For two years, I have written at some length regarding the current year’s Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. I’m a “big-Hall” guy who does not care to rehash PED arguments, who just wants to see the best players of his formidable years honored together in a museum. It’s getting tougher to believe that will ever become a reality, as inner-circle greats Bonds and Clemens languish below the 75% induction threshold, and the crowd on the needlessly small 10-man ballot weeds out players who were true greats of the 90’s and 2000’s.
This year, rather than dissect the ballot in such detail, I would prefer to simply lay out a couple observations, and then at the end I’ll leave you with the table of Hall of Fame ratings that I have compiled through the 2017 season. Here are the first two posts in the series, where I presented that system—one which was adapted from Craig Edwards’ work at FanGraphs—in detail.
The Problem of Expansion
One of the hallmarks of Hall of Fame season is the free column BBWAA voters get out of detailing their ballots. I enjoy reading a lot of these, but they are all basically the same column. What strikes me each year is how these talented writers, who recall brilliant facts and anecdotes in their regular columns, often fail to contextualize the ballot with information that is readily accessible about current players and Hall of Fame history.
An example to the contrary is this 2016 column from Neil Paine at FiveThirtyEight (link), who showed that the modern era is sorely lacking in quantity of Hall-of-Famers. Voters have utterly failed to account for expansion, and however unintentional their motives, they have raised the bar for induction to its highest-ever threshold.
Accounting for Recent Data
Perhaps because I have spent the last twelve years as an accountant, reporting on financial happenings of the most recent prior month or year, another aspect I find odd in the Hall of Fame discussion is how so little of it is devoted to year-over-year changes in HOF probability.
Put differently, dozens of players active in 2017 affected their chances of induction in some way. Joey Votto doesn’t need that many more six-win seasons to be a sure-fire inductee. Justin Verlander also made a move in the right direction. Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Beltran, on the other hand, were among the least valuable players in the league. Albert Pujols wasn’t just among them—he was the least valuable player—but he could play out his contract with a –2 WAR every year and still make it.
Writers spend most of their year covering current players, so this decision to reminisce solely about players on the ballot is understandable to an extent. But when is the last time you read an argument about Evan Longoria knocking on the door of the Hall? The 32-year-old former face of the Rays ranks 84th now in HOF Rating among post-1970 careers. He is several years removed from his peak, and the artificially crowded ballot will probably relegate him to afterthought status when his time comes, but that ranking places him among the top 1% to have played in this era of baseball, a remarkable achievement, and one which in my view is arguably Hall-of-Fame worthy.
Trout and Kershaw
Everyone knows Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw are special. They’re Hall of Fame locks once they reach the 10-year service minimum, even by the lofty standards of the BBWAA. But who else is in that category?
Between Longoria and Albert Pujols, there are six other players I haven’t mentioned who rank among baseball’s 1%:
- Albert Pujols (8th)
- Adrian Beltre (17th)
- Clayton Kershaw (26th)
- Chase Utley (28th)
- Miguel Cabrera (29th)
- Mike Trout (30th)
- Carlos Beltran (36th)
- C.C. Sabathia (40th)
- Zack Greinke (64th)
- Justin Verlander (65th)
- Ichiro (66th)
- Joey Votto (68th)
- Evan Longoria (84th)
Kershaw and Trout are already in the top third of a percent of post-1970 players. Ichiro seems like a lock, and I think Adrian Beltre gets in too. But Chase Utley? He absolutely had a Hall-of-Fame peak between 2005 and 2009. Many of my fellow Braves fans have argued for Dale Murphy’s candidacy on the strength of that 1982–87 run. Utley is a far better candidate, and yet it feels like there will be considerable debate in six or seven years, when his time comes.
Saves Rule, Defense Drools
Mariano Rivera spoiled us all, being such a great closer for so long. But that doesn’t mean we have to put up with his less-transcendent peers taking up valuable ballot space. Rivera himself should be a polarizing candidate, ranking only 168th on the list of post-1970 players, with only six or seven seasons’ worth of starters’ innings to his name. He will undoubtedly waltz into the Hall in 2019. Trevor Hoffman (458th) may beat him by a year, which will finally give Jim Rice (106th) someone to look down upon.
On the flip side, we have the candidacies of Andruw Jones and Scott Rolen. Both will fall short this year, far shorter than they should, and in Jones’ case, perhaps far enough short that he will fall off the ballot entirely. Ryan Thibodaux’s latest update (link) has Rolen at 12% and Andruw at 5.3%, hovering just above the 5% cutoff. One of the thirty best players of the last half-century is going to fall 70% short by the standards of the exacting BBWAA. It’s remarkable, perhaps only rivaled by the writers’ oversight of Kevin Brown in 2011.
Let’s assume four players are elected in 2018—which four can be up to you. Rivera is probably the only player elected in a landslide next year, although maybe Edgar Martinez and another player can squeeze into a down year on the ballot. Roy Halladay seems a likely candidate for posthumous induction in 2019. 2020 brings us Jeter, who will have been the face of the Marlins for two years by then, so who knows what might happen? By 2022, we could have twenty players eligible among the top 1% to have played since 1970:
- 2019: Rivera, Halladay, Berkman, Helton, Pettitte, Oswalt
- 2020: Jeter, Abreu
- 2021: Hudson
- 2022: A-Rod, David Wright (if he doesn’t return), Ortiz
All are worthy candidates in my view, but will the Hall notice?
Top 500 since 1970
Here’s the full list: