A Hall of Fame case for Jamie Moyer

My wife taught at a Boston-area private school for a number of years. One morning in 2007, she was enjoying a complimentary breakfast in the teacher’s lounge with three or four other teachers, when someone commented on the latest major league baseball steroid scandal featured in that day’s Boston Globe. Eventually, another teacher asked the assembled group to name a single current major league baseball that he or she could absolutely guarantee had never taken steroids.

At precisely the same moment, my wife and a fellow teacher answered, “Jamie Moyer.”

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Following a 1991 season in which he went 0-5 (5.74 ERA), Jamie Moyer was released by the St. Louis Cardinals, his third major league (ML) team since his June 1986 debut with the Chicago Cubs. Moyer’s ML record was just 34-54, with a 4.56 ERA. A few months later, he re-signed with the Chicago Cubs, only to be released at the end of Spring Training. The Detroit Tigers organization then signed and released him; he did not thrown a big-league pitch in 1992. In December 1992, he signed with the Baltimore Orioles. This time Moyer stuck, going 12-9 (3.43) in 25 starts—only to go 13-13 (4.96) in 41 starts over the next two season. Released AGAIN after the 1995 season, Moyer signed with the Boston Red Sox. Through July 30, 1996, Moyer had appeared in 23 games (10 starts) for the Red Sox, going 7-1 with a 4.50 ERA.

On that day, Jamie Moyer was traded to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Darren Bragg. After 10 years and six teams, the 33-year-old left-hander had a ML record of 66-77 (4.50) in 239 major league games (187 starts). In 1,206 2/3 innings pitched [IP], Moyer had a 1.43 WHIP,  5.4 K/9 , and 1.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB).

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The 2008 playoffs did not start well for 45-year-old Jamie Moyer, as he allowed eight earned runs in 5 1/3 innings (13.50 ERA) against the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers. In the regular season, Moyer had gone 16-7 (3.71) in 33 starts and 196 1/3 innings, helping the Philadelphia Phillies win their 2nd consecutive National League East championship, starting and winning the division-clinching game both years. Moyer had excelled in his five previous postseason starts for the Mariners (1997, 2001) and Phillies (2007), going 3-1 (2.43) over 29 2/3 innings. When he took the mound in Citizens Bank Park on the night of October 25, 2008 for his first (and only) World Series start, the Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays were tied at one win apiece.  While he did not get the win, Moyer’s solid 6 1/3 innings (3 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 5 K, 0 HR) paved the way for the Phillies’ 5-4 victory. The Phillies ultimately won the Series in five games, making Moyer a World Champion.

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When starting pitchers turn 34, they are typically approaching the end of their careers. Pitch velocity and K/9 are already well in decline, while HR/9 and BB/9 are on the upswing. Pitchers’ arms are simply not built to withstand that much abuse.

This makes what Jamie Moyer did after being traded to Seattle even more remarkable. From the day of the trade through his last ML appearance (May 27, 2012), Moyer went 203-132 (4.15), hurling 2,867 2/3 innings over 451 starts (and six relief appearances; 6 1/3 innings per start). Pitching for the Mariners, Phillies (to whom he was traded August 19, 2006 for two no-name minor-leaguers), and Colorado Rockies (10 2012 starts), Moyer finished in the top six in Cy Young Award voting three times, was an All-Star (2003) and won 20 games twice (2001, 2003).

By the way, only 114 ML pitchers (out of ~19,000) have won as many as 203 games in their entire careers.

At the start of the 1997 season, Moyer was 34 years old. Only Cy Young (225) and Phil Niekro (221) won more games after turning 34 than Moyer (197), and only Niekro made more starts (522 to 440). Moyer also ranks 5th in IP (2,796 2/3) and 7th in strikeouts (1,685) after turning 34.

Moyer turned 40 on November 18, 2002. From that point on, he made 251 starts, going 105-84 (4.44) over 1,555 1/3 innings, with 913 strikeouts. Only Niekro had more wins, starts and IP after turning 40, and only Nolan Ryan, Niekro and Randy Johnson struck out more batters.

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On May 7, 2010, Jamie Moyer pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout for the Philadelphia Phillies, beating the Atlanta Braves 7-0. He was 47 years, 170 days old, making him the oldest major league pitcher ever to throw a shutout. According to PITCHf/x data, Moyer’s fastball averaged 80.9 mph, and his change-up 74.4 mph, that season. While lower than in previous years, these average velocities were in line with the low-80’s fastball and low 70’s changeup Moyer threw throughout his career.

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When Moyer walked off a ML mound for the last time, he was 49 years, 193 days old. His career record was

  • 269 wins (35th all-time, 9th among left-handers, with only Tommy John and Jim Kaat not in the ML Baseball Hall of Fame [HOF]) and 209 losses (37th)
  • 638 games started (of 15 ML pitchers with more starts; only Roger Clemens and Kaat not in HOF)
  • 4,074 innings pitched (40th all-time; 10th among left-handers; 0nly John, Kaat and Frank Tanana not in HOF)
  • 2,441 career strikeouts (39th)
  • Won 10 or more games 13 times, made 30 or more starts 13 times, pitched 188 or more innings 13 times, had ERA<4.00 eight times (min. 162 IP), and did all four seven times.

Look, I get it. Moyer had a high career ERA (his 103 ERA+ is only slightly better than average), never dropping below 3.27 in any season. He allowed 157 more hits (4,231) than innings pitched. He yielded more home runs (522) than any other ML pitcher. His career WHIP of 1.32, K/9 of 5.4 and K/BB of 2.1 are meh. His career WAR of 50.2 is solid (102nd all time), but well below the average 73.9 for HOF pitchers, as is his 7-year career peak WAR (33.2 vs. 50.3) and JAWS (41.8 vs. 62.1).

So the sabermetricians will likely not look twice at Jamie Moyer when he first appears on a HOF ballot, probably in 2018.

Still, consider Moyer’s average season over the 13 seasons after he turned 34 (1997-2009):

14-9, 4.11, 32 GS, 202 1/3 IP, 206 H, 53 BB, 122 K, 26 HR, 1.15 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 2.3 K/BB

ERA aside (though his 111 ERA+ those seasons was decent), that is a remarkably solid, durable and consistent performance for any pitcher, let alone one in their mid-30s to mid-40s whose fastball rarely topped 84 MPH. In fact, during that stretch only Johnson, Andy Pettitte and Greg Maddux had more wins, only Livan Hernandez started more games, and only Hernandez and Maddux threw more innings.

Oh wait: 1997-2009 significantly overlaps with the steroid era. I cannot PROVE that Moyer never took steroids…but his low-80s fastball and size (6’0’’, 170 lbs) strongly suggest he did not. Think about that. Moyer was more-than-effectively retiring juiced-up sluggers with mediocre stuff between the ages of 34 and 46, winning 186 games in the process.

Rule 5 of the Baseball Writers Association of America rules for HOF election states that “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Everything I have read about Jamie Moyer reveals a man of unparalleled integrity, decency and sportsmanship. Jamie Moyer’s character alone should put him in the HOF. Throw in the numbers he posted AFTER turning 34 (with mediocre stuff, against juiced-up hitters) and his better-than-you-think career numbers, and a strong case can be made for Moyer’s eventual HOF induction.

I suspect this is not my last word on the subject.

Until next time…

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