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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Baseball News / Should Tommy John be in the Hall of Fame?

Should Tommy John be in the Hall of Fame?

Is he an all time great!
Publish Date: 06/03/2022
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1987: Tommy John #25 of the New York Yankees pitches during an Major League Baseball game circa 1982. John played for the Yankees from 1979-82 and 1986-89. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Hall of Fame, or not?

Why is Tommy John not in the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite his 288 career wins and the surgery that bears his name? Check out the best bookmakers for betting on Baseball!

First, surgery has nothing to do whatsoever. Mario Mendoza is a “line subject”, and nobody asks for his induction. Although Dr Jobe, who performed the groundbreaking surgery, isn’t yet in the Hall of Fame, maybe he should.

Let me take a look at John’s career.

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Tommy John was a very good pitcher for an extended period. His MLB career began in 1963 with Cleveland, many years before I started watching Baseball. Before the 1965 season, he was traded to the White Sox and became a full-time pitcher that year. From 1965 to 1970, he was a solid pitcher with 69 victories and 65 losses and a 2.83 ERA. His ERA+ of 121 was for six seasons. This means that he was 21% more effective at preventing runs than the average pitcher.

John did not win more than 14 games with Chicago in a single year, which was huge back in those days. Both wins and losses were used to gauge a pitcher’s ability. His best W/L records are 14-7 (1965) and 10-5 (1968). He also had a 2.47 ERA in 1967, 9-11 in 1969 (3.25 ERA), 12-17 in 1970 (3.27 ERA) and 10-13 in 1967. The White Sox were in serious trouble by 1968 and had very poor seasons until 1971. The White Sox provided him with poor run support from 1966 to 1971. He never scored more than four runs in any given year, and his help was as low as 2.8 RPG (in 1967) when he was among the lowest-performing ERA qualifiers.

This highlights the fact that John was a better pitcher than his 84-91 record at that time. His ERA was 3.0 at the time, with a 115 ERA+. He was a great pitcher, but he pitched for a poor team. At age 28, he began to decline in 1971, going from 13-16, 3.61, and 100 ERA+. He was traded to the Dodgers after the 1971 season, which was a blessing. He did make the 1968 AL All-Star team; he was 7.0 and 1.73 at the AS break.

John seemed to do better in LA between 1972 and 1974. His record was 40-15, with a 2.89 ERA and 119 ERA+. You will notice that he wasn’t a better pitcher in LA than with Chicago. He was pitching for a winning team. The big difference was run support. After receiving an average of 3.4 runs per match of support in 1966-1971 with Chicago, he received 4.5 RPG with LA. This is the difference between a good team and a worse one. Also, luck and more runs per game can significantly impact a pitcher’s W/L record.

John made his last start in 1974 on July 17. At 13-3, 2.59, he was enjoying his best season. He broke down, and many thought his career was over.

John returned to LA in 1976 for a 10-10 record with LA. His 3.09 ERA was his best. He then went on to go 20-7, 2.78, in 1977 and 17-10, 3.30, in 1978. The Dodgers were a great team in ’77 and ’78 and advanced to the World Serie each year. After the 1978 season, John was released from LA and became a free agent. Let’s look at John’s Chicago years and compare them to his LA years.

82-80. 2.95 ERA (117 ERA+). With Chicago, 1965-1971

87-42. 2.97 ERA (118 ERA+), 1972-1978

It is important to note that John was the same person in each location. John had the same ERA and ERA+ in both of his home parks. He had a better W/L record with LA than with the White Sox. This again shows the difference in team quality. Check out the top new sportsbooks for betting on Baseball!

John was a free agent when he joined the Yankees in 1979. He had another great year: 21-9, 2.96. He was 22-9, 3.43 the following year. In 1980, he was in his 37th season. Although he did pitch well in 1981 (strike season), he never won more that 14 games in any given year after 1980. He pitched for the Yankees and the Angels from 1982 to 1989. He was 65-72 between 1982 and 1989, with a 4.30 ERA (95 ERA+), which is insufficient to increase any Hall of Fame claims he may have had.

He was 288-231 in his career, with a 3.34 ERA (111 ERA+). How does he compare to his contemporaries? I looked at all MLB pitchers who had started at least 150 games in the 1960s and 1990s and had at least 25 WAR. I found 82 such pitchers. This particular period was competitive pitcher-wise. It is intended to keep out Spahn and Ford, who were both great in 1950 and the greats of the mid-eighties, like Maddux, Johnson, Clemens and Johnson.

John still faces lots of competition in his “era”. Here’s his ranking among the 82 pitchers in this study.

John is 7th in wins and trails only the 300 winners (Seaver. Carlton. Niekro.Sutton. Ryan.

John ranks 8th in loss (231). That’s the 8th most.

John ranks 33rd in winning percentage (.555).

John ranks 44th in ERA (3.34).

John ranks 8th in innings pitched (4710)

John ranks 17th in complete games (162).

John isn’t unique in any of these, nor does it tell us anything we didn’t know. We know that he primarily pitched in pitcher’s parks and low-run environments. He was pretty good, and he pitched for a long time. He accumulated a lot of wins and innings. This brings us to…

John ranks 42nd in ERA+ (111), tied with Nolan Ryan.

John is 13th in the WAR (62.1).

This demonstrates that John was competent but not great, and he pitched well for an extended period.

Tommy John was never the league’s leader in wins, ERA or strikeouts. When he was with the Dodgers, he did lead in winning percentage twice. He was the league leader in shutouts, hits allowed, and wild pitches. He was a member of four All-Star teams, and he pitched in two all-star games.

Although he didn’t win a Cy Young Award or MVP, he received some CY support during four years. He was second in his league’s voting in 1977, 1979, and 1980. John was eighth in 1978. These were also the four seasons that he won the most games. He had three 20-win years and 17 wins in 1978. You know that W/L records were massive back then. He was considered better when he won more games.4 great seasons does not make anybody a hall of Famer.

Not a lot, but four All-Star appearances are not bad. Mike McCormick and Bill Monbouquette were on four AS teams but are not in this Hall. Ben Sheets, Johnny Podres, and 30 others made six AS teams. Fernando Valenzuela and Sam McDowell, Vida blue, and Kevin Brown. None of them is in the Hall. Camilo Pascual and Billy Pierce made seven AS teams, but they are not in the Hall.

This in and of itself doesn’t prove anything. Tommy John is currently ranked ninth among all pitchers who are not in the Hall in career WAR at 62.1. This is just ahead of CC Sabathia. Clemens should be in; Kershaw, Greinke and Verlander are all active. Check out the best bookmakers for betting on the MLB!

We have…

80.5 Curt Schilling (127 ERA+).

68.1 Rick Reuschel (114 ERA+)

65.6 Luis Tiant 114 ERA+

Tiant and Schilling both have legions who support their induction into the HOF, but Reuschel is an exception. Reuschel and Tiant, like Tommy John, suffered severe arm injuries in their mid-career that threatened their careers, but they were able to bounce back.

John’s 62.1 WAR, 111 ERA+ and…

61.6 121 David Cone

60.7 117 Andy Pettitte

60.0 117 Mark Buehrle

58.9 126 Bret Saberhagen

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While John was not as successful, there were other better pitchers. I must conclude that Tommy John isn’t the most outstanding pitcher available for induction.

In my opinion, Clemens Schilling, Tiant and Cone should be in the Hall of Fame before Tommy John. Pettitte should also be there.

I want to add that Jack Morris’ bizarre selection for the Hall of Fame was just idiocy. Morris was a big-time playoff and World Series pitcher, but he doesn’t belong. There are likely 20 pitchers better than Morris who aren’t in the Hall, including John.

John was an excellent pitcher. My problem is that John didn’t reach a high enough peak level for a long enough period. His best years by WAR were 5.6 and 5.5, respectively. These numbers are not terrible, and they may be very good. Tom Seaver had eight better seasons with a WAR record of just 5.6. Nolan Ryan had four seasons, Phil Niekro had 7, and Gaylord Perry had 6. Hell, Jack Morris, who is often maligned, even had one.

Although there are some benefits to longevity, I believe that the Hall standards are higher than John could achieve. The criteria should be higher. It is necessary to draw a line somewhere. We can’t keep saying that Morris was in and John was better. In my opinion, the Hall of Fame in all sports has been watered down to a hall of the very good that would make John Qualified for the Hall, and that’s a shame because there was no period where John was considered one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball history. The Hall should be for all time greats where no debate exists on their induction.

Tommy John shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. That’s why I believe he’s not in.

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