Billy Wagner is on the ballot for the eighth time this year. He made it to 51 percent last year and is trending at 71.5 percent as of January 8. The left-hander was dominant and is arguably the second-best closer ever. Let's take a look at his Hall of Fame case.
Wagner was drafted 12th overall in 1993 by the Houston Astros out of Ferrum College and after a year and a half in the minors, he got one appearance in 1995. On September 13th, 1995, Wagner was called in to get lefty Rico Brogna out in a game at Shea Stadium. It was the sixth inning, and he coaxed Brogna into flying out to centerfield. That was the only batter he faced that season but there would be plenty more to follow.
Called up in June of the following year, Wagner assumed the closer role for the Astros. He would continue to pitch for Houston through 2003 and saved 30+ games five times. Wagner was also an All-Star three times during his tenure there. He even finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting in 1999 with a 1.57 ERA, 39 saves, and an incredible 124 strikeouts in 74.2 innings. Wagner also held batters to a minuscule .135 batting average that season.
Life After Houston
He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 2003 season. While he was having an excellent year, he suffered a strain in his hand and missed August. From the time he came back on September 5 of that year until the end of his career in 2010 with the Atlanta Braves, Wagner had an ERA of 1.93 with 181 saves and 456 strikeouts in 364 IP. The lefty also made four more All-Star appearances and finished sixth in Cy Young voting in 2006 with the New York Mets.
Let's take a look at how Wagner compares to Trevor Hoffman who recently got into the Hall of Fame:
Yes, Wagner pitched 186.1 fewer innings than Hoffman, but he would have to give up 115 earned runs in that time to have his ERA be the same. The WHIP and the BB/K ratio stand out. The southpaw is better in both categories. The total number of saves is what wows voters, but the quality of the appearances is what is intriguing here. Also, take into consideration that Mariano Rivera, the best closer ever, has a higher WHIP than Wagner, a 2.21 ERA, and an 8.2 K/9. Wagner is 6th in saves with 422 and is one of only three lefties to have over 300 saves (John Franco 424, Randy Myers 347).
While Rivera's postseason cannot be ignored and Hoffman's, as limited as it was, wasn't bad, Wagner was not nearly up to par. In his limited postseason experience (11.2 IP) he had a 10.03 ERA and a 1.971 WHIP. Most notably he got destroyed in Game Two of the NLCS as a member of the Mets vs. the St. Louis Cardinals. He came into the game in the ninth with the score tied at six. He proceeded to give up three runs and was pulled after getting only two outs. Wagner would take the loss and the Mets would eventually lose the series in seven games thanks to Yadier "bleeping" Molina in game seven.
As we have seen, Wagner compares favorably to Hoffman who recently got into Cooperstown. The problem is that the other Hall of Fame relievers have accolades and rings, aside from Hoffman, to go with their impressive resumes. Add in the fact that Wagner had a bad postseason career, and it has been an uphill battle. However, he has made a significant jump over the past few years. The way Wagner is tracking, it seems likely he eventually gets enshrined and joins the elite closers in Cooperstown.