Tom Verducci will answer select questions from SI.com users in his Baseball Mailbag.
The Hall of Fame was redefined Tuesday with the election of Bruce Sutter by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Yes, Sutter becomes the first pitcher to gain enshrinement without ever starting a major league game. More important, though, Sutter made it to the Hall of Fame as a specialist with a short career. His period of dominance was nearly as brief as his outings, however epic people may make them out to be given today's pampered one-inning closers.
Don't get me wrong about his skills. Sutter was feared by hitters, largely because of a pitch he was credited with popularizing: the split-fingered fastball. He led the National League in saves five times and made six All-Star teams. He's to be richly congratulated for joining the elite one percent who ever played the game that are in the Hall. But as Cooperstown goes, his reign was so brief as to set a new precedent -- by a lot. Sutter threw 39 percent fewer innings (1,042 1/3) than the Hall of Famer with the previous low workload: Rollie Fingers (1,701).
I voted for Goose Gossage, who had the better career (not to mention almost 800 more innings), but not for Sutter because I believed Sutter simply didn't pitch well enough, long enough for a specialist. Sutter made the Hall of Fame with only eight seasons in which his ERA was better than the league average. (Gossage posted 15.) Sutter essentially was done as a top relief pitcher at 31 after a nine-year window (1976-84) during which he threw only 890 innings. In that same span, Nolan Ryan threw 2,053 innings. It's the difference between being a kicker and playing defensive tackle. (Only one kicker, Jan Stenerud, is in the NFL Hall of Fame.)
I begin with a bias against relief pitchers. They are less valuable than starting pitchers. Just check their paychecks, to begin with. Indeed, most closers end up in the bullpen because they failed as starting pitchers, often lacking the necessary depth in their repertoire, the pitching intellect or the stamina to consistently pitch deep into games. And -- here's a big reason why relievers generally post better numbers than starters -- they typically need not worry about finding ways to get out the same hitters a second, third and perhaps even fourth time in the same game.