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Does Dan Quisenberry belong in the Hall of Fame? An investigation.

Spoiler alert: Yep, he should be in Cooperstown.

Kansas City Royals v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images

Happy Hall of Fame season to all those who celebrate—which should be every single baseball fan but probably isn’t.

Why is that? It seems that it’s because this particular Hall of Fame has more problems compared to other professional sports Halls. Among those problems:

  • What to do with those accused of using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs);
  • What to do with the man who was Commissioner during high PED usage;
  • Hypocrisy;
  • Difference of opinion between writer/voters and player/voters on who belongs in the Hall of Fame;
  • Trouble reconciling player performances from different eras.

In my last article, where I listed the nine players for whom I’d vote on the current Hall of Fame ballot, I touched on the first four problems.

In this one, I’ll slightly examine last issue while investigating whether one of the most beloved Royals players deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

That player being, of course, Dan Quisenberry.

To be clear on something—in my last column, I broke out the hashtag #closersareoverrated. Which is true. They are. They are specialists. Specialists are overrated. That does not mean that specialists are unnecessary. They are completely necessary. Closers in baseball are necessary. They are just overrated. Both things—being necessary and being overrated—can be true.

I think; therefore, I am.

To be even clearer: I am not anti-closer.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at six closers currently in the Hall of Fame plus two on the current ballot who are getting votes (not enough to make it in, though, at least not this year) plus the guy who is fifth all-time in saves plus two others in the Hall who were considered closers but are truly outliers.

A List of Closers

Player bWAR Saves Years Played Hall of Fame
Player bWAR Saves Years Played Hall of Fame
Mariano Rivera 56.3 652 1995-2013 Yes
Trevor Hoffman 28 601 1993-2010 Yes
Lee Smith 28.9 478 1980-1987 Yes
Rollie Fingers 25.6 341 1969-1985 Yes
Goose Gossage 41.1 310 1972-1994 Yes
Bruce Sutter 24 300 1976-1988 Yes
Billy Wagner 27.7 422 1996-2010 No
Francisco Rodriguez 24.2 437 2002-2017 No
John Franco 23.4 424 1984-2005 No
Hoyt Wilhelm 46.8 228 1952-1972 Yes
Dennis Eckersley 62.1 390 1975-1998 Yes
Some good closers.

For comparison’s sake, we can throw out Wilhelm and Eckersley. They’re the outliers. Both are in the Hall of Fame. Wilhelm was more of a “super reliever” (trademark pending) during his career, once starting 27 games for the Orioles and never leading the league in saves. Eckersley was a starting pitcher for 12 years before Tony La Russa made him a closer. Eckersley won 151 games as a starting pitcher.

Billy Wagner and Francisco Rodriguez are on the current Hall of Fame ballot, but according to our good friend Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker, K-Rod won’t make it (and still has some work to do to make next year’s ballot) while Wagner will also fall short on his eighth turn on the ballot. But Wagner’s close: right now he’s at 72.6%.

Both are modern-day closers. Both started their careers at least half a decade after Quiz last pitched. Both pitched for about 15 seasons. And both have at least 422 career saves.

One other closer to mention here, one who’s not in the Hall of Fame but is fifth all-time in saves with two more than Wagner: John Franco, who pitched from 1984-2005 (missed 2002). Franco closed out games for the Reds and Mets from 1986-1999, leading the league in saves three times and finishing once in the Top 10 for Cy Young voting. But he did win that old closers award, the Rolaids Relief Award, twice.

Franco didn’t even make it on to a second Hall of Fame ballot, receiving just 4.6% of the vote in 2011*.

*Quick note on that 2011 class: two players were elected that year but another 10 players who were on that ballot eventually got in, including Fred McGriff, who only got 17.9% of the votes then, and Harold Baines, who fell off the ballot that year after getting just one more vote than Franco.

That leaves the six true Hall of Fame closers: Rivera, Hoffman, Smith, Fingers, Gossage, and Sutter.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees

Clearly, Rivera is in a class of his own. He’s the greatest closer of all-time. Interestingly, Gossage has the second-highest bWAR of the group, trailing only Rivera, despite having more saves than only Sutter. Along with Rivera, Hoffman is the only closer with at least 600 saves. Lee Smith, somehow, has a better bWAR. Fingers and Sutter both belong to the 300 Saves Club.

Quisenberry’s best shot at getting into the Hall of Fame is comparing him to Sutter. He had fewer saves than Sutter, sure, but he had a higher bWAR by more than half of a win. Quisenberry did that in only 13 more games, too.

Speaking of games played: Quisenberry pitched in 674 games. Only Sutter (661) pitched in less. Of the other five, only Fingers (944) pitched in fewer than 1,000 games.

So: Quisenberry did quite the damage in a fraction of the games pitched. Does that lack of longevity hurt or help his case?

It should help. Pitchers of his day weren’t exactly coddled, and if he could pitch, he went out there, regardless of whether he’d pitched just the previous day or even earlier that day. For all the talk of the Bob Gibsons and Steve Carltons and other superstar pitchers of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, there were at least twice as many who flamed out due to overuse.

So: no, that shouldn’t hurt Quisenberry. It should help him. He had an excellent career of about a decade. Focusing more on it, though, he had an extraordinary seven-year stretch from 1980-1986.

During those years, he led the league in the following categories:

  • Games, three times
  • Games finished, four times
  • Saves, five times

He also finished in the top five in Cy Young voting five of those years with fifth being his lowest finish. In 1983 and 1984, he finished second. In 1982 and 1985, he finished third. He also finished four times in the Top 10 for the MVP Award between these years: 8th in 1980, 9th in 1982, 6th in 1983, and 3rd in 1984.

Over this seven-year span, he pitched in 474 games, finishing 430 of them, earning 224 saves in 806 innings pitched with a 1.122 WHIP, 163 ERA+, and 3.20 FIP. In a stark contrast to pitchers today, he struck out 3.1 batters per nine innings.

Let’s look at the best seven-year spans of the other six:

Seven-Year Spans

Pitcher Games Games Finished Saves Innings Pitched WHIP ERA+ FIP
Pitcher Games Games Finished Saves Innings Pitched WHIP ERA+ FIP
Mariano Rivera 457 420 295 499 0.976 218 2.66
Trevor Hoffman 463 402 296 501.2 0.997 161 2.66
Lee Smith 421 365 262 447.1 1.198 133 2.98
Rollie Fingers 457 380 180 765.2 1.159 125 2.76
Goose Gossage 380 321 176 651.2 1.051 193 2.57
Bruce Sutter 435 349 219 699 1.146 140 2.96
Best seven-year spans for six Hall of Fame closers.

Quiz holds up pretty well in these categories. Among the seven (including him), he’s first in games, games finished, and innings pitched. He’s third in ERA+. He’s fourth in both saves and WHIP. He’s last in FIP, but it’s not like it was a bad FIP or anything.

His career numbers may not be up there with the rest of these closers but when one digs a little, lasering in on a portion of their careers, Quisenberry is there with all of them, even above some of them. His name should be spoken when there’s a conversation regarding the best closers in baseball history.

The best? No.

One of the best? Certainly.

And certainly worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Poll

Does Dan Quisenberry belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

  • 89%
    Yes
    (274 votes)
  • 10%
    No
    (32 votes)
306 votes total Vote Now