I’ve said it before, but there are a ton of good players on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. It’s actually been just a little bit overwhelming trying to determine a way to even approach breaking this year’s candidates, and in the end, I decided to combine several different methods.
First, just as a starting place, let’s look at my ballot from last year’s election. I did all that work already, after all, and most of those players are returning to the ballot.
Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker
The good news: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez were all inducted, and that’s a lot of ballot space freed up! Yay! The bad news: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, and Andruw Jones are just the head of this incredibly stacked class of newcomers (which I’ve been predicting for five years now). That’s…definitely more than three slots, at least. Curse you, 10-player limit!
What happens if we line everyone up by WAR? That’s a pretty good way to start, take a broad survey of what kinds of players we’re dealing with. Remember, usually, 50+ WAR is in the conversation, 60+ is a strong candidate, and 70+ is usually a lock.
1. Barry Bonds (162.4)
2. Roger Clemens (140.3)
3. Chipper Jones (85.0)
4. Mike Mussina (83.0)
5. Curt Schilling (79.9)
6. Jim Thome (72.6)
7. Larry Walker (72.6)
8. Scott Rolen (70.0)
9. Manny Ramirez (69.2)
10. Edgar Martinez (68.3)
11. Andruw Jones (62.8)
12. Gary Sheffield (60.3)
13. Vladimir Guerrero (59.3)
14. Sammy Sosa (58.4)
15. Johnny Damon (56.0)
16. Jeff Kent (55.2)
17. Fred McGriff (52.4)
18. Johan Santana (51.4)
19. Jamie Moyer (50.4)
That’s a pretty solid list. Eight players clear the 70-WAR “easy choice” bar, and two more are within spitting distance and clearly stand above the rest of the crowd. That wouldn’t be a terrible ballot.
Of course, there’s also an argument that we should look at how close various players are to being elected. The candidates heavily depend on momentum to get elected; players drawing close to the necessary 75% frequently see gains; as more voters convert to a player’s case, the rate of defection to their cause tends to increase; players drawing close to the end of their tenure tend to see bigger jumps in their percentage; and so on, and so on.
In summary, it makes sense to focus on the players nearing certain thresholds. Once a player hits 75%, they’re off the ballot, freeing up more space for other candidates. Focusing on players with higher percentage helps get them get to 75% faster, even if it doesn’t quite get them over that mark this year. Care should be paid to making sure no deserving players fall below 5% (at which point, they drop off the ballot and can’t be discussed again until the Veterans Committee can take their case years down the line). Those are basically the three rules we have to work with.
So with that all in mind, what are the early returns on voting? So far, through 179 ballots, things stand thusly:
1. Chipper Jones (98.3%)
2. Vladimir Guerrero (94.4%)
3. Jim Thome (93.3%)
4. Edgar Martinez (80.4%)
5. Trevor Hoffman (78.2%)
6. Mike Mussina (73.2%)
T7. Curt Schilling (65.9%)
T7. Barry Bonds (65.9%)
T7. Roger Clemens (65.9%)
10. Larry Walker (39.1%)
11. Omar Vizquel (29.6%)
12. Manny Ramirez (25.1%)
13. Fred McGriff (16.8%)
14. Sammy Sosa (12.8%)
T15. Scott Rolen (11.2%)
T15. Jeff Kent (11.2%)
17. Billy Wagner (10.1%)
18. Gary Sheffield (9.5%)
19. Andruw Jones (5.0%)
Between those two top-nineteen lists, there are sixteen common names. Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman, and Omar Vizquel are exclusive to the vote list, while Johnny Damon, Johan Santana, and Jamie Moyer are exclusive to the WAR list. Of course, Wagner and Hoffman are relievers, so their low WAR total is to be expected, while voters punishing Santana for a short career despite his Hall-worthy peak isn’t too surprising. Overall, though, it doesn’t seem too out-of-the-question to say that there are twenty or more players on this ballot who deserve consideration, to some extent or another.
Also, as I noted recently, the top of the ballot is sucking up a lot of the oxygen in the Hall of Fame conversation. It doesn’t seem too hard to argue that one’s ballot should start with those nine; the quicker we get them out of consideration and into the Hall, the sooner we can move on to everyone else. That would leave one spot for a tenth name.
Except is that really the best, most efficient way do things? There are several players who are dangerously low, plus Larry Walker could use a lot of help, seeing as he’s only on the ballot until 2020.* On the flip side, Vlad Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Chipper Jones are about as safe as you can be, each sitting at over 90% with over two-fifths of the electorate reporting. You don’t really get a special award for getting over 90% rather than just 75%, and none is close enough to setting a record for highest percentage for that to matter in any capacity.
*Even if he doesn’t make it by then, getting him as close to 75% as possible could help him for when he comes up on the Veterans Committee ballot; just ask Jack Morris.
Basically, marginal votes mean a lot less to those three right now than they do for most other players. Why not make use of that extra buffer? With those three virtually inducted, we have four more slots. Larry Walker, as mentioned, is starting to run out of time and needs a hand. Andruw Jones is very deserving, but looking pretty dire. He’s treading water at 5.1%, just above the 5% cutoff to remain on the ballot. Scott Rolen deserves a much stronger debut than the 10.7% he’s currently sitting at (let alone what he’ll actually finish with).
And I could keep Manny Ramirez on my ballot from last year, although it’s a tough call. There are a lot of players I think are deserving who could take that tenth slot. As I said last year, Billy Wagner is probably Trevor Hoffman’s equal as a reliever even though he’s only getting 10% of the vote. Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa are both stuck in that range as well, despite having strong cases. I’ve mentioned in the past that I think Jeff Kent and Fred McGriff wouldn’t be awful lower-tier inductees, and they’re in the teens as well.* Johan Santana, as mentioned, has the peak of a Hall of Famer, but isn’t even hitting 2%.
*I initially wrote off Johnny Damon, but looking as his numbers and thinking of his intangibles, I sort of wonder if he wouldn’t fall into this tier as well? He certainly wouldn’t be the worst inductee. It doesn’t look like he’ll be hanging around another year for me to ponder this, though.
In the end, this last slot probably comes down to Manny or Johan. As someone struggling to hit 5%, Santana has a really strong case that he’s in the most need. I’m just not sure it’ll pay off; he’s way below where he needs to be, and ultimately, his case isn’t enough of a slam-dunk like Andruw or Rolen. Getting Manny an extra vote probably has the greater utility in the long run.
So in the end, if I had a ballot, it would probably be something like this:
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Trevor Hoffman, Andruw Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Manny Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker
If I were trying to imitate my voting style from last year, where I focused more on merit than trying to ideally distribute votes, it would probably look more like this:
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome, Larry Walker, Andruw Jones OR Manny Ramirez
That last slot is a tough call. Do you go with the all-time fielder in center who could kind of hit, or the legendary hitter whose work in left field could only ever be described as “Manny Being Manny”? It’s a fun hypothetical, even if my preference for the first ballot means it will never come to pass. And I love Vladimir Guerrero, I’m glad to see he’s nearing induction…but this is just such a deep ballot that I’m not sure I could convince myself he belongs in the top ten.
In the end, there’s still a lot of deserving names being left on the cutting room floor. The Hall of Fame still needs unlimited slots on their ballot. But in the meantime, this is how I’d try and work around that issue.