Billy Wagner, who registered over 400 saves during his 16-year career, three-plus seasons with the New York Mets, is a bit of a conundrum because it is so tough when it comes to relief pitchers.
For a long time in MLB history, relief pitchers were simply the members of the staff who just weren’t good enough to start. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the relief pitcher became so prevalent. And that was only if the pitcher was a “closer.”
There are eight pitchers currently in the Hall of Fame elected specifically for their achievements as a relief pitcher – Hoyt Wilhelm, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, and Mariano Rivera.
At one point it was an amazing feat to reach 300 saves. All but Wilhelm (228 saves) reached that mark. Rivera and Hoffman each surpassed 600.
Wagner had a lifetime record of 47-40 with a 2.31 ERA and a total of 422 saves. A seven-time All Star, he pitched to a WHIP of 0.998 and struck out an amazing 11.9 batters per nine innings.
So why the snub? Since relief pitchers being tapped into the Hall of Fame is relatively recent – Wilhelm was the first to be honored in 1985 – it’s difficult to present an argument as to why a player should or shouldn’t be in the Hall. Wagner is one of only six pitchers to earn over 400 saves, the others being Rivera (652), Hoffman (601), and Smith (478) are ranked 1, 2, and 3, while two other one-time Mets – Francisco Rodrigues (437) and John Franco (424) are just ahead of Wagner.
So do benchmark numbers truly mean something? And how can you do a real comparison when it comes to deciding on Billy Wagner? For now, he is still waiting in the bullpen to be waved in.