The Final Word on the 2017 HOF Voting

The results are in, and Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez are Hall of Famers. Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman aren’t — at least not yet. Today, I’ll take my mostly annual look at the results within the context of recent history. How far did we progress toward alleviating the ballot logjam that has plagued the sport for quite a while now?

First, let’s take a look at an overview of the BBWAA’s work since the turn of the century:

HOF Voting History Since 2000
2000 5.63 Fisk/T.Perez Gossage/(J.Morris)
2001 6.33 Winfield*/Puckett* (Mattingly)/(Whitaker)
2002 5.95 O.Smith* Dawson/(Trammell)
2003 6.60 Murray*/G.Carter Sandberg/(L.Smith)
2004 6.55 Molitor*/Eckersley* None
2005 6.31 Boggs*/Sandberg None
2006 5.64 Sutter None
2007 6.58 Ripken*/Gwynn* (McGwire)
2008 5.36 Gossage Raines
2009 5.38 R.Henderson*/Rice None
2010 5.67 Dawson R.Alomar/Larkin/E.Martinez/McGriff
2011 5.98 R.Alomar/Blyleven Bagwell/L.Walker/(Palmeiro)
2012 5.10 Larkin (Be.Williams)
2013 6.60 None Biggio/Piazza/Schilling/Clemens/
2014 8.39 Maddux*/Glavine*/F.Thomas* Mussina/Kent
2015 8.42 R.Johnson*/P.Martinez*/Smoltz*/Biggio Sheffield/(Garciaparra)/(C.Delgado)
2016 7.95 Griffey*/Piazza T.Hoffman/B.Wagner/(Edmonds)
2017 8.13 Bagwell/Raines/I.Rodriguez V.Guerrero/M.Ramirez/(Posada)
* = 1st time on ballot
( ) = No longer on ballot

I find it interesting to look back at the voting in this manner. Some of my immediate takes:

1. The massive influx of the arrival of high-end talent arriving on the ballot around 2010 cannot be overstated. I look at that year as the dividing line between old- and new-age Hall voting. Andre Dawson made it, a year after Jim Rice. Between 2004 and -09, almost no new and exciting talent showed up on the ballot. Dawson and Rice arguably had weaker HOF cases than 15-20 players who have become eligible since 2010. If those guys arrived on the ballot now, they wouldn’t have a chance. The volume of qualified players has tended to work itself out over time, until this group, because of…

2. The PED effect. Without the cloud of actual or perceived PED use, Bagwell would have made it much sooner, and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens would already be in the Hall. It goes much deeper than this, however. With the pronounced division of opinion among the electorate regarding these players, it has made it harder for any single player to reach the 75% threshold. Hence, the historic logjam of qualified players. On such a ballot, great players such as Gary Sheffield and Larry Walker languish, wasting material portions of their newly reduced 10-year eligibility period, and borderline candidates such as Jorge Posada are one and done. Don’t get me started about Javier Vazquez not even appearing on the ballot.

3. Take a close look at the “AVG VOTES” column in the table above. Voters are allowed to select 10 players on their respective ballots; this figure indicates the average number of votes actually cast per ballot. I call the difference between 10 and this number “excess ballot capacity.” As rock-solid students of the game, I would surmise that you and I would both agree that there were 10 or more qualified candidates on this year’s slate. This 1.87 players’ worth of excess ballot capacity is very disappointing to see. For those of you who think that the BBWAA is finally “getting it” (and they have to an extent, admitting newer and more internet-based members, as well as cutting ties with inactive voters), consider that there fewer votes per ballot this year than there were in 2014. Sure, more votes per ballot are being cast now than in the pre-2010 period, but overall votes as a percentage of high-quality candidates are clearly down.

Let’s delve into the topic of ballot capacity a little deeper. In 2016, 7.95 votes per ballot were cast. Of those, 2.40 votes were cast for the players who were elected (Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza), players whose eligibility expired (Mark McGwire and Alan Trammell) and the one-and-done players combined. That 2.40 votes per ballot, plus the 2.05 remaining excess ballot capacity, were now free to be applied to the 2017 group, which included first-timers Guerrero, Posada, Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and a few others. Those players combined to receive 1.77 votes per ballot this season, leaving 2.68 votes’ worth of excess ballot capacity remaining for the holdovers, or otherwise to go unused. Let’s see how it was divvied up:

HOF Voting 2017 vs. 2016
BAGWELL 86.2 14.6
RAINES 86.0 16.2
T.Hoffman 74.0 6.7 8
V.Guerrero 71.7 9
E.Martinez 58.6 15.2 2
Clemens 54.1 8.9 5
Bonds 53.8 8.5 5
Mussina 51.8 8.8 6
Schilling 45.0 -7.3 5
L.Smith 34.2 0.1 0
M.Ramirez 23.8 9
L.Walker 21.9 6.4 3
McGriff 21.7 0.8 2
Kent 16.7 0.1 6
Sheffield 13.3 1.7 7
B.Wagner 10.2 -0.3 8
Sosa 8.6 1.6 5
1 and out 5.7
813.3 82.0

This is really disappointing. Only 0.82 of the 2.68 excess ballot capacity was actually used on players — barely 30% of it. This is even worse than last year, when about 40% (1.40 of 3.45) excess ballot capacity was used. The rest were essentially blank ballots, as if no one else on the ballot were qualified. Yes, the BBWAA has culled its membership, but it needs to consider the qualifications of the individuals who voted for zero to three players in this year’s talent-flush election.

Only two players saw their vote totals decline: Curt Schilling and (fractionally) Billy Wagner (fractionally). In an era when voters are increasingly “getting it right” by focusing on what the player did between the lines rather than other agendas and narratives, they are getting it wrong with Schilling. Sure, it wasn’t very smart of Schilling to publicly castigate the media, but his other sin was to publicly project his political views, which may have been too much for many voters to overlook. The same people who want to remove steroids from the conversation can’t turn a blind eye to one’s political views. Schilling is his generation’s Dazzy Vance; his career numbers are a little short, but his overall impact is clearly Hall-worthy. Interestingly, his 2016 vote percentage had surged by almost twice the amount of his 2017 drop; hopefully he can get it turned around.

Of the players remaining on the ballot, the largest 2017 surge belonged to an unexpected but very deserving Edgar Martinez. I had almost given up his BBWAA cause as lost, with his time on the ballot running short. To me, Edgar is one of the 25 greatest hitters in the history of the game. You can make a case that he’s the best hitter who debuted after Barry Bonds. He desperately needed that 15.2-point vote increase, and is now positioned to make a Tim Raines-esque run in his final two years of eligibility.

This year will also go down as the one it became eminently clear that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will be elected to the Hall by the BBWAA. It’s pretty clear that both players would have been great with or without “help.” Their vote totals continue to run eerily in tandem, as if they’re a package deal. And to many fans of a certain age, they are: they represent the greatest position player and pitcher they’ve ever seen.

Mike Mussina’s Hall eligibility period is taking on an air akin to his playing career. You don’t notice him, but hey, there he is, doing work. Sure, I’ll complain about Schilling, but the writers are getting some things right. It might come down to the final year or two of eligibility for Mussina, but his momentum is beginning to build.

I’m sorry, but Manny Ramirez is a Hall of Famer. Are we really going to hold his trying-anything-to-hold-on PED exploits at the end of his career against him? How are we going to induct Jim Thome if we don’t induct Ramirez first? He’s got a long way to go, but has a lot of time to turn around the voters’ perception of him. Larry Walker wasn’t Ramirez’ equal as a hitter, but he was a superb fielder and baserunner for most of his career. Sure, his raw numbers are puffed up by his time in Coors, but he is very worthy of Hall consideration.

Lastly, Gary Sheffield. They don’t make them like him anymore. Go figure, a power hitter who doesn’t strike out. No, he didn’t bring much beyond the bat, and he isn’t Ramirez’ equal as a hitter, but in my Hall there would be a place for him. Plus, he was his own agent by the end of his career. That has to count for something, doesn’t it?

So how does it look for 2018? Between the elected, the expired (Lee Smith) and the one-and-done, 2.88 votes of excess capacity open up. Add in the 2017 excess ballot capacity figure of 1.87, and there is an ample 4.75 votes per ballot of excess capacity for the 2018 crop, even more than in this election. Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, and Thome head the newly eligible player list. Jones is a 90% sure thing. Thome is a tricky one. I’d expect him to fall short in Year One, but how far short? Ramirez’ plight muddies the waters. I’ll peg Thome around 55%. Rolen is bound to be overlooked a la Walker and Sheffield — although shouldn’t be, as Craig Edwards illustrated earlier today. I’ll peg him at 10%. Omar Vizquel? Who knows? I’d vote for him, but how many will, at least in Year One? Give him 10% as well. So 1.65 of the 4.75 excess capacity goes to the new guys.

That leaves 3.10 for the holdovers, again more than in 2016. If only 30% of the excess is used (around 1.00), that will be enough to push Guerrero and Hoffman over the top, but probably not anyone else. If the voters can find it in themselves to push the average votes per ballot up to 8.50 or so, that might drag some combination of Bonds, Clemens, Martinez, and even Mussina into the mix. If we dream a little and push it up to 9.00… well, Schilling’s not going to make that much momentum-turning progress in a single year, but it could set him up for induction shortly afterward.

The good news is, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel with regard to clearance of the ballot logjam. Once Bonds/Clemens get in, either in 2018 or 2019, the gates will open. Mariano Rivera is the only slam dunk in 2019, and the same applies to Derek Jeter in 2020. Kudos, on balance, to the writers for beginning to get this big ship turned around (except for Schilling, of course). Keep at it.

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6 years ago

I wouldn’t exactly call Manny Ramirez’s PED use “trying-anything-to-hold-on PED exploits at the end of his career.” He was one of the names leaked in the 2003 anonymous tests. He later got caught, served a suspension, got caught again and retired to avoid the suspension.

I do believe he should be a HoFer as one of the greatest hitters of all time, but there’s no denying that his PED use had a huge impact on baseball history.

6 years ago

This. With Bonds (up to ’98) or Clemens(up to ’96),
most people believe they put up numbers sufficient to be
inducted into HOF without PED.
With Ramirez, this is far from the case.

6 years ago
Reply to  tung_twista

balcoboy and clemens CHEATED THE GAME