Hall of Fame case for Orel Hershiser
On Monday, December 9, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which covers the years 1988-2018 — will vote on candidates for the 2019 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.
And yes, we did this two years ago, the last time the Today’s Game ballot was up for a vote, with most of the same candidates appearing. As such, a lot of this will be repeat material, some of it verbatim. Our view of this, however, is that if the Hall of Fame can keep recycling the same ballot, we can recycle our analysis of it to the extent it hasn’t changed.
Next up: Orel Hershiser
The case for his induction:
Most of Orel Hershier’s Hall of Fame case comes from 1988, when he won the Cy Young Award unanimously, went 23-8 with a 2.26 ERA for the Dodgers and strung together a record 59-inning scoreless streak. Hershiser followed that with a 1.05 ERA in 42.2 postseason innings, including two shutouts and a complete-game win in the World Series. Overall, he was 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA in 132 innings in 22 playoff appearances. In addition to the 1988 Cy Young Award, he was third in Cy Young voting in 1985 — a fantastic season for him in which he posted an ERA+ of 171 — fourth in 1987 and fourth in 1989.
There’s a good case to be made that he was even better during his prime than some think, however, and that his won-loss records caused him to be underrated. A couple of years ago a reader here pointed out these two seasons:
- 2.26 ERA, 267 IP, 208 Hits, 18 HR, 73 BB, 178 K, 149 ERA+, 3.18 FIP, 1.052 WHIP, 2.44 K/BB
- 2.31 ERA, 256 IP, 226 Hits, 9 HR, 77 BB, 178 K, 149 ERA+, 2.77 FIP, 1.181 WHIP, 2.31 K/BB
Those are back-to-back Hershiser years that are almost identical. Except, in the first one, he was the unanimous Cy Young winner and in the second he finished 4th. Hershiser went 23-8 in 1988 and 15-15 and 1989. Thanks a lot Dodgers bats!
In the end, he was a three-time All-Star who led the NL in innings pitched three times, led the league in wins once, complete games and shutouts once and even won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger Award. He was a very good pitcher.
The case against his induction:
Beyond 1989, his resume looks a lot like that of a good, solid starter as opposed to a spectacular one. A lot of that was likely due to overuse early in his career.
After leading the league in innings for three straight seasons, Hershiser missed most of the 1990 season due to a torn labrum, which required shoulder reconstruction surgery. He pitched only 21 games in 1991 and was only a significantly better-than-league average starter a couple of times, most notably in 1995 with the Indians. Again, that was good — his nickname, Bulldog, was every bit as attributable to his tenacity in coming back from an injury that ends careers as it was from his on-the-mound demeanor — but Hall of Fame cases don’t lend themselves to sentiment and there was very little great beyond his 1985 and 1988 seasons. If you’re an adherent to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS Hall of Fame ranking system, you’ll observe that Hershiser ranks as the 83rd starting pitcher of all time. There are a few Hall of Famers down near his level, but most are marginal at best. Certainly not sure fire locks.
Would I vote for him?
He put together one of baseball’s most impressive seasons for a starting pitcher, was a big-time postseason pitcher and holds one of baseball’s most impressive records. But I really don’t see him as a Hall of Famer. That was certainly the opinion of the BBWAA, who considered his case for two years, earning 11.2 percent of the vote in 2006 and then dropping off the ballot completely after getting just 4.4 percent in 2007. When I see that kind of thing, my first question is whether the BBWAA missed anything major. I can’t see what they missed. Maybe he was a bit disrespected in those vote totals, but I think the writers ultimately got this call right. Maybe he would’ve gotten Jack Morris-style support based on his sterling 1988 season if he had some more padding on the win total like Morris did, but that wasn’t in the cards.
Will the Committee vote for him?
Doubtful. Like Harold Baines, Hershiser feels like a fine representative of the Hall of Very Good, but not much more.