USA TODAY Sports is counting down the top 24 candidates on the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in advance of the Jan. 24 election results. The countdown is based on voting by our power rankings panel, which includes five Hall voters.
No. 19: Billy Wagner
In his third year on the ballot, Wagner is a fascinating case. The fireballing lefty currently sits sixth on the all-time saves list, but his long-running dominance exists in the purgatory behind Mariano Rivera.
Trevor Hoffman is likely to get in this year and as one of only two pitchers with 600 saves, it’s hard to argue with his induction. Unfortunately for Wagner, it's nearly impossible – at the present time – to view his Hall of Fame candidacy without framing it against Rivera and to a lesser extent, Hoffman.
Wagner received 10.2% of the vote in 2017, down from the 10.5% in his first year on the ballot.
The case for: Considering how hard he threw and his relatively small frame, Wagner’s longevity may be the impressive thing about his career, posting nine seasons with at least 30 saves. Even in his final season at age 38, Wagner’s fastball was sitting in the upper-90s.
Statistically, Wagner is in elite company. His 1,196 career strikeouts as a reliever are the fourth-most in the history of baseball. Wagner’s 2.31 career ERA is more than a half-run lower than Hoffman’s. Wagner sports a 0.998 career WHIP and a spectacular 11.9 K/9.
The case against: Wagner pitched during a golden age for closers and was overshadowed for the entirety of his career, never leading the league in saves. When you think of the 2000s’ great closers, even Eric Gagne’s historic three-year stretch probably comes to mind before Wagner’s 15-season run.
Despite Wagner’s numerous statistical advantages over Hoffman, the lefty finished with 179 less saves. Like it or not, that’s a number we use to judge closers.
While his postseason stats are a small sample size, Wagner was bombed in seven trips to the playoffs, giving up 13 runs in 11 ⅔ innings.
X-factors: In the coming years, Wagner’s accomplishments may be viewed more favorably. There aren’t any active closers on his heels on the all-time saves list, and once Rivera gets in next year, Wagner is going to be the best closer on the ballot until his 10 years are up.
Consensus: Wagner is a major victim of the 10-player voting limit. He’ll get enough votes to stay on the ballot every year, but reaching 75% is going a tall task.
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