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The Hall of Fame Case for Tommy John

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On Sunday, December 8, the Modern Baseball Era committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which includes candidates whose primary contributions to baseball came between 1970-87, will vote on candidates for the 2020 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.

Next up: Tommy John

 

The case for his induction:

He had a long career — 26 seasons! — in which he was almost always an above average pitcher. In the end that led to some pretty impressive numbers: 288 wins, a 3.34 ERA, 4,710.1 innings pitched and a WAR of 62.1 WAR. Only Nolan Ryan pitched in more seasons than John and the only pitcher of the modern era with more wins than John who isn’t in the Hall of Fame is Roger Clemens who, as we know, is a bit of a special case for Hall of Fame purposes.

Beyond his pitching stats John is obviously notable for being the first recipient and namesake of Tommy John surgery. The procedure has revolutionized baseball, has saved countless pitching careers, and John was proof of concept.

It certainly revitalized John’s career. In his second season back from the surgery John won 20 games with a 2.78 ERA and finished second in the 1977 National League Cy Young Award vote. He’d win 20 games two more times in the next three years, meaning that all three of his 20-win seasons came after he went under the knife. This was, such as it was, his career peak, as he went 80-35 with a 3.12 ERA in that four-year stretch. He’d start for the Dodgers in the 1977 and 1978 World Series and for the Yankees in the 1981 World Series.

 

The case against his induction:

That peak wasn’t much of a peak as far as Hall of Famers go, especially in the very pitcher-friendly era in which John pitched. By today’s standards 288 wins and a 3.34 ERA looks pretty snazzy, but he paled in comparison to the top pitchers of the 1960s and 70s. He was no Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Don Sutton, Vida Blue and, well, a good number of others. He never led his league in wins, ERA, strikeouts or innings pitched, and he was named an All-Star Game just four times over his 26 seasons. John was simply not dominant in any way — his ERA+ was a not-very-Hall-of-Famer–111 — even if he was pretty darn dependable and even if he ate innings like crazy.

 

Would I vote for him?

Can’t say that I would. He was a good pitcher for a long time, but it’s hard to point to any “great” on his resume. I like to see some great.

 

Will the Committee vote for him?

John spent 15 years on the BBWAA ballot and only topped 30% once. This is his fourth time on some version of the Veterans Committee and he never got much support there either. That’s made him pretty cranky. I suspect he’ll continue to be cranky after Sunday.

Reds sign Nicholas Castellanos to a four-year deal

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The Cincinnati Reds have signed outfielder Nicholas Castellanos to a multi-year deal. That’s the report from C. Trent Rosecrans and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Jon Morosi of MLB.com was the first to report the Reds as frontrunners. The deal is pending a physical. UPDATE: The deal is four years. Financial terms have yet to be reported.

With Castellanos in the fold the Reds are going to have a lot of outfielders when they hit Goodyear, Arizona in a couple of weeks, with newcomer Shogo Akiyama, Jesse Winkler, Nick Senzel, Aristides Aquino, Travis Jankowski, Scott Schebler, and Rule 5 draftee Mark Payton already on the roster. Senzel was an infielder before last year, of course, so he could move back to the dirt, perhaps taking over short from Freddy Galvis, who could be dealt. Alternatively, the Reds could trade from their newfound outfield surplus.

Castellanos, however, will have left field to himself. While he’s shaky at best with the glove, he had a breakout year at the plate in 2019, hitting .289/.337/.525 overall (OPS+ 121), but slugging at a blistering .321/.356/.646 pace (OPS+ 151) after being traded from the Tigers to the Cubs. In Chicago — rescued from cavernous Comerica Park — his big doubles power turned into big homer power.

Now that he’ll be playing in hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark one can only imagine the damage he’d do.