Friday, November 27, 2009

HOF Watch: Roy Oswalt

There's a fair bit of debate about the demise of the 300-win pitcher these days. With the 5-man rotation, teams keeping star youngsters down on the farm to hold back their arbitration clocks, and the constant risk of injury, it's hard to project any young pitcher today to reach the 300-win plateau.

Let's take a look at Roy Oswalt. Roy is 32, with a career record of 137-70 and career 3.23 ERA. Oswalt has two 20-win seasons to his name, and has 30-plus starts for six straight years. He obviously has a ways to go before he's in the discussion for 300; let's be optimistic and assume Roy can average 15 wins a season for the next 6 years. That would bring him to just 227 wins at age 38. The simple truth is that even top pitchers like Oswalt need to pitch past age 40 to have a decent chance of 300 wins. As a smaller guy, Oswalt doesn't have the size we tend to associate with the 40-year-old pitcher. There's a worry that his velocity won't keep up at such an advanced age.

Nevertheless, Oswalt has a good shot to be in the Hall. He's yet to win a Cy, but has been in the top 5 vote-getters five times. His .662 w/l % is third-best among active pitchers, ahead of Roy Halladay, C.C. Sabathia, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and many other potential inductees. Even if Roy goes 90-80 for the rest of his career, he'll still finish ahead of Glavine and Smoltz.

The 20-win seasons are another point in his favor. As they become increasingly rare, they're of course more notable which means more opportunities for writers to point out to everyone just how special Roy is. With one or two more superlative seasons, Oswalt can complete the sort of resume necessary to convince Hall voters. At this point, a Cy Young would probably cement his case, though that's tough when you pitch in the same league as Lincecum and Santana.

Oswalt is coming off his worst year in the majors. Back problems cost him starts as the summer progressed and the Astros shut him down in mid-September. Under contract for at least two more years, the Astros may handle him carefully in 2010. The Astros, also, aren't likely to be a competitive team in 2010. They've got several holes to fill in their lineup and their bullpen is lacking, so Oswalt may have a hard time getting 20 wins no matter how well he pitches. The 2009 season did serious damage to Oswalt's Hall chances, between only getting 8 wins, the back injury, and the continued stagnation of the Astros. Furthermore, Oswalt's outings have been getting consistently shorter- he fell from 6.5 innings/start in 2008 to 6.0 in 2009. It's much harder for a six-inning pitcher to rack up wins. It's easy to imagine Roy only averaging 12 wins a year from now on even if he can maintain a 3.30 ERA.

2010 will be a key year for Oswalt. If he can bounce back to the 200-inning level, I like his chances to continue piling up wins. He'll be an interesting one to watch. We'll revisit his HOF case next year.

HOF Watch: Pat Hentgen

Pat Hentgen was a beloved longtime Blue Jay in the '90s and will have his first-and possibly only-year on the HOF ballot this year.

Hentgen had some great moments- after spending part of 1992 in the Toronto bullpen, he joined the starting rotation for good in 1993 and went 19-9 with a 3.87 ERA. He added a win in Game 3 of the World Series as the Jays beat the Phillies. In 1996, he went 20-10 with a 3.22 ERA en route to the AL Cy Young.

For the rest of his career, though, Hentgen was consistently average. Pat had four more seasons as a rotation workhorse but never regained the heights of 1996. An arm injury in 2001 brought his age-32 year to a sudden halt and he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery. He was back on the mound by the end of 2002 and he had one last decent year in 2003 at the age of 34 as he went 7-8 with a 4.09 ERA. Hentgen returned to Toronto for one final year but went a disappointing 2-9.

Hentgen's final career line was 131-112 with a 4.32 ERA. His career was a good one but falls well short of Hall of Fame standards. He does have some credentials-particularly the CY and the Series ring but also 3 all-star appearances- that may earn him a few votes if Toronto writers want to give him a tribute on the ballot. He's almost certain to fall off the ballot right away.

Hentgen, like so many other pitchers, had flashes of greatness but couldn't dodge the injuries that ended his career. Even without the injuries, though, Hentgen's days were always numbered: he only struck out 5.6 batters per nine against 3.4 BB/9. With middling stuff, Hentgen had to be aggressive and rely on his stuff- a quality that perhaps rubbed off on a young Roy Halladay, whose first year as a Jay was also Hentgen's last before the trade that sent him to St. Louis. Hentgen's aggressiveness allowed him to rack up big innings totals as he led the majors in innings in both 1996 and 1997.

Though he won't be a hall of famer, Pat will be fondly remembered by Jays fans as a key cog in the 1993 World Series and for always taking his turn on the mound as his career progressed. Thanks for the memories, Pat!