Walking Through the 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot Trends by Anthony Calamis January 21, 2020 Later today, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) will announce the results of its 2020 Hall of Fame election. So far, three players have been checked on more than 75% of the 210 ballots counted in Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker (the tracker is maintained by a four-person team of which I am a part), thus clearing the threshold for induction: Derek Jeter in his first year, Larry Walker in his final year, and Curt Schilling in his eighth year. While Schilling is expected to tail off and may even come in under 70%, the other two have at least a chance to hear their name called. Here are the candidates to receive at least 5% of the vote (the percentage needed to stay on the ballot) in the Tracker so far: 2020 Hall of Fame Candidates Player Total Votes Percentage Derek Jeter 210 100.0% Larry Walker 175 83.3% Curt Schilling 166 79.0% Barry Bonds 151 71.9% Roger Clemens 149 71.0% Omar Vizquel 103 49.0% Scott Rolen 101 48.1% Gary Sheffield 76 36.2% Billy Wagner 73 34.8% Jeff Kent 70 33.3% Todd Helton 67 31.9% Manny Ramirez 66 31.4% Andruw Jones 50 23.8% Sammy Sosa 36 17.1% Andy Pettitte 22 10.5% Bobby Abreu 13 6.2% SOURCE: Ballot Tracker Since the 2013 shutout, the BBWAA has opened their doors to an unprecedented six-year flood of 20 inductees, capped by Mariano Rivera’s unanimous selection a year ago. The result has been a cleared ballot and a realistic path to induction for many candidates who have previously struggled to gain any traction. What follows is a brief overview of the candidates with the most interesting trends in the publicly released data, current through the 210 ballots in our Tracker. Walking the Path to Induction The only candidate whose induction fate isn’t neatly wrapped up, Larry Walker has seen a massive surge in support for the third consecutive year, which has him on the precipice of history. After receiving only 34.1% of the vote in 2018 and 54.6% in 2019, Walker needs to make up around 87 votes to earn induction in 2020. As of this writing, Walker has gained a net 32 votes, which doesn’t seem very encouraging, but changing a mind isn’t the only way to make up ground. At the bottom of the Tracker is a small section detailing those voters who have been confirmed as not voting in 2020. 15 public voters are listed here; only four supported Walker in 2019. Seven first-time voters have revealed their ballots thus far, and all of them voted for Walker. Baking that into the calculation moves Walker’s status from approximately 232-for-425 to 235-for-417. While his 2019 vote total was 87 shy of induction, it’s just 78 short after accounting for this turnover. Those 14 public voters aren’t the only ones who aren’t voting, and any additional changes in the electorate are likely to only help Walker’s chances further. While Walker has gained the aforementioned 32 votes so far, the most promising aspect of this cycle is that he’s been doing well in different categories of voters. For example, among voters who chose 10 players last year but didn’t vote for him, he’s changed 83.3% of their minds. For the remainder of this article, I’ll be broadly referring to four different categories of voters, distinctions I first started using after discussions with Hall of Fame results projector Jason Sardell (@sarsdell on Twitter). They are as follows: Large Hall: voters who checked 10 names in 2019. Medium Hall: voters who checked eight or nine names regardless of whether they voted for Bonds or Clemens, or seven names but not Bonds and Clemens. Small Hall, Anti-PED: voters who checked six or fewer names, and did not vote for Bonds or Clemens. Small Hall, PED: voters who checked seven or fewer names, and did vote for Bonds or Clemens Over time, voters in these different categories have operated in similar ways, and track closely. In this space last year, I laid out the case to be optimistic about Mike Mussina’s chances, and some of the same optimism applies to Walker: Larry Walker, By the (Ballot) Numbers Category Flip Chances Flip Rate Remaining Public Flip Chances Target Flips Large Hall 18 15-for-18 (83.3%) 10 8 Medium Hall 13 6-for-13 (46.2%) 23 10 Small Hall, anti-PED 20 12-for-20 (60.0%) 24 11 Small Hall, PED 14 1-for-14 (7.1%) 7 1 SOURCE: Ballot Tracker, Jason Sardell Walker has already cycled through the majority of the voters likeliest to add him and least likely to add him. The key to his chances this evening is to continue doing well with those middle two groups. So far, he’s picked up 18 of a possible 33 votes from the middle two groups, with the majority of remaining voters who don’t already have Walker falling into one of those two categories. If he can pick up one out of two of those voters going forward, he should have a fighting chance after all the ballots are tallied. In that vein, I asked Sardell to run his probabilistic model and report in what percentage of his simulations Walker’s final percentage fell into, to see where he most often finished. Sardell was kind enough to oblige: Simulating Larry Walker’s Candidacy Range Percentage of Simulations in Range Less than 72% 1.0% 72-73% 2.6% 73-74% 6.4% 74-75% 11.8% 75-76% 21.8% 76-77% 19.2% 77-78% 18.3% Greater than 78% 20.9% SOURCE: Jason Sardell’s Model There are a lot of hurdles still in Walker’s way, but if nothing else, that he’s been doing well across the board and not relying too heavily on any one type of voter gives him multiple ways to reach 75%. Infield Greatness Last year, four infielders received between 16% and 43% of the vote, all of whom have strong arguments for and against their candidacies. With the bottleneck of candidates easing, all of them have seen their vote shares drastically increase: (Flipping) Infield Greatness Flip Rate, Through 210 Ballots Remaining Flip Opportunities Player Large Hall Medium Hall Small No PED Small Yes PED Large Hall Medium Hall Small No PED Small Yes PED Helton 30.3% 20.0% 8.0% 0.0% 36 46 27 9 Kent 33.7% 2.9% 4.3% 0.0% 35 45 29 9 Rolen 49.3% 27.8% 14.3% 0.0% 38 43 29 9 Vizquel 31.8% 15.4% 0.0% 0.0% 25 24 18 8 SOURCE: Ballot Tracker, Jason Sardell As the candidate converting “no” voters to “yes” voters at the highest rate across the board, Rolen appears best-suited to benefit from continued cleared space as the years go by, and to maintain his rate of adds through the remainder of the ballots. On the other hand, the majority of Kent’s adds have come from the voters who may have run out of room for him in 2019. Of the 168 public voters who filled out full ballots a year ago, more than 100 have already revealed. That Kent is doing so poorly with every other category of voter may mean his gains don’t translate when the final totals are tallied. Helton and Vizquel are in similar boats: early in their candidacies, and flipping about 30% of the full ballot voters and something like one in every five or six “medium” voters. Their gains may carry over better with the remainder of the electorate, which could lead to Vizquel cracking 50% and Helton maintaining his gains and polling in the low 30% range. Closing Out the Big Gainers Three other players have netted at least 25 new voters, namely outfielders Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield, and closer Billy Wagner. While numerous voters had named each among their nearest misses the past several years, the groundswell of support for each nonetheless leaves proponents of their cases optimistic: The Big Gainers Flip Rate, Through 210 Ballots Remaining Flip Opportunities Player Large Hall Medium Hall Small No PED Small Yes PED Large Hall Medium Hall Small No PED Small Yes PED Sheffield 40.0% 17.9% 7.7% 0.0% 40 45 27 9 Wagner 34.1% 20.6% 0.0% 0.0% 34 40 29 9 Jones 26.3% 5.1% 7.1% 0.0% 43 51 29 9 SOURCE: Ballot Tracker, Jason Sardell Given his starting point of only 7.5%, it’s notable that Jones has converted more than a quarter of potential full ballot voters, but it’s possibly more encouraging that he’s not altogether striking out with other types of voters. Wagner has yet to find himself added to the ballots of the stingiest voters, but has been doing incredibly well on voters who prefer to choose at least seven players. It seems possible that his support with stingier voters could pick up as his overall support rises in the coming years. Sheffield’s gains might be the most surprising of any candidate on the ballot. For five years, his candidacy appeared stalled, but the new space on the ballot has caused voters of all types to flock to Sheffield. He’s second to Rolen in net votes gained and has converted an incredible rate of his potential full ballot gain opportunities. He only has four more years of eligibility after 2020, but has already positioned himself to finish in this year’s top 10 along with Wagner, a good sign for future growth. Top Returning Trio Lastly, the three top vote-getters who weren’t inducted in 2019 – Schilling, Clemens, and Bonds – all received between 59% and 61% of the vote, and have between 71% and 80% of the vote so far this year. To say each has strong detractors is an understatement. Bonds and Clemens have a well-documented dalliances with performance enhancing drugs dragging down their candidacies, which to date has kept more than 40% of the electorate from voting for them. Schilling’s tweet endorsing a shirt which supported lynching journalists combined with his transphobic and bigoted rhetoric has caused voters to invoke the character clause and withhold their vote, including several who had publicly supported him in past years. None of the three will make the Hall of Fame in 2020, but they will each have two more years of eligibility to earn the necessary 75%. 2022 will bring Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, and a host of steroids-related questions, potentially causing some of the candidates making gains this cycle to hit a one-year speed bump in their trajectories. Takeaways I asked Sardell to run a few additional scenarios for me, mentioned above. Arbitrary or not, crossing different thresholds could mean a candidate is more likely to pick up further support. With that in mind, I asked him to run his model and give me the figures shown in the table below: Simulating the 2020 Ballot Scenario Percentage of Simulations Walker over 75% 78.20% Schilling over 70% 73% Clemens over 60% 84% Bonds over 60% 78% Vizquel over 50% 36% Rolen over 40% 88% Abreu over 5% 62% SOURCE: Jason Sardell’s Model The plethora of available ballot space has led to unprecedented gains for the majority of the returning players. It will be interesting to see if some of these trends continue as the number of voters using their entire allotted space shrinks over the next few years. If nothing else, most of these candidates now enjoy a significant enough base of support to justify their continued presence in future Hall of Fame debates. That kind of increased conversation may just be what propels Walker into the Hall of Fame today.