The Baseball Hall of Fame arguments used to be, dare I say … fun? Bert Blyleven is underestimated! Jim Rice is overrated! Jack Morris? Show me the back of his baseball card and let’s discuss.
Welcome to the 2021 Hall of Fame voting. It includes a player suspended for PED use, more suspected PED users, players with domestic violence allegations, a strong candidate with two DUI arrests, and a pitcher who is responsible for its polarizing social media posts is notorious.
It’s all a mess. At the center of the confusion, voters are faced with a key question: do you honor the person or do you honor their career in the field? The voting instructions contain the instruction: “Voting is based on the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, athleticism, character and contributions to the teams in which the player has played.”
Now the baseball writers have to weigh the character clause, which was largely ignored until the steroid generation hit the ballot – and this year’s ballot is full of players with important character issues.
Here’s what to keep in mind in the Hall of Fame voting results on Tuesday, which will be announced at 6:00 p.m. CET. ET.
Will someone be elected?
It looks like the answer is no. Curt Schilling is the mild surprise here. Schilling got 70.0% of the vote last year, his eighth on the ballot, and he fell just 20 votes before the election. Historical precedent suggests that Schilling would act almost automatically to get the extra 5% needed for anchoring. Instead, its total seems to be falling.
Many thanks to Ryan Thibodaux Hall of Fame trackerswe can monitor the total number of votes from members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who disclose their ballots – and that’s bad news for Shillings. In recent years, his total number, after taking private votes into account, has generally decreased by 8%, and Schilling is currently polling around 75% of public ballots:
2016: 60.2% public, 52.3% in total
2017: 51.0% public, 45.0% in total
2018: 60.5% public, 51.2% in total
2019: 69.8% public, 60.9% in total
2020: 77.3% public, 70.0% in total
2021: 75.3% public
Schilling’s number of votes had risen steadily in recent years, partly because the ballot became weaker when the BBWAA elected 15 players in those five years. In addition to the PED-tinted Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Manny Ramirez, Schilling is the strongest candidate on the ballot and easily the best qualified pitcher. Instead, Schilling’s social media behavior, which also includes a 2016 tweet The advocacy of the lynching of journalists, which he later deleted, has apparently caught up with him in the form of lost support from writers who previously voted for him. Remember that ballot papers were cast before his January 6th tweet apparent support for mob violence in the US Capitol.
Honor the pitcher who won 216 games, who fanned out 300 batters three times, who has more career WAR than Tom Glavine or Jim Palmer or Carl Hubbell or John Smoltz, and who has three teams as one of the biggest postseason to World Series titles has led? Jugs of all time? Are you ready to overlook his post-career actions?
If Schilling doesn’t get in, next year will be his final year in the BBWAA vote. Over the past few years, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez and Tim Raines have made it into their final appearance. That is no guarantee for schillings.
What about Omar Vizquel?
Vizquel made great strides over the past year, finishing its third ballot with 52.6% of the vote – advances that almost always lead to adoption. Then, in December, The Athletic released a report in which his wife accused him of domestic abuse. Vizquel denied the allegations – the couple will divorce – but was taken into police custody in 2016 following an incident at the couple’s home. Some voters had already cast ballots, but his public vote has dropped from around 53% to 38.6%.
Vizquel’s case on the field is also controversial. He was a defensive wizard in the field, but with a stick of light on his plate. However, he played more games at Shortstop than anyone in Major League history, ending with 2,877 hits. This longevity is hugely respected in baseball circles. After Harold Baines was inducted into the Hall of Fame two years ago, Tony La Russa – a veterans committee member who voted for Baines – made the case that Baines was “good at 21 and he was good at 40”. This reason applies to Vizquel: He came when he was 22 and played until he was 45, winning 11 gold gloves.
The belief that Vizquel was the Ozzie Smith of the American League is a bit of a stretch, however. Baseball Reference gives Smith a 76.9 career WAR versus Vizquels 45.6. Smith is credited with 239 runs saved in defense against Vizquel’s 129. We can tell by the raw numbers: Smith’s career area factor (games per nine innings) is 5.22 compared to a career league average of 4.78; and Vizquels is 4.62 versus a league average of 4.61. The distance factor is an incomplete figure, but it explains why Smith’s defense metrics are so much better. (Not that Vizquel is a sucker; he still ranks fifth on the baseball reference list of runs saved on Shortstop since 1953.)
Who makes the biggest leap?
Looks like Scott Rolen, now in his fourth election year. He received 35.3% of the vote last year but is 66.4% in the public vote, which is a big increase that puts him on the right track. Rolen is an all-time favorite thanks to his 70.1 career war which ranks ninth all-time among third basemen. Seven of those in front of him are in the Hall of Fame, and the eighth is Adrian Beltre, who is a lockdown if he is eligible. That WAR number depends heavily on some high profile defensive metrics – baseball reference has Rolen saved 140 runs in defense, number 6 since 1953 – but Rolen backs it with nine gold gloves.
Many voters (and fans) will suggest that Rolen just doesn’t “feel” like a Hall of Famer. He ended up in the top 10 MVP votes only once (fourth in 2004) and received only three other votes. Still, his case does not depend solely on his defense. He is 14th among third bases in home runs, 13th in RBIs and 10th in batting runs. Yes, his only one monster The season was 2004 when he scored .314 / .409 / .598 with 34 home runs for the Cardinals, but Rolen was a great two-way player for a long time. As the top 10 player of all time at his position, he is well above the line of an average Hall of Famer.
Who else is climbing?
Three players will receive support (all undoubtedly supported by the thinning of the ballot):
Todd Helton: 29.2% last year, 54.3% so far in the public vote
Andruw Jones: 19.4% last year, 42.1% in the public vote
Billy Wagner: 31.7% last year, 50.0% in the public votes
Helton’s case stems mostly from an incredible five-year peak from 2000-2004 when he hit .349 / .450 / .643, averaging 37 home runs, 123 RBIs and 7.5 WAR. He’s had other good seasons, but those five years make up over 60% of his career war (61.8, at the bottom of a Hall of Famer). I was always lukewarm with Helton because the dominance was relatively short and many Rockies at that time set up a large number in front of the humidor on Coors Field. Helton was also arrested twice for DUI, the second time in 2019.
Jones is a 10-time gold glove winner and is widely recognized as one of the best defensive center outfield players of all time, despite being essentially finished by the age of 30. According to Baseball Reference’s defensive metrics, Jones has saved 230 runs in his career – most of them any midfielder since 1953. No. 2? Willie Mays. This is not as fancy as it might seem. Look at Jones’ career area factor versus Mays:
Jones: 2.76 versus league average of 2.56
May: 2.67 against league average of 2.55
(To be fair, Mays played longer so the career area factor wore off in the end. Still, the top numbers favor Jones too.)
Jones slammed 434 homers and had seven 30 homer seasons. His career WAR of 62.7 is still on the low end for a Hall of Famer, and the decline after age 30 left disappointing taste for his career. He ranks 13th in the career war among midfielders, but there are others (though not on this ballot) who I would say are better choices – including contemporaries Kenny Lofton and Carlos Beltran as well as maybe Jim Edmonds and Bernie Williams.
Jones was arrested for domestic violence in 2012 after his final season in the Major League.
Wagner finished with 2.31 ERA and 422 saves (sixth all-time). He was certainly more dominant than Trevor Hoffman at his best, but Hoffman finished the race with 601 saves – the longevity factor. Still, the recent Hoffman and Lee Smith elections (via the Veterans Committee) should ultimately help Wagner get over the top. Noteworthy: Bill James has just written a piece about the best helpers of all time, and Joe Nathan, who will vote next year, is higher than Wagner on James’ formula.
What will Jeff Kent’s percentage be?
Not high enough to get in – definitely not for 2021 and unlikely to be in 2022 or 2023. In his eighth election year, Kent needs a big boost. He got 27.5% last year, but that’s not an impossible position to run away from. Look at Walker and Martinez years 7-10 on the ballot: Walker – 21.9, 34.1, 54.6, and 76.6; Martinez – 43.4, 58.6, 70.4 and 85.4. Walker was lower than Kent, so Kent’s hope is a Walker-like wave. But Kent is just 27.9% on the public vote, essentially unchanged from last year. Though he has the most home races ever from a second baseman and 1,518 RBIs (more than not just Helton, Jones or Rolen, but more than, oh, Vladimir Guerrero or Mickey Mantle or Eddie Mathews or Mike Piazza). Let’s put it this way: Kent is 54th all-time in RBIs. Everyone before him is in the Hall of Fame, will get there, or would be there if not for PEDs except Fred McGriff.
I think you have to draw the line somewhere, but it’s interesting that Vizquel’s longevity is of significant concern to voters while Kents is being laid off. Kent’s career WAR of 55.4 is not much lower than that of Helton or Jones, but his vote count suggests that many younger voters are clearly putting a lot of weight behind it. Kent’s lack of peak seasons is also a factor as he only had three WAR seasons with five wins.
By and large, The Athletic’s Joe Posnanski pointed to this idea rolled into one recent essay on McGriff. To a certain extent we come to a “what’s the point?” with these border candidates? The BBWAA never voted for McGriff, but he’ll definitely get in once he makes the Veterans Committee election (as recently with Morris, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell). Kent is like McGriff: a respected player with some impressive scoring stats that is pretty much a ban on the Veterans Committee. You can say the same about most borderline candidates … well, those with no character issues.
What makes us …
How will the alleged PED people behave?
That group includes a confirmed PED user in Manny Ramirez (suspended twice for testing positive), as well as this group: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa, whose performances are tarnished by the PED Association. Bonds (60.7% last year), Clemens (61.0%) and Sosa (13.9%) are now each in the ninth poll. Time is running out.
Bonds and Clemens are currently voting 72% of the public ballots, which is higher than the 64% they received last year. So while they are making incremental profits, they are not doing it fast enough. It seems that at some point their cases will go to the Veterans Committee, which looked at Mark McGwire’s case and said, “No.” Bonds and Clemens are of course on a different level as players, but the current climate suggests that a group of old players, executives, and sports journalists will not be as generous as the younger members of the BBWAA.