- The fate of PED-tainted legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will be the most compelling plot point in the next five years of BBWAA balloting, but so too will the possibility of one or more Yankees icons becoming the first to get 100% of the vote.
When the Hall of Fame election results were announced last Wednesday, nearly as much of the focus was on the players who didn't get in as those who did. While Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez will get their plaques in Cooperstown on July 30, the near-misses of Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero, the sudden ascent of Edgar Martinez and the changing attitudes regarding Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have many already looking ahead to the 2018 ballot and beyond.
For the fourth year in a row, I'll peer into my crystal ball to see what the next five years of balloting might hold. Admittedly, this is 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 similar shares of the vote across the top candidates from year to year while expecting candidates to follow certain trajectories, some of them rather well-worn by similar candidates.
For the sake of this exercise, I am assuming that the Hall of Fame will keep its basic rules in place: 10 votes per ballot; a 5% minimum for candidates to avoid falling off; 10 years of eligibility for new candidates; and no clear direction from the Hall on players connected to performance-enhancing drugs. Note that each ballot's year refers to the year of induction. That ballot is released in 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.
The newcomers are listed according to how they stack up in my JAWS system, the holdovers in previous support from voters.
Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Johan Santana, Johnny Damon, Omar Vizquel,
Hoffman, Guerrero, Martinez, Clemens, Bonds, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling
Most Likely To Be Elected
Chipper Jones, Thome, Hoffman and Guerrero
If you thought the election of three candidates in 2017—and of 12 over the past four cycles, something unseen since the first four Hall of Fame classes from 1936 to '39—meant that the ballot traffic was abating, think again. Judged simply on JAWS, next year's ballot will introduce as many newcomers who are above the standards at their positions (three) as were just elected.
But wait, there's more. Six candidates who received at least 50% are returning: the aforementioned quintet of Hoffman, Guerrero, Martinez, Clemens and Bonds, plus Mussina. Not since 1952 have we seen a ballot with half a dozen such holdovers; that year, only the top two holdovers from '51—Harry Heilmann and Paul Waner—were elected. We've seen five candidates with at least 50% return to the ballots in 1978, '82 and '84; a grand total of four such holdovers were elected in those years, with a pair of first-ballot line-cutters named Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson going in as well.
All of which is to say that even with the BBWAA moving to mandatory transparency—every ballot will be published a week after election, which won't preclude voters from sharing them beforehand—there aren't going to be enough votes available to make everybody happy. But right now, it does look possible for the writers to produce just the fourth four-man class ever and the second in four cycles; in 2015, the previous year's near-miss Craig Biggio joined first-ballot locks Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.
Historically speaking, candidates who receive at least 70% but less than 75% tend to get in the next year. Since the writers returned to voting annually in 1966, 17 out of 18 candidates in that position with eligibility remaining—the exception being Jim Bunning, not once but twice—were elected the next year. That’s good news for Hoffman (74.0% in 2017, missed by five votes) and Guerrero (71.7%, missed by 15 votes).
As for the newcomers in 2018, Chipper Jones is a lock to waltz into Cooperstown. In recent years, the voters have shown a deep respect for the Braves' decade-and-a-half run as a National League powerhouse, and Jones's credentials (2,726 hits, 468 homers, eight All-Star appearances, an MVP award, the No. 6 ranking at the position in JAWS) and single-team status will be more than enough for him to join longtime teammates Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Smoltz and manager Bobby Cox in the Hall. Thome, whose 612 career homers and a lack of PED connections are his top selling points, may not be universally viewed as an automatic first-ballot vote, given that he never won an MVP award or a championship, was mediocre in the postseason and had just five All-Star appearances, but his prodigious power and good-guy reputation should carry the day.
With the crowds up top and in the middle, Rolen and Andruw Jones will likely wind up facing fates similar to that of Larry Walker: viewed by sabermetrics-friendly voters as the ballot's 11th or 12th-best candidate but dismissed by those suspicious of defensive metrics and more fixated on their modest counting stats. Rolen, the owner of eight Gold Gloves and the 10th-highest JAWS at the hot corner, played his last game at age 37 and finished with "only" 2,077 hits and 316 homers. Jones won 10 Gold Gloves, ranks 10th in JAWS among centerfielders and hit 434 homers, but he finished with just 1,933 hits and didn't have a decent season as a regular after age 30. As I've pointed out numerous times, no player from the post-1960 expansion era has been elected with fewer than 2,000 hits. What's more, in the past four cycles, the voters dismissed both Kenny Lofton (ninth in JAWS) and Jim Edmonds (14th in JAWS and with 393 homers and 1,949 hits) after a single ballot; in other words, Jones risks falling short of the 5% minimum needed to remain eligible. Damon, despite 2,769 career hits and two World Series rings, had none of that credibility defensively and will go one and done.
Then there's Vizquel, a 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). His supporters paint him as the second coming of Ozzie Smith on the basis of the two players’ defensive wizardry and superficially similar batting lines (.262/.337/.328 for Smith, .272/.336/.352 for Vizquel), but adjustment for their eras' differing offensive contexts and their peripheral skills makes the separation clear. Smith hit for an 87 OPS+ and was 117 runs below average with the bat, but he was 102 runs above average on the base paths and in double play avoidance. Vizquel hit for an 82 OPS+, was 244 runs below average with the bat and just eight above average with baserunning and double plays. As strong as his defense was according to Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved (+128 runs), it's not enough to catch Smith (+239) or even to bring Vizquel (45.3 career WAR and 36.0 JAWS) anywhere near the shortstop standard (57.5 JAWS). His candidacy could be titled Jack Morris II: Shortstop Boogaloo; he’ll get some support, but I don't see him reaching 75% anytime soon.
As for the top holdovers: Martinez, in his ninth year of eligibility, should get into the high 60s and within striking distance for a final-year election; Bonds and Clemens should creep into the low 60s in their sixth year on the ballot; Mussina figures to land into the high 50s in his fifth; and Schilling, who received 52.3% in 2016 and then sank back to 45.0% in the wake of his social media self-immolation, ought to regain most of the ground he lost this year.
Of the rest of the candidates, one newcomer worth keeping an eye upon is Johan Santana. He's qualified here because he hasn't pitched in a major league game since 2012, but he has been trying to come back from shoulder and Achilles injuries ever since. Santana was in Blue Jays camp in 2015 and was said to be eyeing a stint in the Venezuelan Winter League this year. If he makes it back to a major league mound—a long-shot at best—the two-time Cy Young winner would re-set his eligibility clock.
Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera
Martinez, Clemens, Bonds, Mussina, Schilling
Most Likely To Be Elected
While it will have taken Hoffman three ballots to gain enshrinement, Rivera will have no trouble getting into the Hall of Fame on the first try. Between his all-time saves record, his incredible postseason performance (0.70 ERA in 141 innings) in helping the Yankees win five World Series championships, his substantial edge on every other reliever besides Dennis Eckersley in WAR and JAWS and his status as one of the game's beloved ambassadors, a share in the 90–95% range seems quite likely. With all ballots public by this point, there's an outside shot he could be the first unanimous pick in Hall history, though the chance of a look-at-me vote is always possible.
Halladay, a two-time Cy Young winner with 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 in part because he wasn't a strikeout pitcher and didn't accrue value as quickly. With "only" 203 wins and 2,117 strikeouts and no World Series experience, his resumé will look short next to those of Schilling and Mussina, even with the hardware and the second no-hitter in postseason history. Thus, I'd expect Halladay to debut in the 40–50% 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. While his 117 ERA+ is in the vicinity of Hall of Famers Bert Blyeven, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry and Phil Niekro, he lacked their staying power (all of those guys had at least 1,000 more innings, some of them even 2,000 more) or their Cy Youngs. Pettitte is just 88th in JAWS, and even as his Mitchell Report mention and admitted use of human growth hormone recede further into the distance, it's not going away entirely, and neither are the other pitchers on the ballot who stack up better. I'd expect a share of around 30%, which will keep people talking about him.
Helton, whose peak is above the first base standard and who's within one point of the JAWS standard, will have his adherents, but between his mid-career falloff and the voters' resistance to Coors-inflated stats—ask Larry Walker about that—he's in for rough sledding.
With no other first-ballot candidate besides Rivera getting in the way, this is the opening that Martinez, who will be in his final year of eligibility, needs to get his long-overdue plaque. Bonds and Clemens will move into the mid-to-high 60s, with Mussina well into the 60s and Schilling into the high 50s. Walker (in his ninth year) or Manny Ramirez (despite the two positive tests) will be in position to gain some ground, and McGriff (in his tenth and final year) could get a sendoff in the 30s or 40s, which would still be a much higher share of the vote than he's ever seen.
Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Cliff Lee, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn
Clemens, Bonds, Mussina, Schilling, Halladay
Most Likely To Be Elected
With his 3,465 hits (sixth all-time), 14 All-Star appearances and five World Series championship rings, Jeter isn't just a lock for Cooperstown; he's got a very strong chance at a top-10 share of the vote despite his defensive shortcomings. He's even a threat to become the first unanimously elected candidate in Hall history (remember, it's not Red Sox fans voting here).
The Captain is almost certainly 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 line and 138 OPS+ but just 3.8% of the vote in 2015) was. Likewise for Dunn and his 462 bombs, particularly given the way his career slid into replacement level territory by the end. Giambi, with his 440 homers and a 139 OPS+, was a better hitter and far more valuable player than either Konerko or Dunn (46.3 JAWS, compared to 24.5 for Konkero and 17.2 for Dunn), but he's still short of the first base bar by a wide margin, and his prominent position in the BALCO mess won't help him either; his candidacy more closely resembles Gary Sheffield's than Bonds's. Abreu, despite a stellar .291/.395/.475 batting line, 128 OPS+ and a career/peak/JAWS that's a whisker above Guerrero across the board, won’t have nearly the impact on the ballot. Lee, with just 143 career wins and the 124th-highest JAWS among starting pitchers, won’t get anywhere.
This is Mussina's opening, and it could be Schilling's as well if he regains his lost ground more quickly than I anticipated. Bonds and Clemens will come close, perhaps topping 70%, but I expect the inevitable to be prolonged by some determined holdouts. Halladay should be well above 50%. Walker could near that in his final cycle. There's room for a couple others—perhaps Ramirez (in his fourth year), Sheffield (sixth year), Jeff Kent (seventh year) or more recent candidates such as Rolen or Vizquel—to gain traction.
Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Torii Hunter, Dan Haren, Barry Zito, Aramis Ramirez
Clemens, Bonds, Schilling, Halladay
Most Likely To Be Elected
Bonds, Clemens, Schilling
The first year that I'll have a ballot will be a weak one for newcomers, as no one is anywhere close to the JAWS standard at his position or has a notable milestone that will fuel his candidacy. Hudson won 222 games and finished with a 120 ERA+, but he ranks just 81st in JAWS, far below every other starter up for discussion in this exercise except Pettitte. Buehrle, with his 214 wins and 116 ERA+, ranks 89th, one notch below Pettitte, and Haren and Zito are more than 100 spots below that (though if Schilling's Twitter feed can hinder his candidacy, maybe Haren's can help his). Hunter has 2,452 hits, 353 homers and nine Gold Gloves, but he's 32nd among centerfielders in JAWS, nowhere near as good as the Lofton/Jones/Edmonds cluster. Ramirez had some thump (386 homers and a .492 slugging percentage), but his dreadful defense (-85 runs) leaves him just 58th in JAWS among third basemen.
All of that suggests that 2021 will be a year for holdovers to step forward, and it's here that I see Bonds and Clemens finally amassing enough support. Thirteen of the 15 new voters this year included both on their ballots (up from five out of 10 the year before), and after the pair gained roughly 17 percentage points over the last two cycles, it's clear that they're on their way. Assuming 442 ballots (as there were this year, just two more than in 2016), Bonds needs a net increase of 94 votes over his final five cycles—around 19 per year—and Clemens needs 93. Not only is that doable, but it also appears inevitable, particularly as the traffic thins out and the electorate turns over. This would appear to be a good spot for Schilling, also in the ninth year of his candidacy, to finish the job, and I'd bet Halladay moves within striking distance of election.
Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder
Halladay, Helton, Ramirez, Rolen, Vizquel
Most Likely To Be Elected
This is far enough in the future that all bets are off. Even given the signs that Bonds and Clemens are on a path to election, it's difficult to imagine that, with regards to PED-linked candidates, the balance will swing quickly to electing players with actual suspensions. That goes for Ramirez—who was suspended twice yet still received 23.8% in his 2017 ballot debut, 0.2% more than Mark McGwire ever did—and for A-Rod, he of the 3,115 hits, 696 homers, three MVP awards and the year-long suspension in '14 for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Even with the post-suspension rehabilitation of his image in some quarters, Rodriguez will have to wait a long time to get in, at the very least.
Then there's Ortiz, who will have to overcome both a more minor PED connection—he was reported as having failed the supposedly anonymous 2003 survey test (as were Ramirez and Rodriguez), though he has always denied taking steroids—as well as the stigma of spending 88% of his career at designated hitter. Of course, he also has 541 career home runs and a role at the center of the Red Sox's three championships form 2004 to '13, not to mention some great postseason numbers. He's already in a better position than he was when I checked in on his case in late July, given that commissioner Rob Manfred basically disavowed the veracity of the survey test on the grounds that there were at least 10 false positives among the 104 reported positives but that the discrepancies were never ironed out because the threshold to trigger mandatory testing had been met.
What's more, the talk about Ortiz during his remarkable retirement tour appears to have given Martinez (who outscores him by a wide margin in JAWS and spent just 72% of his career at DH) a significant boost towards election. In turn, Martinez's spot in the Hall by this point will help to justify the election of Ortiz.
I'm not ready to go so far as to declare that Big Papi will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer yet, because while we've seen what we'll call "PED rumor" candidates—Mike Piazza, Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez—elected, we've yet to see anyone from the survey test group get there (including Sosa, languishing in single digits at the halfway point of his candidacy and running out of eligibility by 2022). Ortiz almost certainly will break the ice, but that doesn't mean it will be instantaneous.
As far as what else is in store: I see Halladay, a fourth-year candidate by this point, getting in here, but I don't see anybody else who will be particularly close; among the newcomers, neither Teixeira nor Fielder even reached 2,000 hits. Will Rolen or Andruw Jones have made it to 50% by this point, or even remained on the ballot? Will Vizquel or Kent gain enough momentum despite the less-than-favorable numbers outlined above? Will Helton go where Walker couldn't? Will Billy Wagner ever get some love from the voters?
I wish I knew the answers to all of those questions, but my crystal ball needs more polish to see that far ahead. What I do know is that my forecast for the election of 12 candidates over this span is more optimistic than the scenarios I ran one or two years ago (11 and nine, respectively). That's due in part to the shortening of the eligibility window, which has given voters a greater sense of urgency. Two years ago, I didn’t see Raines getting elected, to say nothing of Martinez, and my horizon didn’t extend far enough to foresee the elections of Mussina, Schilling, Bonds and Clemens. Now all of that appears within reach, and not only will the Hall be the better for it, but the cleared ballot space will also bring us new surprises.