A First Look at the Hall of Fame Ballot

Once again, we find ourselves approaching the Hall of Fame debate season. As has been the case over the past few years, a collection of strong candidates returns to the ballot after having received the minimum 5% of votes required to remain. Those holdovers will be fighting against a new class headed by Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, and Ivan Rodriguez. As usual, there are a host of other, newer candidates unlikely to see a second vote. Last year, Jim Edmonds fell off the ballot in his first try to reach the minimum threshold. Unlike last year, however, this year’s most deserving candidates are all likely to remain eligible going forward.

This year’s list is awash with hitters; the only newcomers on the ballot who made their living on the mound are Arthur Rhodes and Tim Wakefield. Before getting to the better candidates, let’s take a quick look at the players who failed to reach the 30 WAR mark over the course of their careers. These players aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. All of them played at least 10 years in the majors. That said, their careers aren’t worthy of serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. The numbers below include career WAR, HOF points and HOF Rating. An explanation of the latter two metrics can be found here. Briefly put, however, the numbers represent an attempt (like Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system) to account simultaneously for a player’s peak and overall production.

2017 HOF Ballot: Under 30 WAR
Tim Wakefield 4 27.5 15.8
Melvin Mora 15 27.3 21.2
Carlos Guillen 11 25.4 18.2
Orlando Cabrera 10 24.6 17.3
Jason Varitek 7 24.3 15.7
Casey Blake 8 22.3 15.2
Pat Burrell 7 19.0 13.0
Arthur Rhodes 3 17.6 10.3
Freddy Sanchez 6 15.7 10.9
Matt Stairs 2 12.3 7.2

I haven’t bothered to include the Points and Rating scores that generally serve as the thresholds for entry into the Hall of Fame — I’ll do that below. What’s relevant for now is that none of the players listed here approach those thresholds. Again: all great players, just unlikely Hall of Famers.

The next group of players all had their moments, but fall a bit short of serious consideration. For these players, I’m adding a bit more information. In addition to WAR and HOF Rating information, I have included the average and median marks for the Hall of Famers at each player’s corresponding position. I’ve also made a distinction between all Hall of Famers and those voted in by the writers. The writers have traditionally exhibited tougher standards for inclusion, while the former group includes Veterans Committee selections, etc. I’ve also included the JAWS rating for each player, which uses the Baseball-Reference version of WAR (bWAR) and helped to serve as the foundation for my system.

2017 HOF Ballot: Good But Not Great
M Cameron 27 50.7 38.9 64.6 49.2 92.1 77.1 39.5 57.8
JD Drew 28 45.9 37.0 63.1 51.5 85.0 71.8 38.5 58.1
M Ordonez 22 36.6 29.3 63.1 51.5 85.0 71.8 35.2 58.1
E Renteria 16 35.2 25.6 55.0 52.5 62.0 57.8 28.8 54.7
D Lee 14 34.5 24.3 58.4 57.0 65.8 57.1 30.7 54.2

As we can see, this is a strong group of players. Only 418 position players recorded a higher career WAR figure than Derrek Lee. Only 218 exceeded J.D. Drew’s career mark, and only 175 fared better than Mike Cameron. That’s pretty good company to keep, but none of these players are likely to elicit much attention for the Hall of Fame. Mike Cameron would have the best shot; however, outside of the unusual circumstances that facilitated Kirby Puckett‘s induction, it’s been incredibly difficult for center fielders to garner votes. Jim Edmonds’ departure from the ballot last year is an example of that, as was Kenny Lofton’s very brief run of eligibility before that.

If there’s a candidate for receiving too little consideration to remain on the ballot — but who also probably deserves a longer look — it’s Jorge Posada. Here are his credentials, compared to the relevant baselines:

2017 HOF Ballot: Jorge Posada
26 44.3 35.2 40.0 38.6 48.5 49.9 37.7 43.4

The only catcher to record a lower HOF rating than Posada and then subsequently enter the Hall with the benefit of the writers’ vote is Roy Campanella. Campanella’s a special case, of course: not only was his MLB debut delayed until age 26 because of the color barrier, but then his career was cut short when he was paralyzed in a car accident. As a result, he doesn’t make a fitting comp for Posada, who comes up short of the standards typically used by the writers for other catchers.

That said, his career is comparable to Buck Ewing‘s, and better than Roger Bresnahan‘s, Rick Ferrell‘s, Ernie Lombardi‘s, Ray Schalk’s — all of whom are in the Hall. On the other hand, he’s also some distance behind Ted Simmons, who’s not in the Hall, is even with Joe Mauer, and only slightly ahead of Bill Freehan, Thurman Munson (who would have also received special consideration, given his untimely death), and Gene Tenace. Given that company, Posada is your typical Hall of Very Good candidate. He probably deserves a decent look on the ballot, but it wouldn’t be an injustice were he to fall off, especially with the currently crowded ballot situation.

The newcomer most deserving on the ballot this year is also a catcher. Ivan Rodriguez should be a no-doubt Hall of Famer. He might not be Johnny Bench or Gary Carter, but his statistical case is similar to Mike Piazza‘s — and is superior to Yogi Berra and Carlton Fisk’s.

2017 HOF Ballot: Ivan Rodriguez
40 68.9 54.5 40.0 38.6 48.5 49.9 54 43.4

It took Piazza four years on the ballot despite his great career for “reasons,” and it’s possible the same will hold true for Rodriguez. Given Rodriguez’s lengthy career as an above-average hitter — along with his receipt of the MVP award and a sterling reputation behind the plate that netted him 13 Gold Gloves — any reason for leaving Rodriguez off the ballot has nothing to do with his on-field career.

The other potential Hall of Famers new to the ballot this year were both corner outfielders — both great at the plate with differing reputations out in the field. Vladimir Guerrero played his first full season at age 23 and was an instant star, putting up a 146 wRC+ and 50.2 WAR over the next 10 years. Unfortunately for Guerrero, those years comprise almost all of his useful seasons, as he produced just four wins the rest of his career. His numbers fall a bit short of the average Hall of Fame right fielder’s and well short of the standard the writers have set.

2017 HOF Ballot: Vladimir Guerrero
33 54.4 43.7 63.1 51.5 85.0 71.8 50.2 58.1

The lowest HOF Rating recorded by a right fielder whom the writers inducted by themselves was Dave Winfield’s 45.0 mark. Guerrero is ahead of guys like Kiki Cuyler, Enos Slaughter, and half a dozen other right fielders in the Hall — and the voters did elect Jim Rice, who wasn’t as good as Guerrero.

That said, Guerrero’s case also isn’t as strong as Larry Walker’s, who can’t seem to make inroads with the writers. He’s also behind both Bobby Bonds, Dwight and Darrell Evans, and Brian Giles. Paul Swydan took an interesting look at his candidacy earlier this year. For most of us, it’s easy to remember Vlad’s greatness, because it occurred only around a decade ago, but it might be clouding our memories a bit because he was pretty much done as an effective player by age 33. He had six seasons above four WAR and three above six WAR, which is really, really good, but historically, the Hall of Fame has had higher standards.

The last newcomer is one of the greatest hitters of all time. Manny Ramirez ended his career with a 153 wRC+, the same as Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson and future Hall of Famers Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. His 555 homers put him between Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt on the all-time list. Sure, he was terrible on defense at a position where the standard is low — only Gary Sheffield has recorded more runs below average on defense than Ramirez’s 277 — but, in spite of those defensive numbers, Ramirez still put up Hall of Fame WAR numbers.

2017 HOF Ballot: Manny Ramirez
37 66.4 51.7 55.7 49.7 63.6 51.1 54.6 53.3

Ramirez’s HOF Rating at 51.7 is bascially right at the median for left fielders voted into the Hall by the writers. Ramirez fits neatly between Billy Williams and Willie Stargell. Of course, he also fits in pretty well with Gary Sheffield, and Sheffield isn’t in the Hall. If writers are looking only at on-field accomplishments, it should be a yes for Ramirez, although positive PED tests are likely to hurt him in the voting.

Based on this review, holdovers should be pretty pleased with the incoming group. There’s only one no-doubter in Rodriguez, one should-be-in player in Ramirez, and only two other players worthy of serious consideration. The writers got two names off the ballot last year in Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza. With Mark McGwire and Alan Trammell aging off the ballot, it should be slightly less congested. I say “slightly,” though, as there are still quite a few holdovers worthy of induction.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Pirates Hurdles
7 years ago

I think Pudge and ManRam are great test cases for the logic of the BBWA. Both have steroid backgrounds, but are not villified as much as the Bonds, Clemens, McGwire group. How can you vote in ManRam but not Bonds? Its going to be interesting.

Anthony Calamis
7 years ago

Manny isn’t going to be voted in, so there won’t be a worry there. Any Manny vote has *got* to have Bonds on their ballot. Manny actually failed a pair of tests and was implicated (though the testing was fishy back then) in that ’03 list.

If I had to guess, I’d say I-Rod hauls in over 60% of the vote, Bonds and Clemens near 50%, but Manny falls under 15%, maybe even 10%. Manny is gonna poll much more like McGwire, Sosa, Sheffield than Bonds or Clemens (or Bagwell or Piazza or I-Rod).

OddBall Herrera
7 years ago

I suspect you are right in line with what Ramirez will get. Look at Palmeiro and McGwire, both had comparable career WAR totals to Ramirez and McGwire topped out at < 25%. Bonds, A-Rod and Clemens are a little different, because those guys have an argument for being historic level talents with or without PEDs. Ramirez is not in that tier.

7 years ago

Pretty big difference there – Manny failed 2 tests and was suspended from baseball for PED use, whereas Pudge is a player, like Piazza and Bagwell, whose career was/is dogged by rumors with no actual proof.

7 years ago

I think the bigger test case this year will be how the Veteran’s Committee votes on McGwire.