First things first: congratulations to new Hall of Famers Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman. They are all very deserving, and with Alan Trammell and Jack Morris going in thanks to the Veterans Committee at the same time, you could argue that this is one of the strongest classes in the Hall’s history.*
*It depends on how you feel about quantity over quality and how you feel about including managers, umpires, and executives in a class versus just counting the players elected, but it definitely seems like an argument that you could make.
But at the same time, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed as well. A lot of the surprise of who makes it has gone away as the tracking of ballots improved, and those four seemed pretty safe the entire cycle. Really, probably even before the election cycle began, if we’re being honest; Thome and Jones seemed like obvious first-ballot guys, and Guerrero and Hoffman were so close last year that it was hard not to see them making it.
Instead, we found out in the announcement that Edgar Martinez, who was above 75% on Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker basically since the 2018 edition launched, wound up falling 20 votes shy of induction, and Mike Mussina, who poked into the low-70s as late as a few days ago, dropped all the way down to 63.5%.
Of course, it might not be all bad news, either. What are the longer-term implications of this year’s induction?
Let’s start with the obvious: this clears up a lot of space at the top of the ballot. There are essentially 1000 percentage points to go around. Jones, Guerrero, Thome, and Hoffman combined for a hair under 360%. That’s a lot of room to work with. Also encouraging, we can almost count on a decent amount of those now-freed spaces being used again for other deserving names in 2019; of the 125 10-name ballots on the tracker pre-announcement, 111 had all four of those guys listed. A decent number of those voters probably left off at least some names they found deserving, and those names will get bumped up.
On that note, there are twenty pre-release ballots that used all ten spaces but didn’t include Edgar Martinez. Would all of those twenty have voted for Edgar? Maybe, maybe not, but I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable saying he wouldn’t have made it in an unlimited ballot (we still don’t know about 40% of the votes, after all, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he made up the difference there).
As I noted last year, this has happened a lot as of late, and it continues to hammer home how dumb the ten-man limit is. For all intents and purposes, the BBWAA has indicated that they view Edgar Martinez deserving; no player has ever hit 70% of the vote and not made it in on the BBWAA’s ballot.* But next year, at least 75% of voters (but probably more) will need to use one of their very limited slots to put him in, even though they basically all already agreed this year that he was more than fit for induction.
*This isn’t even counting the Veterans Committee, but if you do, Jack Morris’s induction this year also means that every player who has hit even 2/3 of the vote is inducted. Only one player has hit 60% and never made it in (Gil Hodges, who peaked at 63.4%), and only two have hit 50% and not made it (Hodges and Lee Smith, who peaked at 50.6% but notably has not appeared on a Veterans Committee ballot yet). If the Hall won’t allow an unlimited ballot, bumping up the number of slots to 12 and lowering the threshold for induction to 70% or 67% might still go a long way to alleviating the congestion.
Either way, though, Edgar looks to be in a good spot, being so close to 75% with so many spaces opening up. The three biggest things working in his favor are that 1) he doesn’t seem to do much actual convincing, some voters just need to make space for him next year; 2) players who get that close to induction usually see a slightly bigger jump in their total the next cycle; 3) it will be his tenth and final year on the ballot, and usually that’s worth its own small bump. He’s seen gains of 16.4, 15.2, and 11.8 the last three years, so 4.6 shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Mike Mussina is a much harder case to crack. He saw an increase similar to Edgar’s this year, and another increase of that size would take him to just over 75%. Can he expect a similarly-sized increase, though? On the one hand, all of the cleared-out names will provide less competition, and maybe momentum will accelerate his increases. On the other hand, that’s still a big jump he needs, plus another big-name starter will be joining the ballot next year (more on that later), which might eat into his support some. While it’s a close call whether Mussina will make it in 2019, unlike Martinez, he still has more than one year of support. He’s too close to call right now, and the early returns next year will give us a better sense of where he stands, but even if he misses, he’ll almost certainly make it in 2020 then.
Moving on, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each moved into the upper 50s. They each only picked up three returning voters but lost one along the way. The big difference came in the high percentages they reached with new voters. We’ll be seeing an influx of new, stats-oriented voters over the next two or three years as writers from Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, et al get their ballots, which bodes well. Also, writers who initially wrote them off for low support and momentum might be persuaded to come back into the fold. With four years, I don’t know if I’d call either of them locks, but they seem to be in a reasonably good place.
Outside of those top four misses, it’s probably most fair to say that most of the other returning players up and down the ballot will be seeing more votes next year with some space freed up. Some of the voters in the Ballot Tracker listed players they had to leave off, and you can get a sense of who might be picking up votes next year. I’m seeing a good number of potential Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones voters, which makes me optimistic they could see their numbers gain. Larry Walker, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, and Jeff Kent also each pop up a lot. What will be interesting is if we see the same type of clustering that we saw this year, with writers quasi-conferring with each other to spread their votes around optimally. If they do, there are a lot of openings to fill now that nearly half of the “consensus nine” are in. Will we see that same degree of agreement again, though? It remains to be seen.
Larry Walker in particular has an interesting case going forward; he only reached 34.1% this year, and it’s his highest total yet. Given that he only has two years left on the ballot, he probably won’t be voted in by the time he drops off. But he also posted the single biggest increase from 2017 to 2018, and if that keeps up, it might bode well for his time after that on the Veterans Committee ballot.
The only other complicating factors will be who gets added to the ballots in coming years. There are a lot of big names in the pipeline, but no individual class seems to measure up to this year’s bunch of Thome/C. Jones/Rolen/A. Jones/Vizquel/Johan Santana/Johnny Damon. That in and of itself will help relieve the pressure to an extent.
Next year has some depth to it, like this year, but the top of the new class isn’t quite as strong. Mariano Rivera is a lock, and Roy Halladay will have a lot of support (and his untimely death may move up his time table, like what happened with Kirby Puckett). I think there are reasonably strong cases for Andy Pettitte and Todd Helton, but they definitely don’t seem like the type to resonate with Hall voters (especially given their respective steroid admission and Coors Field advantage). Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt also have fringe cases, but they strike me as the type to fall off right away, like Damon and Santana did this year. Michael Young might fill the role of Omar-Vizquel-lite and pick up double-digit support among voters who like his hit total.
Halladay is especially strange, given that he’ll be running against Mussina and Schilling. With all respect to Doc, he’s probably the weakest of those three. However, Halladay won Cy Young awards while Mussina and Schilling were finishing runner-up to Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux and so on. That leads to a very different perception with the older voters that still dominate voting. I think he picks up a lot of support.
Pettitte’s reputation as a Winner™ with a lot of Wins and a good Winning Percentage and World Series and Playoff Wins and so on might also play well with that set, but it might be offset by the whole steroids thing. He’s probably the hardest player for me to read.
Either way, I would bet on Rivera and Halladay getting a lot of voters, filling to of the open “consensus” spots. Depending on how Mussina does, I’d bet we see three inductees next year (Rivera, Halladay, and Martinez) with the possibility of four depending on what Moose’s early votes look like.
Either way, it will only clear out the ballot for the next two years. This will be the key time for the players still on the ballot to take leaps forward. 2020 sees Derek Jeter leading the freshmen, and while I would make arguments for Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, and Cliff Lee as fringe Hall members, I don’t see the BBWAA taking that stance. 2021 sees Tim Hudson and Mark Buerhle joining, and again, I don’t think the BBWAA will go along with my “fringe Hall member” classifications for those two. As such, 2020 will be the year for Mussina if he misses, giving us a class of him and Jeter at least. These two years will probably also be the best chances for Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling, as well as any other candidates that might get the “consensus” definition in that time (my fingers are crossed for Rolen!). Watching how the down-ballot names fare next year will be the best sense of where we go from here.
So right now, pencil me in for “Edgar/Rivera/Halladay in 2019, Mussina/Jeter/maybe one more in 2020”. And there’s still a lot that can change in the meantime; maybe the new voters remake the electorate to a greater degree than I’m thinking they will. Maybe Cooperstown will wise up and revise their rules. But right now, it looks like at the very least, we’ll see a continuation of our recent wave of candidates with a good chance for the backlog to make a move.