The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 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. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.
It would be inaccurate to say that in the months from November through January, I spend hours a day simply refreshing and reloading the Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker. On the advice of my doctor, I’ve cut down to an hour a day, tops, and besides, I’ve got spreadsheets of my own that get jealous of how I spend my time. My voting results sheet, which has every candidate’s year-by-year progress since 1966, is a particular favorite. With my profiles of all 35 candidates on this year’s ballot complete, it’s time to think about what these two particular spreadsheets are telling us right now, particularly with regards to two candidates: Larry Walker and Mike Mussina.
First, let’s look at the Tracker, where a total of 162 ballots — an estimated 39.3% of the electorate — had been published as of the wee hours of Thursday morning.
|Player||2019 Pre||2018 Pre||Dif||2018 Final||Dif|
That’s everybody who’s received a vote this year. For the purposes of comparison, I’ve included their 2018 pre-election published results (which included 247 ballots, meaning that we can probably expect a whole lot more to pour in before this year’s results are announced on January 22) and the year-to-year difference to this point. I’ve also included their 2018 actual vote shares as well as the difference between those numbers and the current Tracker results.
Right now, it appears that we’ll have either a three- or four-man class, with the suspense centering around whether Mussina can stay above 75%. There’s suspense as to whether Rivera can stay at 100%, too, but it seems quite probable that as with Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016, any dissenting ballots will be anonymous. One need only look at the baseball world’s over-the-top reaction to Worcester Telegram writer Bill Ballou’s non-vote to understand why. His comparison of Rivera to NFL placekicker Adam Vinateri may have caused some eye rolling, but it’s hardly a surprise to find somebody within the BBWAA electorate who is philosophically opposed to including any relievers, even great ones.
Right now, five candidates have public vote shares at least 10 points higher than last year’s public final, with Walker leading the way by a country mile. Indeed, his share raises the question not only of the largest year-to-year jumps we’ve seen but whether the 2014 rule change truncating candidacies from 15 years to 10 has increased the frequency of such jumps.
It certainly feels that way. I explored the topic of big jumps three years ago at SI.com, but we now have four years worth of results in the era of 10-year candidacies. We also know that voters have set and broken modern records for names per ballot; last year’s average of 8.46 was the post-1966 high-water mark, eclipsing 2014 (8.39) and 2015 (8.42). That’s led to the elections of 16 players by the writers over the past five years, also a record.
So between that changing landscape and Walker’s big number above, the subject is worth another look. First off, here are the top 20 year-to-year gains since the voters returned to annual balloting in 1966:
Guerrero is the only newcomer to that table since the change in ballot tenures, but elsewhere within the top 40 are Tim Raines (25th with 16.2% gained from 2016 to 2017), Martinez (34th with 15.2% gained from 2016 to 2017), and Jeff Bagwell (38th with 14.6% gained from 2016 to 2017). Also above the 10-point threshold from recent years are the gains from 2017 to 2018 for both Walker (12.2%) and Martinez (11.8%), not to mention Curt Schilling (10.0% from 2014 to 2015). Note that the vast majority, but not all, of these guys — everybody with a starting point above 20% except Hodges — eventually wound up getting elected.
Let’s break this down:
|Gain||1967-2014||Per Yr||2015-2018||Per Yr|
Admittedly, we’re dealing with small sample sizes for the post-2014 period, but it doesn’t look like big gains have become significantly more common. Gains of at least 10 points have actually become slightly less common, though it’s worth noting that the difference comes down to Barry Bonds’ 9.5-point gain from 2016 to 2017 just missing my cutoff. If Walker gains 15 or 20 points, and if all five of the candidates who are up at least 10 points relative to last year hold onto their gains, those increased frequencies would start to stand out, but I don’t think we can make any strong assertions about this yet.
So let’s table that theory and focus on Walker, who in his ninth year on the ballot has already picked up 34 votes from people who did not include him last year, and has gone 5-for-7 among first-time voters. For starters, his current year-to-year gain on the public ballots would displace Aparicio atop the one-year table, which is pretty cool; if his final share is 59.7% or higher — and yes, that number is nearly unfathomable given where his candidacy has been — he’s the champion in this category. Checking in very quickly on a couple of close-at-hand projections, the model of Nathaniel Rakich (@baseballot), which is based upon multi-year public-versus-private voting splits, had Walker at 63% as of Tuesday, while the probabilistic model of Jason Sardell (@sarsdell) had him with a median of 57% as of the wee hours of Thursday morning.
At somewhere in the ballpark of 60%, Walker could also place high on the leaderboard for biggest gains over two or three cycles. Here are the top gains over a two-year span:
There’s a lot of crossover between that table and the biggest one-year gains, as you might expect. Eleven of the top 12 spots, and 15 of the 20, are names repeated from the previous table, some of them (Aparicio, Fox, Wynn) more than once, though the repeat appearances of Fox and Lemon have no connection to the gains from the first table. Everybody on that second table is in the Hall of Fame save for Martinez, who appears to be headed there, and Hodges, who always seems to wind up as the exception. If Walker were to get 60%, his two-year gain of 38.1% would rank third.
Onto the three-year gains:
Everyone’s a winner — all of those players are now Hall of Famers, so I excluded the key. Again, many of the same names are repeated from the previous table, some from within the same stretches. Note that the three-year gains aren’t that much larger than the two-year ones, because of the upper bound; cross 75% and you’re done, as three of the top five guys from the two-year gain table did. Again, taking 60% as a starting point for Walker, a three-year gain of 44.5% would rank third.
Would finishing at 60% give Walker a chance at reaching 75% in his final year? Going back to the modern history of one-year gains, there have been 36 such jumps, 12 of which carried a candidate across the finish line:
Of interest there is the fact that four such candidates were within 2.5 points of 60%, suggesting that yes, there’s a chance Walker could pull such a climb off, which would be be rather miraculous given that we’re talking about a player who was at 11.8% in 2015, halfway through his candidacy — or, more importantly, at 11.8% with just five cycles remaining. We haven’t seen anything like that, even given the trajectories of Wynn (who with exactly 300 wins was bound to gain entry sooner or later, slow start notwithstanding) and Aparicio.
Circling back to Mussina, who received 63.5% last year, in modern history there have been 82 candidates who gained at least 11.5 points from the previous year, with a total of 23 reaching 75% and thus gaining entry. I’ll skip the table for that; we already know that the Moose has an easier road ahead of him than Walker, particularly given that even if he falls short this year, he’s got four election cycles remaining, and virtually everybody above 70% (19 out of 20, as noted here) was elected the following year.
There’s more to be said about the potential elections of Mussina this year and Walker next, particularly when it comes to the minutiae and patterns within the Tracker. Towards that end, we’ll soon have a couple members of the Tracker troupe weighing in on such topics here at FanGraphs, but for now, the take-home message is that the general history of modern BBWAA voting tells us that it’s very possible we’ll see Mussina elected this year, thus creating the third four-man BBWAA class in five years (2015 and 2018 being the others), and that there really does appear to be a chance Walker is elected next year.
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. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.