A Candidate-by-Candidate Look at the 2021 Hall of Fame Election Results

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

The surge via which the Baseball Writers Association of America elected a record 22 Hall of Fame candidates over a seven-year span is over, as the voters pitched a shutout on Tuesday, their second in the past decade, fourth since the return to annual balloting in 1966, and ninth since the Hall’s inception in 1936. Collectively the 401 voters who participated showed enough ambivalence towards the top four returning candidates — Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Omar Vizquel, all of whom have non-performance-related marks against them that were increasingly aired during the cycle — to keep them on the outside looking in, and that ambivalence spilled over to the other 21 candidates on the slate. The 5.87 votes per ballot was the lowest average since 2012, and the 14 blank ballots sent in was a record.

There’s more than just the top-line results to chew on, however, so as promised, here’s my candidate-by-candidate breakdown of the entire slate.

A.J. Burnett, Michael Cuddyer, Dan Haren, Nick Swisher, Shane Victorino (1st year on ballot, 0.0%)

There’s no shame in being shut out on a Hall of Fame ballot. The check box next to these players’ names is the reward for their unique, impressive careers, and with every year that I do this, my appreciation for the endurance, perseverance, and good luck it takes just to get to this point grows. As Vin Scully liked to remind viewers, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Barry Zito (1st year on ballot, 0.2%)

The only newcomer to the 2021 ballot who won a major award, Zito, the AL’s 2002 Cy Young winner, received a single courtesy vote from an as-yet-unidentified writer. Once upon a time, before ballots were so overrun that even deserving candidates like Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds fell victim to the Five Percent Rule, this was a common and widely-accepted gesture.

LaTroy Hawkins (1st, 0.5%)

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale was one of two voters to include Hawkins, recalling how he felt as a young writer when Hal McRae was shut out of the voting in 1993. “There was no player I respected and admired more as a young beat reporter covering the Kansas City Royals than McRae,” he wrote. “I vowed that if a time ever came again that someone meant that much to me and was that respected by his teammates, peers, coaches, managers, and yes, writers, I would vote for him — no matter how his numbers looked on a Hall of Fame ballot.”

Indeed, Hawkins has a near-sterling reputation within the game, and such was his staying power that he spent 21 years in the majors with 11 different teams, making more pitching appearances than all but nine hurlers. Again, no harm, no foul, particularly when the courtesy vote comes with a coherent explanation.

Aramis Ramirez (1st, 1.0%)

The only one of the four votes who published a ballot that included Ramirez did so anonymously, well before the Hawkins and Zito support came to light — perhaps out of fear of the criticism they would receive. Better to own that vote, like Nightengale did.

Tim Hudson (1st, 5.2%)

Zito didn’t make the cut, but the ballot’s other member of the A’s Moneyball-era Big Three did, by exactly one vote, that after finishing at 3.4% in the ballots published via Ryan Thibodaux’s indispensable Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker prior to the announcement of the results. While I do think that we should loosen the standards a bit when it comest to starting pitching and hope to have something JAWS-related on the subject in the not-too-distant future, I also think that the line is still above the ballot’s trio of Hudson (84th in JAWS), Mark Buehrle (90th), and Andy Pettitte (91st). That said, among the trio’s supporters in the Tracker are two longtime pals, my former Baseball Prospectus colleague Christina Kahrl as well as the man who helped turn JAWS from an obscurity to an election-season staple, Baseball-Reference’s Sean Forman. I’ll have to pick their brains to see what swayed them on these pitchers, hopefully over an adult beverage in safer times.

Bobby Abreu (2nd, 8.7%, up 3.2%)

After making the cut with just two votes to spare, Abreu’s share inched upwards, but he’s still in no-mans land as far as precedents for election by the writers given his low share. I was one of the voters who gave him a boost; in comparing him to two of the ballot’s other current right fielders (Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa) and the recently-elected Vladimir Guerrero, he stacks up as the best all-around player, and I had room on my ballot to reward him for that.

Torii Hunter (1st, 9.5%)

Hunter more than doubled his support from the 4.4% that was in the Tracker pre-announcement, so his candidacy will proceed. I don’t foresee a Scott Rolen-like rise — the third baseman debuted with 10.2% in 2017 and rose to 52.9% this time around — because the defensive metrics don’t back Hunter’s nine Gold Gloves the way they do Rolen’s eight. That said, the conditions are much more favorable for Hunter than they were for another lean-year candidate who comes to mind: Bernie Williams, whose 9.6% made him the only debutant on the 2012 ballot to survive. He crashed to 3.3% in The Great Candidate Flood of 2013; Hunter should have smoother sailing ahead even if he only lingers at the bottom of the ballot.

Mark Buehrle (1st, 11.0%)

Buehrle received the highest share of any of the first-year candidates, which isn’t saying much except that he does have some breathing room as far as sticking around. He gained substantial support from the Chicago market; a quick-and-dirty scan of the Tracker tells me that at least eight of the 18 public votes for Buehrle thus far came either from Windy City-affiliated writers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

If you’re holding out hope for Buehrle’s election, thus far the lowest first-year shares by modern-era candidates (1966 onward) elected by the writers are those of Bert Blyleven (17.0%) from the period when candidates had 15 years of eligibility, and Larry Walker (20.3%) from when their window was cut to 10 years.

Andy Pettitte (3rd, 13.7%, up 2.4%)

A similar scan tells me that nine of the 34 votes logged for Pettitte in the Tracker thus far can be trace to the Tri-State area, but I may be undercounting when it comes to past affiliations. Anyway, Pettitte has gained fewer than five points in two cycles since debuting, and while he appears to have enough support to persist on the ballot, he’s not making significant headway, as whatever benefit he gains from his big postseason numbers is offset by his appearance in the Mitchell Report.

Sammy Sosa (9th, 17.0%, up 3.1%)

Slammin’ Sammy will complete his full 10-year tenure on the ballot, though of course it’s worth recognizing that the change from 15 years to 10 that was put in place by the Hall in 2014 was in direct reaction to the prospect of PED-linked candidates gaining entry and dominating the election-season conversation until they do. They’re still 0-fer when it comes to players linked to the 2003 survey test, the Mitchell Report, or MLB disciplinary action, but on the other hand, we’re still talking about all of this, and we might have at least another decade of such debates if Alex Rodriguez, who becomes eligible next year, similarly completes his 10-year run without reaching 75%.

Manny Ramírez (5th, 28.2%, down -0.0003%)

Ramirez’s vote total was one higher than last year, but with four more ballots, he slipped infinitesimally, technically making him the only candidate besides Vizquel to lose ground.

Jeff Kent (8th, 32.4%, up 4.9%)

Kent broke 30% for the first time, a year after breaking 20% for the first time. That’s not nothing. Of the 32 candidates who received vote shares in the 30-35% range since 1966 and either weren’t elected by the writers or aren’t still on the ballot, 17 were eventually elected by a Veterans or Era Committee. For a candidate whose case appeals more via traditional stats — most homers by a second baseman, et cetera — than advanced ones, that bodes reasonably well for Kent.

Andruw Jones (4th, 33.9%, up 14.5%)

The candidacy of the 10-time Gold Glove winner Jones is in even better shape than that of Kent after back-to-back years of double-digit gains, including the fourth-largest of this cycle; two years ago, he was at just 7.5%. After benefitting from the ballot’s traffic thinning out, he’s only a little bit behind where Edgar Martinez (35.9%) and Tim Raines (37.5%) were through the fourth year of their 10-year candidacies, but well ahead of Walker (10.2%), with 15-year window candidates Blyleven, Duke Snider, and Bruce Sutter in the 23-28% range through four years as well. In other words, Jones has a chance to be elected by the writers eventually, and probably even a stronger one of being elected by committee.

Gary Sheffield (7th, 40.6%, up 10.1%)

Shef couldn’t match last year’s 16.9% gain, but he still made the cycle’s fifth-largest jump and has essentially tripled his support in a two-year span. He should benefit from next year’s arrival of David Ortiz; the pair have comparatively minor PED-related dings that involve some level of deniability (you’ll have to dig those out of my previously published pieces for reasons of space here), and similar OPS+ (140 to Big Papi’s 141) across 10,000+ PA, but Sheffield has the higher WAR even with the lousy defense (60.5 to 55.3). Of course, Ortiz has the postseason edge and the ambassador-type stuff, which could speed his entry, but based on where Raines (46.1%), Martinez (43.4%), and Walker (22.0%) were through seven years, I now think that Sheffield has a real shot at a 10th-year election, and if not that, then via an Era Committee.

Todd Helton (3rd, 44.9%, up 15.7%)

Benefitting from the election of Walker, his former teammate in Colorado, Helton posted the ballot’s second-largest gain, and like Jones and Sheffield, his second double-digit one in a row. He’s not only ahead of where Raines/Martinez/Walker were through year three — Martinez’s 36.5% was the high score — but he’s ahead of the pace of Mike Mussina, who polled 43.0% and was elected three years later. Time is on Helton’s side, at least if he can avoid further trouble involving alcohol and motor vehicles.

Billy Wagner (6th, 46.4%, up 14.7%)

Like Sheffield, Wagner has nearly tripled his support in a two-year span, posting back-to-back gains of 15.0% and 14.7%, the latter of which was the third-largest of this cycle. He’s much closer to where Raines was after six (52.2%) than Martinez (27.0%), and nearing the high-water mark of committee-elected closer Lee Smith (50.6% in year nine). With the caveat that there’s a knee-jerk resistance built into a segment of the BBWAA electorate when it comes to relievers, I think Billy Wags is on the path to election in year nine or 10, and if not that, via committee.

Omar Vizquel (4th, 49.1%, down 3.5%)

Vizquel was the cycle’s big loser in terms of vote share, and probably would have fallen further if not for the fact that many writers had already sent off their ballots by the time the in depth report by The Athletic’s Katie Strang and Ken Rosenthal landed on December 16, following up allegations Blanca Vizquel made via Instagram in October. The Athletic’s report alleged that Vizquel committed multiple acts of domestic violence, and found substantial documentation including police reports of both a 2011 incident predating their marriage and a 2016 one for which he was arrested and under MLB policy was placed on a “treatment plan” while instructed to “cease and desist from any hostile or threatening contact” with Blanca. MLB’s investigation in connection with the latter incident is still open, and Vizquel, who is currently not employed by a team, could face discipline under the league’s policy if he were to be hired.

Vizquel’s previous climb to 52.6% through the first three years of his candidacy owed something to the perception of his character as a positive, but these allegations threaten if not demolish that perception. Beyond that, we’re in uncharted territory here as far as Hall of Fame candidacies go, but it’s clear at least some portion of the electorate has weighed the news heavily even while giving less weight to allegations against other candidates (Jones, Sosa, Manny Ramirez, and Barry Bonds) from the more distant past. Simply looking at the data from the Tracker team, of the 42 ballots published through December 15, 52.4% included Vizquel, which means that of the other 140 that came in prior to election — and here I’m excluding the anonymous ones in both samples — only 37.9% included him.

Scott Rolen (4th, 52.9%, up 17.6%)

The most positive story from this year’s election cycle is the gain of Rolen, who crossed the all-important 50% threshold, which very strongly portends future election, Gil Hodges and this ballot’s more controversial characters excepted. As noted, he debuted with just 10.2% of the vote, and is now on the modern voting era leaderboards for both two-year and three-year gains:

Largest 2-Year Gains on BBWAA Ballot Since 1968
Rk Player Yr0 Pct0 Yr2 Pct2 Gain
1 Luis Aparicio 1982 41.9% 1984 84.6% 42.7%
2 Larry Walker 2018 34.1% 2020 76.6% 42.5%
3 Early Wynn 1969 27.9% 1971 66.7% 38.8%
4 Scott Rolen 2019 17.2% 2021 52.9% 35.7%
5 Barry Larkin 2010 51.6% 2012 86.4% 34.8%
6 Gary Carter 1999 33.8% 2001 64.9% 31.1%
7 Eddie Mathews 1976 48.7% 1978 79.4% 30.7%
8 Luis Aparicio 1981 36.9% 1983 67.4% 30.5%
9 Don Drysdale 1975 21.0% 1977 51.4% 30.4%
10 Nellie Fox 1982 30.6% 1984 61.0% 30.4%
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Largest 3-Year Gains on BBWAA Ballot Since 1969
Rk Player Yr0 Pct0 Yr3 Pct3 Gain
1 Larry Walker 2017 21.9% 2020 76.6% 54.7%
2 Early Wynn 1969 27.9% 1972 76.0% 48.1%
3 Luis Aparicio 1981 36.9% 1984 84.6% 47.7%
4 Nellie Fox 1982 30.6% 1985 74.7% 44.1%
5 Scott Rolen 2018 10.2% 2021 52.9% 42.7%
6 Billy Williams 1982 23.4% 1985 63.8% 40.4%
7 Gary Carter 1999 33.8% 2002 72.7% 38.9%
8 Eddie Mathews 1975 40.9% 1978 79.4% 38.5%
9 Don Drysdale 1975 21.0% 1978 57.8% 36.8%
10 Billy Williams 1984 50.1% 1987 85.7% 35.6%
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Everybody from both of those tables, which mostly overlap, is enshrined except for Rolen, with Fox the only one who wasn’t elected by the writers. In terms of history within the period of the 10-year eligibility window, Rolen is in the vicinity of Mussina (51.8%) and Jeff Bagwell (54.3%); the former needed just two more years to gain entry, the latter three. Rolen is going to be on that podium behind Cooperstown’s Clark Sports Center soon.

Roger Clemens (9th, 61.6%, up 0.6%), Barry Bonds (9th, 61.8%, up 1.1%)

That’s a gain of 7.5% over the past four cycles for the former, and 8.0% over that same stretch for the latter. In the immediate aftermath of the election, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser interviewed me for a piece regarding the pair’s election prospects, and my words there will do to sum up the gruesome twosome’s plight:

“My conclusion is that there is a large enough opposition to run out the clock against them. Maybe there are few voters out there holding out for next year as a punishment, but I’m skeptical it’s a sizable enough number to change the outcome. People aren’t flipping their votes on them. The opposition is entrenched.”

“[The arrivals of Rodriguez and Ortiz are] going to produce some pretty crazy gerrymandering of logic to justify voting only for Ortiz, which is the sense I get could happen. Next year is going to be the weirdest ballot ever. All bets are off…

“Never say never, but… I think it’s going to take 20 years and a shift in our historical thinking and the committee voters for [their election] to happen.”

Curt Schilling (9th, 71.1%, up 1.1%)

As I noted numerous times in the past year, 20 out of 21 previous modern era candidates who received at least 70% but less than 75% and still had eligibility remaining were elected the following year. That should actually have been 20 out of 22 because Jim Bunning should have been counted twice, and now it’s 20 out of 23, as Schilling joins Bunning in that ignominious distinction. While somebody out there is certain to draw a connection between the two pitchers’ politics (Bunning, a Republican, represented Kentucky for 12 years apiece in the House of Representatives and the Senate from 1987 to 2011), I have yet to find any record of his doing anything that would particularly rankle Hall voters to the point of focusing on character the way that Schilling’s words and actions have.

Within Tuesday’s MLB Network coverage, I did learn that after Bunning received 70.0% in 1987, nine voters (out of 427) sent in blank ballots in ’88 as part of a protest by some writers against the general quality of the candidates. “I felt nobody on that ballot represented true greatness,” the New York Daily News‘ Bill Madden said at the time. “A lot of players represented pretty good or very good, not great. Willie Stargell (the only player elected) was very good. The Hall of Fame is for great.”

Stargell, who hit 475 home runs, played a key part on two World Series winners, and was co-MVP in 1979, is a bit short in JAWS but Hall-solid in terms of traditional accomplishments. Madden was in the minority, as Stargell was elected with 82.4%. Bunning, who went 224-184 with a 3.27 ERA and 2,885 strikeouts in his career, retiring with the second-highest total behind Walter Johnson, fell four votes short that year, finishing at 74.2%. The next year, with near-automatic first ballot candidates Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski both hitting the ballot, Bunning sank to 63.3%. After that, he was lost in the shuffle, as first-year candidates Jim Palmer and Joe Morgan were elected in 1990, with Rod Carew and third-year candidates Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins, both with better numbers than Bunning, elected in ’91, Bunning’s final year on the ballot. He finally gained entry via the Veterans Committee in 1996.

In the wake of Tuesday’s results, Schilling — who missed election by 16 votes — publicly expressed a desire for a similar fate. His request, however, is a bald-faced attempt to avoid the consequences of his behavior (which lately has included spouting election conspiracy theories and supporting the January 6 insurrection, and oy, there are receipts for those and so much more):

While Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark told USA Today on Tuesday that the Board of Directors would consider Schilling’s request, the BBWAA does not believe that should be allowed. From a statement by longtime BBWAA secretary Jack O’Connell:

“It is the position of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America that Mr. Schilling’s request to remove himself from the ballot is a violation of the rules set forth by the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s board of directors, who have commissioned the BBWAA to conduct the annual elections, specifically the following:

“The duty of the Screening Committee (for the writers’ ballot) shall be to prepare a ballot listing in alphabetical order eligible candidates who (1) received a vote on a minimum of five percent (5%) of the ballots cast in the preceding election or (2) are eligible for the first time and are nominated by any two of the six members of the BBWAA Screening Committee.

“Mr. Schilling has fulfilled both of those requirements and should remain on the ballot for consideration by the voting body for what would be his final year on the BBWAA ballot in 2022.

“The Hall of Fame assigned the BBWAA to be the electorate in 1936. This association has abided by the rules for 85 years and shall continue to do so. The BBWAA urges the board to reject Mr. Schilling’s request.”

Obviously, we haven’t heard the last of this matter. And you haven’t heard the last from me on the 2021 election. I’ll be back with my five-year electoral outlook on Monday.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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3 years ago

Is it gerrymandering of logic just to believe that there is enough evidence that Bonds, Clemens, and Rodriguez used PEDs and not enough evidence that Ortiz did?

Smiling Politelymember
3 years ago
Reply to  springer

It’s Boston, my friend

3 years ago
Reply to  springer

The evidence against Bonds, Clemens and Rodriguez is much stronger than it is for Ortiz. We know all kinds of details about each of those three and all we know for Ortiz is that someone leaked his name to the NYT.

Snooty Babitt
3 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

No, we know Ortiz tested positive. In his own statement immediately following the leak he state the Players Union confirm the leak was true:

“Today I was informed by a reporter that I was on the 2003 list of MLB players to test positive for performance-enhancing substances. This happened right before our game, and the news blind sided me. I said I had no comment because I wanted to get to the bottom of this. I want to talk about this situation and I will as soon as I have more answers. In the meantime I want to let you know how I am approaching this situation. One, I have already contacted the Players Association to confirm if this report is true. I have just been told that the report is true.”

Do with that what you want, but he has a positive test on his record.

3 years ago
Reply to  Snooty Babitt

I suppose, but that level of detail is on a whole different level than having Bonds or Rodriguez’s doping calendars.

3 years ago
Reply to  Snooty Babitt

So you’re ignoring the fact that MLB says that about 10% of the names on the list were erroneous?

David Ortiz didn’t admit to doing PEDs. He admitted that his name was on a list.

3 years ago
Reply to  tomerafan

Bonds didn’t admit it either.

OddBall Herrera
3 years ago
Reply to  tomerafan

Ortiz is also a below fringe candidate even *without* PEDs on the scale. So what is he plus those suspicions?

3 years ago

A fringe candidate – by the numbers.

But his chances for election have always been about more than the numbers. He has narrative, and avuncular charm, and a cool nickname…

Never mind that I think those things shouldn’t matter, but they clearly do to much of the electorate.

So it’s a silly question to consider, but I think what’s going to tip the scale is how much the PEDs hurt his “lovable guy with the big smile” bonus.

Curacao LL
3 years ago

He’s fringe-minus by the numbers… until Harold Baines got in.
How much does Baines move the measuring tape?

3 years ago
Reply to  Curacao LL

The problem—and the reason Baines shouldn’t have been elected—is that dozens of guys are on the other side of the Baines-line on the tape. Superstars like Ken Singleton, Dwight Evans, Reggie Smith, Mike Cameron who no one wants in the HOF all had better careers than Harold Baines.

3 years ago
Reply to  Snooty Babitt

What did Ortiz test positive for?

Left of Centerfield
3 years ago
Reply to  szstein

Was never revealed.

3 years ago

Seems like if they’re gonna hold it against you, they should say what it is.

Left of Centerfield
3 years ago
Reply to  szstein

The tests were destroyed so there’s now no way of knowing. Nor is there any way of knowing if he was one of the false positives.

3 years ago
Reply to  szstein

I think it’s fair to presume it was the least “bad” thing that would be considered a positive test and work from there. I’m not sure it would really move the needle for anyone if it were one type of PED versus another.

Dan Greermember
3 years ago
Reply to  Snooty Babitt

Wasn’t Helton also on that leaked list, along with Pedro Martinez, Robbie Alomar, and Adrian Beltre?


Either the list that was made public is thought to lack in credibility, or there’s an exercise in cognitive dissonance going on. Personally, I think this list could actually be legit.

3 years ago
Reply to  springer

Thanks for sharing this information