Injuries kept Ken Griffey Jr. from even greater heights, but he'll sail into the Hall of Fame in 2016. (V.J. Lovero/SI)
The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2014 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to JAWS, please see here. For the breakdowns of each candidate and to read the previous articles in the series, see here.
On Wednesday, I wrapped up the 2014 Hall of Fame voting, and on Thursday I previewed the 2015 ballot. For the finale of this year's JAWS series, I decided to try something I've never done before, taking a look at the next several years of voting. In doing so, I've kept in mind both which holdover candidates are clearly on the road to election and which ballot newcomers will likely cut the line and be elected right away, just as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas did this year.
This is admittedly an exercise requiring a fair bit of imagination and speculation, though it is grounded in my research into the candidates and the history of the voting. Underlying it is my own rough spreadsheet simulation, in which I've attempted to apportion a similar number of votes across the top candidates from year to year while expecting candidates to follow patterns consistent with the modern history of BBWAA voting.
In doing so, I have assumed that despite the best efforts of the organization to recommend changes to the process, the Hall of Fame will keep things as they are: 10 votes per ballot, 75 percent needed for election, a five percent minimum to avoid falling off the ballot, no paring of the voter rolls to remove some of the deadwood (except for this guy), and no clear direction on players connected to performance-enhancing drugs.
Keep in mind that each ballot's year refers to the year of induction; that ballot is released in late November of the previous year, with votes due on Dec. 31. To be eligible, a candidate must not have played in the majors for five full seasons, but his eligibility year will actually be six years after his last appearance.
Top newcomers: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield
Top holdovers: Craig Biggio (74.8 percent in 2014), Mike Piazza (62.2 percent), Jeff Bagwell (54.3 percent), Tim Raines (46.1 percent)
Most likely to be elected: Johnson, Martinez, Biggio
Falling off: Sammy Sosa, Don Mattingly
Having just elected three candidates for the first time since 1999 on the heels of the 2013 shutout, the voting body likely won't bring quite the same sense of urgency to the process in 2015. Still, I would expect that the number of candidates per ballot remains high, and that the presence of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds in the middle of the pack continues to slow the progress of other candidates up and down the ballot.
Johnson and Martinez will sail in, and I see voters granting some amount of sympathy to Biggio over this year's excruciatingly close call, quite possibly at the expense of Smoltz, whose career isn't easy to pigeonhole; he's sort of an amalgamation of Curt Schilling (low 200s win total, strikeouts, postseason excellence) and Dennis Eckersley (career split between starting and bullpen). Assuming three players get in, it will mark the first time since the BBWAA returned to annual voting in 1966 that they've elected trios back to back.
Meanwhile, I'd expect Smoltz, Piazza and Bagwell all to top 60 percent, with Raines climbing back over 50 percent. It will probably be curtains for Sosa, who polled just 7.2 percent this time around, and most definitely for Mattingly, who will be in his final year of eligibility and who received just 8.2 percent of the vote in 2014.
Top newcomers: Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds, Trevor Hoffman
Top holdovers: Piazza, Smoltz, Bagwell, Raines
Most likely to be elected: Griffey, Piazza
Falling off: Alan Trammell, Mark McGwire
Here's where the traffic starts to break up a wee bit. Griffey, with 630 career homers and the fifth-highest JAWS ranking among centerfielders (83.7 career WAR/53.9 7yr-peak WAR/68.8 JAWS) will go in easily, becoming the first 600-homer club member to gain entry since Willie Mays in 1979. It's almost certainly asking too much to expect three straight years of three honorees under the current rules, so while I'd expect Piazza to go over the top in his fourth year of eligibility, I can see Smoltz and Bagwell approaching the precipice without quite getting there, with both above 65 percent. Raines could climb to 60 percent in what will be his ninth year of eligibility.
Further down the ballot, I'd expect this is where Bonds and Clemens start to gain ground, while Mussina, Schilling and possibly Edgar Martinez cross the 40 percent threshold, pointing the way toward their eventual enshrinement. Edmonds (60.3/42.5/51.4) will be a popular candidate among sabermetricians but his overall support will lag. The BBWAA hasn't elected a player with fewer than 2,000 hits whose career took place entirely in the post-1960 expansion era, and Edmonds had just 1,949, testament to both his short career (just 6,858 plate appearances) and high walk rate.
Hoffman, who took the all-time saves record from Lee Smith and then was soon passed by Mariano Rivera, won't be in for an easy time either considering that he ranks 21st in reliever JAWS (28.4/19.6/24.0) and will lack support from the saber set, but he could usurp the dwindling support that Smith had been receiving. Trammell will run out of eligibility, and McGwire, who received just 11 percent of the vote in 2014, could follow Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro off the ballot and into limbo, where they'll await kinder judgment from a Veterans Committee To Be Named Later.
Top newcomers: Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Jorge Posada
Top holdovers: Smoltz, Bagwell, Raines, Schilling, Mussina
Most likely to be elected: Smoltz, Bagwell
Falling off: Lee Smith
This will be the first year since 2013 without a first-ballot player elected. For as strong as Pudge's career may have been on both traditional merits (2,844 hits, 311 homers, 13 Gold Gloves, an MVP award) and sabermetric ones (third all-time in JAWS among catchers), he was implicated by Jose Canseco as having used HGH and steroids. That won't rule him out from eventual election, but it will likely force him to wait a good, long while. As for Ramirez, despite the 555 career homers, 154 OPS+ and the 10th-best JAWS among leftfielders, fuhgeddaboutit; his two PED suspensions will keep him outside the Hall and force his case to be taken up by the VC, which under current rules wouldn't be until the 2032 ballot, 21 years after his final season.
Guerrero will probably be the top newcomer in terms of overall votes, but his disappearance from the majors after his age-36 season will prevent him from being a slam-dunk candidate; he's only 21st among rightfielders in JAWS (59.9/41.2/50.6). Posada won't be helped by the recent election of Piazza and the head-to-head comparison with Pudge.
Thus, I think this is the year that Smoltz and Bagwell get over the top, with Raines moving into position for a long-overdue entry. Schilling and Mussina could cross 50 percent, and by this point, perhaps even Bonds and Clemens will; between the precedent of Piazza and Bagwell — both suspected by some faction of using PEDs but without hard evidence — and turnover in the voting body, resistance may be lessening at least somewhat. Meanwhile, Smith will fall off the ballot having never regained the ground he lost after reaching 50.6 percent in 2012.
Top newcomers: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen
Other possible newcomers: Bobby Abreu, Andruw Jones, Johan Santana
Top holdovers: Raines, Schilling, Mussina, Martinez, Bonds, Clemens
Most likely to be elected: Chipper Jones, Raines
With 2,726 hits, 468 homers, eight All-Star appearances, an MVP award and status as a superstar who spent his entire career with the same team, Chipper Jones is going to waltz into Cooperstown. Despite Thome's 612 career homers and lack of PED connections, I don't think he'll be an automatic first-ballot entry. He never won an MVP award, was mediocre in the postseason and had just five All-Star appearances, so while he'll make a debut well above 50 percent, he might have to cool his heels for a year. As such, I see this as the year when Raines finds his opening and finally gets elected.
Rolen, the owner of eight Gold Gloves and the 10th-highest JAWS at the position (70.0/43.5/56.7) will be the sabermetric darling whose initial support among the broader electorate is a disappointment, though he'll hardly be ruled out for the future. I'd expect Schilling and Mussina to continue inching upward, with Bonds and Clemens doing so as well. Rodriguez and Guerrero will be in the 40s, pointing the way toward their eventual inclusion, albeit one that's still years away.
Note that I've listed Santana, Abreu and Andruw Jones here. Each of them last played in the majors in 2012, but none has definitively hung up his spikes yet, and all have JAWS of at least 48.1; if they hit the ballot, they'll get at least some attention. Of the trio, Jones (62.7/46.4/54.5) ranks 10th all-time among centerfielders and has 434 homers and 10 Gold Gloves under his belt. Despite never having a good season as a full-timer past the age of 30, voters will be forced to reckon with the amazing first decade of his career sooner or later. Santana's contract with the Mets may have been a disasterpiece, but he did win two Cy Young awards with the Twins, and thus won't be dismissed easily. Abreu will be yet another candidate who appeals more to sabermetric types than to mainstream voters.
Top newcomers: Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Todd Helton, Lance Berkman, Roy Halladay*
Top holdovers: Schilling, Mussina, Martinez, Bonds, Clemens
Most likely to be elected: Rivera, Thome
Falling off: Ramirez
The all-time saves leader and staple of the Yankees dynasty will have no trouble getting into the Hall of Fame, and he'll go in with at least 95 percent of the vote. Thome should get in here as well. By this point, seventh-year candidate Schilling could be very close, and I'd expect Mussina to be somewhere in the low 60s, with Bonds and Clemens in the high 50s. All of those pitchers could lose votes to Halladay, a two-time Cy Young winner with a longer career than Santana but "only" 203 wins and a JAWS line ( 64.6/50.6/57.6) that ranks 42nd among starting pitchers, below Schilling (27th) and Mussina (28th).
* I inadvertently excluded Halladay from my original publication of this. Score that E-6.
I don't expect either Pettitte, a player included in the Mitchell Report and never an elite run preventer, to make a strong showing, and I expect that while Helton will have his adherents, his trajectory won't be Cooperstown-bound anytime soon. Ramirez could follow Palmeiro's three-and-out trajectory — if he even lasts that long.
In all, that's 11 candidates elected over the next five years, an estimate that's both somewhat conservative and at the same time rather optimistic. On the one hand, under current rules, it's not hard to envision only one other year in which three candidates gain entry, that founded in next year's bumper crop and Biggio's unique circumstance. On the other hand, the most candidates the BBWAA has elected over any five-year span since 1966 is 10 (1982-86 and 1999-2003), and the last five cycles including 2014 have seen just seven such elections, so by the glacial standards of the process, this would indeed count as progress.
If things do go along these lines, the carryover to 2020 — a ballot introducing players whose careers will wind up in 2014, possibly including Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki — will be a logjam at the upper end of the ballot. As my crystal ball foresees it, Schilling, Mussina, Clemens and Bonds will be somewhere above 55 percent, with the first two more likely in the mid-to-high 60s. Guerrero, Rodriguez and Martinez will be somewhere in the 45-55 percent range, with Kent, Rolen, Hoffman, Sheffield, Edmonds and Walker more likely to be lagging between 30 and 40 percent.
Looking at such a scenario — which would come in the final year before I myself have a vote — I can take heart in the fact that it's not too hard to envision paths to election for the likes of Piazza, Bagwell, Raines and eventually Schilling, with others such as Mussina and Martinez to follow further on down the line. I don't see much resolution on Bonds or Clemens, and expect Sheffield and Rodriguez to move along more slowly than their stats would suggest.
Even moreso after undertaking this exercise, I strongly believe the voting process needs to be fixed, most likely via an expansion from the 10-slot rule though perhaps more justifiably in lowering the 75 percent threshold; once players reach 50 percent, eventual election is a near-certainty, but only after what amounts to endless bureaucracy. Like these "votes," change is somewhere in the future, and it probably won't take the form we expect.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed Ivan Rodriguez as having been mentioned in the Mitchell Report. He was not.