Another edition of versus, and this time it is between two of the most dominant closers of the 2000s. Billy Wagner and Trevor Hoffman are both ranked in the top ten for all-time saves and top fifteen in WAR for closers all time. But one of them is a Hall of Famer and the other is not. Hoffman was inducted in the 2018 class, while Wagner still remains on the outside looking in. There is a case to be made that Wagner was better than Hoffman, and yet still falls out of getting into Cooperstown.
Billy Wagner saw one year where his ERA was above 3.00. Outside of a tumultuous 2000 season, Wagner saw continuous success. Compared to Hoffman, Wagner’s statistics prove to be better outside of total saves. Wagner’s career FIP of 2.73, a WHIP of 0.99, and an ERA of 2.31 all register to be lower than Hoffman. Add in Wagner striking out more batters than Hoffman in 186 fewer innings in his career, and you have a case to be made that Wagner was the better all-time closer.
The clear argument for Hoffman is hitting the illustrious number of 600 total saves. But the argument for the former Padres closer is deeper than just his save total. Sure Wagner has better regular-season statistics, but when looking at the postseason numbers, Hoffman blows him out of the water. In 12 postseason appearances, Trevor Hoffman saw mild success with a 3.46 ERA and four saves. Compare that to Wagner’s 10.03 ERA in 14 postseason appearances, and the argument swings into Hoffman’s favor.
This is one of the more closer comparisons that fans will see between a Hall of Famer and a non-Hall of Famer. Sure Hoffman is one of the greatest of all time, but statistics show that Billy Wagner does not get the respect he deserves.
The Deep Dive
Is that enough evidence that Wagner’s dominance is disrespected? Trevor Hoffman is not in that category of dominance. Hell, even Mariano Rivera is not seen on that list. So what makes fans think that Hoffman was a better closer? Looking at the WAR statistics, Wagner’s WAR7 was higher than Hoffman’s, and Hoffman’s career WAR was only 0.3 higher.
I mentioned Billy Wagner’s impressive career WHIP, but examining it more, it proves how dominant the southpaw was.
Unlike in last edition with the examination of Andruw Jones and Ken Griffey Jr., neither of these arms saw a decline in their play as they aged. In fact, Billy Wagner’s age 38 season was one of his best. At age 38, Hoffman also saw success, recording 46 saves.
As a fan, I struggle to see why Trevor Hoffman is considered the better closer. Sure Hoffman has more career saves, but he also had more opportunity. Looking at the save percentages, Hoffman registered 88.8% and Billy Wagner registered 85.9%. Hoffman has the edge on Wagner in the postseason, total saves, and WAR. But Wagner’s statistics prove to be better and outside of postseason struggles, the gap between Hoffman in save % and WAR is minimal.
With the game on the line, I am taking the closer throwing heat from the left side. Compared to Hoffman, Billy Wagner allows fewer baserunners, strikes out more hitters, and gives up the longball less, all things you want to see in a closer. Hall of Famer or not, Wagner is the better closer here.
Have a baseball lover that you need to get a gift for? Check out our partner at Dugout Mugs! Create a personalized mug made out of the barrel of a bat. Great for any baseball fan, or, let’s be honest, yourself!
Follow me on Twitter at @craines38 for more of my content! Don’t forget to join our OT Heroics MLB Facebook group, feel free to follow our new Instagram – @overtimeheroics_MLB, and listen to our baseball podcast, Cheap Seat Chatter! We’ll see ya there!
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports!