- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2007

John Smoltz

200-139, 154 saves, 2,843 Ks, 3.26 ERA

The Hall of Fame talk about John Smoltz went into overdrive when the former Cy Young Award winner and postseason hero came back as the Atlanta Braves’ closer after Tommy John surgery. His relative lack of wins (especially compared to longtime teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux) and occasional wildness suddenly mattered less as Smoltz came back from his injury as one of baseball’s most dominant closers, saving 154 games over a little more than three seasons.

Our panel touted Smoltz’ postseason success (a record 15 victories and 194 strikeouts) as well as his Eckersley-esque versatility; that he has returned to Atlanta’s rotation as its ace and continues to be a front-line starter at age 40 seemingly has put him over the top. He’s Cooperstown-bound, with plaques likely situated near his two former Braves rotation mates.

Yes 6, No 1

Yes - 6

JOHN TAYLOR: John Smoltz had Hall of Fame credentials though probably not enough wins or durability to lock up a spot. … until he injured his elbow and became a closer for three and a half years. One hundred fifty-four saves later, Smoltz is more of a novelty. His statistics in specific categories don’t necessarily add up to a plaque in Cooperstown, but you won’t find any other pitcher in the record books who has led the major leagues in strikeouts, wins and saves in various seasons. His postseason performances and Cy Young Award go a long way to bolstering his resume, but his 200th win - picked up late last month against former teammate and fellow future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine - likely put him over the top. Put Smoltz in the hall.

MARK ZUCKERMAN: He was already a HOF candidate before he blew out his elbow in 2000, and he’s only bolstered his case since coming back from Tommy John surgery. His legacy will always be as a starter, but let’s not forget his brilliant 3 1/2 seasons as a closer. His 2003 season (1.12 ERA, 45 saves, 73:8 BB:K ratio) was as dominant as any in major league history, and his Cy Young campaign of 1996 (24-8, 2.94) wasn’t too shabby, either. His 200 wins won’t stack up against some other pitchers in Cooperstown, but that mostly had to do with his injury and conversion to the bullpen. Throw in his 2.65 career postseason ERA, and Smoltz has got the complete package. Send him to the Hall, and make sure to put his plaque right next to Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

COREY MASISAK: It is pretty simple for me - I said earlier in this process that Curt Schilling was the measuring stick for me with pitchers, and I think Smoltz has a better resume than Schilling. He will be remembered as a fairly unique pitcher because of his starter-turned-closer-turned starter career path, and as a gold standard for prospect return on a mid-season trade. Had he not spent three full seasons as the Braves closer, he could be approaching 250 wins and would likely have more than Schilling’s 3,077 strikeouts.

That said, his three-plus seasons in the bullpen enhance his resume because he was so dominant in that role. And for my money it is Smoltz, and not Schilling, who is the best postseason pitcher of his generation. He has essentially another full season of incredible numbers (15-4, 2.94 ERA, 194 Ks). His postseason heroics should not be the end all, but a nice enhancement for a resume that is essentially strong enough without it.

TIM LEMKE: John Smoltz is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, easily. He doesn’t have multiple Cy Young Awards or ERA titles, but that’s a forgivable offense when you’re up against his contemporaries. His 1996 season was a real gem, on par with some of the best in recent history. Smoltz is 17th all-time in career strikeouts, which puts him in rare company. And he’s one of the few starters in Major League history to make a seamless transition to the bullpen, racking up 152 saves to go with his 200-plus wins. A postseason record of 15-4 with a 2.65 ERA is one of the best in history. Smoltz belongs in the Hall of Fame along with golfing buddies Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine; at a time when everyone’s talking about who doesn’t belong in Cooperstown, it would be a real treat to see all three men inducted at the same time.

PATRICK STEVENS: The Dennis Eckersley/starter-cum-closer comparison is too easy, though even that doesn’t seem quite right now that Smoltz is thriving in the Braves’ rotation for the third straight year. What is intriguing about Smoltz’s segmented story is how each phase of his career contributes something substantial to his Hall resume.

He earned three of his seven All-Star appearances by 1993, a time when he was a gas-thrower rather than a pitcher. He was even better in the late 1990s, and earned a Cy Young for his troubles in 1996. His injury-prompted shift to a closer’s role worked exponentially better than anything Bobby Cox had tried in a decade (who else remembers Brad Clontz, Greg McMichael and Kerry Ligtenberg?) And his return to the rotation proved he’s one of the cagiest mound presences in the game today.

The numbers - 200 wins, 154 saves, encroaching upon 3,000 strikeouts — are persuasive on their own. But if there’s anyone who has earned the right for their postseason performance (which I tend to think gets vastly overvalued in most Hall debates) to merit consideration as a significant asset, it’s Smoltz. With a 2.65 ERA and 194 Ks in 207 postseason innings, he’s a latter-day Whitey Ford. Who cares if the Braves lost four World Series in the 1990s; without Smoltz, they wouldn’t even have had the chance to do that in 1991, 1992 and 1996.

LACY LUSK: Hopefully it won’t disturb the other golfers when he gets his call from Cooperstown in about 2015. The unique 200-win, 150-save combination isn’t nearly as impressive as Dennis Eckersley’s 197/390, but Smoltz isn’t done yet.

The Braves’ return on Doyle Alexander has dominated as a starter and a reliever, and aside from the 2000 season in which he was injured, he played for every team in their record run of 14 straight division titles. He has a 24-win season (1996), a 55-save season (2002) and a 2.65 ERA with 194 strikeouts in 207 stressful (for anyone else, anyway) postseason innings.

Whatever his battery of psychologists told him early in his career definitely worked, as he learned to put that nasty stuff to good use. If Atlanta could have just found one closer like him — or one more big-game starter like him — he would have about six World Series rings. He’s a Hall of Famer.

NO - 1

KEVIN BREWER: John Smoltz is often perceived as a Hall of Famer for three reasons:

1. He has been a great starter (200 wins) and reliever (154 saves).

2. His postseason record: 15-4, 2.65 ERA in 27 starts.

3. His association with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine on the best starting rotation of all time.

But the perception of Smoltz is not reality: Smoltz was a very good starter who was among the top five pitchers in the National League just three times — 1995 to 1997. Kevin Brown should have won Smoltz’s Cy Young Award in 1996.

(But here is something interesting about Smoltz’s great 1996 season: He won 29 games, 24 in the regular season, one in the NLDS, two in the NLCS, one in the World Series and the All-Star Game.)

He was a fine closer from 2002 to 2004, but he was never the best in the league. He wasn’t as good as Eric Gagne, Billy Wagner or Brad Lidge.

Postseason records should be given some consideration, but not great consideration. They are extra credit, not the meat of the resume. Smotlz and Curt Schilling are perceived as Hall of Famers, but where was this perception when Orel Hershiser became eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Smoltz was a part of the best starting rotation of all time. But he wasn’t as good as Maddux or Glavine, who are Hall of Famers. And in selected seasons, he wasn’t as good as Steve Avery or Kevin Millwood. Smoltz is similar to Schilling, Hershiser, David Cone, Kevin Brown and Dwight Gooden — great pitchers for a short time, quite good for a long time, but not Hall of Famers.

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