This isn’t your father’s Hall of Fame. At least not for starting pitchers. There’s a good chance no pitcher will again crack the 300-win plateau, a mark that has been achieved 24 times throughout the sport’s history. Even 250 wins is a rare accomplishment at this point. The ageless Bartolo Colon leads all active pitchers with 235, CC Sabathia is next at 230, and then it’s down to John Lackey at 180.
Today’s pitcher will make it more for efficiency. Strikeouts are booming like never before. Cy Young awards, no-hitters, and ERA titles may be better methods for evaluating the 21st century pitcher than the sheer outdated statistic of ‘wins.’
Clayton Kershaw is this generation’s Sandy Koufax; he could retire right now and he’d make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. As a result, I’ve chosen not to include him on this article. I took a look at 10 active starting pitchers with borderline Hall of Fame resumes and broke down their odds of enshrinement. While wins aren’t everything, I’ve chosen to list them chronologically by career win total as a benchmark of evaluation.
230-143, 3.70 ERA, 2,788 strikeouts, 117 adjusted ERA
6x All-Star, 1 Cy Young, 1 ring
For a five-year span from 2007-2011, CC Sabathia was regarded as one of the elite pitchers in the game, and he took three different teams to the postseason, winning a ring with the 2009 Yankees. Sabathia has largely been a disappointment since signing a nine-figure extension with the team, and he likely won’t be retained when his contract expires after this season. Still, he’s won 230 games, led the league in wins twice, and won a Cy Young award and a World Series ring. Sabathia has a chance to become the 17th pitcher in history to record 3,000 strikeouts, which would give his candidacy a boost. When it comes down to it, Sabathia may find himself in a logjam of other similar pitchers, and if he does get in, it may take him some time.
Hall of Fame Odds: 40%
177-110, 3.51 ERA, 2,272 strikeouts, 122 adjusted ERA
6 All-Star, 1 Cy Young, 1 MVP, 1 ROY
Justin Verlander has pulled off one of the rare accomplishments for a pitcher – winning a league MVP award. His 2011 season, in which he went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and led the league in a slew of categories – wins, ERA, games started, innings pitched, strikeouts, WHIP, adjusted ERA, and hits allowed per nine innings – earned him a distinction that hadn’t been accomplished since Roger Clemens in 1986. Verlander’s resume is impressive; he’s led the league in strikeouts four times, wins twice, won a pitching triple crown, and thrown two no-hitters. He’s even seen somewhat of a career resurgence – after struggling from 2014-2015, he rebounded to lead the AL in strikeouts in ’16. Even if he retired now, Verlander has likely done enough to ensure a plaque in Cooperstown.
Hall of Fame Odds: 60%
163-103, 3.40 ERA, 2,125 strikeouts, 122 adjusted ERA
3x All-Star, 1 Cy Young, 3 Gold Gloves
Zack Greinke has had an interesting career. He’s pitched for five teams in two different leagues, which is unusual for a pitcher with such a successful resume. Greinke was dominant for the 2009 Kansas City Royals, winning the league ERA crown (2.16) and leading the AL in WHIP (1.073), and even better for the 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers, posting a ridiculous 1.66 ERA and at one point throwing 43.2 consecutive scoreless innings over six starts. Greinke has won an ERA title in each league. He’s still going strong, as he’s tops in the NL in wins (8) in 2017. At age 33, he’s signed for another four years after this campaign, so he should have sufficient time to make a run at 3,000 strikeouts and another Cy Young award.
Hall of Fame Odds: 35%
156-111, 3.18 ERA, 2,286 strikeouts, 126 adjusted ERA
6x All-Star, 1 Cy Young
King Felix is still just 31 years old, despite close to 2,500 innings on his right arm. That may be what landed him on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation this year. Still, Hernandez has quite a resume over the last decade – he’s been named to six All-Star teams, won 156 games for a perennially-losing franchise that hasn’t sniffed the postseason, and he’s won a Cy Young award to go with multiple ERA titles. Hernandez also holds the distinction of having been the last MLB pitcher to throw a perfect game (2012). His contract (seven years, $175 million) ensures he will pitch in Seattle at least through 2019, but his velocity numbers and declining ERA suggest his career may be on the downside.
Hall of Fame Odds: 45%
141-80, 3.23 ERA, 1,547 strikeouts, 124 adjusted ERA
3x All-Star, 2 Gold Gloves, 2 rings
Injuries have plagued Adam Wainwright more than the other pitchers on this list; he’s going to be 36 in a few months and he’s logged just 1,800 innings due to Tommy John surgery (2011) and an Achilles tendon rupture (2015). When Wainwright has pitched, he’s been traditionally one of the better pitchers in the league, having won 20 games twice, 19 games on two other occasions, and led the league twice. Interestingly enough, he missed the entire 2011 season for the world champion St. Louis Cardinals, but he did play an integral role as a closer in the 2006 playoffs, throwing 9.2 scoreless innings in the playoffs. It’s an impressive resume, and one that has him as a top-10 starting pitcher of the last decade, but it’s just not enough for Cooperstown.
Hall of Fame Odds: 20%
132-72, 3.34 ERA, 2,005 strikeouts, 124 adjusted ERA
4x All-Star, 2 Cy Youngs
Five years ago, Max Scherzer had no Hall of Fame case. None. He was merely a good pitcher on the Detroit Tigers, vastly overshadowed by teammate Justin Verlander. Since then, he’s made the All-Star team every year, led the league in wins on three occasions, and won a Cy Young award in each league. He threw two no-hitters in the same season and tied the major league record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game. Outside of Clayton Kershaw, he may be the most dominant pitcher in the game right now; FanGraphs credits Scherzer with more WAR than any non-Kershaw pitcher (25.9) since 2013. His contract with Washington will keep him in a uniform through 2021, and by then, he should have a strong case.
Hall of Fame Odds: 40%
122-66, 3.24 ERA, 1,621 strikeouts, 123 adjusted ERA
5x All-Star, 1 Cy Young
David Price is older than he seems; he’s already 32 in a few months with just 122 career wins. It’s not like he’s been injury-prone; Price has led the league in games started three times and innings pitched twice. But he didn’t become a full-time starter until his age-24 season, and he’s now pitched for a quarter of the American League teams. Price’s highlights include a 2012 Cy Young award, two ERA titles, and five 200-strikeout seasons. He’s never pitched for a World Series champion, and his career postseason statistics won’t help him – he’s 2-8 with a 5.54 ERA, and he’s gotten completely shelled on multiple occasions. He has a $217 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, and to make the Hall of Fame, he may need another Cy Young award and a dominant performance in a World Series championship.
Hall of Fame Odds: 30%
100-70, 2.99 ERA, 1,409 strikeouts, 123 adjusted ERA
4x All-Star, 3 rings, WS MVP
Madison Bumgarner is still just 27 years old, but he’s already etched his name into baseball lore as one of the greatest big-game pitchers of all-time. Bumgarner has thrown 36 career innings in the World Series and allowed one earned run. He was the MVP of the 2014 World Series after two dominant starts and then five scoreless innings off the bench in Game 7, and he’s been a key contributor to three championship teams. And he’s no slouch in the regular season – Bumgarner is a four-time All-Star with a sub-3.00 career ERA, a high career strikeout rate, and he’s even connected for 16 home runs at the plate. He’s certainly on pace for the Hall, but a lot of it will depend on how he can rebound following his off-the-field motorcycle accident. It’s an unfortunate injury that was sustained to – of all places – his throwing shoulder.
Hall of Fame Odds: 50%
76-43, 3.18 ERA, 1,183 strikeouts, 124 adjusted ERA
When the Washington Nationals took Stephen Strasburg first overall in the 2009 draft, he was one of the most hyped prospects in the game’s history. He struck out 14 in his MLB debut and it seemed evident that he and Bryce Harper were going to lead the team to not only a World Series championship, but multiple titles.
Strasburg hasn’t been a disappointment, but he also hasn’t lit the world on fire. He’s undergone Tommy John surgery, and his career total of 76 wins is underwhelming. Strasburg’s 2.86 FIP suggests he’s outperformed his 3.18 ERA, and his strikeout rate has been stellar. Still, just one top-10 Cy Young award finish won’t get him in the Hall of Fame. His draft stock suggests he has the ability to be a top-tier pitcher, but as of now, he’s not on a Cooperstown track.
Hall of Fame Odds: 15%
82-53, 2.99 ERA, 1,380 strikeouts, 138 adjusted ERA
Chris Sale keeps getting better with age, and with the way he’s ben mowing down hitters in a 2017 free agent year, he’s going to earn a lucrative $200 million deal in the offseason. Sale’s unconventional windup seems to leave open the idea of Tommy John surgery or at least a serious injury, but he has averaged 30 starts per season since entering the rotation in ’12. Sale’s efficiency numbers are superb – he has a 2.99 career ERA, a 1.054 WHIP, a 4.96 K:BB ratio, and he’s working on five straight All-Star trips. He’ll need more to get his name in the HOF conversation, namely multiple Cy Young award victories and a pivotal role in a Boston World Series championship. Given the way he’s been pitching as of late, that’s certainly not farfetched.
Hall of Fame Odds: 25%