The Envelope Please: Our 2023 Hall of Fame Crowdsource Ballot Results and a Preview of Election Day

© Kate Collins / Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2023 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’s no secret that this year’s BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot hasn’t captured the public imagination in the same manner as recent ones. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa all “graduated” after contentious 10-year runs that spurred widespread public debate — often lively, at times prickly, perhaps even exasperating. In their stead arrived a crop of 14 newcomers, none of whom was a slam dunk. Just one has a strong shot at eventual election, namely Carlos Beltrán, and only one other (Francisco Rodríguez) is likely to receive enough support even to remain on the ballot, whose official results will be announced on Tuesday, January 24, at 6 PM ET on MLB Network.

Given that turnover and the possibility that the ballot’s top returnees, Scott Rolen and Todd Helton, might not get to 75% — thus leading to the second shutout in three years from the writers — it’s understandable why this ballot hasn’t been at the center of attention the way recent ones have. Throw in a lively early free agent season (particularly when compared to last year’s lockout and the previous year’s post-COVID fallout) and our site largely going dark for a much-needed break between Christmas and New Years, and it’s not hard to understand why participation in our annual Hall of Fame crowdsource ballot tailed off.

Where last year 1,018 registered users filled out ballots — which can include up to 10 candidates and are due by the end of December 31, just like actual voters — just 548 did this year. That’s still about 150 more votes than are expected from this year’s BBWAA voters (394 votes were received last year). Our 548 votes also constitute a useful sample in comparing voting trends based on those ballots in Ryan Thibodaux’s indispensable Ballot Tracker.

Our crowd chose three candidates, one of whom was a repeat from last year and two of whom were newcomers:

Hall of Fame Crowdsource: 2023 vs. 2022
Player YoB 2023 Crowdsource 2022 Crowdsource Change
Scott Rolen 6 91.8% 84.8% 7.0%
Todd Helton 5 80.5% 66.1% 14.4%
Gary Sheffield 9 75.0% 53.5% 21.5%
Andruw Jones 6 74.5% 61.7% 12.8%
Carlos Beltran 1 72.4%
Billy Wagner 8 69.9% 53.4% 16.5%
Alex Rodriguez 2 65.5% 67.7% -2.2%
Manny Ramirez 7 58.8% 52.8% 6.0%
Bobby Abreu 4 45.6% 25.6% 20.0%
Jeff Kent 10 36.7% 22.3% 14.4%
Andy Pettitte 5 28.1% 16.0% 12.1%
Mark Buehrle 3 18.8% 9.1% 9.7%
Francisco Rodríguez 1 10.2%
Jimmy Rollins 2 9.5% 5.5% 4.0%
Torii Hunter 3 4.6% 2.1% 2.5%
Omar Vizquel 6 3.8% 4.0% -0.2%
R.A. Dickey 1 2.4%
Matt Cain 1 1.3%
John Lackey 1 0.9%
Jered Weaver 1 0.7%
Jacoby Ellsbury 1 0.7%
Andre Ethier 1 0.7%
Huston Street 1 0.7%
J.J. Hardy 1 0.5%
Bronson Arroyo 1 0.5%
Jayson Werth 1 0.4%
Mike Napoli 1 0.4%
Jhonny Peralta 1 0.2%

In both 2021 and ’22, our readers elected Rolen, Bonds, and Clemens, but with the Gruesome Twosome (and Schilling, Sosa, and the actually-elected David Ortiz) no longer under the writers’ purview, and no longer occupying space within those precious 10 spots, they’ve moved on to support other candidates. Indeed, seven candidates increased their levels of support by at least 10 percentage points, three by at least 15 points, and two by at least 20 points; the holdovers averaged a gain of 9.9%. Even Rolen’s share of the vote — which didn’t have a lot of room for improvement compared to the others (an issue that we’ve observed with the published ballots in the Tracker) — increased to push him above 90%. With Bonds (82.9% last year), Clemens (79.8%), Ortiz (71.9%), Schilling (40.9%), and Sosa (36.3%) coming off the real ballot, our voters suddenly had an average of 3.1 slots to fill, and they used most of them. Only two of the returning candidates — Rodriguez and Vizquel — received lower shares from our crowd this year than last, and neither by much.

Along with Rolen, Helton made it across the 75% threshold, while Sheffield landed exactly on it; I can say my vote was the deciding factor, and likewise so can the other 410 of you who voted for him. Meanwhile, if only another three of you had found room for Jones, you could have put him over the line as well. Beltrán missed by only 14 votes, more on which shortly.

Speaking of my vote, four participants in our crowdsource matched my seven-man slate (Abreu, Beltrán, Helton, Jones, Rolen, Sheffield, Wagner). So far, I know of just one actual voter who has done so, The Athletic’s Chad Jennings.

All told, this year’s crowdsource voters weren’t as generous as last year’s, averaging 7.55 votes per ballot, down from 8.62, and slightly lower than the average of 7.65 from 2021 as well. They were, however, more generous than the 179 voters whose ballots were added to the tracker as of 11:00 AM ET on Monday morning. Those voters have averaged just 6.28 votes per ballot. Where 29.6% of our voters used all 10 slots (down from a whopping 59% last year), just 17.9% of those in the Tracker have maxed out. At the other end of the spectrum, where just 6.4% of our voters used three or fewer slots (down from 8.9% last year), 15.1% of Tracker voters have done so. We had just one blank ballot submitted this year, compared to five last year, where we’ve seen four blanks already from actual voters this year, and the final total will certainly be higher.

In terms of comparing our crowdsource results to the ballots in the Tracker, just four candidates are receiving lower shares than from the writers:

2022 Hall of Fame Crowdsource vs. Ballot Tracker
Player YoB 2023 Crowdsource 2023 Tracker Change
Bobby Abreu 4 45.6% 19.0% 26.6%
Alex Rodriguez 2 65.5% 40.2% 25.3%
Manny Ramirez 7 58.8% 37.4% 21.4%
Carlos Beltran 1 72.4% 55.9% 16.5%
Scott Rolen 6 91.8% 79.3% 12.5%
Gary Sheffield 9 75.0% 63.7% 11.3%
Andy Pettitte 5 28.1% 17.3% 10.8%
Mark Buehrle 3 18.8% 10.1% 8.7%
Andruw Jones 6 74.5% 67.6% 6.9%
R.A. Dickey 1 2.4% 0.6% 1.8%
Torii Hunter 3 4.6% 2.8% 1.8%
Francisco Rodríguez 1 10.2% 8.9% 1.3%
Matt Cain 1 1.3% 0.0% 1.3%
Todd Helton 5 80.5% 79.3% 1.2%
John Lackey 1 0.9% 0.0% 0.9%
Andre Ethier 1 0.7% 0.0% 0.7%
Jacoby Ellsbury 1 0.7% 0.0% 0.7%
Jered Weaver 1 0.7% 0.0% 0.7%
Bronson Arroyo 1 0.5% 0.0% 0.5%
J.J. Hardy 1 0.5% 0.0% 0.5%
Jayson Werth 1 0.4% 0.0% 0.4%
Mike Napoli 1 0.4% 0.0% 0.4%
Jhonny Peralta 1 0.2% 0.0% 0.2%
Huston Street 1 0.7% 0.6% 0.1%
Billy Wagner 8 69.9% 73.2% -3.3%
Jimmy Rollins 2 9.5% 12.8% -3.3%
Omar Vizquel 6 3.8% 8.9% -5.1%
Jeff Kent 10 36.7% 50.3% -13.6%

It’s not all that hard to ascertain why that particular quartet might be the ones trailing among our voters. Kent’s appeal as a candidate has always rested upon his traditional stats and accomplishments rather than the advanced stats that may appeal more here (he’s the all-time leader in home runs by a second baseman but just 21st in JAWS, for example). I don’t expect him to wind up over 50%, but I do expect him to improve upon last year’s 32.7% and wind up somewhere in the 40s, which should set him up for a longer look from an Era Committee to be named later, à la Fred McGriff. Along the same lines but with much less support is Rollins, who has good counting stats for a shortstop but ranks just 32nd in JAWS. Wagner might be at the upper end of statheads’ tolerances for closers in the Hall; advanced statistics don’t make a great case for the value of relief pitchers — even elite ones — relative to starters, though I’d bet that he winds up with a higher percentage from our readers than from actual voters.

As for Vizquel, his case has always relied upon traditional merits and a dismissal of the advanced stats that clearly show his flashy fielding didn’t compensate enough for his limp bat to put him in the pantheon. Our readers weren’t buying that point of view even on the 2020 crowdsource ballot (11.1%), which took place before allegations surfaced of both domestic violence against his wife and sexual harassment of a batboy while managing in the minors. He reached 52.6% from BBWAA voters in 2020, but shed more than half of that support over the next two cycles, receiving just 23.9% last year. Even with both cases apparently closed on a legal front, he’s received single-digit support on the published ballots so far, and it marks the second year in a row he’s finished below 5% in our crowdsource.

Our voters were more forgiving of PED-linked candidates, both those who were suspended (Ramirez and Rodriguez) and those more tenuously connected (Sheffield, Pettitte). I’m hopeful that Sheffield can put himself in position for a 10th-year surge on the 2024 ballot, but with a much stronger crop of newcomers next year (Adrián Beltré, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley) and the possibility of Rolen, Helton, and Wagner being near-misses this year, we could be facing a real logjam.

Regarding Beltán, our voters were generally forgiving of his involvement in the Astros’ 2017 sign stealing — more so than actual voters, though if he comes anywhere close to his published 55.7%, I think he’ll be all right. Then again, as we’ve seen with Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, and Vizquel, the “Rule of 50%” may not apply to a candidate with such significant baggage, as there may well be a large enough bloc of voters dead set against him to prevent his election.

As for what all of this means for Tuesday’s official results, I’m afraid we are facing a second shutout in three years. While Helton and Rolen are both at 79.3% in the Tracker, the past nine years have illustrated that isn’t enough. Of the 23 candidates elected from 2014 onward, only Ivan Rodriguez (79.5% in 2017) and Trevor Hoffman (78.2%) had shares below 80% in ballots published prior to the election results. 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% if I exclude Bonds/Clemens/Schilling. The only candidate to receive at least 70% from pre-election shares and wind up with a higher final share was Hoffman, in both 2017 (from 72.% to 74.0%) and ’18 (from 78.2% to 79.9%).

If my reading of the tea leaves isn’t unsettling enough, the latest estimate from Jason Sardell, the most accurate prognosticator of Hall results for several years running now, published an estimate on Sunday that gave the writers only about a 15% chance of avoiding a shutout:

Gulp. I hope he’s underselling the odds of at least Rolen getting elected. Getting across the line from last year’s 63.2% doesn’t seem like it should be that hard given the gains he’s posted in recent cycles, but the problem is that even with the 2022 graduations creating more space, many of those voters had already carved out a spot for Rolen, and this isn’t a new phenomenon. From my profile of him earlier in this cycle:

[S]ince the writers returned to voting annually in 1966, candidates besides Rolen have received between 61% and 65% and still had eligibility remaining 22 times. Of those, seven were elected in the next year, 12 needed two years, two needed three years, and one needed four years. If I limit the results to candidates who landed in that range within their first five years, the breakdown is four out of 11 elected in the following year (Eddie Mathews, Mike Mussina, Barry Larkin, and Ryne Sandberg), with the other seven needing two years.

It’s obviously a much bigger task for Helton to get home from last year’s 52.0%; the closest precedent in modern voting history is former Rockies teammate Larry Walker jumping from 54.6% to 76.6%, and right now that 2.6-point gap between Helton’s and Walker’s shares looks huge. The good news is that time is on both Rolen and Helton’s sides, and maybe we’ll be in for a bumper crop of honorees on the 2024 ballot, as we saw so often from 2014-19. As for this year, it may not be in the cards.

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

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Cave Dameron
1 year ago

Thank you Jay, very cool!