A Glimmer of Hope for Scott Rolen and Todd Helton

USA TODAY Sports Copyright (c) 2007 Byron Hetzler

With only a few hours to go before the results of the BBWAA’s 2023 Hall of Fame balloting are announced, the widespread assumption is that the voters will pitch their second shutout in three years and their fifth since voters returned to annual balloting in 1966. Not only is there no slam-dunk candidate with the milestones and squeaky-clean reputation that portends a first-ballot election, or a returning candidate who’s the equivalent of a gimme putt away from 75%, but the highest share of the vote from among the 201 ballots published (just over half of the expected total) shows no candidate receiving more than 80.1%. Given that voters who don’t publish their ballots ahead of the announcements tend to be more conservative when filling them out, at best we’ve got a nail-biter ahead of us for the top two candidates. As of Monday evening, Jason Sardell, the top prognosticator for election results for three years running, forecast only about a 13% chance of a candidate being elected. He hasn’t updated the odds in the 21 hours since, which has added just 18 ballots to the pile, but I believe these will suffice:

If you’re looking for a glimmer of hope for Scott Rolen and Todd Helton, I do have one. Here’s a table showing all of the candidates who have received at least 70% via the pre-announcement ballots since 2014 (“The Tracker Era”):

Pre-Election Published Ballots vs. Final Results Since 2014
Player Year Public Pre Elected % of Ballots Change
Ken Griffey Jr. 2016 100.0% YES 99.3% -0.7%
Mariano Rivera 2019 100.0% YES 100.0% 0.0%
Derek Jeter 2020 100.0% YES 99.7% -0.3%
Greg Maddux 2014 99.5% YES 97.2% -2.3%
Randy Johnson 2015 98.5% YES 97.3% -1.2%
Chipper Jones 2018 98.4% YES 97.2% -1.2%
Pedro Martinez 2015 98.0% YES 91.1% -6.9%
Tom Glavine 2014 95.3% YES 91.9% -3.4%
Vladimir Guerrero 2018 94.8% YES 92.9% -1.9%
Jim Thome 2018 93.1% YES 89.8% -3.3%
Roy Halladay 2019 92.2% YES 85.4% -6.8%
Frank Thomas 2014 90.1% YES 83.7% -6.4%
Edgar Martinez 2019 89.7% YES 85.4% -4.3%
Tim Raines 2017 88.8% YES 86.0% -2.8%
Jeff Bagwell 2017 87.6% YES 86.2% -1.4%
John Smoltz 2015 87.1% YES 82.9% -4.2%
Mike Piazza 2016 86.3% YES 83.0% -3.3%
Craig Biggio 2015 84.2% YES 82.7% -1.5%
David Ortiz 2022 83.4% YES 77.9% -5.5%
Larry Walker 2020 83.2% YES 76.6% -6.6%
Mike Mussina 2019 81.5% YES 76.7% -4.8%
Scott Rolen 2023 80.1% ? ? ?
Ivan Rodriguez 2017 79.5% YES 76.0% -3.5%
Todd Helton 2023 78.6% ? ? ?
Trevor Hoffman 2018 78.2% YES 79.9% 1.7%
Craig Biggio 2014 78.0% NO 74.8% -3.2%
Jeff Bagwell 2016 77.7% NO 71.6% -6.1%
Barry Bonds 2022 77.6% NO 66.0% -11.6%
Edgar Martinez 2018 77.4% NO 70.4% -7.0%
Curt Schilling 2020 77.3% NO 70.0% -7.3%
Mike Piazza 2015 76.2% NO 69.9% -6.3%
Roger Clemens 2022 76.1% NO 65.2% -10.9%
Tim Raines 2016 75.4% NO 69.8% -5.6%
Curt Schilling 2021 74.1% NO 71.1% -3.0%
Barry Bonds 2021 73.7% NO 61.8% -11.9%
Roger Clemens 2021 73.2% NO 61.6% -11.6%
Trevor Hoffman 2017 72.7% NO 74.0% 1.3%
Vladimir Guerrero 2017 72.3% NO 71.7% -0.6%
Scot Rolen 2022 71.2% NO 63.2% -8.0%
Barry Bonds 2020 70.9% NO 60.7% -10.2%
Barry Bonds 2019 70.7% NO 59.1% -11.6%
Roger Clemens 2019 70.7% NO 59.5% -11.2%
Mike Mussina 2018 70.2% NO 63.5% -6.7%
Roger Clemens 2020 70.0% NO 61.0% -9.0%
2023 percentages based upon 199 ballots published.

As I noted in my election day preview, of the 14 candidates who received 75% to 85% via ballots published prior to the results, the average differential between those shares and their final results was a drop of 5.6% overall, and 4.4% once you exclude Bonds/Clemens/Schilling, whose baggage created a resistance to their candidacies that doesn’t apply to any of the others here.

While on the one hand just two out of 10 instances in which a candidate received less than 80% resulted in his election that year, the data has been consistent, in that everybody receiving 78.2% or higher has in fact ended up across the finish line. Sardell’s forecasting, which groups voters based upon the number of candidates they include and their electoral stance on PED users, is certainly more sophisticated than this quick-and-dirty table. But as we count down to the announcement, we at least know that there’s something to be said about the possibility of Fred McGriff having company in Cooperstown on July 23.

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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1 year ago

It still blows me away that there are voters who didn’t vote for Junior, Jeter, Maddux, Unit, Chipper, Pedro and Glavine. Every other name on that list I can get where some obstinate voter finds some stupid reason to not vote for the guy, but whatever your definition of great is, those 7 are undeniably great.

1 year ago
Reply to  Anon

Most of those were in years with significant ballot logjams, so there were likely a couple voters (at least in the cases of Glavine and Pedro) that left them off their ballots so they could vote for 10 other candidates whose electoral prospects would be affected by their vote. All those guys were effectively guaranteed first ballot induction, so a handful of voters using their vote to try and boost the candidacy of say, Carlos Delgado is understandable.

1 year ago
Reply to  Anon

All undeniably great. But Glavine doesn’t fit in with that group. He’s not a baseball immortal.

1 year ago
Reply to  sbf21

I don’t disagree with Glavine being in the Hall of Fame and so you could definitely call him an “immortal” in that sense. But there is a big, big difference between him and someone like Pedro or Greg Maddux or Randy Johnson.

Part of this is because his career overlapped with John Smoltz and Steve Avery and Greg Maddux but there was maybe one or two years of Glavine’s entire career where he was the best pitcher on his team, much less the league. Guys like Maddux and Randy Johnson (and if you look mostly at peak, Pedro too) are in the conversation for being the best pitcher of all time.