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Looking back at the Hall of Fame argument for David Cone

In 2009, David Cone’s name appeared on the MLB ballot for what would be the first and only time. Cone would garner the support of only 3.9% of Hall of Fame voters resulting in name dropping off the ballot. When looking back at his career, Cone deserved more consideration and debatably should have a plaque in Cooperstown.

The Numbers

Over his 17 year career, Cone would accumulate 194 wins, 126 losses with a 3.46 ERA and 2,688. At first look, the numbers do not jump off the page. Having fewer than 200 wins certainly hurt his case as Hall of Fame voters have always placed more significance in traditional statistics.

However, advanced metrics have been kinder. Baseball Reference calculated that Cone was worth 62.3 Wins Above Replacement which puts him in a tie for 161st all time.

Outside of Cone’s career stats, he also had some impressive individual games and seasons. In 1988, he accumulated a 20-3 record with a 2.22 ERA. In 1990 and 1991 he led the National League in strikeouts as a member of the Mets. As a member of the 1994 Royals he won the American League Cy Young and as a member of the Yankees he pitched the 16th perfect game in MLB history.

Cone was also a dominant force in October. In 21 postseason games he would compile an 8-3 record while pitching to a 3.80 ERA. In the World Series his ERA would drop to a minuscule 2.12. For his October heroics, he would win the 1992 World Series with Toronto and again with the Yankees in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

The 2009 Ballot

In 2009, only Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice would secure over 75% of the vote to earn Hall of Fame eligibility. While two players would make it in 2009, a handful of other baseball players would eventually join them in Cooperstown. Tim Raines, Bert Blyleven and Andre Dawson would eventually gather enough votes while Lee Smith, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell and Harold Baines would earn enshrinement through one of the Hall of Fame committees.

While it is difficult to compare players of different generations and positions, Cone had a higher bWAR than Rice, Morris, Baines and Trammell. And his 62.3 bWAR is actually only 5.3 points lower than the combined bWAR of Baines and Trammell combined. Morris making it to Cooperstown is extremely interesting as he was also a pitcher in relatively the same era. While Morris had a healthier career, helping him earn more wins and innings pitched, Cone still managed to have more strikeouts and a much better ERA.

Peer to Peer Comparison

When judging a player’s career, it is important to view their career to those of their peers. For Cone, he has one of the highest bWAR for a pitcher from his era without being in the Hall of Fame. Guys like Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine all had more Wins Above Replacement while lower players like Orel Hershiser and Andy Pettitte also missed.

While it is hard to look across generations, it is worth pointing out that Cone’s bWAR is higher than Whitey Ford, who made it on his second ballot, and less than 2 points lower than Roy Halladay who made it on his first. It is also worth mentioning that Cone pitched in the middle of the steroid era and dominated batters that had gained an unfair competitive advantage.

Conclusion and Next Steps

When looking back, David Cone was a dominant pitcher who deserved serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. While you could argue that he was perhaps not quite a Hall of Famer, he should have been on the ballot for much longer than one year. At his best, Cone was one of the top pitchers in the game and was a legitimate ace during an era that significantly favored the batters. If Cone lasted 10 years before falling off the ballot, I would understand the argument, but it baffles me that he received only 21 votes, which in 2009 was 1 fewer vote than Mark Grace who was not statistically nowhere near as talented as Cone.

It is fair to wonder if voters held personal grudges against Cone or if his consistent changing of teams was held against him. One of my biggest issues with the Hall fo Fame are when voters refuse to vote for a worthy player for an illegitimate reason. But while the voters didn’t choose Cone, he still has a path to eventually earn his enshrinement.

In 2022, the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Committee will vote on ten players who are no longer eligible to make the Hall of Fame. These committees were designed to help recognize important players who were missed on the regular ballot. They meet twice every five years and are composed of baseball Hall of Famers, managers and executives. Unfortunately, the last time they met, Cone wasn’t even on their ballot! However, he has boosted his public profile with his work on the YES Network and his book Full Count: The Evolution of a Pitcher was very well received.

To me, Cone should be in Cooperstown. He was a very dominant pitcher and his numbers improved in the postseason. Now, I’m curious about your thoughts. Do you think David Cone should be in the Hall of Fame?