The Effects, Or Lack Thereof, Of The New HOF Voting Rules

On Sunday, Cooperstown looked as it should on induction day. A good crowd, in a beautiful, heavenly part of America, paying tribute to well deserving — and just as importantly, living — awardees. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been this way often enough in recent seasons, as the BBWAA has had a difficult time electing members, for reasons both within and outside of their control. To that end, they have enacted a rule tweak, with the desired impact of clearing up the ballot that has become saturated in recent years. Eligible players may now remain under BBWAA consideration for 10 years, instead of 15. Is this the magic bullet that is going to make the voters’ problems go away, or might this simply be a “rearranging the deck chairs”-type move that takes the onus off of the actual problem?

The BBWAA has had a rough beginning to the 21st century, for a myriad of reasons. The analytical revolution that has provided everyone from fans to front offices with new methods of player evaluation to supplement existing ones largely passed the writers by until very recently. This has been a BBWAA shortcoming that was within their control. On the other hand, the aftermath of the steroid era has left the writers with a very messy situation that was largely outside of their control. None of these great players recently added to the ballot who were either directly or indirectly associated with PEDs were banned or suspended from the game, or barred from Hall of Fame consideration. With little or no guidance, it was left to the writers to decide their Hall-worthiness under the long-existing guidelines, and the results have been predictably uneven.

While most of the online chatter has been about increasing the number of maximum votes per writer from the current level of 10, a different tack was taken in shortening the maximum consideration period from 15 years to 10, with current 10+-year guys Alan Trammell, Lee Smith and Don Mattingly grandfathered under the old rules, remaining on the ballot through their 15th year. Let’s take a practical approach, and look backward and then forward to see what effect this rule change might have had if enacted earlier, and how it might effect the current ballot in the near term.

Appearing below is a complete list of players who have appeared on the ballot since 2000, and reached their 11th year of consideration – i.e., players who would have disappeared from the ballot after year 10 under the new rules.

Luis Tiant
Jim Kaat
* Bruce Sutter
Steve Garvey
Dave Parker
Dave Concepcion
Tommy John
* Jim Rice
* Bert Blyleven
Dale Murphy
Don Mattingly
Alan Trammell
Lee Smith
Jack Morris

* = Elected to Hall of Fame by BBWAA

That’s a total of 14 players, of whom the majority never came very close to induction. For those players, this rule change means very little – they weren’t close in year 10, no reason to keep them around for years 11-15. John and especially Morris did come close, and received a full hearing in the process. But wait…..there’s three players, Sutter, Rice and Blyleven, who were actually elected by the BBWAA in years 11-15. While I would not have voted for Sutter or Rice – there are many more deserving players than them who are on the outside of Cooperstown looking in, by any number of traditional or non-traditional evaluation methods – Blyleven is another story. I would make the argument that the induction of Bert Blyleven stands as the single proudest moment of the BBWAA in this century. In his case, they responded to a grass-roots effort, re-examined his Hall of Fame case, and essentially admitted they were wrong. His induction gave many hope that the voters were now wide awake, and would take a much more progressive approach in evaluating HOF candidates moving forward. Instead, they have now enacted a rule which would have made this proud moment impossible if enacted earlier.

Now, let’s look at the current ballot.

2014
Player Votes Percent Year
Greg Maddux 555 97.20% 1
Tom Glavine 525 91.90% 1
Frank Thomas 478 83.70% 2
Craig Biggio 427 74.80% 2
Mike Piazza 355 62.20% 2
Jack Morris 351 61.50% 15
Jeff Bagwell 310 54.30% 4
Tim Raines 263 46.10% 7
Roger Clemens 202 35.40% 2
Barry Bonds 198 34.70% 2
Lee Smith 171 29.90% 12
Curt Schilling 167 29.20% 2
Edgar Martínez 144 25.20% 5
Alan Trammell 119 20.80% 13
Mike Mussina 116 20.30% 1
Jeff Kent 87 15.20% 1
Fred McGriff 67 11.70% 5
Mark McGwire 63 11.00% 8
Larry Walker 58 10.20% 4
Don Mattingly 47 8.20% 14
Sammy Sosa 41 7.20% 2
Rafael Palmeiro* 25 4.40% 4
† Moisés Alou* 6 1.10% 1
Hideo Nomo* 6 1.10% 1
Luis Gonzalez* 5 0.90% 1
† Éric Gagné* 2 0.40% 1
† J. T. Snow* 2 0.40% 1
† Armando Benítez* 1 0.20% 1
Jacque Jones* 1 0.20% 1
Kenny Rogers* 1 0.20% 1
Sean Casey* 0.00% 1
Ray Durham* 0.00% 1
Todd Jones* 0.00% 1
Paul Lo Duca* 0.00% 1
Richie Sexson* 0.00% 1
Mike Timlin* 0.00% 1
TOT 4793
CAP 5710
V/BAL 83.94%
TOT – 10+ 4105
ADJ V/BAL 71.89%

Below the individual totals you find the total votes cast (TOT), the maximum vote capacity of all ballots combined (CAP), the percentage of that capacity consumed by actual votes (V/BAL), the total votes cast excluding the 10+ year players being considered (TOT -10+), and the percentage of capacity consumed adjusted for those 10+ players (ADJ V/BAL). If the new rules had been in effect for the 2014 vote, and Jack Morris/Trammell/Smith/Mattingly had not been grandfathered, that would have freed up their 688 total votes to be allocated elsewhere. If those votes were all exercised – very unlikely, considering the BBWAA’s history – and distributed proportionally among the remaining players, Craig Biggio obviously would have gone over the 75% threshold for induction, and Mike Piazza would have made a strong run that would have likely fallen short. Of course, the players in years 11-15 are being grandfathered, so there will not be that many votes available to be distributed.

In 2015, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield, Brian Giles, Carlos Delgado and Nomar Garciaparra become eligible. Only Jack Morris falls off of the ballot.

In 2016, Ken Griffey, Jr., Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner and Jim Edmonds become eligible. Only Mattingly falls off of the ballot.

In 2017, Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero and Jorge Posada become eligible. Only Trammell and Mark McGwire fall off of the ballot.

In 2018, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Johan Santana, Jamie Moyer and Johnny Damon become eligible. Only Smith and – tragically – Tim Raines fall off the ballot.

Obviously, shortening the consideration period from 15 to 10 years is not going to come close to addressing the issues the BBWAA faces in the next few years – the squeeze is only going to be magnified in scope. Only two players will come off of the ballot early due to the new rules in this period, and one of them, Raines, is a clear Hall of Famer who has slipped through the cracks due to the BBWAA’s misevaluation. Next to Rickey Henderson, Raines may be the best leadoff man and power/speed guy of the modern era – a significantly better player than the great Lou Brock. And a rule is enacted that kicks Raines to the Veterans Committee earlier, and prevents the writers from “pulling a Blyleven” and inducting him at some point during the Year 11-15 period.

Let’s take a step back and look at the 10-vote per ballot limit, that has been in place since Hall voting began in 1936.

Ballot Capacity Trends
V/BAL ADJ V/BAL
2000 56.37% 52.14%
2001 63.26% 59.42%
2002 59.53% 55.42%
2003 65.97% 60.56%
2004 65.49% 55.99%
2005 63.24% 45.12%
2006 56.40% 35.42%
2007 65.76% 52.51%
2008 53.54% 40.28%
2009 53.84% 34.10%
2010 56.72% 41.37%
2011 59.79% 42.32%
2012 50.98% 37.40%
2013 66.01% 47.93%
2014 83.94% 71.89%

Again, V/BAL is the actual percentage of ballot capacity consumed by votes, and ADJ V/BAL eliminates all players in years 11-15 of eligibility. Ballot capacity has never been a problem, with or without the 11-15 year players. As recently as 2012, only half of ballot capacity was being utilized, with HOF caliber players such as Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Edgar Martinez given short shrift in what might go down as their best chance of being enshrined by the writers. Ballot capacity got really tight in 2014, and is about to get a whole lot tighter based on the aforementioned wave of players to be added to the ballot in the next few seasons.

The 10-player per ballot limit is not the problem, but is likely outdated nonetheless. There were 16 teams in the major leagues from 1936 through 1960, barely half the current amount. Interestingly the ballot capacity problem didn’t really kick in until the first of the 1977 expansion players, like Trammell, entered their 11th through 15th years on the ballot. The maximum number of votes per ballot doesn’t need to be doubled, or even close to that, but an increase to 12 or at most 14 would get the voters through the current crush and then allow vote capacity percentages to stabilize near historical levels.

Want to talk about a ballot crunch?

1936 Votes %
Ty Cobb 222 98.20%
Honus Wagner 215 95.10%
Babe Ruth 215 95.10%
Christy Mathewson 205 90.70%
Walter Johnson 189 83.60%
Nap Lajoie HOF 146 64.60%
Tris Speaker HOF 133 58.80%
Cy Young HOF 111 49.10%
Rogers Hornsby HOF 105 46.50%
Mickey Cochrane HOF 80 35.40%
George Sisler HOF 77 34.10%
Eddie Collins HOF 60 26.50%
Jimmy Collins HOF 58 25.70%
Pete Alexander HOF 55 24.30%
Lou Gehrig HOF 51 22.60%
Roger Bresnahan HOF 47 20.80%
Willie Keeler HOF 40 17.70%
Rube Waddell HOF 33 14.60%
Jimmie Foxx HOF 21 9.30%
Ed Walsh HOF 20 8.80%
Ed Delahanty HOF 17 7.50%
Pie Traynor HOF 16 7.10%
Frankie Frisch HOF 14 6.20%
Lefty Grove HOF 12 5.30%
Hal Chase 11 4.90%
Ross Youngs HOF 10 4.40%
Bill Terry HOF 9 4.00%
Johnny Kling 8 3.50%
Lou Criger 7 3.10%
Mordecai Brown HOF 6 2.70%
Johnny Evers HOF 6 2.70%
Frank Chance HOF 5 2.20%
Ray Schalk HOF 4 1.80%
Al Simmons HOF 4 1.80%
John McGraw HOF 4 1.80%
Shoeless Joe Jackson 2 0.90%
Chief Bender HOF 2 0.90%
Edd Roush HOF 2 0.90%
Rube Marquard HOF 1 0.40%
Dazzy Vance HOF 1 0.40%
Sam Crawford HOF 1 0.40%
Home Run Baker HOF 1 0.40%
Fred Clarke HOF 1 0.40%
Nap Rucker 1 0.40%
Bill Bradley 1 0.40%
Kid Elberfeld 1 0.40%
Connie Mack HOF 1 0.40%
Charlie Gehringer HOF 0.00%
Billy Sullivan 0.00%
Gabby Hartnett HOF 0.00%
TOT 2231
CAP 2260
V/BAL 98.72%

Above is the first Hall of Fame ballot, in 1936. This is a Los Angeles, I-5 traffic jam compared to today’s relatively mild ballot situation. What did the voters do back then? Simple. They elected Hall of Famers. It took some years to play catch up and get them all in, but they got around to voting in most of the truly deserving. And believe me, I am by no means saying that early Hall of Fame voters didn’t make their share of mistakes. At least they voted in Hall of Famers.

That would be my primary piece of advice to the BBWAA today. Do your job – vote in Hall of Famers. Yes, the PED issue is a dicey one that makes your job somewhat difficult. How difficult is it, however, to differentiate the players who would have been Hall of Famers without such “help” from the ones who may have relied upon it to become dramatically different players. Can’t reasonable voters conclude that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, in any era or circumstance, would have been Hall of Fame caliber? Let the PED battle be fought around grey-er area cases such as McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, but get the obvious guys in, and stop lumping guys like Bagwell and Mike Piazza in with guys with documentable PED histories.

Secondly, stop using historical benchmarks that make zero sense when applied to today’s game when evaluating HOF candidates. 300 wins is almost unreachable in this day and age. There are five-man rotations and killer bullpens cutting into the number of appearances and decisions recorded by starting pitchers. How Jack Morris can come to the brink of induction while a superior pitcher such as Mike Mussina – who won more games, lost fewer, and outstrips Morris in other, more nuanced, advanced evaluation methods – is likely to slip between the cracks is beyond my comprehension. Who cares that Edgar Martinez has only 2247 hits……he has a ridiculous 147 career OPS+, better than countless bat-oriented Hall of Famers. David Ortiz is damn good, but he’s not Edgar. Dazzy Vance didn’t win 200 games, let alone 300, but was deservedly elected to the Hall because he was overwhelmingly dominant for a decade or so, striking out way more hitters than anyone during his era. A guy like him wouldn’t get a sniff from today’s BBWAA.

Decreasing the number of years on the ballot from 15 to 10 does very little to address the issues confronting the BBWAA, and a decent part of its effect will actually be negative, as it eliminates the possibility of future Blyleven-esque situations. A slight tweak of the maximum ballot size would help, but the only real way to make the BBWAA’s problems go away is for them to get down to their primary task – electing Hall of Famers, starting with the obvious ones. Barry and Roger say hi.



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Russell
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Russell

“and stop lumping guys like Bagwell and Mike Piazza in with guys with documentable PED histories.”

As an Astros fan, I say amen and thank you.

tz
Guest
tz

Ditto here.

Bagwell was ALWAYS a big strong kid, but he put up low HR numbers in the minors because the parks were extremely unfriendly (look up Thome’s Eastern League stats for a comparison). Then of course, Bagwell started his career playing in the Astrodome, a legendary hitters graveyard.

So when Houston got the new ballpark (whatever it’s named now), Bagwell’s power was finally able to translate into big HR numbers.

When it comes to Bagwell, PED = Park Effects Displayed. Pure and simple.

BRH
Guest
BRH

Enron Field didn’t open until the 2000 season. Bagwell had his best seasons hitting bombs in the Astrodome. So your park effects argument doesn’t survive scrutiny.

But I don’t care even if Bagwell used steroids. Any skepticism about the offensive numbers in that era should be directed at the quality of the pitching league-wide, not who may have been using and who may not have been using. And even with that scrutiny, Bagwell was a dominant player worthy of Hall of Fame status.

tz
Guest
tz

You’re right. I should have left it with the switch from New Britain to the Astrodome, since New Britain was actually far tougher of a ballpark than even the Astrodome.

I wish I had Bill James’ forecast for Bagwell’s rookie season, but I know he had Bagwell with the best BA in the National League. That’s how awful Bagwell’s AA ballpark was for hitters.

Belloc
Guest
Belloc

I don’t find Bagwell’s evolution as a hitter any more suspicious than Thome’s or the vast majority of power hitters. Even Mark McGwire didn’t have the home run totals in his brief minor league career that would have predicted 49 in his rookie season or a career in which he homered at a frequency greater than Babe Ruth. Frank Thomas could always hit a ton and get on base, but even he went through a brief adjustment period where he “learned” to hit home runs. Guys like Kris Bryant are rare – hitters who put up video game home run numbers from the instant they play professional baseball.

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