Unbelievably, the Giants currently have four starting pitchers with a shot at the Hall of Fame. They are distant opportunities–but all four have a chance if they stay healthy over time and can add some exceptional seasons along the way.
Loading up a rotation with future Hall of Famers in their prime is extremely rare. The Braves have two Hall of Famers from their recent era of pitching dominance: Greg Maddox and Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz will most likely join them. But how many other teams can you say have had four pitchers who could be marching towards the Hall of Fame?
Below are my rankings of which Giant has a shot, in the order of who has the best chance.
Still only 24 years old, Bumgarner already has 55 career wins, two World Series Rings, and a career World Series ERA of ZERO in 15 innings. These achievements after having lived only three years over the legal drinking age give “Mad Bum” the strongest Hall of Fame potential on this rotation.
If he pitches until the age of 39, he will need to average 16.3 wins a year to reach 300 career wins—this after almost every baseball pundit has predicted that in today’s baseball environment, no pitcher will ever again reach the 300 win milestone. Factors such as the limited pitch count, an expanded use of the bullpen, and the five man rotation make getting 300 wins much more challenging than when Cy Young busted out 511 wins. Only Clayton Kershaw, who is 26 years old with 80 career wins, is in Bumgarner’s position of being young enough to have a shot at reaching 300 wins.
Of course, pitching 15 years is a pretty daunting number when you think how common arm injuries are these days. But classifying who the best pitchers are goes well beyond just win total, and this is a trend that is only increasing. For example, in 2010 Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young award with a record of just 13-12. Pitching has now become all about exotic statistics such as WHIP and WAR.
Right now the two most likely active Hall of Fame pitchers are Justin Verlander and King Felix. CC Sabathia was also in a great position but he may now be derailed due to injury. Right after them is Kershaw and then Bumgarner.
Bumgarner experienced last year what many of the Giants pitchers have had to stomach: great pitching combined with a weak offense. In 2013 he made the All Star team, came in 9th in the Cy Young voting, had an ERA of 3.21, but only walked away from the season with 13 wins. This is a recurring theme and challenge for these Giants pitchers, but this season Bumgarner already has 6 wins.
Hudson on Fire (HOF)
Tim Hudson signed very early in free agency with the Giants and people wondered why. He could have waited longer and showed that his ankle was healed and probably signed for more money. But he and the Giants were happy to bet on his success in San Francisco. Part of the reason why Hudson chose San Francisco was that San Francisco is a pitchers park, and he knows he is only 2 or 3 great seasons away from crossing over into a Hall of Fame career. In the modern era with 300 wins so unlikely, 250 wins should get Hudson into the Hall of Fame.
Hudson, with 210 wins, has more wins than any active pitcher. He also is off to an incredible start this season. He is 5-2 with an ERA of 1.92! His longevity alone puts him in the conversation, and he is now receiving Hall of Fame attention on a national level, with ESPN saying he is “entering Hall of Fame territory”.
There is a lot riding on the next three seasons for Hudson, but pitching in this ballpark with the Giants’ new and improved offense gives Hudson a realistic chance to end up in Cooperstown.
Timmy is 29 years old and has 93 career wins with 73 losses, 1,566 strikeouts, and 2 Cy Young awards.
There has been a lot of consternation in the Bay Area about his loss in velocity, but when looking at the big picture, Lincecum needs just a few more great years and then a few more good ones to make the Hall of Fame. While he has no shot at 300 wins or even 250, his Hall of Fame arc could resemble that of Pedro Martinez (219 career wins) or even Dizzy Dean (150 wins). If Timmy gets 3 Cy Youngs, 200 wins, and approaches 3,000 strikeouts he will be tough to keep out–especially with his post season resume.
Lincecum has been been dominant in the post season during both his World Series winning years. His post season statistics are becoming lengthy and also elite: 54.2 innings, a record of 5-2, a shutout, a close out World Series winning starting performance, and a playoff WHIP of .878. As Devo might say ‘whip it–whip it good’.
Lincecum’s season in 2011 is an insight into just how good he has been without always getting the wins he has deserved. Just three seasons ago he had a stellar ERA of 2.74, which could have easily put him in the Cy Young conversation, and 220 strikeout to 86 walks, but he ended up with a record of just 13-14. That is highway robbery!
Mathew Pouliot writes here about Lincecum’s Hall of Fame candidacy and also a prediction that over time, the traditional win total expectations for Hall of Fame pitchers will come down. If Lincecum is able to put together some big seasons he and his mustache will have a legitimate chance.
Cain is the most unlikely of these four to make the Hall of Fame, and that could have been much different if he had just gotten more run support earlier in his career. Rob Neyer writes that from 2005-2011 Matt Cain “was among the most unlucky pitchers ever“. Since 2006, Cain has had the seventh best WAR of any pitcher in baseball, and during that time his record was below 500. I remember 2007 and 2008 as being particularly painful. In 2007 he threw 200 innings, had an ERA of 3.65 and a dismal record of 7-16. Then in 2008 he led the majors in games started, and had an ERA of 3.76 and a record of 8-14. Even though he was only 23, instead of complaining about the lack of run support, he took responsibility and never called out his teammates. Going 7-16 with a 3.65 ERA and staying so positive could have been the first flicker of the Hall of Fame intangible that Cain showed.
Today, the Giants announcers sometimes today use the verb getting “Cained” to describe a pitcher who pitches a great game but gets the loss.
Yet despite it all, Cain is still in the Hall of Fame discussion. And that is not just me talking, it’s from this article here in the Bleacher Report.
He is still only 29 years old, has 94 career wins, and a lifetime ERA of only 3.36. He also has a perfect game under his belt, a post season resume that includes 21.1 scoreless innings in the 2010 postseason, a Game Seven win vs. the Cardinals in 2012, and two World Series rings. If Cain can put up big numbers over the next decade, he will be right in the middle of the Hall of Fame discussion.
Who else is in the conversation of pitchers on the cusp for comparison? Zack Greinke is 30 years old and has 113 wins, Adam Wainwright is 32 and has 107 wins, and Jon Lester is 30 and has 104 wins. Those with just a few years left are Cliff Lee at age 35 with 143 wins and Josh Becket at 34 with 135 wins. If Becket can sneak into this list, it would give the Dodgers three veterans who have a shot.
So while none of these four Giants pitchers may even be in the top five active players with a chance at the Hall of Fame, all have a chance, and that’s nothing any other current pitching rotation can claim. While making the Hall of Fame for a pitcher is very rare, just being in the discussion is a status symbol like no other in Major League Baseball.