As Tim Kurkjian notes today, there does not appear to be an active starting pitcher who is a lock for Cooperstown. The Baseball Writers Association of America voters haven't elected a starter with less than 300 wins since Fergie Jenkins in 1991, and with Randy Johnson's retirement, just three active pitchers (including Pedro Martinez) are within even 100 wins of that magic number.
Wins shouldn't constitute the be-all and end-all of a pitcher's Hall of Fame case, anyway. As rising strikeout and walk rates (not to mention offensive levels) have elevated pitch counts, teams have grown more protective of hurlers, and starter Ws have decreased. Between those trends and the sabermetrically-driven awareness that wins are often a product of luck as much as skill, and it's time to re-evaluate how we evaluate Hall of Famers.
That leaves us caught between the traditional world of wins and Cy Youngs, and a more modern reckoning of value through WARP and JAWS, which is a Hall of Fame monitor I devised that takes the average of a players career and peak WARP, and compares it against the average enshrined player at his position. (Peak WARP is a player's seven best seasons.) On closer inspection, it appears we have a few Hall of Famers in our midst, as well as some interesting long shots.
But as you'll see, the locks are relievers, not starters. And since we are talking about active players, Pedro (JAWS score of 60.5) and John Smoltz (56.9) are not included here, though both will likely get in. The average starter in the Hall has a JAWS score of 59.0, while the average reliever's score is 44.5.
Mariano Rivera (71-52, 527 saves, 2.25 ERA, 82.6 career WARP/52.0 peak WARP/67.3 JAWS)
Arguably the greatest closer ever, and superior to the five enshrined relievers (Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter, and Rich Gossage), Rivera ranks second all-time in saves. More importantly, he's also got the highest career, peak and JAWS scores of any active pitcher.
Trevor Hoffman (59-68, 593 saves, 2.73 ERA, 51.8 career WARP/34.8 peak WARP/43.3 JAWS)
Hoffman holds the major league record for saves, and while his stuff isn't quite what it used to be, he's still capable at 42. Though his JAWS numbers don't hold a candle to Rivera's, they're superior to those of Fingers and Sutter.
Need Some Work
Roy Halladay (149-76, 3.42 ERA, 45.9 career WARP/41.2 peak WARP/43.6 JAWS)
His Opening Day win over the Nationals leaves Halladay just short of halfway to 300, and while he hasn't won a Cy Young since 2003, he's perennially in the hunt. Last year was his most valuable season to date (7.7 WARP) thanks to a career-best strikeout rate (7.8 per nine). Moving to the easier league only helps his cause.
CC Sabathia (136-81, 3.63 ERA, 37.6 career WARP/32.6 peak WARP/35.1 JAWS)
His JAWS numbers aren't yet much to write home about, but his win total through his age 28 season tops several post-war Hall of Famers, and he'll be backed by an offensive dynamo for the foreseeable future. He's more of an old-school candidate whose case could be buoyed by wins.
Johan Santana (123-60, 3.11 ERA, 44.1 career WARP/41.0 peak WARP/42.6 JAWS)
Amid the misery of the current Mets franchise, and coming off a year which ended in elbow surgery, the two-time Cy Young winner's stock has fallen with respect to Cooperstown. Even so, he's two years younger than Halladay, with similar JAWS numbers, a higher strikeout rate (7.9 per nine in 2008-2009), and a more favorable ballpark in which to further his case.
Roy Oswalt (137-71, 3.23 ERA, 42.1 career WARP/37.0 peak WARP/39.6 JAWS)
Experience-wise, Oswalt belongs in the group above, but the 32-year-old's chances took a hit after an 8-6, 4.12 ERA 2009 season, which snapped a fine five-year run in which he averaged 17 wins and a 5.3 WARP. A herniated disc and other physical ailments don't bode well, but he's got a solid base to build upon if he manages to get back on track.
Tim Lincecum (41-17, 2.87 ERA, 15.8 career WARP/15.8 peak WARP/15.8 JAWS)
On the major league scene less than three full years, the going-on-26-year-old owns two Cy Youngs. Whether his body can withstand his unorthodox delivery long enough to assemble a long career of excellence remains to be seen; the annals are filled with great young pitchers -- take 25-year-old two-time Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen -- who broke down.
Felix Hernandez (58-41, 3.46 ERA, 18.3 career WARP/18.3 peak WARP/18.3 JAWS)
While his numbers to date aren't overwhelming, the key is that Hernandez turned 24 this week having set career bests in wins, ERA, innings, strikeouts and WARP last year. On the other hand, of the 31 post-war pitchers with more wins through their age 24 seasons, only six survived to reach the Hall (seven if Bert Blyleven gains election).
Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus.