Monday, December 30, 2013

The Keltner List: Tom Glavine

Tom Glavine was the one of the three headed monster that just made me angry. Greg Maddux was a scientist on the mound while John Smoltz had that stuff that made you shake your head. Glavine never struck me as a sensational pitcher while he was pitching. He just won games. There was artistry there a plenty; perhaps in my youth (and hatred of the Atlanta Braves) I just missed it completely. Glavine is one of those players who I grew to appreciate as I got older simply because I learned more about the game.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball?
I don't think that Glavine was ever considered the best player in baseball. If so, I have never seen the story. Glavine was an excellent athlete and was drafted in the 4th round by the LA Kings as a hockey player.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
No; I would vote for Maddux or Smoltz, or Chipper Jones or Andruw Jones.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
Glavine was generally not considered the best pitcher on his team, let alone in his league or in baseball. In the dark days between the 1982-83 Braves teams and the 1990 team, Glavine lost much more than he won. This had much more to do with his defense than Glavine: in 1989 the Braves had Jeff Blauser and Jeff Treadway on the infield instead of Ron Gant (!) at second and Ken Oberkfell at third.
Glavine was 10-14 in 1990, the first year that Mazzone was pitching coach.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
The Braves appeared in the playoffs with Glavine every single season between 1991 and 2002. Glavine was very effective in his World Series starts and allowed on 33 hits in 58+ innings with a moderately higher K rate than in other postseason appearances. He was the MVP of the 1995 World Series when he won games 2 and 6.
Glavine was dominant in the first half of the 1991 season, his first 20 win campaign. He did struggle in September against the second place Dodgers (11+ IP, 18 H, 8 ER) but the Braves took the division by a single game on the power of an 8 game win streak at the end of September in which Glavine won two games.
In 1993, Glavine and the Braves won the NL west by a game again, this time over the Giants. Glavine was vital, winning 9 of his last 11 decisions and going 6-1 in September.
In 2000, Glavine was only 3-3 in September as the Braves won the east by a game over the Mets; the Braves were in position to win due in part to Glavine's 11 wins in 12 decisions in July and August.  For his career, Glavine was 17-7 against the Mets, 20-16 against the Giants and 20-18 against the Dodgers. Glavine owns a 3.48 career ERA in September.
5. Was he good enough to contribute past his prime?
Glavine was a very productive pitcher until 2002 at age 36, and did not go on the DL until 2008. Glavine was down in 2003 but rebounded produce better than league average ERAs for the Mets for the next three years, and was a key element in the 2006 Mets division championship team.
6. Is he the best player in history not in the hall of fame?
No, as I would still vote for Bonds here, and perhaps Maddux.
7. Are most players with similar statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Four of Glavine's comps are in the hall of fame (Early Wynn, Tom Seaver, Mickey Welch and Red Ruffing), one will be but is not eligible (Randy Johnson) and two have compelling cases (Jim Kaat and Tommy John). It is an impressive list, made more so that no pitcher has a similarity score higher than 880 with Glavine. Better players tend to be in a class by themselves, and Glavine is in the vicinity of that description.
8. Do the players number meet hall of fame standards?
Glavine scores a 52 on the hall of fame standards and 176 on the hall of fame monitor; the monitor marks him as an extremely likely hall of famer. Glavine's 7 best WAR seasons are a little short than most hall of fame pitchers, but still place him 66th all time at the position. Glavine was good for an exceptionally long time with several legitimately great seasons mixed in.
9. Is there evidence to suggest he was much better or worse than his statistics?
Chicks may dig the long ball, and Glavine was an above average hitting pitcher for his career. Glavine hit only 1 HR in his career, off John Smiley in 1995. He holds the record for most sacrifice bunts in a career by a pitcher (216) and drew over 100 walks.
Glavine's composure was legendary, and that is probably why I hated watching him pitch. He was a machine on the mound, getting ahead of hitters with well placed fastballs and then killing them with changeups that were driven into the ground. Glavine was not a soft tosser out there and he walked a lot of batters. This seems to be more of a function of Glavine refusing to give in. If a hitter did not want to hit Glavine's pitch, tough luck. It was rare to see Glavine make mistakes; between 1991 and 1998 Glavine gave up .5 HR/9. Maddux was the Bulldog, but once Glavine spotted the outside corner to right handed hitters he would never let it go.
10. Is he the best player eligible who has not been inducted?
I would argue no; he is not the best pitcher eligible who has not been inducted either.
11. How many Cy Young type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an Cy Young Award? If not, how often did he come close?
Glavine won two Cy Youngs (1991 and 1998) and finished second or third in the voting 4 times. In 1998, Kevin Brown was marginally better than Glavine. He was The Sporting News pitcher of the year in 1991 and 2000.
12. How many all star type seasons did he have? How many All Star teams did he play for? Did most other players selected to that many All Star games get elected to the Hall of Fame?
Glavine was named to 10 ASG; only four pitchers have appeared in more (Roger Clemens, Tom Seaver, Mariano Rivera and Warren Spahn). Spahn and Seaver are in the hall, Rivera will be and Clemens should be. Of the other four pitchers to appear in exactly 10 ASG, Whitey Ford, Juan Marichal and Steve Carlton are all in the hall of fame while Randy Johnson is not eligible.
13. If this man was the best player on his team, could his team win the pennant?
A team with Glavine as an ace would contend to make the postseason every year. A pennant? I don't know.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history?
Glavine was one of the heads of perhaps the greatest rotation of all time. Generally, even when he was winning awards, he was somehow held in lesser esteem by the baseball writing public and fans than were Maddux and Smoltz. He was in many ways a throwback, as he stayed with the same team for many years and left only because of injury. The Braves refused to pick up his option following 2002 because of concerns over his shoulder. He and Maddux should be regarded as two of the preeminent "pitchers" of their era. These two men did their homework, played their game and tried to make you as a hitter come to them.
Glavine was also a player representative for the MLBPA . Following the strike in 1994 he was booed repeatedly in many locales. He was consistently criticized in the press in Atlanta and New York.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of the Hall of Fame?
Since his retirement, Glavine has been a very strong supporter of multiple causes, including Project Backpack (which as a teacher I fully endorse) and support for Katrina victims. He coaches little league baseball and hockey in the suburban Atlanta area.
Glavine is definitely a Hall of Famer. The quibbles that one can raise are what benefit did Glavine derive from being on the Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s? Glavine was the 2nd or 3rd starter on those teams, and his peripherals are not equal to those of Maddux or Smoltz. While he would have been an ace on many other teams, he benefited from the offensive production of the Jones Boys, Dave Justice, Fred McGriff and others. Not to say that Maddux and Smoltz did not as well, but they did not give up as many hits as Glavine or walk as many batters. While Glavine was in many ways the third best pitcher on his team, this still made him one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last 25 years. For that, he should be in the hall of fame.

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