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.

Yankees score runs in final three innings for 4-1 victory over Dodgers

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES – Despite battling injuries all season, the New York Yankees are still managing to pick up victories.

With AL MVP Aaron Judge sidelined after injuring his foot on Saturday, the Yankees got strong pitching and were able to use a little bit of small ball to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1 Sunday and take two of three games in the weekend series.

“Just a really good all-around effort. A lot of winning things were happening in that game,” manager Aaron Boone said.

New York plated runs in the seventh and eighth innings on soft-contract grounders before Anthony Volpe provided some insurance with a two-run homer in the ninth.

J.D. Martinez homered for the Dodgers, who dropped the final two games in the series.

Clay Holmes (4-2) pitched one inning to pick up the win, and Wandy Peralta got the last four outs for his fourth save.

It was a pitchers’ duel for six innings between the Yankees’ Domingo Germán and Dodgers’ Bobby Miller. The right-handers matched zeroes as the teams combined for only four hits in the first six innings.

Dodgers’ rookie Miller allowed only one hit in his six innings, becoming the first Dodgers’ pitcher since at least 1901 to allow one hit or fewer within his first three big league starts. The 24-year old right-hander struck out seven and walked two in his third start.

Germán went 6 2/3 innings and allowed one run and four hits, including Martinez’s solo shot to tie it at 1-all in the seventh. The right-hander has limited opponents to one run or fewer in four of his last six starts.

Jake Bauers – who was playing right field in place of Judge – scored the game’s first run in the seventh on Kyle Higashioka‘s broken-bat grounder to short.

Bauers got aboard with a base hit then advanced to third when Brusdar Graterol threw the ball away on Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s bunt.

After Martinez’s homer, the Yankees retook the lead in the eighth against Evan Phillips (1-1). Oswaldo Cabrera drove in Anthony Rizzo with the go-ahead run with a slow roller that second baseman Miguel Vargas could only throw to first.

“It not being hit well helps when the fielders have to move a little. That’s what you’re selling out for. Good job by the base runners there,” Boone said.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said both balls could not have been placed any better by the Yankees’ batters.

“I don’t think they had a chance on both balls. The base runners had such a good jump. They were jam shots,” Roberts said. “There were a lot of things we did as far as giving away a couple bases on the defensive side.”

Volpe had two hits after being mired in a 3-for-38 slump his last 11 games. He extended the lead by driving Caleb Ferguson’s fastball over the wall in left-center in the ninth. It was Volpe’s ninth homer, which is second among AL rookies.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence,” said Volpe after the Yankees took four of six on the road trip.


Martinez evened it in the bottom of the inning with a solo shot to left-center. It was his 10th homer in the last 21 games.

Martinez has 20 homers against the Yankees, his third-most against any club. He has 35 against Baltimore and 23 vs. Cleveland. He is four homers away from 300 for his career.


Miller – the 29th overall pick in the 2020 amateur draft – looked like he might have a short outing after throwing 27 pitches in the first inning. He struck out three but also walked two.

Miller retired seven straight between the third and fifth innings before Volpe lined a base hit to center field with two out in the fifth.

“It felt really good. Been working on my slider a lot lately.,” said Miller, who threw 86 pitches, including 39 sliders. “They know I have a good fastball so I have to have my other pitches working as well.”


Yankees: LHP Nestor Cortes is expected to be placed on the injured list Monday or Tuesday due to a shoulder issue. Manager Aaron Boone said Cortes has been slower to recover between starts and is likely to miss one or two starts. … LHP Carlos Rendon (left forearm strain) will face hitters on Wednesday.

Dodgers: OF Trayce Thompson was placed on the injured list with a left oblique strain. OF Johnny Deluca was recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City.


Yankees: Return home for six games starting Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox. RHP Clarke Schmidt (2-5, 5.01 ERA) has gone at least five innings in six of his last eight starts.

Dodgers: Hit the road starting Tuesday against Cincinnati. RHP Tony Gonsolin (3-1, 1.77 ERA) has gone 3-0 in his last four starts.