It was about two months ago that about 425 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) received their Hall of Fame ballots in the mail. By the end of December, each of those writers returned their ballots to the Hall, with anywhere from 0 to 10 checkmarks next to the names of the 33 candidates on the ballot.
On Wednesday, Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson will announce which players will join Jack Morris and Alan Trammell as members of the 2018 Hall of Fame Class. In this piece, I’ll share the latest “early vote,” as reported by Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker. In addition, I’ll offer the Cooperstown Cred projected vote, based on the current reported vote totals and past historical trends of the post-announcement vote.
In addition, due to overwhelming popular demand, I’ll share my personal “virtual” ballot. I’ll list the names of the ten players I would vote for were I accorded the honor of casting a ballot. If you’re a frequent visitor to this site, you know that I put a lot of time in the analysis of the candidates for the Hall.
So, first of all, here is the current reported vote, according to the “Tracker”:
|Player||Yrs. on Ballot||Current % per the Tracker||2017 Final Vote||'Net +/- votes from returning voters|
|Updated 1/24/18 at 11:00a PT|
|243 ballots revealed (approx 57.3% of total)|
The players who finish above 75% will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer. Anyone who finishes below 5% will be removed from future ballots. The following players are on the ballot for the first time and have not yet received any known votes: Chris Carpenter, Livan Hernandez, Orlando Hudson, Aubrey Huff, Jason Isringhausen, Carlos Lee, Brad Lidge, Kevin Millwood, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano. They’ll join Johan Santana, Johnny Damon, Jamie Moyer and Hideki Matsui as first-ballot casualties.
Next, here is the final Cooperstown projected vote, based on the following methodology: for players returning to the ballot, the past votes for those players (among unreported ballots) are measured in conjunction with the percentage increase already realized in the publicly revealed vote. For first-time players, the projection is a bit more difficult, predicated on the profile of the type of players the unreported voters favored last year.
Because most of the “heavy lifting” has been done by the Tracker, the numbers here are similar to those you can find on Twitter from statistical gurus Nathaniel Rakich, Scott Lindholm, Ross Carey, Jason Sardell and Mark Littleton.
I’ve excluded Santana, Damon, Moyer and Matsui here, because there is no projection model that keeps them on the 2019 ballot.
|Projected 2018 HOF Final Vote %||Cooperstown Cred Projection|
The consensus of the prognosticators, as well as this one, is that we will have four new Hall of Famers joining Morris and Trammell this summer: Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman.
Edgar Martinez will finish several points shy of the 75% threshold but will now be in Cooperstown’s version of “scoring position.” Players at 70% but less than 75% almost always cross the finish line the following year. The reason for my pessimism about his final results is that he only received 52% of the vote from the voters who revealed their ballots in 2017 after the announcement and who have not yet revealed their 2018 preferences.
Edgar has made some significant gains so far in the early reported vote (adding a net 25 votes out of 243 revealed votes). That’s a nice increase but it’s only 11% more from the returning voters. My mathematical model put him at 69.1%; I boosted it a bit on the assumption that some of the voters who are no longer eligible are more likely to have been anti-designated hitter.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, on the ballot for the 6th time, will see very modest gains, based on what we’ve seen so far. The predicted results, barely above the totals they achieved in 2017, will call into question whether they can get all the way to 75% in the next four voting cycles. What looked inevitable a year ago now looks like a distinctive “maybe.”
What might push them over the finish line is that the next three ballots are much weaker (in terms of the volume of quality first-time candidates) than the last several. It’s also a question about how many new writers will be added to the rolls and how many older ones will be purged. New writers almost universally vote for Bonds and Clemens. Still, their momentum has stalled among the current electorate. I’d call it just slightly more than a 50-50 proposition that they’ll make it into the Hall.
And now, ladies and gentleman, the Cooperstown Cred virtual ballot, with links to more detailed analyses of their respective candidacies. I’ve ranked these players in order of voting priorities. In other words, if a player is listed 3rd, he would be one of three players picked if I were limited to only three choices.
Late note: I wrote this piece on Tuesday. A little after 11:40a PT on Wednesday, I learned on MLB Network that the 2018 Frick Award winner Bob Costas cast the exact same virtual ballot as the one you’ll see below. For whatever it’s worth, brilliant minds think alike.
1. Chipper Jones
Even before he stepped onto a Major League diamond, Larry Wayne Jones had the vibe of an All-Star. He was a former #1 overall draft pick and Baseball America #1 prospect. He has the third most home runs for a switch-hitter in baseball history (behind Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray). His 141 OPS+ is 3rd best for a third baseman in history (behind Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews). He was always an obvious first ballot lock for the Hall and will be the top voter-getter for 2018.
2. Jim Thome
If I were limited to two votes, Thome would be the other pick after Chipper. With 612 career home runs, the 6’4″ Thome was an authentic slugger in the PED era. He was, almost, the left-handed version of Frank Thomas, a premier power hitter who had the plate discipline to be a significant on-base threat. His 1,747 career bases on balls put him 7th on the all-time list, behind some nobodies named Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe Morgan and Carl Yastrzemski.
3. Vladimir Guerrero
I don’t think that Vladdy is the 3rd best player on this ballot but it’s always a priority to push players over the finish line and he certainly might be the third best non-PED linked player eligible for Cooperstown this year. Guerrero was a consistent .300 hitter who could hit with power, run and throw. He had a swing-at-anything approach (hence, he didn’t walk much) but, because of his long arms, was hard to strike out for a hitter who swung at so many bat balls.
He finished his career with a .318 average and 449 home runs. The only other players to do that? Ruth, Williams, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, and Jimmie Foxx. With these and many other statistical nuggets testifying to his greatness, you can see why Vladdy is ready for his Hall call.
I’ve always found it unfathomable that people are debating whether Schilling is a Hall of Famer. It’s true that, due to many injuries early in his career, he was a bit of a late bloomer and thus finished his career with only 216 wins. He didn’t pitch as much as most Hall of Fame inductees but when he did pitch, he was brilliant. His career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.38 is the best for any pitcher with at least 1,500 innings pitched since 1884 (not a typo).
Finally, he was the greatest post-season ace of the last 50 years. Schilling went 11-2 with a 2.33 ERA in 19 playoff starts. Five times he toed the rubber with his team facing elimination; five times his team won that game. Forget about his Twitter feed or his politics, Curt Schilling is a Hall of Famer.
On this year’s ballot, Schilling will recover slightly from his Twitter-fueled slump in the vote last year. Once Roy Halladay (next year) and Mussina (next year or 2020) make the Hall, there will be no other starting pitchers to vote for who are remotely in the same class as Schilling. No, Andy Pettitte is not in Schilling’s class. I would expect Schill to make it in 2021 (which has a weak first-year class).
5. Edgar Martinez
Like Schilling, Edgar’s raw numbers are a little shy because he was a late bloomer (due to not becoming a regular player until his age 27 season). Also like Schilling, his numbers are superb. Martinez had a “slash line” (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .312/.418/515. His .418 on-base% is the 3rd best in baseball (behind Bonds and Thomas) for any players in the last 50 years.
His brilliance as a hitter has been endorsed by some of the greatest pitchers of his generation (Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Mariano Rivera). He’s on the Hall of Fame bubble right now and, as already indicated, is likely to fall several percentage points shy. The good news is that there’s a high probability he’ll make the Hall of Fame Class of 2019, a class that will include Rivera. For whatever it’s worth, in 23 plate appearances against the Great Mariano, Edgar went 11 for 19 with 3 walks, 2 home runs and 3 doubles.
6. Mike Mussina
The absence of Mussina from Cooperstown is, like with Schilling, also a head-scratcher. The only explanation is that he was always overshadowed by someone a little better. He was never the best (or 2nd best) pitcher in the game but, for 18 years, he was mostly at the top of the 2nd tier. In 9 different seasons, he was in the top 6 of the Cy Young Award voting.
He fell 30 wins shy of 300 but only because he chose to quit at the top of his game, after his first 20-win season. He survived 18 years pitching exclusively in the rugged American League East, including during the height of the PED era.
It’s likely Mussina will be the second-highest vote-getter (to Martinez) among those not inducted to the Hall this year. His slow and steady increases put him on pace for a Hall of Fame plaque in 2020 (or possibly in 2019). For Moose, Cooperstown is beckoning soon.
7. Trevor Hoffman
I will admit, for years I didn’t think Hoffman was a Hall of Famer. I felt that he was a product of the one-inning save generation, kept in a safe cocoon by his managers, piling up easy saves. I also held his notable big-moment missteps against him.
However, upon doing a great deal of research, I found that Hoffman had some hidden nuggets in his profile that made me more sympathetic to his cause. In fact, he wasn’t just one of those closers who only toiled in “clean” 9th inning situations. He was also remarkably effective when entering games with runners on base, better in fact than any top tier closer in history, including Rivera.
In addition, 601 is still a lot of saves; it’s 123 more than Lee Smith, who is in 3rd place on the all-time list. For these and other reasons, I’m in Hoffman’s camp and believe that this is the year he will get his Cooperstown plaque.
8 & 9. Barry Bonds & Roger Clemens
These two both hit the ballot in 2013 and will forever mirror each other in the voting since the worthiness of their statistics is not in question but the worthiness of their characters is. As long as I put them on my virtual ballot, I’ll always list them near the bottom even though, by performance, they are always the top two players on that ballot.
I wrote a long piece about the conundrum facing Hall of Fame voters regarding Bonds and Clemens. To make a long story short, I’m with the voters who feel that Bonds and Clemens had careers so far greater than any others in their era that their excellence on the diamond transcends the sins of their late-career use of Performing Enhancing Drugs.
I understand the argument against and how intractable some who hold that view will remain. They cheated. They knew they were cheating. As Hall of Famer Joe Morgan put it in his email to the the members of the BBWAA, they made “great players who didn’t cheat look smaller by comparison.”
This is all true and there are some players on this ballot who are seemingly collateral damage of the cheating. My problem is that the “cheated” were a part of a players’ union that was completely uncooperative regarding the implementation of drug testing.
In addition, the writers inducted catcher Ivan Rodriguez into Cooperstown one year ago. I am convinced that I-Rod used PEDs. He was outed by teammate Jose Canseco in two books and his denials have been weak, vague and unimpressive. If we already have known PED users in the Hall of Fame, I can’t see keeping two of the greatest players of all time on the outside.
The Tough 10th Choice
Like many of the BBWAA writers in columns I’ve read, the 10th selection for me was the most difficult. I agonized about this choice as if I had an actual vote. According to the ballot breakdown on the Tracker, there are a whopping 43 voters (out of the first 235 to reveal their choices) who checked the names Chipper, Thome, Vladdy, Hoffman, Edgar, Mussina, Schilling, Bonds, and Clemens. There was more of a consensus on those first nine names (by far) than I’ve ever seen since “tracking the Tracker.”
There’s a good reason why there are so many writers who are supporting the “Big 9.” The simple reason is that they’re all likely to eventually make it into the Hall of Fame, with the possible exception of Bonds and Clemens, who I think are in the 50-50 category. All of the other candidates on the current ballot, except maybe for Omar Vizquel, look like major long shots.
10. Fred McGriff
I settled on the Crime Dog for my 10th virtual selection because he’s running out of time on the ballot and is, in mine and many others’ views, one of the greatest victims of the PED era. Until home run totals started to explode with the advent of steroid use, McGriff’s 493 career home runs would have punched a ticket to Cooperstown.
His park-and-hitting-era adjusted OPS+ of 134 is 27th best in the long history of the game, for players who made at least 10,000 plate appearances. There are only 7 non Hall of Famers who have done better. Two of them (Chipper Jones and Jim Thome) will be going in this year. Three of them (Albert Pujols, David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez) are not yet eligible. The other two (Bonds and Gary Sheffield) are on the current BBWAA ballot and have PED links.
I went into much more detail about McGriff’s Hall of Fame worthiness in True Crime: Fred McGriff’s Disappearing Hall of Fame Chances.
Let’s say right here that the Crime Dog is not going to get into Cooperstown via the BBWAA ballot. He’s never even cracked 25% of the writers’ vote. It’s easy to blame it on being squeezed by the 10-man ballot limit and the presence of Bonds and Clemens on that ballot year after year.
The truth, however, is that most of the non-Bonds-Clemens voters aren’t checking McGriff’s name either. Of the first 82 voters reported by the Tracker who did not vote for either Bonds or Clemens, only 26 voted for McGriff. Only 11 of the 56 non-McGriff voters used all 10 spots on their ballot.
So, the collateral damage to McGriff is not tangibly a result of Bonds and Clemens clogging up the ballot. It’s that the perception of McGriff’s career is diminished by all of the home runs hit by Bonds, and A-Rod, and Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro, Ramirez and Sheffield. The bottom line: in the PED era 493 home runs just didn’t seem so sexy anymore.
If McGriff has no chance of making it to Cooperstown with the BBWAA, what’s the point of voting for him? The point is that, if he can get a mini-surge in the last two years and post a respectable final vote total (something above 30%, maybe), that may help him with the Eras Committee (the current version of the Veterans Committee), which just elected Morris and Trammell.
The Crime Dog seems like the perfect Eras Committee candidate. With half of the committee members being already enshrined Hall of Famers, his clean reputation and long, distinguished career will likely play very well. If I were making a wager, I’d bet that McGriff will make the Hall in 2022 with the support of the Today’s Game Committee.
Finally, I’ll do a brief rundown (in order) of the players who did not make my Top 10:
11. Jeff Kent
For me, the choice between McGriff and Kent was a coin-flip. The power-hitting second baseman has fared even worse with the writers than McGriff. Kent hit 377 home runs in his career, by far the most for a second sacker. Because he didn’t discover his hitting stroke until he was 29 years old, Kent sneaked up on everyone as a Hall of Fame candidate. As I wrote recently, it’s one of the reasons he’s been overlooked in the Hall of Fame debate.
Kent is only on the ballot for the 5th time, so it’s possible that he’ll have a surge once the clogged ballot starts to clear. I think that’s unlikely, however. Because of his average defense and base-running, his career WAR in only 55.2, not even in the top 10 of players on the ballot. This year, that number puts him in 15th place for a statistic that more and more writers pay attention to.
12. Larry Walker
The Canadian-born Walker, on the other hand, is a sabermetric favorite, with a career WAR of 72.6, 7th best on the current ballot. He was a legitimate all-around player who could hit, hit with power, run well, field and throw. His candidacy has always been discounted because of his cartoonish numbers logged when he called Coors Field his home ballpark.
I did a lot of research on the Coors Field effect relating to Walker and concluded that, in spite of the advantage he gained by playing in the Mile High air, his Coors numbers were so off-the-charts great that it can’t be used as a reason to exclude him from the Hall.
Walker has enjoyed a mini-surge in the early ballot reporting, logging more “flipped” votes than anyone but Guerrero. What his supporters are attempting to achieve, by influencing others, is a very difficult task. In the last 70 years of BBWAA voting, nobody has gone from 22% (Walker’s total last year) to 75% in just three voting cycles.
After this year, Walker has two more appearances on the ballot. I’ll probably put him in my top 10 next year. The question is whether enough real voters will do the same and create the tsunami-level wave he’ll need to vault over the 75% mark by 2020.
13. Scott Rolen
With 8 career Gold Gloves, 316 home runs, a 122 career OPS+ and a career WAR of 70.0, Rolen is a likely cause celebre in the sabermetric community in the years to come. I think he was an excellent player and would have no problem if he eventually made it into Cooperstown. He’s starting slow, at about 12%, but that’s a function of the crowded ballot.
As the ballot thins in the upcoming years, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rolen started to climb slowly on a year-by-year basis with the voters. As I wrote in WAR Test, Rolen can reasonably be compared to Hall of Famer Ron Santo. He’s an interesting case and I’m open to supporting him in the future.
14. Manny Ramirez
Ramirez got 24% of the vote in his first season on the ballot (last year) and is tracking at about the same number, maybe a little less. It’s interesting that Manny has gotten approximately double the support of two other PED-tainted outfielders on the ballot, Sosa and Sheffield. I call it interesting because Man-Ram actually failed two drug tests, while Sosa and Sheffield did not.
The difference is that Ramirez was a vastly better hitter overall than Sosa and clearly superior to Sheffield as well. In essence, Ramirez as a hitter was everything that Edgar Martinez was but with much more power. He was a high-average, high-power hitter like Vladimir Guerrero but also one with a higher on-base ability.
In totality, Ramirez is the second best pure hitter on this ballot to Bonds. He’s 14th on my list because of the two failed drug tests. Because Man-Ram is only on his second ballot, he has the best chance of making it eventually among the troika with Sosa and Sheffield. If Bonds and Clemens cross the finish line in 2021 or 2022, I would expect Manny to spike in the years that follow. Sosa, in his 6th year on the ballot, is not going to make it and Sheffield is a long shot as well.
15. Gary Sheffield
Having watched Sheffield throughout his career, putting him 15th on a Hall of Fame list seems unfathomable. But 15th he is on my list and it’s because of his presence in the Mitchell report and the BALCO investigation. Unlike most PED users, he admitted his use early. He was working out one off-season with Bonds and used a substance known as the “cream,” which he claims he did not realize was a steroid. Whether that’s true or not, it’s tainted his career legacy.
When I look at a PED-linked player’s career, the word I focus on is “authentic.” I ask the question, do I believe that the player’s career record is an authentic reflection of their ability or the result of chemical engineering. In my view, Sheffield was a legitimately fearsome hitter, one who maintained his high level of productivity in 2005, the first year of testing.
Just going by the numbers, these are the players with the most similar statistics to Sheffield’s, according to Bill James’ Similarity Scores: Chipper Jones, Mel Ott, Reggie Jackson, Carlos Beltran, Ken Griffey Jr., Fred McGriff, Mickey Mantle, Billy Williams, Frank Robinson and Frank Thomas. Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s pretty darned good company!!
Sheffield is on the ballot for the 4th time and has never reached even 14% on the ballot. Unless there’s a huge fundamental shift in the way PED-linked players are viewed, it’s not going to happen for Sheff.
16. Andruw Jones
His supporters (including Hall of Fame teammates John Smoltz and Tom Glavine) say that he was the best defensive center fielder of his generation. Some say that he was the best in the history of the game. Pair that with 434 career home runs and you have two big building blocks in the foundation of a Cooperstown resume. I’m skeptical, as I wrote in the piece Andruw Jones: Best Defensive Center Fielder Ever?
I have some good company in the skeptical camp, none other than sabermetric pioneer Bill James. What we know for certain is that Jones truly was a great defensive player (he won 10 Gold Gloves). He was a good (not great) hitter. We also know that his career fell off a cliff after his age 30 season. Almost instantly, he went from a premier defensive star who could hit with power into an overweight platoon player with minimal defensive value.
I’m not ready to become an advocate and it may not matter. Jones is in danger of falling off the ballot since he’s teetering barely about 5% of the vote. I’d like to see him stick around for a few years but, in my view, there are other center fielders of his generation (Jim Edmonds, Kenny Lofton, Bernie Williams) with more compelling Hall of Fame cases.
17. Billy Wagner
Proponents of Billy Wagner’s candidacy highlight his ERA+, WHIP and strikeouts per 9 innings. His run-prevention numbers are right up there with Mariano Rivera’s. Many supporters say that, if you support Trevor Hoffman for the Hall, you have to support Wagner as well. I disagree. There’s a big volume difference between Hoffman’s 601 saves and Wagner’s 422 saves.
The very short version is that there are multiple closers in the game currently who are mirroring Wagner’s career. More years are required to determine just how great his ERA+, WHIP and SO/9 truly were. To see what I mean by that, I encourage you to check out my piece Billy Wagner and the Cooperstown Closer Debate.
18. Johan Santana
He’ll be off the BBWAA ballot after this, his first appearance. For four years, he was by far the best pitcher in baseball. For seven years, statistically speaking, he was the best pitcher in baseball.
Unfortunately, his career was cut short by injury. In 2012, he pitched the first and only no-hitter in New York Mets history. He threw 134 pitches in that historic effort and Mets manager Terry Collins is still haunted by the idea that Santana’s career might have been destroyed because he (Collins) left him in to finish that game.
As I documented in Johan Santana: A Case in Peak Value, Santana’s career is analogous to three Hall of Fame starters, Addie Joss, Dizzy Dean and the legendary Sandy Koufax. Santana will not ever make the Hall of Fame but, if peak value was rewarded, he would have a great case.
19. Omar Vizquel
I hate putting the acrobatic defensive whiz so low on this list. With Rolen at #13, Jones at #16 and Vizquel at #19 it would be fair for someone to write, “Chris Bodig gives no value to defense; he knows nothing about baseball.” The truth is that I know quite a bit about baseball; I’ve been watching and studying the game for the last 43 years of my life, starting in 1975. I also do value defensive play. I do, however, value it less than other aspects of the game, which are more easily measured.
I especially look at defensive statistics with a great deal of suspicion. The defensive metrics on Baseball Reference, as they relate to Andruw Jones, say that he’s the best ever in center field. Those metrics say that he was twice as good a player defensively as Willie Mays. I’m not kidding!
Jones was clearly excellent but I am skeptical that he was the best ever at his position.
With respect to Vizquel, the metrics clearly do not accord him “best ever” status. In fact, they don’t once accord “best in his league” status for one single year. Please enjoy (or hate) my piece about the Viz (Eye Test vs. WAR Test).
Regarding his Cooperstown prognosis, I don’t know what to make of Vizquel. He’s going to wind up with a respectable first-year vote (somewhere in the 30’s), the kind of opening tally that often is a springboard to a future induction. Because of his low WAR (45.3), he’s going to have a hard time gaining ground as younger voters replace older ones. For this reason, I’d peg his odds at less than 20% for getting into the Hall via the writers.
20. Johnny Damon
If Damon had played in the first half of the 20th century, posted the exact same statistics that he actually logged, and won two World Series championships, he would be in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for Caveman, the standards are significantly higher than they were back then. Damon had an excellent career but, with today’s standards, he’s in the Hall of Almost.
21. Sammy Sosa
Sammy Sosa, only the 21st best on this ballot? That might seem logical for PED hard-liners but I’m not one of them. Why do I have Slammin’ Sammy so low? It’s that, in my opinion, the entire rationale of his Hall of Fame candidacy is based on his 609 home runs and, more specifically, hitting over 60 home runs three times in four years. And it’s my belief that his home run records were fueled by steroids.
He was not a great hitter overall. He was a decent fielder but glove-work would not be part of a Cooperstown case. When he was young he could run pretty well but that ended when he became he Incredible Hulk.
Despite all of the home runs, he’s only 13th on this ballot in Offensive WAR. OK, I’ve said a billion times that I look skeptically at WAR but his low ranking here is based on low walks, high strikeouts and general ineffectiveness early in his career.
Finally, there’s this. In 2004, Sosa hit 35 home runs with a 114 OPS+ for the Chicago Cubs. Clearly, he was in the decline phase of his career. But, oh, that decline accelerated in 2005, the first year of drug testing. In ’05, he hit 14 home runs in 424 plate appearances, with a woeful 78 OPS+.
If somebody can prove me wrong, my mind can be changed. But in my opinion, Sosa’s home run total is a sham. Since the home runs are the biggest (by far) credential for a Cooperstown case, there is no case.
That’s it. Hall of Fame prognostication season is now officially over. The vote will be announced at 6:00p ET and we will likely have four new Hall of Fame members.
Thanks for reading!