Tommy John and Jim Kaat are Midwest-bred lefties now in their 70s who each pitched roughly a quarter of century in the majors, won more than 280 games and never came close to earning selection to the Hall of Fame.
Another Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held this afternoon. Tommy John and Jim Kaat will not be enshrined.
Their 15-year runs on the writers’ ballot ended years ago and neither made a significant run at the 75 percent of the vote needed for enshrinement.
John came closest in 2009, his final year on the ballot, when he picked up 31.7 percent of the vote. That’s better than Kaat ever received. His best year was 1993, when he earned 29.6 percent of the vote. He remained on the ballot until 2003 and his next highest percentage was 27.3.
In other words, neither of these worthies even convinced even a third of the voters they belong. Their chances of Hall of Fame election were about as good as a Democrat has of being elected to Congress in Southwest Florida.
But are they Hall worthy? Do Tommy John and Jim Kaat deserve a plaque in Cooperstown?
I started the research at http://www.baseball-reference.com and checked their statistics and more importantly something called similarity scores.
On Kaat’s page his most similar pitcher is – surprise – Tommy John. That makes John’s most similar pitcher, ah, well, Jim Kaat.
But after that seven of the next nine pitchers on Kaat’s most similar list are Hall of Famers.
They are the following: Robin Roberts, Fergie Jenkins, Eppa Rixey, Bert Blyleven, Early Wynn, Burleigh Grimes and Red Ruffing.
With John, eight of the pitchers on his similarity Top 10 scores list are Hall of Famers, most of the same ones as Kaat except his similar pitchers include Tom Glavine and Don Sutton.
John and Kaat have so much in common in addition to Hall of Fame snubs.
John won 288 games.
Kaat won 283 games.
That’s a product of two things – longevity and talent.
Only one pitcher in Major League Baseball pitched longer than the Snubbed Twins – Nolan Ryan, who pitched 27 years. John pitched 26 years and Kaat pitched 25 years.
Put another way, if John won one more game every two years he would have won 300 games. Would that have got him to Cooperstown?
Kaat needed only 17 more wins spread over 25 years to reach 300.
Would a few more wins, enough to crack 300 wins, have earned them their Cooperstown tickets?
Kaat, by the way, set an obscure 20th century record by pitching during parts of seven presidential administrations, starting with Dwight Eisenhower and ending with Ronald Reagan. Ryan later tied the presidential record.
John and Kaat were clearly good as well as durable.
Kaat was 25-13 for the Twins in 1966, leading the American League in wins and innings pitched (304 2/3).
The three-time All-Star never won a Cy Young but between 1962 and 1976 won 10 or more games every year including 10 years of 14 or more wins.
Even in his 40s he was still a good pitcher, going 29-28 after turning 40. In 1982, his age 43 year, he was 5-3 with a 4.08 ERA.
A now forgotten element of Kaat’s game was his remarkable fielding. He won 16 Gold Gloves, a total exceeded only by Greg Maddux’s 18. They’re the only two pitchers to ever win 10 or more Gold Gloves.
Pitchers are rarely measured by their hitting but Kaat was a good hitter for a pitcher. He hit .185 with 16 homers and 106 RBI in his career. He also had 44 doubles, five triples and five steals. The last stolen base came in 1980, when 41.
Those are, some people say, cotton candy statistics. They don’t mean anything to Hall of Fame voters and probably shouldn’t but they are testament to what a darn fine all-around baseball player the 6-foot-4 Kaat was for a very long time.
How long again? He broke in as a rookie with the Washington Senators (yes, the Senators) in 1959 when Eisenhower was president and before expansion and divisional play and ended his career in 1983.
John made his big-league debut in 1963, when John F. Kennedy was president. His career ended in 1989, when George H.W. Bush was president.
In between he had 18 seasons of 10 or more wins, including three seasons with 20 or more
Like Kaat, he never won a Cy Young Award but he was a four-time All-Star and twice finished second in Cy Young voting. He never led his league in ERA but was in the top 5 six times.
John, who pitched for the Indians, White Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Angels and A’s, never led his league in wins but was second twice and third once.
Do Tommy John and Jim Kaat belong in the Hall of Fame?
I’m not sure but of this I’m certain: I’m puzzled they never received as much as a third of the votes on any given year in their combined 30 years on the ballot.
They deserved more consideration from the voters.