Does Dave Stieb belong in the Hall of Fame?
The voters who had a shot to vote him in do not seem to think he does. He appeared on the ballot in 2004. Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley were voted in that year. Future Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg, Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven and Rich Gossage were also on the ballot. (What a class that would have been if they were all voted in that year.)
Stieb got 7 votes, a measly 1.4%. He was a one and done candidate, along with Joe Carter and Dennis Martinez, each who had more votes. Stieb seemed to be in the category of several pitchers who fell off the ballot that year, like Martinez, Fernando Valenzuela, Jimmy Key and Doug Drabek. Good career and a great peak but not a Hall of Famer.
The debate over Blyleven and Jack Morris would rage on for a few more years, letting Bert in and Jack out. Stieb didn’t make a dent and was not even worthy of debate.
But should there have been a debate over Dave Stieb?
The Sabermetic world loves Dave Stieb. According to career WAR, a stat I still do not understand how it is calculated, Stieb has the highest total in Blue Jays history.
That’s right. The advanced stats proclaim Stieb to be the greatest Toronto Blue Jay of all time. Now Roberto Alomar might have that title if he played more than 5 seasons in Toronto, as opposed to the decade and a half logged in by Stieb.
But logging in was what Dave Stieb did so well. He logged lots of innings and pitched to a low ERA over the entire decade of the 1980’s.
When you think of the 1980’s, it was a strange time for starting pitchers. Pitchers had individual seasons of greatness. Fernando Valenzuela, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Mike Scott, Dave Stewart, Bret Saberhagen and Frank Viola all had years of domination. But none of them did it over the whole decade.
Roger Clemens emerged as the greatest pitcher of the decade, but his dominance was entirely in the second half of the 1980’s.
Conventional wisdom said that Jack Morris was the best pitcher of the decade. Besides, he threw the most innings and won the most games.
But any analysis of stats other than innings and wins would show that Dave Stieb was indeed the best pitcher of the 1980’s.
Stieb’s inning total in the 1980’s was second to Morris and threw to a lower ERA and ERA+ and had a comparable winning percentage to Morris even though the Blue Jays struggled the first half of the decade.Morris’ run support was through the roof. For the first half of the decade, Stieb did not get much help, but would pile up 16 to 17 wins a year.
In 1985, Stieb led the league with a 2.48 ERA over 265 innings pitch, posting the lowers ERA+ and lowest hits per 9 inning percentage in the game. He did not crack the top 5 in the Cy Young vote as he finished 14-13. Keep in mind he lost 8 one run games that year where he let up 3 or fewer runs.
He had a no hitter to his name and lost a no hitter in the 9th in back to back starts. But he never had the signature postseason MVP moment of a Morris, Saberhagen, Viola, Hershiser or Stewart.
Perhaps if the insanely talented Blue Jays teams of 1985, 1987 and 1989 had won it all, his greatness would have been more appreciated. Maybe if he clinched those two other no hitters, having three on his resume would have impressed more than 7 voters.
His last great year was 1990, a year when the Blue Jays fell short on the final day of the season of the AL East crown. Maybe being associated with a team that could not get over the hump was his downfall.
When the Blue Jays finally did win it all in 1992, Stieb was on the team but not on the World Series roster. He struggled to a 5.04 ERA over 14 starts and 7 relief appearances. When the last out was clinched in Atlanta, Stieb was the first one out of the dugout to mob first baseman Joe Carter and catcher (and World Series MVP) Pat Borders.
The next year the Blue Jays won it all again, but Stieb was a member of the White Sox that year before being released in May. He tried to catch on with the Royals but it did not work out.
His career was over after 1993, or so it seemed. Stieb restarted his Hall of Fame clock by pitching in Toronto in 1998. He was hardly dominant, but he saved a few games, logged a few decent starts and was teammates with Roger Clemens, who looked like a Hall of Fame lock that season.
Whether or not Dave Stieb was a Hall of Famer is up for debate. But sadly that debate never took place as it did for Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines to get in and Jack Morris, Dale Murphy and Lee Smith to be left out.
Stieb deserved better and hopefully a Veterans Committee vote in the future will allow a fresh set of eyes to consider his greatness.
He is, after all, sabermetrically the best player in Blue Jays history.