He’s 38 years old. In a way, he seems younger — I mean, he goes by “Billy” and he’s short and I easily remember his entire career. (Then, I’m increasingly old.) On the other hand, it seems like he’d have to be older, as he’s accomplished an awful lot. With the exception of last year’s stint, coming off of surgery, as a setup man, he’s been closing since 1996, and he has saved 385 games, sixth on the all-time list. (He’s five behind Eckersley for fifth, and 39 behind John Franco for fourth and the lefthanded record.) There aren’t many relievers, ever, who have been better than Wagner.
Wagner was a starter, and a good one, in the minors, but (basically because he’s listed at 5-11, and I doubt he’s that tall) was shifted to the bullpen as soon as he arrived in the majors. (He had never relieved in the minors before his major league debut, but has never made a major league start.) He took over the Astros’ closer role late in 1996 and held it (with the exception of an injury-plagued 2000 season) until 2003. He was traded to the Phillies, as most Astros closers seem to be, after the season for three eventual washouts. He had two strong seasons there — his 2005 may have been the best of his career — before signing a big contract with the Mets, as most closers who are about to get hurt seem to. To be fair, Wagner had two good years for the Mets and was having another one in 2008 when he blew out his elbow. Wagner worked his way back, pitched in two games for the Mets, then went to the Red Sox on a waiver deal, after which he pitched very well. The Braves signed him to a one-year deal with an option this offseason.
Wagner struck out 22 men in 15 2/3 innings pitched last year. In other words, all signs point to him still throwing hard. Few have ever thrown harder. His walk rate was a little elevated from his usual, but that’s normal coming off of Tommy John surgery. Given my rules on older pitchers, he’s a great candidate for a one-year deal. He has had basically no platoon split in his career.
Wagner probably isn’t a Hall of Fame candidate under the current standards for relievers. However, the standards for relievers are pretty fluid right now, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he made it some day.