The Big Questions About the 2024 BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

If you were hoping for a return to larger Hall of Fame classes after a lean few years for candidates on the BBWAA ballot, this is your year. After the writers elected just two candidates in the last three cycles — nobody on the 2021 ballot, then David Ortiz and Scott Rolen in the two years since — it’s extremely likely we’ll get multiple honorees this year, a reminder of the unprecedented flood of 22 honorees in seven years from 2014–20. The list of newcomers is headed by 3,000-hit club member Adrián Beltré and six-time All-Stars Joe Mauer and Chase Utley, while the top two returnees, Todd Helton and Billy Wagner, are both within reach of the magic 75% threshold.

It’s officially ballot season, as the BBWAA unveiled its 26-candidate slate on Monday. Over the next six weeks I’ll profile all of the ones likely to wind up on voters’ ballots ahead of the December 31 deadline, with a small handful of profiles trickling into January. I’ll be 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 almost old enough to drink. The series debuted at Baseball Prospectus (2004-12), then moved to SI.com (2013-18), which provided me an opportunity to go into greater depth on each candidate. In 2018, I brought the series to FanGraphs, where my coverage has become even more expansive.

Today I’ll offer a quick look at the biggest questions attached to this year’s election cycle, 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 BBWAA’s six-member 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 2018. 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 15 years was Lee Smith, whose eligibility expired in 2017; with Jeff Kent falling off the ballot after last year’s cycle, we’re finally done with all of the candidates who had their tenures reduced mid-run.

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 what’s now called the Contemporary Baseball 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 at least 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 eighth since the Hall purged the rolls of voters more than 10 years removed from coverage, 389 ballots were cast, the fewest of any cycle since 1983. That’s a reduction of 29% over eight 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 53% 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, 82.5% of voters revealed their ballots in 2023, less than two points below the record of 84.1% from ’20.

I’ll be revealing my own ballot here at FanGraphs a few days before the deadline, taking readers through my thought process as I explain which boxes I’ll be checking. This will be my fourth year as a voter, and no, the novelty hasn’t worn off.

The election results will be announced on MLB Network on January 23. Any players elected will join any honorees elected via the Contemporary Baseball Managers/Executives/Umpires ballot, whose results will be announced on December 3, for the Induction Ceremony scheduled for July 21, 2024 on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York.

Are you ever going to tell us who else is on the ballot?

Jeez, hold your baserunners. The ballot released on Monday includes 14 holdovers from last year’s slate and 12 newcomers, noted in italics:

Bobby Abreu, José Bautista, Carlos Beltrán, Adrián Beltré, Mark Buehrle, Bartolo Colon, Adrián González, Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer, Andy Pettitte, Brandon Phillips, Manny Ramirez, José Reyes, Alex Rodriguez, Francisco Rodríguez, Jimmy Rollins, Gary Sheffield, James Shields, Chase Utley, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, David Wright

Are any of the newcomers locks to be elected this year?

It would be a complete shock if Beltré didn’t get elected on the first ballot. He’s one of just 12 players with at least 3,000 hits (3,165) and 400 homers (477). Nine of the other 11 are enshrined, the exceptions being Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez, both of whom served suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs. From among the 12 players in the 3,000/400 club, Beltré is one of five who also compiled at least 100 fielding runs (Total Zone through 2002, Defensive Runs Saved since), along with Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Cal Ripken Jr., and Carl Yastrzemski. Such was his defensive prowess that his 216 fielding runs ranks second at the hot corner, behind only Brooks Robinson (293). He’s fourth in JAWS at third base, trailing only Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, and Wade Boggs.

Wait, what about Mauer?

While I try not to get too wrapped up in the first-ballot distinction, Mauer is certainly worthy of it. He’s the only catcher ever to win three batting titles, and while you may not put much stock in batting average, only four other catchers from the AL, NL or bygone 19th century leagues have won even once, with Ernie Lombardi the only other one to do so multiple times. If you’d rather stick to on-base percentage, Mauer led the league twice, while all other AL/NL and 19th century catchers have done so just two other times, the last in 1933.

A former MVP who made six All-Star teams and won three Gold Gloves, Mauer ranks seventh in traditional catcher JAWS (47.1), and fifth in seven-year peak (39.0), that despite having to move off the position after 885 games caught due to concussions and post-concussion syndrome. All seven years of his peak were from his catching days, and it’s worth noting that his five years at first base didn’t do a whole lot to boost his value, though they did help his traditional counting stats.

Hold on, what’s “traditional catcher JAWS?”

That’s just JAWS using the standard inputs of career WAR and seven-peak WAR, with Total Zone and DRS for defense. We have pitch-framing data for Mauer’s career, through Baseball Prospectus — including their retroframing methodology from the pre-pitch tracking days — and our own methodology, and for Mauer, that’s worth about a half a dozen extra wins. I’ve shown off the data for what I’ve called Framing-Inclusive JAWS before, as in the case of Buster Posey. Mauer is more or less tied for fourth with Yadier Molina behind Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez and Posey; his framing gains him some ground on Piazza and Rodriguez, who outrank him on the traditional JAWS leaderboard. Don’t worry, we’ll dig deeper into this soon enough.

How about Utley and Wright?

Utley, a six-time All-Star who didn’t play 100 games or get 300 plate appearances in a season until age 26, ranks 12th in JAWS among second basemen (56.9), 0.1 points below the standard, and ninth in peak (49.3), 4.9 WAR above the standard. He’s a stathead favorite who derived about 200 runs worth of value from his defense, baserunning, and double play avoidance, but due to his short career, he finished with just 1,885 hits. The writers haven’t elected anybody from the post-1960 expansion era with fewer than 2,000 hits, so it could be a real fight to get Utley into Cooperstown, and I don’t expect that fight to be won on this ballot.

As for Wright (49.2 career WAR/39.5 peak/44.3 JAWS), he was probably on a Hall-worthy path until shoulder injuries and spinal stenosis derailed his career, but he played just 77 games after his age-31 season. He’s 26th in JAWS, and above him are a handful of third basemen I’d enshrine first, including Dick Allen, Sal Bando Buddy Bell, Ken Boyer, and Graig Nettles — and that’s without discussing the ones who are still active. Wright’s just not close enough to merit a spot on my ballot, and I don’t expect he’ll make much of a dent.

Are Helton and Wagner in gimme territory?

Like Rolen, who debuted with 10.2% in 2018, and Larry Walker, who debuted with 20.3% in 2011 and sank to 10.2% himself three years later, Helton and Wagner are in the process of overcoming very slow starts and winding up in Cooperstown. Each has gained at least 10 points from year to year three times:

Climbing Towards Cooperstown:
Billy Wagner and Todd Helton
Year Wagner Gain Helton Gain
2016 10.5%
2017 10.2% -0.3%
2018 11.1% +0.9%
2019 16.7% +5.6% 16.5%
2020 31.7% +15.0% 29.2% +12.7%
2021 46.4% +14.7% 44.9% +15.7%
2022 51.0% +4.6% 52.0% +7.1%
2023 68.1% +17.1% 72.2% +20.2%

As for their respective outlooks this year, of the last 23 times a candidate received at least 70% but less than 75% and still had eligibility remaining, that candidate was elected the next year 20 times, the exceptions being Jim Bunning (twice) and Curt Schilling. The former was done in once by a barrage of blank ballots and once by a crowd of stronger candidates, while the latter found increasingly intricate and offensive ways to sabotage his own candidacy as he approached 75%.

Helton seems likely to cross the 75% threshold this year, but while Wagner’s close to election, he’s not automatic. Repeating the research I did related to last January’s election results, since the voters returned to annual balloting in 1966, there have been 30 instances of candidates receiving between 65% and 70% and still having eligibility remaining (23 candidates, five of whom repeated once and one of whom repeated twice). In 14 of those 30 instances, the candidate was elected the next year, and in 21 of the 30, he was elected within two years. Only three of those candidates (Bunning, Enos Slaughter, and Jack Morris) had to wait to be elected by small committees; Bunning and Morris each had back-to-back instances of being stuck in the high 60s. What matters most is that all 23 are now in the Hall. Wagner should join them sooner or later, though sooner would obviously be better.

Who else is close?

Jones and Sheffield both received over 50% last year, with the former coming in at 58.1% in his sixth year and the latter 55% in his ninth. Recent voting history tells us that it’s theoretically possible for either to reach 75% this year — Walker jumped from 54.6% in his final go-round in 2020 — but given how top-heavy this ballot already is, I’d be surprised if one of them crashed the party, which could mean Sheffield winds up alongside Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens on the next Contemporary Baseball ballot in 2026.

Is there any hope of a starting pitcher getting elected?

Not this year. Even with 256 career wins, a central role on five world champions, and a massive body of postseason work, Pettitte has yet to break 20% in five years on the ballot. His admission of human growth hormone usage has acted as a drag on his candidacy, though it dates to the Wild West era before testing and penalties were in place. He did receive 17% of the vote last year, his highest share to date, and a jump of 6.3 points from the year before. We’ll see if he can build on that momentum. Buehrle, who is 0.2 points ahead of Pettitte in S-JAWS (47.4 to 47.2) doesn’t have as strong a postseason resumé and hasn’t received more than 11% in any of his three years on the ballot.

Colon is certainly interesting as a player who enjoyed quite the third act in his career, becoming a fan and media favorite. Performance-wise, while he has 247 career wins, his career ERA sits at 4.12 and his S-JAWS is just 40.9, which ranks 130th and is about 16 points below the standard. What’s more, he was suspended for PED usage in 2013, and so far no player has overcome a suspension to get elected.

The next starting pitcher who has a real shot at election is CC Sabathia, who will debut next year.

Speaking of those PED guys…

We weren’t actually speaking of them, because nothing’s changed. Nobody suspended by Major League Baseball either for testing positive or incurring a non-analytic positive (i.e., identified as a user via a league investigation such as Biogenesis) since testing began in 2004 has been elected. Ramirez received 33.2% in year seven, a gain of over four points, while Rodriguez received 35.2% in year two, a gain of just over a point. I wouldn’t call that momentum.

What about last year’s controversial candidate, Beltrán?

Despite exceptional counting stats (2,755 hits, 435 homers, 312 stolen bases) and the ninth-highest JAWS of any center fielder, Beltrán debuted with just 46.5% last year. Some voters are penalizing him for his involvement at the center of the Astros’ illegal sign-stealing efforts, something commissioner Rob Manfred was unwilling to do at the end of his 2020 investigation. Whether voters mean to hold that transgression against Beltrán for the entirety of his time on the ballot as they did PED users, or whether they were withholding their votes as a one-year protest as some did for Roberto Alomar in reaction to his spitting on umpire John Hirschbeck remains to be seen, but either way, it’s going to take time for him to reach 75%.

Did you say something about 2004 above?

I did indeed. The system that would grow up to become JAWS debuted on January 6, 2004, which means I’ve already analyzed 20 ballots using this framework. I’ll do a little something to celebrate the anniversary sometime in early January, after the ballots are sent off. But first, we’ll dig into the candidates.





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.

66 Comments
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ackbar7member
3 months ago

I’d really like to see Sheffield get in. So fun to watch and that guy could just hit

Dmjn53
3 months ago
Reply to  ackbar7

I’ve never really understood his case tbh. Even if we remove PEDs from the discussion completely, he’s a fringe candidate by nearly any metric. Short on JAWs and career/peak WAR, also ranks 15th and 26th over the length of his career in wRC+ and fWAR despite being 6th in PA.

We can argue that he was hurt by spending so much time in the NL where there was nowhere for his putrid defense to hide, and that he’d have slightly better WAR numbers if he were a full time DH, but that’s a hypothetical instead of what actually happened

CC AFCmember
3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

I’m personally just willing to say a hitter that good should go in, period. He hits the longevity marks with >2500 hits and 500 homers and his career wRC+ is 141, which is equal to Pujols, Chipper Jones, Hack Wilson and Ty Cobb. Basically equal with DH-only David Ortiz (140). At that point, I’m good with it. Coolest right handed swing ever also is worth at least 8 jaws for me

Last edited 3 months ago by CC AFC
Sleepy
3 months ago
Reply to  CC AFC

“Coolest right handed swing ever also is worth at least 8 jaws for me”

I love this so much.

Dmjn53
3 months ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Pujols, Jones etc. contributed in other facets of the game though. Sheffield was a bat-only player. He was obviously a great hitter, but 141 is short for me if the bat is the only carrying trait.

This is also someone that played recently enough where most/all of us remember him. In my memory, Gary Sheffield was never viewed as a top-tier superstar in the Bonds/Griffey/McGwire/Thomas tier

CC AFCmember
3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

Of course I know that they were better defenders. In no way did I say “Sheffield is equal to these players because he has the same wRC+.” Those are the most elite of elite hitters is the point and Sheffield’s right there with them.

To the extent you say Sheffield wasn’t viewed similarly to Bonds/Griffey/McGwire/Thomas, first I’d say I don’t really care what the perception was. In any event, those the most elite of the elite guys so even if he wasn’t on par with them (and he’s mostly not, certainly with bonds and Griffey), that leaves plenty of room for him to be a hall of famer.

Also if 141 wRC+ is not good enough with bad defense, then we’re saying Ortiz and Molitor should be out, and Miguel Cabrera shouldn’t get in when he’s eligible.

Last edited 3 months ago by CC AFC
Carson Kahlamember
3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

So according to you David Ortiz is not good enough with the bat for it to be his only carrying trait? And how bout Edgar he’s only at. 147 career is that 6 points good enough for you? Are the greatest DHs of all time good enough for you?

Cool Lester Smoothmember
3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

Putting Bonds in the same tier as Griffey and Thomas, much less McGwire, is an excellent argument to disregard your every word and thought.

sadtrombonemember
3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

I’m really super skeptical of bWAR’s defense stats and how they get factored in. The best defensive players get far too much credit and the worst get far too much blame. If the main argument against someone is that bWAR hates their defense, I’m not inclined to take it too seriously.

Left of Centerfield
3 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Except Fangraph’s fielding stats show Sheffield to be worse than Baseball Reference’s (-205 runs vs -195 runs). Granted, they were using the same system up until 2002 (TZ). From 2003 forward, Fangraphs has him at -47 vs -37 for Baseball Reference.

Last edited 3 months ago by Left of Centerfield
Cool Lester Smoothmember
3 months ago

And both methodologies STILL say that his defense improved dramatically in his mid-30s!

Comments like yours are why companies train people to differentiate between data and insights, mate.

Last edited 3 months ago by Cool Lester Smooth
Dmjn53
3 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I’m willing to compromise and say he was a bad defender. The point I’m making is that I think you need to be a special, special hitter if you’re not adding any other value, not the 15th best of your generation

Last edited 3 months ago by Dmjn53
RoyalsFan#14321member
3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

Sheffield is the 6th best offensive player in terms of value for the years he played. 3 of the 5 five ahead of him are known/notorious steroid users…

cowdisciplemember
3 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I’m also skeptical of guys who are huge outliers in defensive value in either direction. If we call Sheffield’s defense just regular bad instead of historically awful, is that enough to get him over the line?

cartermember
3 months ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

I mean there is no way he was just normal. If all numbers say his defense was bad, then it was bad. But I’m cool with him getting in regardless.

Cool Lester Smoothmember
3 months ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

Especially when all of his useful defensive numbers say that mid-30s Sheff was “regular bad.”

tomerafan
3 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Hear, hear.

68FCmember
3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

All of his WAR numbers are suppressed by the historically awful defensive metrics, mostly from an era where our ability to quantify defense is shaky at best. If we capped his negative defensive value at the DH penalty, that would add about 5-7 WAR to his career totals which would put him in the 9-12th range in fWAR over that period.

Also over his career he has the 13th highest wRC+ with a 4,000 PA minimum (which eliminates the small chunks of Ryan Braun and Kevin Mitchells’ careers which overlapped with Sheffield). Of the 12 players above him, there are 5 HOFers (Thomas, Bagwell, Edgar, Thome, Chipper), 4 players who statistically are no doubt HOFers but aren’t in because of PEDs (Bonds, McGwire, Manny, A-Rod), 1 future 1st ballot HOFer (Pujols), and Berkman (who has a solid case, but is held back by a short career), and Giambi (who would probably be on the outside looking in even without the PED cloud over him).

Immediately behind him are 3 HOFers (Vlad, Piazza, and Walker) and Helton.

Sheffield has the 25th highest wRC+ post-integration (min 7,000 PA). If you bump the threshold up to 10,000 PA, then he is 12th. The only players in the top 27 of that list not in the hall are Bonds, Pujols, Sheffield, and A-Rod. Players who hit as well as Sheffield did for as long as Sheffield did are pretty much just inner circle HOFers and players being kept out of the hall for PED connections.

cowdisciplemember
3 months ago
Reply to  68FC

This is the argument I wanted to make but was too lazy to flesh out. Thumbs up!

cartermember
3 months ago
Reply to  68FC

I do wish his son would shut up, however

TKDCmember
3 months ago
Reply to  68FC

I feel like for judging HOF, the penalty for defense should very much be capped at “if he were a DH.”

To me, Sheffield’s case is pretty hard to argue against, and I wonder if some of his opposition is maybe subconsciously attributable to the steroid issue that now seems like an extremely shaky ground to keep him out and him being a bit terse and unlikeable at times?

68FCmember
3 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

I suspect that his often hostile relationship with the baseball media cost him the benefit of the doubt with some writers regarding the PED question. I think Jay has laid out a pretty convincing case supporting Sheffield’s claims that he only briefly tried PEDs before turning against them. His outspoken stance in favor of testing really stands out for me.

Cool Lester Smoothmember
3 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

Sheff is a rare man who saw Dick Allen’s career and thought “Hell yeah. Better than pretending.”

And that’s why I love him.

Last edited 3 months ago by Cool Lester Smooth
Cool Lester Smoothmember
3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

The answer is that someone would either have to be deeply ignorant or a genuine fucking idiot to think that Sheff’s defense magically improved when the BIS-based metrics arrived…in his mid-30s.

Jason Lukehartmember
2 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

Edgar Martinez was voted in despite being a DH, because he was THAT good a hitter. Sheffield was every bit as good a hitter as Martinez.