Baseball Hall of Fame debate: Billy Wagner’s path to Cooperstown may be opening up

Entering his sixth year on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, support for closer Billy Wagner is trending upwards and the left-hander could find his way into Cooperstown in the years to come.

The left-hander – who ranks sixth all-time with 422 saves – was undoubtedly one of the best ninth-inning men in history but found himself overshadowed by his contemporaries, namely Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.

Ultimately though, it may be the recent inductions of Rivera and Hoffman (along with Lee Smith) that pave the way for Wagner to get into the Hall of Fame.

Finally the best closer on the ballot, Wagner's vote share jumped from 16.7% to 31.7% in 2020, well short of the 75% required but a sign that his time may come.

Billy Wagner shown with the Astros in 2003. (Photo: Brett Coomer, AP)

The case for

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.

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.

The case against

Wagner never once led 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.

Wagner also has no postseason narrative to tout, getting destroyed to the tune of a 10.03 ERA in 14 career games.

Voting trends

  • 2016: 10.5%
  • 2017: 10.2%
  • 2018: 11.1%
  • 2019: 16.7%
  • 2020: 31.7%

Wagner nearly doubled his support in 2020 and he's hovering around 50% through Tuesday, according to Ryan Thibodaux's voting tracker. It should be noted that Wagner's final 31.7% mark was only 3.8% lower than the pre-results, more accurate than most others on the ballot.


Wagner is not going to get in this year, but it's certainly plausible – and perhaps likely? – that he reaches the 75% threshold by 2025. 

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