The Big Questions About the 2022 BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot

The polarizing debate over how Hall of Fame voters should handle candidates with connections to performance-enhancing drugs began in the wake of Rafael Palmeiro’s 2005 positive test, was amplified when Mark McGwire became eligible on the BBWAA ballot two years later, and reached a fever pitch when Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa joined the fray on the 2013 ballot. None of those candidates has been elected thus far despite numbers that once upon a time would have guaranteed them entry, and the cacophony and controversy has yet to abate. With Monday’s release of this year’s BBWAA ballot, the debate now enters a new phase, as both David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez are eligible for the first time in the same year that Bonds and Clemens have their last chance in front of the writers.

Here’s the full slate of 30 candidates, including those of 17 holdovers from last year’s slate, the first in which nobody was elected since that 2013 ballot, when Bonds and company debuted alongside the since-elected Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza and the long-lost Kenny Lofton. The newcomers are in italics:

Bobby Abreu, Barry Bonds, Mark Buehrle, Roger Clemens, Carl Crawford, Prince Fielder, Todd Helton, Ryan Howard, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Tim Lincecum, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan, David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Jake Peavy, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Pierzynski, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Scott Rolen, Jimmy Rollins, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Mark Teixeira, Omar Vizquel, and Billy Wagner.

Rodriguez hit 696 home runs, collected 3,115 hits, made 14 All-Star teams and won three MVP awards, yet in 2009, Sports Illustrated reported that he was roughly one of 100 players who failed the supposedly anonymous survey test from ’03. Since that test carried no penalty, he wasn’t disciplined at the time, but he missed the entire 2014 season due to a suspension for PEDs obtained via the Biogenesis clinic. Ortiz hit 541 home runs, made 10 All-Star teams, and helped the Red Sox to three World Series wins, producing some indelible postseason highlights along the way. But likewise with him, in 2009, The New York Times reported that both he and teammate Manny Ramirez had also failed the survey test. Both players will get some amount of support from voters, but like Bonds and Clemens, who respectively received 61.8% and 61.6% last year but have only gained about eight points over the last four cycles, they may have enough opposition to prevent their election.

Digging into the debate over whether any of them should be enshrined sounds like fun, doesn’t it? And that’s before considering the final-year fate of Curt Schilling, who added expressions of public support for the January 6 insurrection to an already-lengthy list that includes social media posts sharing Islamophobic and transphobic memes, support for the lynching of journalists, support for martial law, election-related conspiracy theories, and a comparison of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, to a Nazi. His support for the insurrection didn’t happen until after last year’s ballot deadline has passed, but reportedly, multiple voters who tabbed Schilling asked the Hall of Fame to rescind their votes for him. According to Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker team member Anthony Calamis, by the end of January 2021, 22 voters had publicly indicated that they would either withdraw their support from Schilling on the next ballot or at least consider doing so. Realizing that his electoral goose was cooked, Schilling took the unprecedented step of requesting his own removal from the ballot so as to avoid any accountability for his actions, but the BBWAA called that a violation of the election rules, and the Hall denied Schilling’s request. So he’s still around, like an unsightly stain in the carpet, but it seems unlikely he’ll add to last year’s 71.1%.

Then there are the multiple allegations related to fifth-year candidate Omar Vizquel, who entered last year’s cycle poised to build upon the 52.6% share he received on the 2020 ballot. In October 2020, his ex-wife Blanca posted an Instagram Live video in which she laid out allegations of domestic abuse, which were backed by the unearthing of records pertaining to his January 2016 arrest on charges of fourth-degree domestic assault, as well as her description of another incident of violence from 2011. Separately, in August of this year, a former batboy for the Birmingham Barons sued Vizquel for an incident of sexual harassment that took place in 2019 when he was managing the White Sox’s Double-A affiliate. The complaint stated that the manager “repeatedly exposed his erect penis to (the batboy) and forced (him) to wash his back in the shower.” An internal investigation led the team to terminate its relationship with Vizquel. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s own investigation determined that the former batboy, who is autistic, had been “subjected to sexual harassment and disability discrimination and that he was constructively discharged,” meaning that he resigned due to a hostile workplace environment.

If you’re getting the sense that this might not be the most fun Hall of Fame election cycle, particularly without any other first-year candidates with strong chances for immediate election, you’re probably right, and I can’t blame you for wanting to put the whole thing on mute. Particularly given the likelihood of official baseball business stopping in the near future due to a lockout, I don’t have that luxury, but I can also promise you that there are interesting aspects to this year’s election, including some encouraging trends that may eventually carry several mid-ballot candidates to election.

I’ll get to those, but first…

The Basics

To be eligible for election to the Hall of Fame via the BBWAA ballot, a candidate must have played in the majors for parts of 10 years (one game is sufficient to be counted as a year in this context), have been out of the majors for five years (the minors or foreign leagues don’t count), and then have been nominated by two members of the six-member BBWAA Screening Committee. Since the balloting is titled with respect to induction year, not the year of release, that means that this year’s newcomers last appeared in the majors in 2016. Each new candidate has 10 years of eligibility on the ballot, a reduction from the 15-year period that was in effect for several decades. The last candidate grandfathered into getting the full run was Lee Smith, whose eligibility expired in 2017; five current candidates (Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, Sosa, and Jeff Kent) had their tenures reduced mid-candidacy.

To be elected, a candidate must receive at least 75% of the ballots cast, and in this case, they don’t round up; 74.9% won’t cut it. Likewise, candidates who don’t receive at least 5% of the vote fall off the ballot and can then only be considered for election by the Today’s Game Era Committee, an entirely separate process — but not until what would have been their 10-year run of eligibility expires.

The voters, each of whom has been an active BBWAA member for 10 years and is no more than 10 years removed from active coverage, can list as many as 10 candidates on their ballots, a number that’s become a point of contention in recent years given the high volume of qualified candidates. In 2015, the Hall tabled a BBWAA proposal to expand to 12 slots (I was on the committee that recommended the change). Last year, the sixth since the Hall purged the rolls of voters more than 10 years removed from coverage, 401 ballots were cast, four more than in 2020 but 148 fewer than in 2015, the final cycle before the cutdowns. That’s a reduction of 27% over six years.

Ballots must be postmarked by December 31 (yes, the BBWAA still does this by mail). Voters may reveal their ballots prior to the announcement, as 47% of voters did last year; you can track the reported ballots via Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker if you want. Voters can also check a box on the ballot to authorize the publication of their choices via the BBWAA’s website two weeks after the election results are revealed; between that outlet and the Tracker, 83% of voters revealed their ballots in 2021, just shy of the record-setting level of 84.1% from the year before.

The results will be announced on MLB Network on January 25. Any players elected will join the Era Committee honorees — of which there will hopefully be some from the Early Baseball and Golden Days ballots — for the Induction Ceremony scheduled for July 24, 2022 on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York.

Between now and early January, I’ll profile all 30 candidates, either at length or in brief, examining their cases in light of my Jaffe WAR Score (JAWS) system, which I’ve used to break down Hall of Fame ballots in an annual tradition that’s now old enough to vote. The series debuted at Baseball Prospectus (2004–12 ballots), then moved to SI.com (2013–18 ballots), which provided me an opportunity to go into greater depth on each candidate, and in 2018, I brought the series to FanGraphs. Today I’ll offer a quick look at the biggest questions attached to this year’s election cycle.

What’s this about a shutout, again?

Last year was just the fourth time since 1966 that the writers failed to elect anyone; they also did so in ’71, ’96, and, as noted before, 2013. Mind you, each of those previous ballots included candidates who soon got to 75%, some of them just a year later (Yogi Berra and Early Wynn in 1972, Phil Niekro and Tony Perez in ’97) and some a bit further down the road. But due to a collective but temporary bout of stinginess on the part of voters, they dealt zeroes in those years.

Before 1966, the year that the writers returned to annual voting, shutouts weren’t uncommon, and they sometimes spurred the Hall to Do Something About It, which wasn’t always a great idea. In 1945, after nobody was elected (Frank Chance led with 72.5%), the Old Timers Committee elected 11 players from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Hall instructed BBWAA voters to switch from a triennial cycle (they had previously voted in 1939 and ’42) to an annual one. A year later, after another shutout (Chance led with 71.3%), they held a runoff among the top 21 candidates, but again nobody got to 75%; that led the OTC to elect 11 players, including Chance and his double play partners, Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers. When nobody got to 75% on the 1949, ’64 and ’67 ballots, run-off elections were held, where the top 30 candidates were voted upon a second time, with the highest vote-getter gaining entry, but no such rule was in place for the shutouts of ’58 and ’60, the last time the BBWAA went back-to-back with the goose eggs.

It seems quite possible that there will be another shutout this year. Fifteen years of voting precedent says that Rodriguez won’t be elected, as the writers have yet to tab anybody who has served a PED suspension. The waters are murkier when it comes to Ortiz; unlike Ramirez and Rodriguez, he was not subsequently suspended for an additional infraction, but that’s also true for Sosa, who’s nonetheless 0-for-9 thus far, with the report of his survey test failure his strongest link to PEDs.

On the other hand, during Ortiz’s farewell tour, commissioner Rob Manfred all but exonerated him, telling reporters at a Fenway Park press conference, “There were double digits of names — so, more than 10 — on that list where we (the MLB Players Association and the league office) knew that there were legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those were truly positives…. Back then, it was hard to distinguish between certain substances that were legal — available over the counter and not banned under our program — and certain banned substances.” Manfred has never said anything similar with regards to any of the other players identified as having failed the survey test.

Also in Ortiz’s favor is the 2019 election of Edgar Martinez, who took 72% of his career plate appearances as a designated hitter, the highest share of any player elected thus far. That may have opened voters’ minds to the possibility of electing Ortiz, who took 88% of his PA in that capacity. While he doesn’t measure up to Martinez in terms of WAR or JAWS due to his lack of any positive defensive contribution (Martinez was solid at third base), his home run total and lengthy postseason highlight reel bolster his candidacy.

Are there any other newcomers who have a chance at election?

While the list of additional newcomers includes multiple MVP and Cy Young winners — Howard, Morneau, and Rollins for the former, Lincecum (twice) and Peavy for the latter — none of the first-year candidates besides Ortiz and Rodriguez reached the hit, home run, or win milestones that tend to guarantee first-ballot election. Nor are any of them very close to the career WAR, peak WAR, or JAWS standards at their positions. But if they won’t gain entry this year, two players nonetheless strike me as having a chance to build support within longer timeframes.

Rollins has solid counting stats (2,455 hits, 231 homers, 470 stolen bases), four Gold Gloves, an MVP award and a championship ring, which might well be enough for some voters and is almost certain to keep him around on the ballot, probably with more support than the 9.5% that Torii Hunter received with similar middle-of-the-diamond credentials (sans hardware). Rollins’ 95 OPS+ and 40.1 JAWS (Hunter is at 40.7) makes him a harder sell for those more focused on advanced stats, even if he does outrank Vizquel.

With Wagner gaining traction, Nathan deserves a long look. Though not as dominant on a batter-for-batter basis (the lefty has the highest strikeout rate and lowest opponent batting average of any pitcher at that innings level), he was outstanding at run prevention and had a six-year stretch where he was every bit as good as Mariano Rivera. Wagner and Nathan score very similarly in the WAR-WPA-WPA/LI hybrid metric I’ve used for relievers over the past half-decade.

And how about those mid-ballot guys?

While everybody is focused on the magic 75% mark, a handful of candidates on this ballot could set themselves up to reach the threshold in 2023, ’24, or ’25. Rolen, who ranks 10th among third basemen in JAWS, reached 52.6% in his fourth year of eligibility and is quite obviously trending toward election, but adding 22.4% in a single cycle would be a bigger gain than than the 22-pointer Larry Walker made in 2020, his final year of eligibility. In fact, it would be the fifth-largest jump of the modern (post-1966) era. It seems more likely he gets well into the 60s and crosses the line next year.

Wagner, who received 46.4% in his sixth year of eligibility, and Helton, who pulled 44.9% in year four, are both poised to cross the 50% threshold this year and still have ample time to make it to 75% before their eligibility expires. As I’ve noted at several turns, every candidate who has reached 50% besides those currently on the ballot has been elected save for poor ol’ Gil Hodges. Sheffield, who received 40.6% in his seventh year of eligibility, has a good shot at reaching 50% sooner or later, but he needs to average gains of 11.5% per year to reach 75% before his 10 years lapse.

Also worth keeping an eye on with regards to future elections are Jones (33.9% in year five) and Kent (32.4% in year eight). The former still has time to get to 75%, as he’s well ahead of where Martinez and Walker were after their fifth years of eligibility. For Kent, it’s more about positioning himself for an eventual Era Committee election, not unlike Alan Trammell, who didn’t break 40% until his final year on the writers’ ballot, then was elected by the Today’s Game Era Committee two years later.

Who’s this year’s Grady Sizemore?

While the official rules make anybody who played at least 10 seasons in the majors and has been retired for five seasons eligible (anybody who’s not on baseball’s ineligible list, that is, or has not already exhausted his eligibility), not everybody who meets those requirements actually lands on the ballot. That’s because the screening committee stage involves some subjective choices; sometimes a player with a notable career but no shot at election, for whom just being included on the ballot is the real honor, slips through the cracks. Last year it was Sizemore, who through his age-25 season had made three All-Star teams and won two Gold Gloves but would thereafter be so beset by injuries that he played just 419 more games spread out over seven seasons, with a two-year absence in between. Even so, his 27.8 career WAR was higher than both Nick Swisher and Michael Cuddyer, who were included on the ballot, adding him to the company of players such as Shannon Stewart (2014), Chan Ho Park (2016), Javier Vazquez (2017), and Mark Ellis (2019). This year, the most surprising omission might be Michael Bourn, who led his league in steals three times while swiping 341 bags, made two All-Star teams, and won two Gold Gloves. His omission is hardly egregious, however, and likewise that of Juan Uribe, whose latter-day popularity via social media was off the charts, even if his WAR wasn’t.

Do you get to vote?

Yes! As I joined the BBWAA in December 2010, the ’20 season marked my 10th in the organization, and so last November I received my first ballot. As usual, I went through my entire process of reviewing all of the serious candidates before the deadline (some of the one-and-dones slipped into January, which may happen again because it’s more fun to Remember Some Guys who won’t make it to Cooperstown than to rush through them), and the exercise formerly known as “My Virtual Ballot” became “My Ballot.” I filled out my nine names, stuck a stamp on the envelope, and sent it off on December 30.

If my understanding is correct, the ballot that I’ll fill out this year went into the mail today, and I’ll receive it later this week.

I’m not the only one at FanGraphs with a ballot. David Laurila, who like me first obtained his BBWAA card as a member of Baseball Prospectus in December 2010, joined the electorate last year as well. Meanwhile, Effectively Wild’s Ben Lindbergh is receiving his first ballot this year, and I can already hear him groaning about the mess above.

Indeed, this cycle is likely to induce some moans and groans, but here at FanGraphs, we do have some plans to cut down on them by consolidating some of the more headache-inducing candidates into a post summarizing recent developments, and we’ve got some cool features on the way, including our annual crowdsource ballot, and an experimental tweak to the starting pitcher JAWS methodology. Stay tuned!





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.

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Ivan_Grushenko
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Ivan_Grushenko

Rolen and Andruw are my current ones to root for. A number of others have an argument as you’ve detailed so well in the linked article

sadtrombone
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Member
sadtrombone

I go back and forth on Andruw Jones because of the domestic violence. I haven’t decided whether that’s an automatic disqualifier for me or not.

I hope Rolen makes it, though. He’s pretty much the only player who I’d be unequivocally happy to see get in on this ballot.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

Yeah, if Ozzie Smith is a Hall of Famer and Yadier Molina is widely considered a future Hall of Famer with elite defense and good but not great offensive numbers, then I see no reason why Rolen and Jones shouldn’t join them.

AshnodsCoupon
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AshnodsCoupon

You can make a dispassionate case for Jones if you want, but I can’t see “rooting” for him.