The worst of the backlog remains over, and while it would have been better to have Bagwell or Raines graduate this year, there are plenty of votes available for them in 2016.
—Joe Sheehan Newsletter, 1/6/16
I am a Joe Sheehan subscriber, I love his work, and I think you should subscribe right now. So I’m not trying to run down Joe (who has written far more of import about baseball than I ever will) when I say that he’s wrong about the ballot crunch. Really, really wrong. In fact, Joe is merely a stand-in for others I’ve read who say the same thing. Or for anyone who let out a sigh of relief and thought after the Griffey/Piazza election, “Gee, I’m glad that’s pretty much over.”
It ain’t over. It ain’t even close to over. In fact, ballotgeddon is the new normal.
To see why, let me first lay out those important players that we know for sure are eligible for the BBWAA ballot for the first time and those who will run into their tenth and final opportunity by 2020. They are ranked by JAWS, which is in parentheses.
COMING 2017 2018 2019 2020 ====================================================================================== Manny Ramirez (54.6) Chipper Jones (65.8) Roy Halladay (57.6) Derek Jeter (57.0) Ivan Rodriguez (54.0) Jim Thome (57.2) Todd Helton (53.8) Bobby Abreu (50.7) Vlad Guerrero (50.2) Scott Rolen (56.8) Andy Pettitte (47.4) Jason Giambi (46.3) Jorge Posada (37.7) Andruw Jones (54.6) Lance Berkman (45.3) Cliff Lee (42.5) Johan Santana (48.1) Roy Oswalt (45.1) Johnny Damon (44.4) Mariano Rivera (43.0) Jamie Moyer (41.8) Miguel Tejada (41.7) Omar Vizquel (36.0) GOING 2017 2018 2019 2020 ====================================================================================== Tim Raines --- Edgar Martinez Jeff Bagwell Lee Smith Fred McGriff Larry Walker NET +3 +8 +5 +2
To state the obvious, a net of 18 new and important names will be added to the ballot. Well, maybe 17 if Cliff Lee pitches again. Among them, whom do you think is a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer? I see Chipper, Mo, and Jeter, and that’s it. To see why the 2016 BBWAA election is such as disappointment for the backlog, let’s look at two potential ballot scenarios, worst case and a best case. In each I’ll assume the number of ballots stays the same and the rules don’t change again before 2020.
The worst case scenario goes like this beginning in 2017:
- Names-per-ballot drops again, to about 7.5, dropping the total number of available votes
- Bagwell and Raines elected at 85%+
- Hoffman gets Biggio-close, pushing his election back one year
- I-Rod debuts around 50% and needs four or five years to get elected
- Vlad bows at around 45% and needs five to seven years to get elected
- Manny gets about 10% and like McGwire before him doesn’t move an inch
- Posada is one and done
- Wagner’s share of the vote increases each year
- McGriff starts gaining some ground
- Smith gets a last-year kick.
In this case, we have the sum of all fears, where some of the least deserving holdovers (Smith, Wagner, and McGriff) start surging, the newbies aren’t set up for quick election, Manny gets stuck in purgatory, chewing up ballot slots, and upper-middle candidates make some good progress but Hoffman continues to block them as we go into 2018, when…
- The voters tighten up again to about 7.25 names per ballot, knocking another 100 votes off the table.
- Chipper Jones takes 420 votes and appears on 95% of ballots
- Hoffman surges and is elected with 85%–to 90% of the vote
- Newcomer Jim Thome debuts at a Killebrewesque 60%
- Omar Vizquel enters the vote at 35%
- Johnny Damon’s mulletude gets about 10%
- Jamie Moyer manages a little over 5% with his 269 wins (just one less than Mussina!)
- Desrving candidates Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Johan Santana are all sloughed off, just like Jim Edmonds.
Here, the higher returning candidates see more modest gains as the BBWAA satisfies itself with another elect-two year. Meanwhile the ballot is stuffed with candidates in the 40%–50% range because the electorate is wasting time on relievers and Omar. Well maybe that’s not the end of the world…because 2019 is the end of the world. Now four more strong candidates (Rivera, Halladay, Helton, Pettitte) come on the scene. Our worst case scenario continues:
- The voters’ ballots rise back to the 7.95 of 2016 as the voters start adding newbies
- Rivera is elected with about 95% or more of ballots; no one lese makes it
- The herding begins for Thome and Schilling, but they fall just shy of election with 70% or more of the vote
- Halladay, Helton, and Pettitte debut in the 20%–25% range
- McGriff sees a final-year boost
- Wagner and Vizquel continue to gain, while most other candidates see small gains or even losses
- The BBWAA somehow lets Lance Berkman hang on for a second go-round
- Edgar Martinez’s eligibility lapses without election.
Finally, 2020’s Jeterfest:
- Jeter elected along with Thome and Schilling
This threesome seem like good movement toward breaking up the backlog, but in reality, it’s too little too late. Rolen, Posada, Jones, Santana, and Roy Oswalt have been tossed out completely. Walker and Edgar are done in by the ten-year rule and their candidacies remanded to the shifting winds of the Veterans Committee. Sheffield, Sosa, and Kent make no progress or go backwards. Omar Vizquel is well on his way to an unwarranted election, while the upper backlog has made halting progress. Halladay, Helton, and Pettitte debut barely above no-man’s land and are blocked by a host of high-quality names ahead of them. Going into the 2021 election (with little on the newbie docket), the voters need to clear out I-Rod, Mussina, and Vlad if anyone else will make any progress in the near future. And all there is to show for the usual Hall-vote sturm and drang is eight plaques despite the presence of 25 or so names who have a reasonable case for induction (or about 20 if you don’t like the roiders).
The worst case is far more likely than the best case, because the best case would require the voters to do things they haven’t done probably ever. For one thing, it would likely require a lot of stingy BBWAAs who are voting out the string before they are purged to just stop sending in ballots altogether. It would also require a major shift in attitudes toward the steroid players. It would further require the voters to return to names-per-ballot levels they only reached in years with lots and lots of strong newbies.
In our best-case scenario, things look like this:
- Bagwell, Raines, Hoffman elected
- Schilling jumps above 65%
- Martinez and Mussina grow their vote share by at least 10% each
- I-Rod debuts at 55% and makes at least 10% progress each year
- Guerrero debuts between 45% and 50% and makes enough progress in his first three years that he’s set up for 2020
- Ramirez debuts around 20% and is able to grow from there
- McGriff stays right where he his or loses votes
- Wagner loses votes annually and falls off after 2019
- Posada…well I just don’t see any hope for Posada, one and done.
- Newbies Chipper Jones and Thome are elected along with Schilling
- Martinez, Mussina, and I-Rod each end up at 65% or higher
- Rolen and Andruw Jones debut in the mid-20% range and make slow-but-steady growth from there
- Omar Vizquel debuts around 20%
- I’m not seeing any hope for Santana either…
- Rivera overwhelmingly elected, while I-Rod, Martinez (in his last year), and Mussina all squeak over the line
- Guerrero reaches 65% or higher
- Halladay and Pettitte debut in the 35% to 40% range, and Helton checks in around 25%
- many backloggers lose votes due to the influx of newbies, but the election of four players alleviates that issue for 2020…
- Jeter sets new percentage record and shares the rostrum with Guerrero
- with Mussina out of the way, Halladay and Pettitte make major gains and get to about 50% to 55%, setting up election by 2023
- Larry Walker gets a big sendoff to the Vets, rising to 40% or more a la Trammell
- Clemens and Bonds, having made slow-but-steady progress as the steroid cold war thaws a bit, reach 60%, causing Murray Chass to enter a rehab home for apoplectic bloggers and stop voting forever, and also setting them up as the top backloggers.
Sure, our best-case scenario issues eleven instead of eight plaques, but equally important, the ballot actually does clear out a lot. In 2021 the most important newbies are likely to be Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle who are not really BBWAA candy. That means that all the holdovers will have a chance to make big gains, even if the ballot size shrinks. Electing players is only half the battle. Making room for others to grow is just as important. Of course, our best-case is about as likely as Clinton–Trump ticket…
Generally, though, the fact that we have to even scenarize indicates just how jammed packed this ballot still is and how much more jammed it’s going to get. We are in unprecedented times. There have been plenty of ballots in the modern era of BBWAA voting (basically 1970 and after) with lots of highly qualified candidates who eventually made it to Cooperstown, but we’ve never had this much depth before, particularly on an ongoing basis. MLB Expansion combined with BBWAA intransigence created this situation, but only one of those two things is going to change.
And if the BBWAA doesn’t change? Essentially, this: I want the Hall of Fame to truly have the very best players in it. If Posada or Santana don’t make it, well, OK, they’re bubble guys. But a Hall without Scott Rolen, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte, or Edgar Martinez is not much of a Hall of Fame. If you believe in defensive metrics, then Andruw Jones joins that list. I’m pretty sure Todd Helton should be on it too. We’ve already lost the chance to ensure the election of the much-deserving Alan Trammell, and we’re still not out of the woods with Tim Raines. Time is not on Edgar’s side. If you don’t mind steroids, then we’ve lost the chance to elect McGwire (who is a borderliner for me), while Sheffield and Sosa (the latter also a border guy in my book) are obviously not making it. Bonds and Clemens seem like lame ducks, and Manny Ramirez is probably 50/50 to wash out on the first ballot. Too many excellent candidates (with or even sans steroids), too little time, too little space, and too many underinformed, vindictive, or unreasoning voters.
It’s the perfect sh*tstorm, and it’s not going away if something doesn’t change. No matter how much we talk about its being over.