Year Inducted: 1990 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 411/444)
The 1950’s saw a few teams relocate to new cities. The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved out west to capitalize on the new markets in Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectfully. The St. Louis Browns, a perpetually losing franchise stuck in a city that had a successful franchise already, moved out east to Baltimore and became the the Orioles. The O’s began building upon a solid core (including having both Brooks and Frank Robinson) in the 1960’s to become one of the top teams in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s American League. But, it wasn’t until one man began pitching that the O’s saw some dominance. That man was, of course, Jim Palmer.
Palmer spent every single one of his 19-year career in Baltimore. He threw nearly 4000 innings with a record of 268-152 and an ERA of 2.86. Palmer managed to only strikeout 2212 batters against 1311 walks but still had a WHIP of 1.18 and held opposing batters to a .227 average. For reference, that mark is better than Steve Carlton (.236), Fergie Jenkins (.239) and Bert Blyleven (.244), and part of the reason why he ranks ahead of all three (as well as a dazzling ERA). Palmer won three AL Cy Young Awards, had 8 20-win seasons and had a career ERA- of 79.
There is a perception amongst SABR-adherents that Palmer was a lesser choice for the Hall of Fame. And, from an advanced perspective, there is a tiny bit of merit to that. Palmer’s low K/BB ratio hurts a lot of his advanced numbers. His FIP is 3.50 and FIP- is 95 and his fWAR is only 56.6. But, those arguments aren’t as convincing as the ones for Palmer. First, Palmer had some of the greatest defenders ever in his infield, especially Brooks Robinson at third base and Mark Belanger at second base. With those guys in his infield, he didn’t need to be a strikeout pitcher, he just needed to generate ground balls. He also did a good job of limiting homers allowed, only 303 in 4000 innings and was worth 91.6 RA9-WAR. In short, Palmer was the classic case of a pitcher outperforming his peripherals due to, like Tony Gwynn, maximizing what he could do and doing it better than anyone else.
Palmer serves as a good comparison to two other Hall of Fame pitchers. One is a contemporary of his, Catfish Hunter. Both pitchers had the reputation of being big game pitchers, but Palmer’s ERA was better and he threw more innings than Hunter did, so Palmer ranks higher. The other pitcher is Tom Glavine. Glavine also had the reputation of a winning pitcher (indeed he won more games than Palmer), but like with Hunter, Palmer’s ERA- was better, as was his WHIP and raw ERA.
Palmer’s ascension was one of three big turning points in the early history of the Orioles, with the others being the acquisition of Frank Robinson and the prominence of Brooks Robinson. It’s no coincidence that all three of these men stand atop the mountain together, as they are incredibly linked together. Palmer is easily one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, and a great way to kick off the top 100 players in the Hall of Fame.
Stay tuned for the next updates. That’s right, in celebration of getting into the top 100, there will be two updates a day, in order to get all of the players done in time to start doing some analysis for the upcoming ballots.
#99- This left fielder was Goose before Gossage was born.
#98- This shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds won the 1995 NL MVP.