The 2015 Hall of Fame voting is in the books, but before we get back to the rest of the baseball offseason, it's worth a look at what might the near future holds when it comes to Cooperstown. I did so in the wake of last year's election as well, forecasting the next five election cycles, but between missing the boat on John Smoltz (whom I predicted would take until 2017 to get elected) and the Hall of Fame's recent rule change (truncating candidate eligibility from 15 years to 10), the topic is worth revisiting.
This is admittedly an exercise requiring some amount of imagination and speculation, though it is grounded in my research into the candidates and the history and mechanics of the voting. Underlying it is my own spreadsheet simulation, in which I've apportioned a similar number of votes across the top candidates from year to year while expecting candidates to follow certain trajectories, some of them rather well-worn by similar candidates. In doing so, I am assuming that despite the efforts of the BBWAA to recommend changes to the process — an effort in which I've played a part — the Hall of Fame will keep things as they are: 10 votes per ballot; candidates must receive five percent at minimum to avoid falling off; no paring of the voter rolls to remove some of the deadwood; and no clear direction on players connected to performance-enhancing drugs.
Note that each ballot's year refers to the year of induction; that ballot is released in late November of the previous year, with ballots 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: Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds, Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner
Top holdovers: Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling
Most likely to be elected: Griffey, Piazza
Falling off: Alan Trammell, Mark McGwire
With 630 career home runs, the fifth-highest JAWS ranking among centerfielders and a reputation free of PED allegations, Griffey will sail in easily. As with recent candidates such as Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson, he could very well wind up with one of the top 10 shares of the vote, polling at least 97 percent.
Hoffman is likely in for rougher sledding. Despite owning the career saves record for five years, he could be victimized by the mental market correction that the baseball world has made regarding closers, one that's been fueled by advanced metrics. Notably, he has a low innings total (1,089 1/3) relative to the average enshrined reliever even if one excludes starter-turned-closer Dennis Eckersley (1,702). That leaves Hoffman well short on the WAR and JAWS fronts (12th and 20th all-time, respectively), a full 10 points below the standard on the latter.
Also not helping matters is that he has a nearly identical Career/Peak/JAWS line to Wagner, who put up an ERA more than half a run lower than Hoffman (2.31 versus 2.87) with a much higher strikeout rate. Then there's Hoffman's much shorter postseason resume relative to the man who eclipsed his saves record (Mariano Rivera). I'm not saying that he won't get in, but it's tough to foresee an immediate rush to enshrine him, particularly given that ballot spots will remain at a premium.
Edmonds, a career .284/.376/.527/132 OPS+ hitter and outstanding defender, ranks 14th in JAWS among centerfielders, about six points below the standard. With other defensive metrics valuing him more highly than the Total Zone/Defensive Runs Saved combo that goes into JAWS, he'll be a popular candidate among the sabermetric set but his overall support will lag, even when accompanied by one hell of a highlight reel. 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 he has just 1,949, a testament to both his short career (only 7,980 plate appearances) and high walk rate. The paltry support for the more qualified Larry Walker (8,030 PA) as well as the more sabermetrically accomplished Kenny Lofton (ninth in JAWS, but off the ballot after one vote nonetheless) only reinforces that notion.
Meanwhile, I expect Piazza, who received 69.9 percent of this year's vote, to gain his overdue entry in his fourth year of eligibility, with Bagwell and Raines crossing the 60 percent mark in their sixth and ninth years, respectively. With a trio of 300-game winners (Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux) and a pair of non-300 winners (Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz) cleared from the ballot over the previous two cycles, Schilling and Mike Mussina will be the top pitchers not named Roger Clemens on next year's ballot. They should post double-digit gains in percentage points, with the former approaching 50 percent in his fourth year of eligibility. Clemens and Barry Bonds will gain a bit of ground to top 40 percent, while Trammell (15 years) and McGwire (10) will age off the ballot.
Top newcomers: Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Jorge Posada
Top holdovers: Bagwell, Raines, Schilling, Mussina
Most likely to be elected: Bagwell
Falling off: Raines, Lee Smith
This will be the first year since 2013 without a first-ballot player elected. For as strong as Rodriguez'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. (Contrary to my assertion in this space last year, Rodriguez was not named in the Mitchell Report.) Unsubstantiated rumors alone won't prevent Pudge from being elected eventually, but it will likely force him to wait a few years.
He and Guerrero will probably be the top newcomers in terms of overall votes, but between the latter's disappearance from the majors after his age-36 season and his subpar JAWS ranking (21st, around 14 wins short on the career front), he's hardly an automatic entry even with that stellar batting line (.318/.379/.553/140 OPS+). Automatic in the other direction is Ramirez; despite 555 career homers, a 154 OPS+ and the 10th-best JAWS among leftfielders, he is almost certainly doomed by his two PED suspensions. Posada (16th in JAWS among catchers, 5.4 points below the standard) will suffer greatly by comparison to the numbers put up by catching contemporaries Piazza and Rodriguez.
All of that clears the way for Bagwell to make up the remaining ground and gain election. While I wish I could say the same for Raines, whose candidacy I have strong endorsed since before he reached the ballot, it takes a more optimistic man than myself to see him making up the 20-point gap in just two election cycles. Given the change in the process, finding precedents for his case isn't easy, but consider the fates of these six, the only candidates since 1966 who were within 12 points of Raines' 55.0 percent with two years of eligibility remaining (13 years into their 15-year cycles):
The six candidates averaged a gain of 9.4 percentage points over the two-year span, with only one of the six making at least 20 points in that time, and even then it wasn't enough for Nellie Fox to reach 75 percent. Fox (or rather, his family, since he was deceased) fell two votes short and had to wait another 12 years before the Veterans Committee elected him. Rice is the only one of the six to gain entry via the writers, but he was in better shape than Raines, electorally speaking, and improved by less than 13 percentage points.
If there's good news, it's that five of the six found their way to Cooperstown eventually — Bunning and Cepeda also via the VC — but that leaves Raines' fate in the hands of the Expansion Era Committee, which — if it remains on its current triennial cycle — wouldn't take up his case until 2020. Morris, however, is eligible to be considered in 2017.
Elsewhere, I see Schilling crossing the 50 percent mark here, with Bonds, Clemens, Mussina and Edgar Martinez creeping slowly upward. Smith will age 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: Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones, Johan Santana, Omar Vizquel
Top holdovers: Schilling, Rodriguez, Guerrero
Most likely to be elected: Jones, Thome
As the first-ballot election of Smoltz underscored, the voters have a deep respect for the Braves' decade-and-a-half run as a National League powerhouse. So 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 a lock to waltz into Cooperstown.
Thome, despite 612 career homers and lack of PED connections, is less likely to be an automatic first-ballot vote for some because he never won an MVP award, was mediocre in the postseason and had just five All-Star appearances. But given that in my forecast last year I slotted Raines for election here at Thome's expense, removing the speedster from the equation means that there's no holdover within range of climbing to 75 percent in one year, which should help the slugger's cause.
Rolen, the owner of eight Gold Gloves and the 10th-highest JAWS at the hot corner, will be the sabermetric darling whose initial support among the broader electorate will rate as a disappointment, though he'll hardly be ruled out. I'd expect Schilling and Mussina to continue inching upward, with the former climbing to within striking distance of 75 percent and the latter crossing the 50 percent mark, perhaps with Bonds and Clemens doing so as well. Martinez could also cross 50 percent, though with him having just one more turn on the ballot, it will likely be too little, too late.
Vizquel is the fielding whiz who will have the mainstream attention on the basis of his 11 Gold Gloves and the all-time record for games played at shortstop (2,709). But while he was 128 runs above average for his career according to Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved (which combine to form the defensive component of Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR), he didn't do enough with the bat to enhance his case. He hit .272/.336/.352 for an 82 OPS+ and was thus 244 runs below the average hitter for his career. By comparison, Ozzie Smith, the shortstop to whom Vizquel is often compared, was no great shakes as a hitter either (.262/.337/.328). But he put those numbers up during a much lower-scoring era, and so his combination of defense (+239 runs) and offense (-117 runs) was more valuable. Smith's 76.5 career WAR ranks sixth, his 59.4 JAWS eighth, while Vizquel's 45.3 WAR is 29th, his 36.0 JAWS 41st. He’ll get some support, but I don't see him reaching 75 percent.
Note that I've listed Andruw Jones and Santana here. Neither has played in the majors since 2012, though both are still active professionally and could reset their eligibility clocks as Bobby Abreu, whom I had listed in this category last year, did by making a comeback in 2014 with the Mets. A five-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner in his first 10 full seasons, Jones has spent the past two seasons in Japan. Even without having a good season as a full-timer past the age of 30, he ranks 10th in JAWS among centerfielders and has 434 homers to his name to boot; sooner or later, voters will be forced to reckon with his amazing first decade.
Santana, a two-time Cy Young winner, signed a minor league deal with the Orioles last March but tore his left Achilles tendon in June, just before he could return to game action. He sounds likely to give it another go this coming season. Unlikely to do so is Damon, the owner of 2,769 career hits and two World Series rings, but his combination of a No. 21 ranking in JAWS (12.6 points below the standard), just two All-Star appearances and no other major hardware dooms him to a short stay on the ballot.
Top newcomers: Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte, Lance Berkman
Top holdovers: Schilling, Rodriguez, Guerrero, Mussina, Martinez
Most likely to be elected: Rivera, Schilling
Falling off: McGriff, Martinez, Ramirez
Rivera, the all-time saves leader, staple of the Yankees' dynasty and beloved ambassador of the game, will have no trouble getting into the Hall of Fame. He'll go in with north of 90 percent of the vote, perhaps even topping 95 percent.
Halladay, a two-time Cy Young winner with 236 career wins and a 131 ERA+, tops the average enshrined starter's seven-year peak but is a bit short on the career and JAWS fronts, ranking 42nd overall. He wasn't a strikeout pitcher the way that Smoltz, Schilling and Mussina were and didn't accrue value as quickly, as more credit had to be granted to his fielders. I'd expect a debut in the 40-50 percent range, enough to set him on an eventual path to election. I don't expect the same for Pettitte, despite his 256 wins and five rings. Not only was he not an elite run preventer (117 ERA+), but he's also just 86th in JAWS and he was mentioned in the Mitchell Report and admitted using HGH.
Helton will have his adherents, but his mid-career falloff and the voters' resistance to Coors-inflated stats means that his trajectory won't take him toward Cooperstown; ask Walker about that. Berkman, an outstanding hitter (.293/.406/.537) whose defense and baserunning cut into his value and who finished with just 1,905 hits, isn't likely to get much traction.
By this point, I expect seventh-year candidate Schilling to get over the top, with Mussina somewhere in the high 50s or low 60s, Rodriguez and Guerrero in similar territory, and Bonds and Clemens in the 50s. At the other end of the spectrum, this will be the 10th and final year on the ballot for both McGriff and Martinez, who could see their cases taken up by the Expansion Era Committee just a year later. I suspect that Ramirez will follow Palmeiro's three-and-out trajectory, if he even lasts that long.
With his 3,465 hits (sixth all-time), 14 All-Star appearances and five championship rings, Jeter isn't just a lock for Cooperstown, but will also likely crack the top 10 in shares of the vote, even with his defensive shortcomings.
He's likely alone among the first-ballot set, however. Konerko, despite his 439 career homers,.279/.354/.486/118 OPS+ lifetime batting line and upstanding reputation, isn't going to be any longer for the ballot than Carlos Delgado (473 homers, .280/.383/.546/138 OPS+ line, but just 3.8 percent of the vote this year) was. Likewise for Adam Dunn and his 462 bombs, particularly given the way his career slid into replacement level territory as Konerko's teammate on the South Side. Beckett, despite his early-career brilliance, won just 138 games in the majors due to his battles with injuries and will get no more than a passing nod.
As with 2016 and the Griffey-Piazza tandem, that should pave the way for Rodriguez to gain entry in his fourth turn and join a first-ballot lock on the dais in Cooperstown. By this point, any one of a number of other holdovers could climb above 60 percent — Guerrero, Hoffman, Mussina, Halladay, even the terrible two of Clemens and Bonds — to position themselves for election in 2021 (the first year I'll have a ballot) or 2022, but at this point, I'm throwing darts. I would be surprised to see anyone from outside that group put themselves in position by this point, despite their merits on the traditional or sabermetric fronts; that group includes Sheffield, Rolen and Walker, the last of whom is probably doomed to a Trammell-like trip through ballot obscurity.
In all, that would mean just nine candidates get elected over the next five years, something of a downer considering that we've seen seven elected in the past two. With fewer players with traditional milestones becoming eligible in this span — Jeter is the only 3,000 hit club member, Griffey and Thome the only 500 (or 600) homer sluggers, and there's no 300-win pitcher to speak of — the electorate will have fewer slam dunks. Without a change to the voting process, the number of good but less-than-perfect candidates will divide the voters' attention just as it currently does, creating a logjam in the middle of the ballot.
I'd love to be wrong about this and to see Bagwell join Piazza in 2016, opening up '17 for the miraculous election of Raines and an acceleration of the fates of Schilling, Mussina and others. Before I can put on those rose-tinted glasses, though, I'll need to see more evidence of change, either from voters remaining committed to deep ballots or from the Hall itself, reforming the process to at the very least increase the limit of candidates on each ballot so that voters can more fully exercise their judgment as to who is worthy of baseball’s highest honor.