. He missed the team's return to the World Series the following year due to a late-season groin injury that required surgery, and looked as though he might be done when he sprained his UCL in July 2010.
Nonetheless, Moyer underwent Tommy John surgery two weeks after his 48th birthday and in 2012 brought back his 80-ish mph fastball to start nine times for the Rockies, making him the oldest pitcher since Satchel Paige made a three-inning cameo start at age 58 (give or take) in 1965. Roughed up for a 5.70 ERA, he briefly toiled at Triple A stops for the Blue Jays and Orioles after being released by the Rockies. He won't make the Hall, but his 269 wins, 2,441 strikeouts and 50.2 WAR testify to his staying power, and the numerous awards for character and community service he earned along the way attest to his being an even better person than a pitcher.
Few pitchers in recent baseball history have had as much hope invested in them as Kerry Wood, who took the majors by storm in 1998, riding a fastball that could reach 100 mph to a record-tying 20-strikeout performance in just his fifth major league start. Even after enduring Tommy John surgery a year later, Wood—in tandem with fellow first-round pick Mark Prior—was viewed as a pitcher who could lead the Cubs to their long-sought championship. Bad luck and injuries prevented him from doing so, and while his perseverance helped him carve out a 14-year career, he’s one for the Hall of What Might Have Been.
Chosen with the fourth pick of the 1995 draft out of a suburban Dallas high school, Wood ranked among Baseball America's top five prospects heading into both the 1997 and '98 seasons. He made the Cubs as a 20-year-old, debuting on April 12, 1998, and while he was cuffed for an 8.74 ERA in his first three turns, he struck out nine in his fourth, and then on May 6, pitched a one-hit shutout against the Astros in which he struck out 20 (tying Roger Clemens' single-game high) and walked none; his game score of 105 is the highest ever for a nine-inning game. Wood threw 122 pitches that day, one of eight outings in which he topped 120—the second-highest total for a pitcher under the age of 22 in the Wild Card era, and a workload that inspired Baseball Prospectus co-founder Rany Jazayerli to launch an industry-changing effort to measure pitcher overuse. He finished third in the NL with 233 strikeouts to go with his 13–6, 3.40 ERA record, helped the Cubs reach the playoffs as the NL wild card and edged Todd Helton for NL Rookie of the Year honors. Alas, he tore his UCL in spring training the following year and underwent Tommy John surgery.
Wood scuffled in his 2000 return (8–7, 4.80 ERA in 23 starts) but struck out 217 in just 174 1/3 innings with a 3.36 ERA in ’01. He matched that strikeout total the following year, his first making more than 28 starts, and put it all together in 2003 with a league-high 266 whiffs in 211 innings, accompanied by a 3.20 ERA. His 6.2 WAR ranked fifth in the league, he made his first All-Star team, and helped the Cubs win the NL Central, though under manager Dusty Baker, the rotation's trio of youngsters—which also included Prior, the overall number two pick of the 2001 draft, and Carlos Zambrano (below)—set wild card-era standards for high pitch counts. Wood started and won Games 1 and 5 in the Division Series against the Braves, and made a solid turn in NLCS Game 3 against the Marlins. After the Steve Bartman incident led to the team blowing a three-run eighth-inning lead in Game 6, he started Game 7; while he became just the second pitcher to homer in a postseason rubber match (Bob Gibson in the 1967 World Series was first), he was lit up for seven runs in 5 2/3 innings as the Cubs lost.
The overuse caught up. Wood was limited to 32 starts in 2004–05 due to shoulder tendinitis and a rotator cuff strain, and just four in ’06 due to meniscus surgery and another shoulder strain. The shoulder woes continued even after he was converted to the bullpen in 2007, but in ’08, he rebounded and saved 34 games as an All-Star closer. After the season, he signed a two-year, $20.5 million deal with the Indians, but he saved just 20 in 2009, pitching badly enough to temporarily lose his job closing.
Beset by blisters and a lat strain, he was even worse (6.30 ERA in 20 innings) in 2010, but the Yankees traded for him on July 31, and he was dominant (0.69 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 26 innings) down the stretch. He returned to the Cubs that winter and made 55 relief appearances in 2011, but continued shoulder problems led him to walk away after just 10 outings in 2012. In a memorable finale, he struck out the White Sox's Dayan Viciedo on three pitches on May 18, then departed to a standing ovation at Wrigley Field.
Though he suffered by comparison to Wood and Prior, Carlos Zambrano did not have to endure their level of suffering at the big league level. The healthiest of the trio, he matched their combined total of All-Star appearances (three) while exceeding them in 200-inning seasons (five versus three), seasons among the league's top 10 in WAR (four versus three) and seasons receiving Cy Young votes (three versus one). Thanks to his durability, he received the largest payday of the trio, a five-year, $91.5 million extension signed in 2007, but due to his volatile temper, the 6' 4", 275-pound Venezualan hurler wore out his welcome before the completion of the deal.
Signed out of Venezuela in 1997, when he was just 16, Zambrano debuted as a 20-year-old on August 20, 2001, but he was lit for 13 runs in 7 2/3 innings over six appearances. He spent the first three months of 2002 in the Cubs' bullpen, then joined the rotation and made 16 starts, striking out 10 Astros in his fourth on July 20. He went just 4–8 with a 3.66 ERA that year, but improved to 13–11 with a 3.11 ERA (good for seventh in the league) in 214 innings in 2003, helping the Cubs get as far as Game 7 of the NLCS, though all three of his postseason starts were losses.
As a 23-year-old, he was even better in 2004, posting the NL’s fourth-best ERA (2.75) and WAR (6.7) and finishing third in the Cy Young voting while making his first All-Star team. He cracked the top 10 in both ERA and WAR in 2005 and '06 as well while striking out over 200 hitters each season, with a league lead-tying 16 wins in the latter. He also clubbed six homers that year; an excellent hitter for a pitcher, he went long 24 times in 744 career plate appearances while batting .238/.248/388.
Though his 2007 season was marked by a dugout brawl with catcher Michael Barret on June 1—one that continued in the clubhouse—Zambrano signed a five-year, $91.5 million extension in August, passing up a shot at an even bigger free agent deal. Even so, his 3.95 ERA that year was a career worst, though he did pitch well in his lone postseason turn against the Diamondbacks. He made his third All-Star team in 2008, carrying a 2.76 ERA through his first 22 starts before being pummeled for a 7.93 mark in his final eight, with a shoulder strain a factor. Hamstring and lower back injuries and a six-game suspension for an on-field tirade—he nudged an umpire after a close play at home plate following his wild pitch, then fired a ball into leftfield—limited him to 28 turns in 2009.
Struggles in early 2010 led to an exile to the bullpen, and while he showed signs of coming around, he was still carrying a 5.66 ERA when another dugout altercation, this time with first baseman Derrek Lee, led to the team suspending him for three games and placing him on the restricted list for a month while he underwent anger management counseling.
Though Zambrano returned and made a strong enough finish to lower his season ERA to 3.33, he couldn't keep his anger issues at bay. Ejected from an August 12, 2011 start after throwing a pair of brushback pitches to Chipper Jones and before that, serving up five homers, he cleaned out his locker, told teammates he was retiring, and left the clubhouse. He never pitched another game for the Cubs, who placed him on the disqualified list for the remainder of the season. In January 2012, the incoming Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime dumped him on the Miami Marlins, paying $15.5 million of his remaining $18 million.
While generally well-behaved with Miami, his performance deteriorated after a strong two months, and he finished with a 4.49 ERA in 132 1/3 innings. A free agent at season's end, he could only muster a minor league deal with the Phillies, but he made just four starts before a shoulder strain led to his release. Not surprisingly, he found no takers the following year after winding up in the middle of a brawl in Game 3 of the Venezuelan Winter League championship series.