By MARK SIMON
Four pitchers threw at least 200 innings in 2021. Sandy Alcantara, Walker Buehler, Adam Wainwright, and Zack Wheeler deserve a special salute for doing so in MLB’s first full season since the start of the COVID pandemic.
We are in the dinosauring-out stage of the 200-inning pitcher. As recently as 2005, 50 pitchers threw at least 200 innings in a season. By 2015 that number had dropped by nearly half, but was still at 28. From 2016 to 2019, the number ranged from 13 to 15.
I mention that in the context of the downballot portion of the 2022 Hall of Fame ballot, where we find Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson. Buehrle got 44 votes and 11% of the vote in 2021, his first year on the ballot. Hudson barely met the 5% threshold needed to stay on the ballot, netting 21 votes among the 401 ballots cast.
Buehrle and Hudson didn’t pitch that long ago. But they’re products of a different era, one in which the starting pitcher was the long link in the chain from the first inning to the ninth.
Buehrle pitched at least 200 innings 14 times in his career and had he gotten four more outs in 2015, his final season, he would have done so in 15 straight seasons. Hudson had eight 200-inning seasons and cleared 3,100 innings for his career.
The 3,000-inning benchmark is significant. Among active pitchers, Zack Greinke has cleared it. Justin Verlander is 12 innings shy. Max Scherzer needs 463 1/3 innings and Clayton Kershaw needs 545 1/3. They should get there. But after that … ? Does David Price have 900-plus innings in his arm? Does Madison Bumgarner?
Mark Buehrle & Tim Hudson
|Hall of Fame Value||456||450|
This is not to argue that Buehrle and Hudson are Hall-of-Famers. By the criteria often applied to the Hall of Fame ballot by those using traditional stats or analytics, they come up short. Bill James’ Hall of Fame Value stat scores Buehrle at 456 and Hudson at 450 when considering their Win Shares and Baseball-Reference WAR, with 500 being the standard for Hall-of-Fame worthiness.
But we can still make these guys look pretty good.
Buehrle had eight seasons with 200 innings pitched and an ERA+ of 120 or better (that’s an ERA 20% better compared to league average, when factoring in the ballpark in which they pitched).
Only six pitchers have had more such seasons since 1990. Buehrle has the same number as Roy Halladay, though Halladay’s combined efforts were much more dominant.
Hudson had five such seasons. He outdoes Buehrle, four seasons to two, if we move the qualifier to a 130 ERA+. Neither quite put him in an elite class. He’s more along the lines of Hall-of-Very-Good.
With each year, pitchers like Buehrle and Hudson are going to look better and better as they’re compared to contemporary pitchers because their pitching type – the workhorse – is becoming extinct. They should be respected for the work they did, which might not be Hall-of-Fame worthy, but still reached a level of excellence that should net them considerable praise.