Year Inducted: 1936 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 189/226)
The Washington Senators were renowned for being the worst team in the American League during most of their existence. As many people said, they were “First in war, first in peace and last in the American League.” That’s why there are so few of their players in the Hall of Fame, especially considering that they have existed since the beginning of the American League. If a team is poor, the players won’t get as much recognition. This was especially true during the newspaper era of sports reporting. However, the Senators had one thing going for them in the early years of the game. They had the greatest pitcher of all-time, Walter Johnson on their team.
For 21 years, Johnson redefined the role that Cy Young had defined before him. Johnson pitched over 5900 innings, all for the Senators. In that time, for one of the worst franchises in history, Johnson somehow won 417 games against only 279 losses. He did this by striking out a lot of batters (3509), limiting baserunners (WHIP of 1.06 and batting average against of only .225), and limiting the homers he allowed (only 0.15 per 9 innings). Johnson was the first pitcher in history to strikeout more than 3000 batters in a career, shattering Cy Young’s previous record by more than 700 batters. Johnson had one of the most dominating careers ever, being worth more than 9 fWAR twice, 8 fWAR three times, 6 fWAR four times and 4 fWAR five times.
Johnson never had the innings heights that Young did, which is the entire reason why Young’s fWAR is higher than Johnson’s. Young threw roughly 2000 more innings than Johnson, including having nine seasons with more innings than Johnson’s high in innings of 370. However, what makes Johnson stand far above Young is the period that each played in. While both pitchers threw a lot of innings in the Dead Ball Era, Johnson pitched quite a bit in the 1920’s, when offense was skyrocketing. This is why Young’s ERA- (74) and FIP- (80) are eclipsed by Johnson’s numbers (68 and 76 respectively).
The only reason that Johnson ranks in the 20th spot is because he only played in 802 games in his career. While that’s great for a starting pitcher, position players in the Hall of Fame in roughly 2.5 times that amount, which means they have a slightly larger impact on their teams. Walt Johnson may be the best pitcher of all-time, but still has a tough time contending against the greatest position players of all-time.
Upon his retirement, Johnson ranked first in strikeouts and shutouts, second in wins and fWAR, and third in K-rate. Johnson was an easy selection for induction, and was a great part of the first ever induction class in 1936. Walter Johnson is the greatest pitcher ever, and probably will always be such.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 12/11/16:
#19- the greatest catcher ever
#18- the greatest baserunner ever