With time slowly running out, Billy Wagner’s Hall of Fame case makes him one of the most intriguing players on the ballot as we await the announcement of the class of 2022.
The diminutive reliever has an impressive resume and is surely a serious candidate for Cooperstown. But it remains to be seen if Wagner’s Hall of Fame case is strong enough.
Wagner’s Hall of Fame eligibility began in 2016 when he received a measly 10.5% of favorable votes. On the bright side, Wagner’s Hall of Fame votes by year have steadily increased. When he was on the ballot for the class of 2021, Wagner received 46.4% of the vote. In six years, he’s managed to increase his support by nearly 35%, but it’ll take another increase of nearly 30% to get Wagner to Cooperstown.
Billy Wagner Hall of Fame case
Wagner’s biggest problem when it comes to the Hall of Fame is that he was a relief pitcher. The bar for letting relief pitchers into the Hall of Fame is a little higher than for starting pitchers. In fact, Wagner’s 903 innings would be the lowest total for any relief pitcher in Cooperstown. That might be part of the reason why voters have been reluctant to put Wagner into the Hall of Fame thus far.
On the other hand, Wagner’s accomplishments put him in rare company. He currently ranks sixth on the all-time saves list with 422, making him one of the six closers in baseball history to collect at least 400 saves. Wagner played at a time when closers were starting to become more important and taken more seriously. Of course, they were often limited to one inning at a time, which is why Wagner’s innings count is so low compared to others in Cooperstown.
But it’s not just Wagner’s save total that’s working in his favor. He also struck out 1,196 batters in those 903 innings, giving him an average of 11.9 strikeouts every nine innings, which is the highest in major league history for any pitcher with at least 800 innings under his belt. Wagner was also a seven-time all-star across his 15 seasons in the majors. That’s not bad, especially for an undersized left-handed pitcher who is actually a natural righty.
Billy Wagner comparisons
In terms of comparison, Trevor Hoffman might be the most similar contemporary for Wagner. Hoffman was a third-ballot Hall of Famer with nearly 80% of the vote in 2018. The main difference between Hoffman and Wagner is that Hoffman played a few more years and racked up 601 saves.
However, Wagner has a lower career ERA and WHIP than Hoffman and more strikeouts despite throwing fewer innings. He also matches Hoffman’s seven All-Star selections despite playing fewer seasons.
Ultimately, the number of saves and his longevity are the only two factors that make Hoffman a more obvious Hall of Famer than Wagner. Granted, the big difference in saves could be hard to reconcile for some voters. But Wagner’s stuff was no less dominant than Hoffman or any other closer of his era outside of Rivera, who most will agree is in a league of his own.
Wagner’s strikeout rate and ERA prove that he was an elite closer. When you consider that he’s one of only six closers to surpass 400 saves, there is no doubt that Wagner is worthy of earning 75% of the vote before his 10 years of eligibility are up and earning a spot in the Hall of Fame.