Which Active Pitchers Could Be Hall of Famers?

The 2024 BBWAA Hall of Fame announcement revealed three legendary players’ induction and as with every election since 2019 none of them were pitchers. Since the inductions of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz in 2015 only four pitchers have been inducted, with only two being starters. The lack of recent pitchers being inducted begs the question, what will happen when current pitchers find their way on the ballot? Here is a tiered breakdown of the pitchers most likely to get a plaque in Cooperstown.

Which Active Pitchers Are Future Hall of Famers?

Tier 1: No doubt Hall of Famers

Not much needs to be said about these guys, they are the best this generation has to offer in terms of starting pitching. They have combined for 10 Cy Young Awards, two MVPs, and five World Series titles since 2009. They are far and away the four highest-ranked active pitchers by WAR and the only position player who ranks ahead of them is Mike Trout.

Additionally, all four of them are around 25 WAR ahead of the next-best pitcher and have already exceeded the WAR total of an average Hall of Fame pitcher. The four of them all rank between 26th and 36th all-time in Jay Jaffe’s JAWS. While all four of them are at or near the end of their careers, they have done more than enough to solidify their spots in the Hall.

These four are not only four of the best pitchers of all time, but they also represent the last players to achieve milestones made even more rare by the changing usage patterns of starting pitchers. Verlander and Scherzer have already reached the 3,000 strikeout mark while Kershaw and Greinke are above 2,900 and look like they will reach 3,000 this season but it is unclear if another player will get there. As well, no other active player has even 2200 strikeouts. No other current players are going to make over 400 starts, a mark that all four of them have easily surpassed. If they are the last pitchers to accomplish these feats then the next generation of starting pitchers will have to be evaluated differently.

Tier 2: Modern relief aces

Relief pitchers are in their tier here because it is very difficult to evaluate relievers in a historical context. Kimbrel, Jansen, and Chapman represent the three best relievers of the last decade or so while Hader is putting together a similar career. Of these four Kimbrel has the best case, leading all relievers since 2011 in ERA, K-BB%, and WPA while ranking top three in WAR, K/9, and FIP. Jansen and Chapman have both been similarly dominant in that stretch while Hader looks like he will dominate the 2020s the way Kimbrel dominated the 2010s.

Despite those lofty achievements though Kimbrel’s induction is far from a certainty as his 757.1 innings are far from Hall of Fame totals. This issue applies to all four of these relief aces, despite their very impressive inning-for-inning dominance the sheer quantity of innings just doesn’t approach the totals of Hall of Fame relievers. Jansen and Chapman each have 813.2 and 698.1 innings respectively while Hader has 388.2 innings entering his age 30 season.

Right now it’s entirely possible that Jansen is the only one of these four players to end up with 900 innings and while that may seem like a lot, consider the case of Billy Wagner. Wagner is still waiting to get into the Hall of Fame despite being one of the best inning-for-inning relievers of all time because many voters consider his 900 innings to be too few for induction. Overall, while Kimbrel and others may get the call, it largely depends on the philosophy of the voters.

Tier 3: Close but still need a little more

After the top four talked about earlier, Sale, DeGrom, and Cole are the next-best starters the game has offered in the past 15 years. They have combined for 20 top 10 Cy Young finishes, winning three and they rank five, six, and seven among active pitchers in WAR. It feels like if more than four pitchers from this era end up in Cooperstown, it will be someone from this group.

DeGrom will forever be one of the greatest what-if stories in baseball. After winning back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2018-19 he put together what could have been the greatest season by a pitcher ever to start 2021 before getting hurt in July. Sale was an all-star and finished top six in Cy Young every year from 2012 to 2018 with the second most strikeouts in the league over that span. Unlike the other two, Cole still appears to be in his prime, the reigning AL Cy Young is the best pitcher in baseball right now and looks like he will be for at least a few more years.

The average WAR for a Hall of Fame starter is 73 but Sale leads the way among these three at 47.1, followed by DeGrom at 42.1 and Cole at 40.7. While it is not a requirement to reach the 73 mark, almost every Hall of Famer is at least in the mid-50s. DeGrom and Sale are both in their mid-30s and have dealt with injuries for the past several seasons, if they can get healthy and put together a few more solid years before their 40 they have a strong chance at induction. As for Cole, he is just 32 and if he continues the way he has pitched lately through his mid-30s he will almost certainly get a plaque. For these guys, it all comes down to how they finish their careers.

The times are changing for major league pitchers, as legends like Kershaw, Verlander, and Kimbrel edge closer to retirement a new generation of pitchers are taking over, and yet none have established themselves as future Hall of Famers. It seems like the currently very low rate of pitcher inductions will continue until a new generation of legends takes shape. Until then, these 11 pitchers have the best chance of induction.

Main Image: Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

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