Red Sox RP: Billy Wagner
Career Stats: 47-40, 2.31 ERA, 187 ERA+, 1196 SO, 27.7 WAR
Year on Ballot: 7th
Current Percentage: 47.9%
On a per-inning basis, there may have been no better pitcher than Billy Wagner. His 11.9 K/9 and .098 WHIP are the best in MLB history among pitchers who threw over 800 innings, while his 187+ is second to Mariano Rivera. Wagner was not just dominant; he was also remarkably consistent.
Besides his injury-plagued 2000 season, he never had an ERA over 3.00 or struck out less than ten batters per nine innings. He saved at least 30 games in nine different seasons and made seven All-Star teams in his thirteen full seasons.
The main knock on Wagner’s candidacy is his lack of innings. Wagner did not have his first full season until age 25 and retired at 38 after a career-low 1.43 ERA in 2010. Because of this, Wagner pitched in just 903 innings in his career.
If elected, this total would be the lowest of any non-Negro League, Hall of Fame pitcher, over 100 innings less than Bruce Sutter. Wagner is also plagued by his poor postseason performance. Although it was in a small, 11.2 inning sample size, Wagner had a 10.03 career playoff ERA.
One could argue that the most memorable moment of Wagner’s career was allowing a game-winning home run to Yadier Molina in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. As unfair as it may be, these are the type of moments that stick in the mind of voters, especially with a pitcher with so few innings.
After debuting on the ballot in 2016 with just 10.5% of the vote, Wagner’s candidacy has gained steam as of late. This is especially true after the election of inferior reliever Lee Smith, as Wagner’s vote percentage went from 16.7% in 2019 to 31.7% in 2020 to 46.4% in 2021. Wagner’s candidacy, once hopeless, now appears on the fast track to Cooperstown.
While he is no Rivera or Eckersley, Wagner has one of the strongest Hall of Fame cases of any reliever. As the years go on, voters seem more focused on his decade-long period of dominance than his short career or postseason underperformance.
The momentum has continued this year, as Wagner has already gained eight votes through the first 132 ballots. It now seems only a matter of time before Wagner has a plaque in Cooperstown
Vote Prediction: 55%