Monday, January 11, 2016

Predicting the Future of the Hall of Fame, 2017-2019

The 2016 Hall of Fame election is finally in the rearview mirror, with Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza on the other side. Not joining them is a gaggle of similarly-qualified stars, though, and most of them (outside of Jim Edmonds, Mark McGwire, and Alan Trammell) will be back at this next year once again. Some of those qualified stars even came remarkably close this year, with Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Trevor Hoffman falling 15, 23, and 34 votes shy (respectively). So, let’s take this opportunity to look towards the future; where does the Hall of Fame vote go from here?

Let’s start with the most immediate outcome and my prediction: I think that next year, only Bagwell and Raines get elected. Both are just too close, which usually garners a bunch of additional support, plus Raines will get his "final year" push to further his cause even more. I think Piazza's induction also helps Bagwell as well, not just in opening slots that he might take, but also hopefully swaying some people who had been holding out to maintain some mythical “purity” for the Hall by keeping out players with whispers of steroids about them.

Even better about these two is that they finished with Bagwell ahead of Raines. I can’t really see Raines leapfrogging Bagwell, but I also can’t see Raines not getting the extra support he needs either. If it had been vice versa, I would be more worried that Bagwell would fall short as some voters would give Raines the "so close" push AND the "last year" push and leave Bagwell on the outside. This way, each gets one benefit, and with each needing only a handful of votes, I think 2017 is the year for each. There’s plenty of space for two returning “backlog” candidates to make it in at once.

But who gets in is only part of the fun; for most players, getting inducted is a multi-year journey. Where will the rest of the ballot see itself positioned following the election next year?

Hoffman will be close, but I think the ballot's still going to be too crowded for him in 2017. I think there are spots for two backlog candidates to make it, but I’m not sure if there’s space for a third one. This is one area I can see being wrong, though, as I’m not sure we’ve ever had three players all get so close to getting inducted without making it. This will make an interesting test case.

As for why I think Hoffman will be a “no” in 2017, clearing up space is still the biggest issue. Even though we cleared off a bunch of deserving players picking up votes in Piazza, Griffey, McGwire, and Trammell (thereby freeing up the votes), 2018 sees Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, and Vladimir Guerrero, among others, joining the ballot, all of whom will pick up some amount of votes (substantial amounts in some cases). If Bagwell had snuck in this year, I'd be more optimistic about Hoffman getting in, as that’s another 330 “yes” votes to go around, but again, it’s not unthinkable it could happen anyway. I think one more season will get us to Hoffman’s sweet spot, both because it will clear out the two people ahead of him (Raines is off the ballot no matter what either way, so only Bagwell technically needs to be inducted) and to rid the ballot of a similar candidate in Lee Smith (2017 is Smith’s 15th and final year on the ballot, so again there will be more votes to go around, plus they’re votes from people willing to vote for high-saves relievers such as Hoffman). I can’t see Hoffman taking more than two more times, though, barring some huge scandal coming up or something.

On to the 2017 newbies: I think Pudge takes the Piazza path to induction. There are the steroids whispers, plus the BBWAA has always been more hesitant to induct catchers (Piazza took four elections to get inducted, Gary Carter took six, even Yogi Berra took two, not to mention that there just aren’t nearly as many catchers in Cooperstown as there other positions), so it'll be easy for a lot of people on the fence about him to wait a year and see what their colleagues are thinking, then go from there. I'm betting it takes him 3-5 years, depending on what's written about him as we get closer. Until we start to see some articles or early returns so we get a better handle on the narrative voters take, I’m just not sure where exactly he’ll fall. And while I don’t think he’ll get in on the first try, I also don’t think he’ll go drop 50%. I’ll base my guess off of Mike Piazza: a debut in the mid-to-high-50s, and a four-year climb to induction. 

Also, I’ve seen a lot of love going to Vladimir Guerrero lately (maybe I’m just getting a biased sample), but I have to saw, there is no way Vlad gets in next year. I'm just not seeing where his support will be coming from, certainly not to get 75% on his first ballot. I think he'll do well, possibly better than I’m expecting, but I would be shocked if he started off above 50% on the ballot.
Advanced stats guys will look at his short career or mediocre fielding and baserunning numbers and the excess of worthy candidates who probably rank ahead of him, while the people who look at things like his 449 homers and ~2600 hits might leave him off because they tend to have smaller ballots and he's not substantially better than many other hitters on the ballot. I think he lands somewhere in the 30-50% range (again, dependent on the early returns and narrative people take). From there, it’s a very open-ended question as to where he’ll go down the line. But for as down on his chances as I am, I can see him starting above several other guys currently in the backlog, and I would almost guarantee he’s second among the newcomers.

After their strong showings in 2016 (52.3% and 43.0%), Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina will pick up votes, and enter 2018 behind only Hoffman and maybe Pudge on the backlog, setting Schilling up for election sometime in the 2018-2020 frame. I think Bagwell, Raines, and Hoffman will soak up a majority of the freed-up votes next year, but once two or more of them are in, Schilling and Mussina will be some of the next players to benefit.

In the longer view of things, I'm still not sure Mussina will make it. The next year or two will be critical, and I hope he does, but I’ve become wary of assuming the most optimistic scenario for the Hall voters after the near-misses of Bert Blyleven, Craig Biggio, Bagwell, and Raines recently. The BBWAA is very slow to change in its votes, it seems. If Mussina makes it to 50% next year, I'll be much more confident. That’s only 31 more votes, which seems like it should be attainable, but you never know…

It helps that the 2017 and 2018 newcomers are pretty devoid of Hall-level starters, so it's pretty much just him and Schilling until 2019. Voters seem to compartmentalize pitchers and hitters, meaning he’ll be unaffected by the swarm of good hitters about to join the discussion. If he can get to about 60% before Halladay and Pettite are added in 2019 (Mussina's sixth year), he's definitely safe I think, as he’ll have positioned himself in Raines-Bagwell territory and more impervious to any sliding backwards. He’ll also have half of his years eligibility remaining, meaning there will still be plenty of time to win people over, even if his climb slows a little. Once Halladay and Pettitte hit, there will be voters questioning whether he’s the best starter on the ballot (I clearly think he is, but I apparently don’t see eye-to-eye with baseball writers on everything). Being the best player of your type on the ballot is a huge distinction that helps turn voters to your cause, so getting over the hump of ~60% before then will be huge. If he can get to that, he’ll be a lot more insulated from “best pitcher on the ballot” arguments, I think, as voters will move towards “why am I not voting for him, when a majority of voters now are?”

Schilling has a much easier path, comparatively. He does have one year fewer of eligibility than Mussina, but he’s better positioned otherwise. He’s already over 50%, and his case has a much clearer narrative hook between the 3000 strikeouts and playoff dominance. I predict he’ll be a year or two ahead of Mussina’s schedule. He’s been adding about 10 percentage points to his total every year pretty reliably, which is good. The biggest downside I can see is that he didn’t gain nearly as much as some of the other candidates did, but I still think that his advantageous starting position will be a bigger factor in the end.  

Mussina also has a much easier path going forward than the other players who finished with 40-50% of the vote this year. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens finished with a few more votes than he did, but there are obviously more barriers to their induction. If they pick up more votes next year, it’ll be more of an indicator that voters are softening on steroids. However, part of me wonders if their gains this year stemmed from the reduction of the pool of voters. If that’s the case, this might just be a one-year thing.

Edgar Martinez also has a rough road ahead. Right in between Bonds and Mussina, but he only has three tries left. I’m not sure if he can pick up 30% of voters in three years, especially with all the other players he’d have to jump over and the number of voters who apparently hate the DH. The best he can hope for is to continue picking up converts so that he’s well-positioned for the Veterans Committee.

Going down the results from this year, there just aren’t many other promising cases. Alan Trammell finished eleventh, but he’s off the ballot now. Lee Smith was twelfth, but he only has one more chance to pick up over 40 points. Then we have Fred McGriff, who just pulled in 20.9% of the vote in his seventh try.

Any other inductees will have to come from first-time candidates. We’ve already covered Vlad and Pudge next year. We can pretty easily assume Manny isn’t going to do well, given that most players tied to steroids have struggled. He’ll probably finish in the 5-20% range. I can’t see Jorge Posada getting much more support than Bernie Williams got a few years ago.

2018 has a stronger class, which might hurt returning candidates. That’s the year Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, possibly Johan Santana (depending on if he makes a comeback or not), and others all get added. It’s harder to tell how that will go without seeing how next year goes first, but my initial reaction is that Chipper Jones and Jim Thome will probably do well. Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones are more than deserving choices as well, but match the profiles of players who have been ignored by Hall voters in the past.

2019 features Mariano Rivera, as well as Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, and others. I think Mariano Rivera breezes in (and if Hoffman isn’t in by this year, Rivera might set him back a bit). The rest will struggle regardless of their cases; Helton will remind people too much of Larry Walker and the struggles adjusting stats from Coors Field, while Halladay and Pettitte have weaker cases than Schilling and Mussina and will likely be up against one or both of those two. Halladay can at least point to two Cy Young Awards, though, which should help start his case and keep him around to see it grow.

I’m not sure I want to look much further ahead than that, because there’s just a little too much unknown information for predicting the 2020 election. But until then, these are my predicted election classes:

2017: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines
2018:  Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome
2019: Curt Schilling, Mariano Rivera


  1. Well, so far ESPN voters are 78% in favour of Vlad, and an analytics count gives him 73%. What will the count be when people who watch baseball put in their votes? 75%, 80%?

    1. Assuming I found the correct ESPN article, I'm not sure how much I'd go by that. That's a sample poll from a self-selected group of voters who have probably discussed the matter internally and have something of a consensus, so likely to be biased. There's no way we finish with seven players above 73%, or nine above 60%.

      And again, I'm just not sure where his support will come from. More analytic voters will probably struggle to fit him in, especially since his advanced stats aren't as great (12th in bWAR, 12th in JAWS, etc). More traditional voters will probably not like that he didn't hit either of the big milestones in a hitters' era. And I just don't see Vlad pulling in 65%-75% his first time (449 HR, 2590 H) when you have superficially similar cases like Fred McGriff (493 HR, 2490 H) getting 21% in his 8th year, or Jeff Bagwell (449 HR, 2314 H) only getting close on his seventh try, or Carlos Delgado (473 HR, 2038 H) being one-and-done, or Larry Walker (383, 2160) and Jeff Kent (377, 2461) near the bottom of the ballot, and so on. Too many names, and I'm not sure what exactly is going to persuade all of the more stubborn voters that Vlad deserves more attention out of that group.