Let’s Talk About David Cone

David Cone’s Perfect Game in 1999

Use a phrase once, it is an article. Use it twice, it’s a series.

Last time, I asked the brilliant commentariat to discuss the late Thurman Munson. wWAR (my system of weighted wins above replacement, based on WAR figures from Baseball-Rederence) placed Munson squarely on the Hall of Fame borderline—without giving him any extra credit at all for how he may have finished his career. Today, I give you another player that wWAR sees as Hall-worthy. In fact, this pitcher clears the hurdle by a substantial margin. I was, to be honest, a little surprised.

It’s David Cone.

  • Cone’s 58.2 pitching WAR ranks 50th all time. That’s really impressive. Borderline Hall stuff. But his 35.6 Wins Above Average (WAA) ranks even better—40th all time.
  • Of the 39 pitchers ahead of him in WAA, nine—Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz—aren’t even eligible for induction yet (Clemens and Schilling will be on the next ballot, though).
  • The only eligible pitchers ahead of him who are not in the Hall of Fame are Jim McCormick, Kevin Brown, Rick Reuschel, and Bret Saberhagen. (You can expect to see some of those names in future “Let’s Talk About” articles.)
  • This tells us that Cone may not have lasted long (which explains his relatively low career totals), but when he pitched, he dominated.
  • Cone doesn’t have 200 wins. Now, I subscribe to the school of “pitcher wins are horseshit”, but you still seem to need them to get into the Hall (unless you “earn” a ton of saves, which are made from an even lower grade of horseshit).
  • (Non-Closer) Hall of Fame pitchers with fewer than 200 wins (who were inducted as a player): Dizzy Dean (150), Addie Joss (160), John Montgomery Ward (164, but was primarily a shortstop), Sandy Koufax (165), Lefty Gomez (189), Rube Waddell (195), Ed Walsh (195), Dennis Eckersley (197, but also a closer), Dazzy Vance (197), and Jack Chesbro (198).
  • A dollar says that’s more than you thought.
  • Among pitchers within 250 IP of Cone on either side (2649 to 3149 IP), Pedro Martinez and Roy Halladay own the best WAR. But in between 55 and 65 WAR, we see Stan Coveleski, Vance, Walsh, Cone, Al Spalding, Waddell, and Hal Newhouser. So, that’s Cone and six Hall of Famers.
  • Cone won a Cy Young Award, but since it was in the strike-shortened 1994, nobody seems to remember it.
  • He is 22nd all time in strikeouts. He led the league twice, led in K/9 three times, and fanned 200 six times (with 190+ another three times).
  • In 21 postseason games (18 starts), he went 8-3 with a 3.80 ERA. His World Series numbers are 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in six games (five starts). He earned five World Series rings.
  • Cone was a 5-time All Star and threw a perfect game.
  • In his only year of eligibility, he received 3.9% of the Hall of Fame vote. Other first year candidates were Rickey Henderson and Mark Grace (who received 4.1%).

Does David Cone deserve to be in a Hall of Fame that features Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove, Bob Gibson, Hal Newhouser, and Gaylord Perry? Maybe not. But the truth is, the Hall of Fame also includes Gomez, Waddell, Walsh, Chesbro, Vance, Red Ruffing, Eppa Rixey, Burleigh Grimes, Waite Hoyt, Chief Bender, Herb Pennock, Bob Lemon, Rube Marquard, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers… Cone was better than all of them.

What do you think of David Cone?

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43 Comments on "Let’s Talk About David Cone"

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Dan McCloskey
Editor

Who’s this Waite character? John Waite? The Babys had a couple good songs, but no way he should be in the Hall. 🙂
#commahumor

JDGentile
Guest

I ain’t missin’ you at all!

Dan McCloskey
Editor

No matter what my friends say.

RJ
Guest

This is all very well and good Adam, but where’s “Let’s Talk About Jody Reed”?

Bryan O'Connor
Editor
Great analysis, Adam. I think there are two ways to look at Hall cases like Cone’s. The first, which I prefer, is to consider recent players in terms relatively consistent with Hall voting history, only ignoring the absolute worst Hall of Famers as comps. If we do this, we have to induct Cone, along with Brown and Reuschel and probably Saberhagen and Frank Tanana. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it gives us a big hall. The second is to acknowledge that Hall standards were essentially reset after the candidacies of guys who played in the ’30s were determined.… Read more »
Dan McCloskey
Editor

Oh my, how Jack Morris is going to throw this off completely.

John Autin
Editor

True that Cone led a league twice in strikeouts — but he led MLB 3 straight years, 1990-92. In ’92, Smoltz edged Cone by one for the NL crown, 215-214, but Coney added 47 with Toronto, to finish with 20 more Ks than any other pitcher.

Brent
Guest

Cone won a Cy Young Award, but since it was in the strike-shortened 1994, nobody seems to remember it.

The middle clause in this sentence could read “but since it was in KC”, and it would still be true. 🙂

Alex Putterman
Guest
Adam, Since you always commented on my BPP posts, I’ll gladly comment on yours here. This is off the topic of Cone specifically, but I’ve been working on a theory lately (I may have mentioned it once on BPP) that there’s somewhat of a HOF benchmark at 3,000 IP and a 120 ERA+ (or slightly more innings, less ERA+ and vice versa). Guys on the right side of the Hall borderline like Ted Lyons just barely reach my threshold, and guys just outside the Hall like Billy Pierce just miss it. Kevin Brown is the only pitcher I can find… Read more »
bstar
Guest

That’s a brilliant observation, Alex, and I think the less than 3000 IP and 200 wins is why Cone was never looked at by the writers as a serious Hall of Fame candidate. I’m not saying I entirely agree with that; I’m just trying to explain the rationale of the voters.

Tmckelv
Guest
Nice work Adam. I would definitely have no problem with David being in the Hall. He had a relatively short (but very productive) career with a lot of great moments. Regarding Wins and the HOF – the point about Nolan Ryan being the latest active hall of fame pitcher in 1993 is sobering. It seems like over the last 20 years the WIN has become more important for the HOF at the same time it has became harder to compile a lot of Wins and the Stat itself has lost a lot of luster. The fact that a pitcher like… Read more »
Dan McCloskey
Editor

I think I still owe you a serious comment. I love the case you’ve made for Cone. It’s ridiculous that he was so quickly dismissed by HOF voters. But, better than Ed Walsh? I don’t know.

bstar
Guest

I almost posted that this morning, Dan. Big Ed just has a sic amount of black ink for such a short career. And Cone can’t touch Ed’s career 145 ERA+, either, although a short career can certainly help maintain a high mark on that metric. Walsh is also the career raw ERA leader at 1.82 (in other words, he was the ERA leader for the deadball era).

Dave V.
Guest
Love this article. I endorsed Cone for the HOF many times over on the old Baseball Reference blog. It is a shame he received so little support from the HOF voters. I think, amongst other things, one thing that caused him to be so easily dismissed is the perception that he was a “hired gun”. He went from the Mets, to the Royals, to the Blue Jays, to the Yankees within the first decade of his career. Not having an identifiable team (in the mind of some voters) probably doesn’t help him. As you also mentioned, Adam, the strike year… Read more »
Joseph
Guest
Something about WAR and WAA for pitchers is really difficult for me and Cone is an example of why. So, it’s difficult for me to agree that Cone belongs in based on WAR and WAA. For example, Cone’s best WAR year according to BBR was 1993 with KC. Okay, even if we don’t consider his 11-14 W/L record, that seems far from his best year, other than in innings pitched. Compared to the rest of Cone’s seasons, his ERA and ERA+ stats were just about in the middle. His SO/9 was on the low side compared to the rest of… Read more »
John Autin
Editor
Joseph, it’s natural to wonder how Cone’s ’93 rates above his ’88. But in ’88, Cone was in the NL (no DH) and in a park that was extremely favorable to pitchers that year. In ’93, he was in the DH league, in a hitter’s park. In ’88, Cone had a 1.29 ERA and .180 BA at home, 3.19 and .245 away. In ’93, Cone had a 4.05 ERA and .247 BA at home, 2.62 and .198 away. There was also a chronological change in context. In 1988, the MLB scoring average was 4.14 R/G; the NL average was 3.88.… Read more »
PP
Guest

In 2011, his 6th year of eligibility, Cone made it into the Hall of Merit. I’m not so sure he’s that much better than El Tiante, who remains on the outside with the 41st highest WAR for pitchers. I know Tiant pitched 600 more innings and Cone had a higher winning percentage and some of the other stats favor him, but really, he should at least have made it in before Cone.

Doug
Guest

When I saw Cone undefeated in the WS, took a double-take. He sure struggled in the ’92 series (8 walks in 10 IP) but somehow escaped unscathed.

nightfly
Guest
Those Toronto teams were ridiculous hitting outfits. Their pitchers had a lot of leeway with that kind of run support. (The ’93 outfit was probably stronger.) At the Backhand Shelf blog, someone posted a picture of Eric Lindros taking batting practice with the Jays – he had been an excellent high school hitter – and I wondered what would have happened if he’d been drafted by the Jays and wound up playing as a 19-year old in 1992, facing off against fellow two-sport draftee Tom Glavine in the WS. (Lindros would have replaced Kelly Gruber at third base.) I doubt… Read more »
Phil
Guest
Just wanted to mention how crucial for Toronto Cone’s acquisition was in ’92. Not so much in terms of how he pitched–he did pitch well; solid in seven starts, also good in two rounds of playoffs–but as one of those sending-a-message moves for a team that had a history of near-misses up to that point. When the Jays got him in late August that season, it felt seismic: “Wow–they’re really serious about winning this.” (They gave up Kent for him, but it took Kent a couple of teams and a few years to find his way, and obviously they had… Read more »
mosc
Guest

I never look at a player’s hall qualifications against the bottom. That would be as absurd to me as saying he didn’t pitch like Walter Johnson so he doesn’t belong. I look squarely at the middle. Above average for a HOF-er means he should be voted in. If he can’t reach those standards, then he would lower the already suspect standards of the hall. Compared to your average HOF pitcher, Cone is substantially below. Munson may have had some extenuating circumstances, but I don’t buy it for Cone. Not that I would vote for Munson anyway.

Joseph
Guest

Cone is above average for a HOFer in some stats: W-L%; K’s; ERA+; and SO/9. I have no idea if there’s more, but probably.

What seems very silly to me is to hold pitchers to the standards of the game that were established during the time of our great-great-grandfathers. A pitcher would not be permitted to pitch 300 or more innings today.

Adam Darowski
Guest

Who is your average Hall of Famer? When compared to the current Hall of Fame, I think Cone has got to be at least average.

Joseph
Guest
There’s a difference between “average Hall of Famer” and “above average for a HOF-er.” In the context of looking “squarely at the middle,” however, that appears to be a reference to the mean, no? At any rate, one does not need to compare Cone against the bottom to make the case. Cone would have the 27th best W/L percentage out of (I think) 67 HOF pitchers not counting Ruth. The average W/L for a HOF pitcher is .588, according to BBR. Mean for WAR seems to be about 58. Cone has about 58. Average for WAR is about 64. Cone… Read more »
Joseph
Guest

By the way, I was using hyperbole in that last sentence. I know it’s not literally true.

Ross Carey
Guest
Great piece, Adam. My problem is with some of the comps you mentioned. Koufax started his career in the integrated era, and had a short career with a great peak, like Cone. However, for me the game has changed too much to compare Cone to someone like Chesbro or Vance. Koufax didn’t have longevity, thus like Cone his career numbers fall short. However for a seven year span from 1960-1966 Koufax was the best pitcher in baseball. He had the highest WAR (45.7)topping the 2nd place finisher, Marichal by 7 wins (7.1). During that span Koufax also led the majors… Read more »
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