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    Tuesday, January 21, 2020

    2020 Hall of Fame Announcement Day Preview

    [Also over at The Crawfish Boxes!]

    This Tuesday, three weeks after the Baseball Writers of America requires Hall of Fame voters to have sent in their ballots for the year, we will finally learn the names of the players who will be joining Ted Simmons (and possibly the family of Marvin Miller) on stage this July. The event starts at 5 PM Central Time, for those who want to follow along in real time with the MLB Network announcement or online (although, be warned, it usually takes them a while to get around to actually announcing the names).

    In preparation for this evening, let’s go through what we know already. There’s of course the ballot itself. We’ve been covering the ballot here for several weeks, with breakdowns of various candidates on the ballot. And perhaps most critically, there’s Ryan Thibodaux and his team collecting ballots as writers release them and compiling them in their amazing Ballot Tracker. As of this writing, we already have over half of the ballot accounted for, with even more ballots liking being added throughout the day. So let’s dive right in:

    Derek Jeter will obviously be the first name to look for. The ballot newcomer will without a doubt be on the Cooperstown stage this July as a member of its new class. The biggest question for him will be whether he hits 100% of the vote or not. Since his teammate Mariano Rivera became the first player to break that barrier last year, it no longer feels like the impossibility that it once was, and Jeter stands a good chance of becoming the second unanimous player in Hall history. At the moment, he’s still at 100% through 210 ballots, or about 51.0% of the vote, but all it takes is one voter to mess it all up. Of course, while hitting 100% is impressive, it doesn’t affect the end result of “in or out” too much, so Jeter might actually be one of the least interesting candidates to watch the results for today.

    In contrast, the biggest factor to watch for will undoubtedly be Larry Walker. Three years ago, it would have been unthinkable to imagine Walker would be in this scenario, sitting on the precipice of induction; at the time, he was coming off of his seventh of ten ballots, having fallen just short of 22% of the vote and putting him over 50% away from ever making it in off the Writers’ Ballot.

    But then, he converted over 12% of voters for the 2018 ballot, pulling him up to 34.1%. And then, last winter, he jumped to 54.6%, a total gain of 20.5%. Over a fifth of voters changed their minds on Larry last winter, which is just incredible to think about, in my opinion. He had deserved better than he was getting in vote totals, but usually it takes time for voters to change their mind. Maybe it was a case of the crowded ballot finally starting to thin, or of increased urgency as his ten-year window hit its last quarter, or maybe a combination of those and something else. Who knows?

    Whatever it was, by Jay Jaffe’s research, it made for the ninth-biggest one-year increase in modern Hall voting history, and his two-year gain from 2017 to 2019 became the fourth-biggest two-year jump in history. Walker will need an almost-identical bump to 2019 this year to make it over 75%, and while that would represent the largest three-year gain in history, we already know one-year gains of that much are feasible, since he proved it last year. And a two-year pick-up of 40.9% (what he would have if he landed on 75% exactly this year) wouldn’t even be the largest in history (and no offense to Luis Aparicio, the current record holder at 42.7%, but Walker is an even better player than he was, so it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility).

    So far, Walker is polling at 83.3% through the first 210 ballots, but we know that total will drop with the final results. The biggest question at this point is how much of a drop should we expect? For the pessimists, Walker last year lost 11.3% from the pre-ballot tracking to his final total, which would put him just under three-quarters of the vote this year. For the optimists, Walker needs to pick up about 83 new votes of the 187 who didn’t vote for him last year, or about 44.3%. So far, he’s converted 34 of the 65 “no” voters from last year who have made their ballots public, a 52.3% rate (and with all eight new voters checking his name, that gives him even more wiggle room there).

    Just about every attempt I’ve seen to project the results has Walker finishing right around 75%, so it’s going to come down to the wire. Worst case scenario, if he falls a few votes short, Larry will probably be an easy Veterans Committee pick in 2022 when he becomes eligible. But I’m sure all of the parties involved would rather see him inducted sooner rather than later, if for no other reason than to add some extra oomph to his newly-announced retired number ceremony coming this season.
    Those two are really the only two with a chance to get elected this year, but that’s not to say there aren’t things to keep in mind downballot. Curt Schilling is at 79.0%, but he’s typically seen drops of about 10% between pre-ballot tracking and final results. If he can finish in the upper half of the 60% range, though, it may set the stage for induction next year, when the ballot will be even weaker (Jeter and Walker will be replaced with a class headlined by Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson).

    After Schilling will likely be Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. They’re both in the low 70s, but unlike Schilling, who’s seeing noticeable improvement on where he was at this point last year, Bonds and Clemens are only about 2-3% ahead of where they were in 2019. If they appreciably improve on last year’s ~59% finish, it’ll be from improving on the private ballots, but we’ll need to wait and see if that actually happens first.

    And then, there’s the downballot names. As I noted repeatedly during the last few weeks, quite a few players have been making some historic leaps. Leading the way is Scott Rolen, who has already converted 50 voters to his case. Walker last year was at a +67, so Rolen may well outdo him and rocket into the low-40s after finishing below 18% last year. Billy Wagner, Todd Helton, Omar Vizquel, and Jeff Kent may also post results worth watching, although all of them trail Rolen’s pickup total at the moment.

    Technically, Gary Sheffield has the second-biggest increase in votes so far, but given his steroid ties and the fact that most voters adding him seem to be committed Bonds-Clemens voters, it seems more like voters who are okay with steroid users finding space for him. I’d want to see if those two jump up before deciding what to make of Sheffield’s vote totals, because they’re likely his ceiling (unless a number of non-Bonds/Clemens voters start adding him). And while we’re focusing downballot, maybe spare a thought for Bobby Abreu and whether he’ll reach the 5% needed to come back next year; right now, he’s at 6.2%.

    And with that, all that’s left is to keep refreshing the Ballot Tracker throughout the day as new ballots drop (and if that’s not enough, maybe Adam Dore’s Flip Rate tracker), and tune in this evening for the official announcement.

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