In his eighth year on the MLB Hall-of-Fame ballot, Billy Wagner surged up to a 68.1-percent showing, coming up just 27 votes shy of the 75 percent required for induction in 2023.
It’s quite likely, given that his percentage has climbed up significantly over the last few years, Billy Wagner will eventually be enshrined.
Still, as unquestionably one of the most dominant relievers to ever step on a mound, he should never have had to wait this long to take his rightful place among the game’s all-time greats.
From his first full big-league campaign in 1996 to his last in 2010, Wagner overpowered hitters and slammed the door on 422 saves (sixth all-time). Even in the final year of his career at age 38, the rocket-armed lefty turned in one of his best seasons, saving 37 games alongside a 1.43 ERA for the Braves and earning his seventh All-Star selection.
Wagner never started a single one of his 853 MLB games. In fact, he rarely pitched more than a single inning, logging 903.0 for his career. That was simply not his craft. Wagner’s forte was to put away opponents in the final frames, and he frequently did that in short order.
Armed with a ferocious fastball and wicked slider, Wagner baffled and blew away one hitter after another over his years in the league. His career 33.2 K% ranks fourth in history among all MLB pitchers with a minimum of 500 innings. Wagner finished with an ERA above 2.85 and a K/9 below 10.0 in only one of his 15 seasons, and that one was shortened due to injury.
Wagner certainly suffered through some struggles during his 14 postseason appearances. That’s really the only legitimate knock on his extraordinary body of work.
A lifetime 2.31 ERA, a WHIP just slightly under 1.00, and an 88.7-percent success rate in save chances just further affirm Wagner’s elite status. Billy the Kid belongs in Cooperstown.