Billy Wagner is Undoubtedly a Hall of Famer
Wags' numbers leave no question; he belongs...
Over the course of his 15-year MLB career, the only relief pitcher more effective (per FanGraphs’ wins above replacement and earned run average) than left-hander Billy Wagner was Mariano Rivera.
Considering Mo was an alien, that leaves Wagner as the greatest human reliever of his time. We’re only half-joking. And we’ve got the stats to prove it.
The Virginia product’s 2.31 ERA and 24.0 fWAR from his debut in 1995 through his final season in the majors (2010) paled in comparison to Rivera’s (2.06 ERA, 34.8 fWAR), but no one struck out more batters per nine (11.92) over that stretch.
That’s something considering Wagner wasn’t playing in the strikeout-happy environment we’re seeing today.
Let’s go through a few of Wagner’s accomplishments, shall we?
Fewer than three walks and less than a homer allowed per nine (2.99 and 0.82, respectively)
Exactly 1.00 WHIP (tied for 10th with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley among all qualified RP from 1970 through 2010)
Struck out 33.2 percent of the batters he faced (second-most over the same span referenced above; Carlos Marmol, 33.8%)
Wags’ 422 saves (as silly a stat as they are) are second-most by a left-hander in MLB history (John Franco, 424) and fifth-most all-time
2.31 ERA and 24.0 fWAR rank eighth and sixth, respectively, among all qualified relievers since 1970 (third and sixth since 1990)
Cooperstown enshrinee and longtime San Diego Padres righty Trevor Hoffman’s numbers compare kindly to both Wagner’s and Rivera’s, hence his 2018 election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
A 2.87 ERA, 1,113 strikeouts, 1.06 WHIP, and 601 saves over 1,034 career appearances is and should always be a golden ticket to baseball immortality. But, respectfully, Hoffman wasn’t doing what Wags was. Not in any way, shape, or form.
Hoffman limited walks a little better (2.54 BB/9 compared to Wagner’s 2.99) and both kept hitters in the park (0.83 HR/9 for Hoffman, 0.82 for Wagner) through the tail-end of the PED Era.
Hoffman also picked up 179 more saves than Wagner (over 186.1 more IP). Sadly, in the eyes of some BBWAA voters, that will matter. And he did finish with 25.9 fWAR to Wagner’s 24.0. But, again, that will happen when one guy picks up 180+ more innings than the other.
Though, Wagner’s 2.31 ERA has over a half-run on Hoffman’s 2.87. Can’t overlook that, friends. And this should be the kicker. Along with the strikeouts and remarkably comparable stat lines otherwise.
Even looking back toward the relievers of the 1970s and 1980s. These guys weren't “closers” as we know them today or as they were used in Wagner’s or Hoffman’s playing days.
These guys went two, three innings an outing if they had to. Milwaukee reliever (and also Hall of Famer) Rollie Fingers won the 1981 American League MVP and Cy Young Awards with a 1.04 ERA over 47 games (78 innings pitched) with 61 strikeouts and five walks.
Those were different times with different usage methods. Time and place for everything. But by the time Wagner hit the scene, the closer role as we know it (knew it? it’s kinda been changing ever since) was solidified. And during his time in the majors, not many did it better.
It may take a while for him to get there, but Billy Wagner will be a Hall of Famer one day soon. I’ll write a new one of these every month of every HOF season until it happens.
Never any paywalls. Once it leaves my head, it’s yours. If you want to pay me for my work, it’s greatly appreciated.
Become a paid subscriber below, or if you enjoyed the story, drop a buck or two in our Venmo account (@TheAppleNYM)