The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2023 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.
2022 BBWAA Candidate: Huston Street
On a ballot that features one closer whose support from voters suggests he’ll eventually wind up in Cooperstown (Billy Wagner) and another who’s fourth all-time in saves (Francisco Rodríguez), it’s easy to forget that there’s a third one of note, particularly as he’s certain to receive less than the 5% of votes required to remain on the ballot. Huston Street carved a niche as an all-time collegiate great before becoming a first-round draft pick and an AL Rookie of the Year, one whose outstanding command, movement, and deception compensated for his comparatively moderate velocity (his sinker maxed out at an average of 92.5 mph in 2009). The combination carried him to a career total of 324 saves, 20th all-time — an impressive total considering he threw his last pitch a month before his 34th birthday.
In a 13-year career spent with the A’s, Rockies, Padres, and Angels (is that a West Coast bias?), Street made two All-Star teams but also 11 trips to the injured list. His slight-for-a-pitcher frame — he was listed at 6 feet and 205 pounds but by his own admission was around 5-foot-10 — couldn’t withstand even the rigors of throwing an inning at a time at high intensity for very long. “There was a reason I never lifted a bunch of weights in the middle of my career,” he told The Athletic’s Pedro Moura in 2019. “Because I was so fucking injury prone that I would get too tight.”
Huston Lowell Street was born on August 2, 1983 in Austin, Texas, a city where his father, James Street, had already built an athletic legend. As a pitcher at the University of Texas, the elder Street earned All-America honors, threw two no-hitters (including the only perfect game in school history), and pitched in the College World Series three times (1968–70). What’s more, he also quarterbacked the Longhorns to 20 straight wins, including a 10–0 record and a national championship in 1969. With wife Janie, James fathered four sons, three of whom (Huston plus twins Jordan and Juston, the latter of whom had a brief pro career) pitched for CWS winners at Texas.
At age five, James took Huston to the UT alumni baseball game, where he was captivated by the pitching of Roger Clemens, already a Cy Young winner. Missing the Western Hills Little League age cutoff by two days, Huston began playing at age six. His team went undefeated, and his love of the game grew. “He wanted to be a baseball player at the University of Texas since he was 9, 10 years old,” recalled his father in 2002. At Westlake High School, he earned all-state honors in both football (as a quarterback and free safety) and baseball.
Persuaded by his father to focus on baseball, Street accepted a scholarship from UT, where legendary coach Augie Garrido convinced him to be the closer, a role he was open to; he liked the chance to pitch every night, and Dennis Eckersley was his favorite player growing up. An adjustment from an overhand release to a three-quarters one improved the movement on his fastball, and he earned All-America honors in all three years at the school. As a freshman in 2002, he saved 14 games and posted an 0.96 ERA, then set a record with four saves in the CWS, earning the Most Outstanding Player award as Texas won the national championship. The following year, in addition to helping the Longhorns reach the CWS semifinals, he starred on the U.S. National team, which won a silver medal at the Pan American Games, by throwing 8.2 innings of shutout relief in a 14-inning win over Mexico in the semifinals. He capped his collegiate career by helping the Longhorns reach the CWS finals in 2004.
No doubt influenced by the rapid major league arrivals of first-round closers Ryan Wagner, Chad Cordero, and David Aardsma the year before, the A’s chose Street with the 40th pick of the 2004 draft, their fourth of the first round; the pick was a supplemental one to compensate for the loss of Miguel Tejada via free agency. Street signed for an $800,000 bonus and made short work of the minors; in his first professional season, he pitched nine games at A-level Kane County, 10 at Double-A Midland, and two at Triple-A Sacramento, posting a 1.38 ERA and 10.4 strikeouts per nine in 26 innings.
Street grazed the 2005 Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list at no. 97, with the publication calling him “the ultimate competitor [with] off-the-charts makeup” but noting that his 89–92 mph repertoire led many scouts to project him as a setup man, not a closer. He made the A’s, whose streak of four straight playoff appearances had come to an end in 2004, out of spring training, making him the ’04 draft’s first pick to reach the majors. The 21-year-old righty debuted with a scoreless eighth inning in a 9–0 win over the Orioles on April 6, 2005, allowing a single to Tejada but striking out Sammy Sosa. Carrying an ERA below 2.00 into June, he took over the closer role vacated when Octavio Dotel needed Tommy John surgery and never gave manager Ken Macha any reason to regret the move. He converted 23 of 25 save chances after taking over, finishing with a 1.72 ERA, 72 strikeouts, and 2.9 WAR in 78.1 innings; over the next 12 seasons, he’d improve upon only the ERA. He beat out Robinson Canó for AL Rookie of the Year honors and even received down-ballot mention on MVP ballots.
“For him to come in a year after playing in the College World Series and do what he’s done — are you kidding me?” teammate Nick Swisher told ESPN Magazine’s Tim Keown. “People ask, ‘How can you guys have that kind of confidence in a kid 22 years old?’ Well, we do. We just do.”
Though he cut his walk rate nearly in half and lowered his FIP (from 2.75 to 2.62) in 2006, Street’s ERA ballooned to 3.31. He tied for fourth in the AL with 37 saves, but his 11 blown saves ranked second. The A’s won the AL West nonetheless, and Street got his first taste of the postseason, notching two saves during the team’s Division Series sweep of the Twins (which he closed out) but getting roughed up by the Tigers in the ALCS. With the team already trailing three games to none, Street entered a 3–3 tie in the seventh inning of Game 4 and held the line until the ninth, when he served up a three-run walk-off homer to Magglio Ordonez to send the Tigers to the World Series. Tough break, kid.
Street spent two more seasons in Oakland, with diminishing returns. He missed 10 weeks in 2007 due to ulnar neuritis but pitched well when available, posting a 2.88 ERA and a 31.7% strikeout rate, a jump of over eight points from his first two seasons. In 2008, after a rough stretch in which he blew three out of four save chances, took an extra-innings loss, and sent his ERA above 4.00, he was supplanted in the closer role in early August by Brad Ziegler, a rookie with a submarine delivery and an ERA around 1.00. Street rediscovered his form and finished the season in a setup role, but his 3.73 ERA and 3.47 FIP both represented career worsts.
Two weeks after the 2008 World Series ended, the A’s sent Street, outfielder Carlos González and lefty Greg Smith to the Rockies in exchange for star slugger Matt Holliday. His inclusion in the deal made sense for both sides. He was the most established of the three players and now in his arbitration years and thus comparatively for the budget-conscious A’s; meanwhile, the Rockies had decided to let three-time All-Star closer Brian Fuentes depart via free agency. In a bit of musical chairs relevant to this Hall of Fame ballot, Fuentes eventually signed with the Angels, who needed him to replace Rodríguez, who had signed with the Mets to replace the injured Wagner.
Despite moving from one of the game’s most pitcher-friendly parks to the most notoriously hitter-friendly one, Street posted a 3.06 ERA (154 ERA+) and struck out 29.2% of all hitters, converting 35 of 37 save chances in 2009. A bout of biceps inflammation sidelined him for three weeks in September, but he returned in time to help the Rockies secure the NL Wild Card. Again he had a rough postseason, however; after saving Game 2 of the Division Series against the Phillies, he took the losses in Games 3 and 4. He entered a tied Game 3 in the ninth inning and allowed what proved to be the decisive a run via two singles, a sacrifice bunt, and a sac fly. In Game 4, he was brought on to protect a two-run lead and came within one out of closing out a win that would even the series, but walked Chase Utley, then yielded a two-run double to Ryan Howard and a go-ahead single to Jayson Werth. The Rockies lost and were eliminated.
After signing a three-year, $22.5 million extension in January 2010, Street spent two more seasons in Colorado, saving a total of 49 games and keeping his ERA below 4.00; between his three seasons and the four of Fuentes, the two closers account for seven of the 13 times in franchise history a pitcher has saved 20 games with an ERA below 4.00. He missed time during both seasons due to injuries, losing the first 70 games of the 2010 season due to shoulder inflammation, and then making just nine appearances after August 8, 2011 due to triceps and groin strains. For the two seasons, he totaled just 106.2 innings.
During Street’s 2011 absences, Rafael Betancourt emerged as a less expensive closer option for the Rockies, and so it wasn’t surprising that Street was outbound again. On December 7, he was traded to the Padres along with most of the remaining $8 million on his contract in exchange for a player to be named later; two days later (and one day after the Rule 5 draft), the Padres sent pitching prospect Nick Schmidt to Colorado. Elated by the trade, Street told reporters, “Everybody likes pitching at sea level better than pitching at 5,000 feet… obviously Petco Park is known as a pitcher’s park. That’s someplace I’m excited to pitch in.”
The move helped, in that Street posted a 1.85 ERA and 2.20 FIP and struck out a career-high 32.6% in 2012, making his first All-Star team. Unfortunately, a lat strain cost him one month and a left calf strain another six weeks, so he threw just 39 innings. In the midst of that, he agreed to restructure his contract, trading in a $9 million player option for a two-year, $14 million deal with a club option.
Back up to 56.2 innings in 2013, Street went 33-for-35 in save chances with a 2.70 ERA, but even so, he missed 15 days due to another left calf strain. He was lights out in 2014, making the NL All-Star team by posting a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings and saving 24 games in 25 chances, but just after the break, he was dealt to the Angels along with Trevor Gott in exchange for four players who never panned out. He helped the Halos win the AL West and finished with career bests in ERA (1.37) and saves (41, seventh in the majors) and produced 2.8 WAR, his best showing since his rookie season. He pitched three scoreless innings in the postseason, albeit in tie games that the Angels would lose as they were swept out of the Division Series by the Royals.
The Angels picked up Street’s $7 million option for 2015, and he was solid (40 saves, 3.18 ERA) and comparatively healthy, never landing on the IL but making just four appearances in July due to a groin strain. Just before that, he made headlines within the industry for his comments about closers being brought into games in high-leverage situations before the ninth inning, which was once upon a time the norm. “I’ll retire if that ever happens,” Street told reporters. “If they ever tell me, ‘Oh, we’re gonna start using you in these high-leverage situations….’ All right, good. You now can go find someone else to do that, because I’m going home.”
“Huston Street is kind of a big baby,” blared one ESPN headline that chided Street for his inflexibility. To be fair, Street went on to stress the value of relievers being able to follow their routines and know their roles, and for what it’s worth, he did record 28 saves of four outs or more, the third-highest total of the 2005–15 span after Mariano Rivera (46) and Jonathan Papelbon (37).
The 2015 season also included a milestone for Street: On July 22, he notched his 300th save. He was the 27th pitcher to reach that plateau and just the second to do so by the end of his age-31 season; Rodríguez had been the first, in 2013. Since then, Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel have joined the pair, with the latter becoming the first to do it in his age-30 season (2018).
Street told Moura in 2019 that after his ’15 season, he thought for the first time that he had a shot at the Hall of Fame, but playing out the two-year, $18 million extension he signed in May of that year made clear it wasn’t going to happen. Oblique and right knee injuries limited him to 22.1 innings with a gruesome 6.45 ERA in 2016, and lat and groin strains to just four innings in ’17. The Angels declined his $10 million option for 2018, making him a free agent for the first time in his career. He announced his retirement on the morning of Opening Day in 2018.
Since then, Street has coached kids and college players, the latter at his alma mater. And while he won’t land a spot in Cooperstown, he’s been selected for the Omaha College Baseball Hall of Fame, inducted into the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor, and had his jersey (no. 25) retired by the Longhorns. His legend is complete.