Peter Stein (Fantasy Baseball Analyst – MLB reports): This week, I take a look at back and crunch the numbers of an intriguing former great player, Frank Viola. Nicknamed “Sweet Music”, the crafty left-hander finished his fifteen-year career with a 3.73 ERA and a 176-150-career record. Impressive numbers that earned Viola an induction to the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame. However, his qualifications by no means ended up landing him a spot in Cooperstown with the big boys. Viola only received 2 votes in 2002 (0.4%) and went off the ballot after only one year of eligibility.
Since I was only nine years old when Viola retired in 1996, I don’t have the pleasure of seeing him pitch firsthand. I have heard a lot about the lefty, and while examining his career at a closer level; there are uncanny parallels to my favorite pitcher of all-time, Mark Buehrle. As much as I have tried to the case for Buehrle as a HOF, and as much as he has accomplished, he is simply not a dominant player of his generation. The same was true for Viola.
In the prime of his career, Viola was masterful and ate up a lot of innings. He consistently finished the season around 250 innings pitched and threw a whopping 74 career complete games. He had the ability to miss bats, but only surpassed the 200-strikeout plateau once in his career. He allowed a lot of hits, one per inning throughout his career, but he did have good control and kept the walks to a minimum. Not blowing hitters away, Viola creatively maneuvered around the strike zone and made the most of his “stuff”, a term used to describe a pitcher’s repertoire and arsenal.
Outside of my own wishes and perhaps members of the White Sox nation, Mark Buehrle is not considered a HOF caliber player at this point in his career. However, a move to the National League and another six-plus years of strong pitching, then he truly becomes a candidate if he can surpass the 250-win level. Remember, this is a guy who has thrown a no-hitter, a perfect game, started AND saved a World Series game, and started and won an All-Star game. Since becoming a starter in 2001, he has thrown at least 200 innings in one 10 games in each season. A model of consistency. With a 161-119 career record and 3.83 lifetime ERA. His numbers stack up nicely compared to Viola, despite throwing 30 fewer games.
Admittedly, Viola was more dominant than Buehrle during several of his best seasons, particularly in 1984, 1987, 1988, and 1990. Viola was a 3-time all-star selection, a World Series champion and MVP in 1987, and was the 1988 AL CY Young Award winner. Clearly, Viola was good and even dominant for a few years. However, he does not stack up against the true greats. Overall, he amassed a 43.9 career WAR in fifteen seasons, ranking him 106th overall for pitchers. Buehrle, with a 46.6 career WAR to date, in through just 11 seasons, is ranked 92nd overall.
Therefore, based on this comparative analysis, if Frank Viola should have been HOF worthy, than so is Mark Buehrle – right now. Their career numbers are almost identical, as well as their style and stuff, despite the fact that Buehrle has pitched about one fewer full season of games. While Buehrle still has an outside chance to one day reach Cooperstown, Frank “Sweet Music” Viola, simply did not have enough dominant seasons to reach the Hall of Fame. Viola though did enjoy an outstanding career and will forever be remembered as one of the pitching greats of his generation.