Matthew Pouliot

(FILES) This 25 August, 2002, file photo

Why is John Smoltz a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame?


Let’s get this out of the way first: this is not me arguing against John Smoltz as a Hall of Famer. I think he’s above the cut line. I just don’t see why one would include him on their ballot without also placing checkmarks next to the names of Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina.

213-155, 3.33 ERA, 125 ERA+, 3,084 K in 3,473 IP – Smoltz
216-146, 3.46 ERA, 127 ERA+, 3,116 K in 3,261 IP – Schilling
270-153, 3.68 ERA, 123 ERA+, 2,813 K in 3,563 IP – Mussina

How do you draw a line in between those three careers?

By any objective measure, the other two were at least slightly better regular-season starting pitchers than Smoltz. The line above includes Smoltz’s 242 appearances as a reliever. As a starter, he had 209 wins and a 3.40 ERA, dropping his ERA+ down to Mussina’s level. Schilling also made 133 relief appearances, most coming as a middle reliever early in his career, but was worse in them (3.62 ERA) than he was as a starter (3.45 ERA).

Smoltz also pitched in the easier environment, throwing 99 percent of his career innings in the NL. Schilling pitched 77 percent of his innings in the NL, and Mussina was, of course, a full-time American Leaguer.  Plus, Smoltz put in more innings before offense began to take off. He pitched 980 innings prior to 1993, compared to 371 for Schilling and 329 for Mussina.

Schilling also has one other significant edge on the other two: as such a big flyball and strikeout pitcher, he limited the chances for unearned runs behind him. giving up just 65 in his career. Smoltz allowed 107, and Mussina gave up 101. Going by RA, instead of ERA, gets us:

Smoltz – 3.60 (3.69 as a starter)
Schilling – 3.64 (3.63 as a starter)
Mussina – 3.94

Smoltz is the only one of the trio with a Cy Young Award, but the others fared better on the leaderboards overall:

Times in top 3 in league in ERA: Mussina 4, Schilling 2, Smoltz 0
Times in top 10 in league in ERA: Mussina 11, Schilling 9, Smoltz 8
20-win seasons: Schilling 2, Mussina 1, Smoltz 1
Times getting Cy Young votes: Mussina 9, Smoltz 5 (including once as RP), Schilling 4
Times leading league in strikeouts: Schilling 2, Smoltz 2, Mussina 0
Times in top 10 in league in strikeouts: Mussina 10, Smoltz 10, Schilling 9

Baseball-reference WAR has Mussina at 82.7 (24th among pitchers), Schilling at 80.7 (26th) and Smoltz at 66.5 (39th). Fangraphs WAR, which I’m less fond of for pitchers, has Schilling 17th, Mussina 18th and Smoltz 22nd.

And yet, Schilling was named on 29.2 percent of HOF ballots a year ago in his second year of eligibility. Mussina came in at 20.3 in his first year on the ballot. Right now, Smoltz has been named on 33 of 37 public ballots, as tallied up by Ryan Thibs.

So, why Smoltz? I spy three factors aiding his cause.

1. Excellent postseason record

Smoltz had a reputation for coming up big in October and was 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA in 27 starts and 14 relief appearances during his postseason career. It led to only one World Series victory, but I think the narrative there is that it’s because Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine weren’t as good in the postseason as during the first six months; Smoltz is the one who “stepped up.”

(Schilling also has this, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts and winning three World Series, for all of the good it’s done him so far. Mussina was 7-8 with a 3.42 ERA in 21 starts and two relief appearances in the postseason, never winning a World Series.)

2. His three years as closer

Dennis Eckersley cruised right into the Hall of Fame, too. The voters like their narratives and Smoltz’s time as an ace reliever differentiates him from pitchers with similar qualifications.

3. He was part of a “Big Three” with two guys already in the Hall of Fame.

I think it’s the last that seals it. Maddux and Glavine were just inducted into the Hall last year, with Glavine making it on the first ballot by a surprisingly easy margin. I think everyone realizes that Smoltz was the third best pitcher in the group, but the momentum is still carrying him. They’re a package deal.

In the grand scheme of things, Smoltz getting in the first ballot would be a very good thing for both Schilling and Mussina. They’d enter next year as the top starting pitchers on the ballot with Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez also quickly graduating. Next year’s class of new entries will include Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner, but no starters worthy of consideration (Mike Hampton is the best of the bunch) and only one lock among the hitters (Ken Griffey Jr.). Plus, I would think it’d become increasingly difficult for voters who marked Smoltz on their ballots not to go for the other two when their credentials are so similar.

Still, it frustrates me that so many voters aren’t giving Schilling and Mussina their due now. By the standards of the Hall of Fame, both are clearly worthy.

Red Sox add Justin Masterson on one-year deal

masterson getty

For better or worse, the Red Sox rotation has been rebuilt. Free agent Justin Masterson is returning to the team that drafted him on a one-year deal, joining Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly as Boston’s new starting corps.

USATODAY’s Bob Nightengale reports that Masterson will earn about $9 million. ESPN’s Buster Olney was the first to report the deal.

Masterson won 14 games with a 3.45 ERA for the Indians in 2013 before falling apart last year and going 7-9 with a 5.88 ERA. His velocity was down three mph right from the get-go last year, which he later admitted was due to knee problems. He expects to be healthier this season, and he purposefully sought a one-year deal in an effort to rebuild his value.

This still isn’t really an ideal group for the Red Sox. Certainly, there isn’t a guy you’d feel particularly good about leading your rotation heading into a postseason series. Still, it should be pretty solid, and the Red Sox will still have plenty of artillery to go get a Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto in July, depending on how things progress.

Report: Dodgers acquire Jimmy Rollins from Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies v Oakland Athletics

CSNPhilly’s Jim Salisbury is reporting that the Dodgers have picked up Jimmy Rollins from the Phillies to fill the hole at shortstop opened up by Hanley Ramirez’s exit.

Salisbury is reporting that the Phillies will get two minor league pitchers in return.

The 36-year-old Rollins has one year left on the four-year, $44 million contract he signed with the Phillies prior to the 2012 season. He had spent his entire 15-year career with the Phillies, hitting .267/.327/.424 with 216 homers in 8,628 at-bats. He departs as the franchise’s all-time hits leader with 2,306.

Rollins is coming off his best season since 2011, having hit .243/.323/.394 with 17 homers and 28 steals in 538 at-bats. He hasn’t produced the kind of OBPs one would like from a top-of-the-order hitter in several years, but he’s an average offensive shortstop in his worst years and still an above average defender even after all of this time.

As a 10-and-5 player, Rollins had full no-trade protection.

Jon Lester goes to Cubs for $155 million over six years

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics

As’s Ken Rosenthal first reported, Jon Lester has opted to join the Cubs. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan confirms that it’s a six-year, $155 million deal. The Red Sox were offering $135 million for six years.

Lester also had offers from the Giants and Dodgers before reportedly narrowing to two finalists earlier Tuesday. According to Passan, the Giants were offering six years and $150 million, with seven years and $168 million also possibly in play.

That the Red Sox were still in the process so late despite the lesser offer suggests that Lester would have returned to Boston all things being equal and that he nearly did anyway. Still, there had to be some divided loyalties, given former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein’s presence in the Cubs front office and the fact that Boston’s earlier offers prior to him becoming a free agent were very nearly insulting.

Chicago likely is a better situation for Lester, given that the club is oozing with young talent, and the Cubs clearly wanted him more. He’ll join an improved rotation also set to include Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta and probably Kyle Hendricks. The Cubs could acquire another starter or leave the fifth spot open for Tsuyoshi Wada, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Dan Straily, Felix Doubront or Jacob Turner.

One other interesting call is whether the Cubs will now bring in David Ross, who worked so well with Lester in Boston. The Red Sox were expected to re-sign Ross if Lester came back, and he made plenty of sense for the Cubs a day ago. Now, though, the Cubs have Miguel Montero, freshly acquired from the Diamondbacks, as their new starting catcher, and last year’s starter, Welington Castillo, still on the roster. The Cubs could trade Castillo and open up a spot for Ross, but using a personal catcher for Lester would negate some of Montero’s offensive value. Ideally, the Cubs would platoon the lefty swinging Montero and Castillo or another right-handed catcher based on who their facing. If Lester has a personal catcher, that advantage would be lost.

The Red Sox will now move on to plan B, though whether that includes a run at Max Scherzer or James Shields is unclear. They have no chance of getting Scherzer without a major upgrade on what they were offering Lester. They might instead explore trades for Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto. Cole Hamels is a frequent topic of conversation, but nothing is going to happen there unless Ruben Amaro lowers his asking price.

Boston will also look to the next tier of starters in trades and free agency. Rosenthal reported that the Red Sox and Marlins were both pursuing Arizona’s Wade Miley. Other free agents of interest to Boston could include Brandon McCarthy and Ervin Santana.


A’s to get Marcus Semien, Chris Bassitt from White Sox for Jeff Samardzija

Marcus Semien

While the deal isn’t expected to be announced until Tuesday, the Athletics are acquiring Jeff Samardzija from the White Sox,’s Jon Heyman reported. CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes later confirmed the deals.

The A’s will get three players in return. Two of them are infielder Marcus Semien and right-hander Chris Bassitt, says the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser.

If the third player is another solid prospect, it would seem to be a better trade for the A’s than either the Josh Donaldson deal with the Blue Jays or the Brandon Moss trade with the Indians. Semien can step right in at shortstop for Oakland, and while he won’t show exceptional range, he should be adequate defensively and a solid bat. Ideally, he’ll be a more durable version of Jed Lowrie, and if Oakland’s shortstop prospects develop as hoped, Semien can be moved to second or third down the line.

Bassitt, a 16th-round find out of the University of Akron in 2011, emerged as a legitimate rotation candidate last year after starting his minor league career as a reliever. He still might wind up as a setup man for the long haul, but he deserves a longer look at the back of the rotation first.

It’s not an overwhelming return, but considering that Samardzija has just one year until free agency, the A’s didn’t do badly here. Of course, neither did the White Sox. While Semien projects as a nice player, the middle infield is one area where the White Sox system is quite strong. Samardzija will slot in between lefties Chris Sale and Jose Quintana in the White Sox rotation, giving them a top three to be reckoned with.