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    Monday, January 1, 2024

    A First Look at the 2024 Hall of Fame Results: Who Will Stand Out on the Crowded Ballot?

    We’ve finally reached 2024, meaning that the deadline for this year’s Hall of Fame voting has passed; voters’ ballots must be postmarked by December 31, 2023 to qualify for this year’s election. Of course, there’s nothing stopping writers from revealing their votes earlier, which is why we’ve been seeing results over at Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker trickle in since around Thanksgiving or so.

    In fact, we just hit 100 ballots (a little over a quarter of the total expected votes) before the calendar turned over, so why don’t we take a quick peek at where things stand.* Although the votes technically won’t be changing from here on, the results still won’t be revealed until January 23, which gives us just over three weeks for more ballots to come out and give us a fuller picture of where things stand (for reference, last year we ended at 198 pre-announcement ballots, so we’re about halfway there right now).

    *And, depending on when this gets published/you’re reading it, here are the full results through 100 ballots, so you can see what I was pulling from. At least one more ballot came out between the end of writing and publishing, but I’ll leave the numbers as is for now and make notes where it’s warranted.

    The first thing to note, for anyone who hasn’t looked at the ballot yet, is that we’re dealing with a more crowded ballot than last year. Scott Rolen was inducted in 2023 and future Veterans Committee selection Jeff Kent aged off the ballot following his tenth attempt, freeing up two spaces; however, this year’s freshman class includes standouts Adrián Beltré, Joe Mauer, and Chase Utley.

    And it’s not just that there are three players replacing two on the ballot that will make votes tighter to come by. Beltré is polling about 20% higher than Rolen, which means he will soak up about 100 more votes than Rolen did last year. And even ignoring Utley (who’s matching Kent pretty well so far) and Mauer (who’s polling very competitively on top of them, but more on that in a minute), we’ve also got a few other names down-ballot who are picking up some nominal support (David Wright looks like he might cross 5%, plus Bartolo Colón and Matt Holliday have already gotten votes so far, and I wouldn’t be shocked if José Bautista, Adrián González, or José Reyes get a vote or two).

    Of course, the Hall ballot is also pretty momentum-based, and every returning candidate who passed the 40% mark last year has also seen their vote percentages increase so far (more on the breakdown there shortly). We had a little bit of slack to work with, as the average players-per-ballot count in 2023 was on the lower end of our recent ballots. However, we are still working with a 10 player per ballot cap that’s going to aggressively limit how big that number can get, so in the short term, you might see some names at the bottom start to get squeezed out to make room for those other names.

    We’ll work our way there eventually. For now, though, let’s take it from the top (non-2024 ballot stats will mostly be from Baseball-Reference). For a little bit there, it looked like Adrián Beltré might be threatening to become the Hall’s second unanimous selection (after Mariano Rivera’s 2019 election); however, that mark remains pretty difficult to match, and he’s now sitting at 98%. Not that it really matters much. With 3166 hits, 477 homers, and a bevy of field awards, Beltré is poised to easily sail past the 75% needed, and we’re basically looking at which specific hyper-elite group he lands in: the nineteen-name ring of 95% or higher, the fifteen players who topped 96%, the baker’s dozen of 97%+, the octet of 98%+, or the trio of 99%+. I don’t expect him to drop much below that, but I guess we also can’t rule it out.

    In second place, we have fellow newcomer Joe Mauer, which is actually a bit of a change; he was in third as recently as a few days after Christmas, but a hot streak of recent reveals has helped him pull ahead and land at 83%.* I think Mauer is an easy call for the Hall of Fame, one of the best offensive backstops in history and clearly better than half of the catchers already in Cooperstown, and I said as much back when I looked at catcher standards four years ago (it’s not like Mauer’s numbers have changed since then).

    *Ballot #101 put the two of them back into a tie.

    But as I also noted in that piece, voters have historically been stingy with catchers; only two have made it in first ballot, although maybe it’s a sign of changing attitudes that one of those was Iván Rodríguez, the most recent catcher-inductee to reach the BBWAA ballot. I wouldn’t be shocked if the private voters are cold enough on Mauer that he drops below 75%, as they usually are the slowest to change. But I think there are enough traditional things to like about Mauer’s case that he can survive those potential skeptics, and that even if we do see that worst-case scenario, he finishes close enough this time that he walks in for the 2025 election.

    To reach second place, Mauer had to leap past returning leader of the backlog Todd Helton, who finished 11 votes shy of election last time. That gap seems very manageable, and at 82%, he’s both over the 75% threshold and ahead of where he was through 100 ballots last year. However, there are some reasons for concern here. He’s at a net change of +0 votes, having converted three voters to his cause while at the same time losing three,* again likely due to the fuller ballot; and Jason Sardell’s most recent forecast (which are usually very solid) puts him at a median result of 74%. It basically could go either way, a very similar situation to where Scott Rolen found himself last year leading up to the announcement.

    *Flips like that are the biggest thing for a player’s cause, since they essentially change a -1 to a +1, but it’s also worth mentioning that Helton has gone 8 for 9 with new and returning voters. He can’t just pick up all 11 new votes there, since they also change the denominator that we’re working with, so he’ll either need a few flips to go along with it or more than 11 new voters in his corner, but it is still a good sign.

    Of course, Rolen was inducted last year, which can serve as a good sign for Helton this time. And there’s another encouraging thing in Helton’s results: last year, he finally crossed the 60% line. As I found last year, that has historically been a sign for the stingier voting groups, the Late Public Reveals and the Private Ballots, to switch. Unfortunately, it’s not really something we can test until after the results, but Rolen can provide an instructive example. He finished at 67.2% and 34.2% respectively with those groups in 2022, one of the more dire results for a serious candidate in recent memory, but it did get him to 69.8% overall. And sure enough, last year, he shot up to 80.9% and 57.4% with those groups, which was enough to get him over the line to 76.3%.

    Helton also crossed the 60% line last year (72.2%), and along the way, he finished at 67.0% with Post-Result Reveals and 61.8% with Private Voters. He might not see as big of an improvement as Rolen did, whether because of the deeper ballots this time or because he has less room to grow, but it does at least mean that those groups are already amenable to him. Rolen was at 80.4% on the Ballot Tracker leading into the results, so we’d probably want to see Helton at least match that this time around to be safe, especially given the stiffer competition. But at least so far, he’s on pace.

    So what does that mean for Billy Wagner? The closer also passed that 60% mark last year, finishing at 68.1% and falling just 27 votes shy of induction. At the moment, he makes for our fourth candidate currently trending above the 75% Induction Line, sitting at 79%, and unlike Helton, Wagner actually has a net increase in his votes already (he’s converted 5 of 2023’s “no” votes to “yes”es, while only losing 2 of his existing “yes” votes*). And like with Helton, there’s still obvious room for growth in the back-half, with Wagner pulling 69.6% with Late Reveal Voters and 52.9% with Private Voters last year (not to mention that latter group has historically gone for candidates with big Save totals, which could help Wagner out). If nothing else, it’s not difficult to imagine Wagner finding the remaining 24 conversions that he needs in that set.

    *And like with Helton, Wagner is 8 for 9 so far with new voters, which is also encouraging. Also, Ballot #101 got him one more no-to-yes voter, so only 23-ish more to go.

    The problem once again becomes the crowded ballot: these sets have also historically been the ones with the smallest ballots, limiting themselves even beyond the hard 10-player cap. Will this group be able to find votes for all four of these players in one year? And if they aren’t, who will actually be the one losing out?

    Helton was so close to induction that it’s hard to imagine him falling short again, but it is still possible; a public net gain in voters would go a long way in assuaging fears here. Mauer is polling the best of the non-Beltré three so far, but we have no data on how these two groups will like him, and these types of voters have historically been at least part of the reason we only have two first-ballot catchers. And as mentioned, this group of voters has traditionally liked saves and players who are polling above 60%, plus they’ve had time to warm up to Wagner. But he is definitely in the weakest position here, both in his current polling and his stats. Maybe he flips some voters, but still winds up in a position similar to Helton last year, five to ten votes short.

    Could we have a four-person induction class from the BBWAA ballot, though? Yeah, I actually think it’s possible. Historically, that kind of things has been rare, happening mainly early in the Hall’s history and when there was serious catch-up to do, but it’s been getting more common as of late. After only seeing it happen in 1936, 1939 (two of the first four elections), 1947, and 1955 (two elections from when the rules were relatively in flux), we’ve suddenly witnessed it happen in all of 2015, 2018, and 2019. With a recent frequency like that, I wouldn’t say it’s a given, but I also wouldn’t inherently rule it out.

    I don’t have a hard model to work from, but right now, I’d say that a three-person class is more likely than a four-person class, but the four-person class is more likely than any specific three-person combination we might see. If you wanted some percentages on that just for show, I’d say maybe… a 40% chance of “Beltré-Helton-Mauer”, a 10% chance of “Beltré-Helton-Wagner”, and a 45% chance of “All Four” (plus 5% saved for “Anything Else”, whether that’s “Only Beltré-Helton”, “Only Beltré-Mauer”, “Somehow Beltré- Mauer-Wagner”, or “Freak Gary Sheffield Incidents”)? That seems reasonable enough for a rough estimate.*

    *I wanted to keep it to round-ish numbers here since it’s mostly for demonstration, but if you wanted to be more specific, I’d probably say “Anything Else” is too low. I’d make up for it by taking percents from all of the other three outcomes, but I’d definitely take more heavily from the “Beltré-Helton-Wagner” set than the other two.

    Ultimately, this kind of only matters in the abstract; all of these four are going into the Hall of Fame in the next two years (barring major unforeseen events). Whoever misses this time will get an easy shot in 2025, with the most likely miss (Wagner) even getting an extra boost next time since it will be his tenth and final ballot. But what about the rest of the ballot, where that isn’t the case? How are they all looking?

    Gary Sheffield leads the down-ballot set, sitting at 73%. I remain baffled (not necessarily negatively) at his progress the last few years, far surpassing what any other PED-linked player has achieved in Hall voting. He’s almost certainly going to fall short once again, in his tenth and final try on the BBWAA side of things, but he very well might match Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens on their final ballots despite obviously not being on their level stats-wise. And while I’m skeptical of his chances on a future Veterans Committee ballot, I’m curious to see if they also handle his case any differently.

    Carlos Beltrán, who finished nearly 12 points behind Andruw Jones last year at 46.5%, has jumped ahead of him to 65%. As I mentioned in my wrap-up last year, it was clear that voters were knocking Beltrán in his ballot debut for his role in the sign-stealing scandal, but it wasn’t yet clear if that would just be a one-year issue that voters would move on from, or something that could become an ongoing issue. Well, this year has cleared that up: Beltrán leads all returning candidates in conversions, sitting at +9 net votes (13 gains, 4 losses) through 100 voters.

    And not only that, but there’s some obvious room for further improvement there; 2 of his 4 drops thus far have been due to ballot space, rather than the voters changing their minds.* It’s probably too soon to start slotting him in for a 2025 Induction just yet, but there’s a very real chance he enters the weaker 2025 ballot as the top returning candidate (if his lead over Jones holds, and all four of the top vote-getters are inducted this time), and things could snowball quickly from there. Definitely keep an eye on where he finishes this time.

    *I’m not going to re-write this whole article to change every number, but I will note that while editing, the 101st ballot was revealed, taking Beltrán to +10 overall. He’s obviously got some momentum here.

    Meanwhile, Andruw Jones, at 64%, has not been as fortunate. He’s really where we start to see the ballot squeeze hit, sitting at a net -2 (+1/-3) and making him one of the most frequently dropped candidates on the ballot.* Like Beltrán, signs indicate that this is largely temporary, and he still has three more ballots after this one, so he’s by no means out of the running for Cooperstown, but things will probably remain relatively stagnant for now. If he can inch above 60% this time (he finished at 58.1% last year), it would be a win, and put him in a good position for next year.

    *Again, not re-writing everything, but Ballot #101 brought him back up to a -1 overall; I expect he’ll keep hovering in this range like this the rest of the way. So things could still be better here, but it’s also obvious it’s more “stagnant” than “steady loss”.

    That ballot jam has been even rougher for those below the 50% mark, who don’t have the things going for them that Jones does. Álex Rodríguez and Manny Ramírez aren’t seeing support in the way Sheffield is. Even if I think Mark Buehrle, Bobby Abreu, and Andy Pettitte are solid choices for the Hall, they’re still clearly on the weaker end of the candidates, and as a result they’ve been the ones hardest hit in terms of net voters.

    Really, the only interesting news in the “Under 50%” Group at the moment is Chase Utley, who’s polling at 44% so far in his ballot debut. That’s honestly a lot better than I expected he would fare; I’ve thought he’s deserving of induction, but he doesn’t look much like what BBWAA voters have traditionally wanted in a candidate, so I expected him to get totally ignored. Maybe the electorate really is changing.* At this level of support, he’s basically never going to be in risk of falling off the ballot, and between the clearing at the top of the ballot over the next two years, the upcoming weaker rookie classes, and an Andruw Jones induction freeing up resources to make Utley the new “cause célèbre” of the analytical set, he could be standing on the stage before the end of the decade.

    *If you went and re-read that piece I just linked to, I mentioned back in 2018 that Rolen’s poor performance seemed like a bad sign for Utley. But obviously, things turned around quickly there!

    But there are a lot of contingencies there, and so little set in stone, so we’ll just have to keep that all in mind once we have the full results. For now, the main storylines to watch over the next three weeks will be that cluster of Joe Mauer, Todd Helton, and Billy Wagner; if everything breaks right, we could have a crowded stage in Cooperstown this July.

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