What’s in Store for the HOF in 2015?

The votes are in, and Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas are in. Craig Biggio is out, barely. Jack Morris‘ 15 years of ballot eligibility are up, and his candidacy will be turned over to the Veterans’ Committee. Rafael Palmeiro didn’t receive the minimum 5% of the vote necessary to remain on the ballot. These results were certainly not the worst-case scenario, but they were far from the best. Let’s touch on a few of the points raised in my pre-results article from last week, and take a look at what the future might hold.

Year AVG VOTES ELECT #1 ELECT #2 ELECT #3 New New New New New New
2000 5.6 Fisk T.Perez   Gossage (J.Morris)        
2001 6.3 Winfield* Puckett*   Mattingly (Whitaker)        
2002 6.0 O.Smith*     Dawson Trammell        
2003 6.6 Murray* G.Carter   Sandberg L.Smith        
2004 6.6 Molitor* Eckersley*   None          
2005 6.3 Boggs* Sandberg   None          
2006 5.6 Sutter     None          
2007 6.6 Ripken* Gwynn*   McGwire          
2008 5.4 Gossage     Raines          
2009 5.4 R.Henderson* Rice   None          
2010 5.7 Dawson     R.Alomar Larkin E.Martinez McGriff    
2011 6.0 R.Alomar Blyleven   Bagwell L.Walker (Palmeiro)      
2012 5.1 Larkin     (Be.Williams)          
2013 6.6 None     Biggio Piazza Schilling Clemens Bonds Sosa
2014 8.4 Maddux* Glavine* F.Thomas* Mussina Kent        
2015         R.Johnson P.Martinez Smoltz Sheffield Garciaparra C.Delgado
    * = 1st time on ballot     ( ) = No longer on ballot          

Above is an update of the table from last week’s article. One obvious key point, for which the BBWAA should be given some credit. The average votes per ballot increased significantly for the second consecutive year, from 5.10 in 2012, to 6.60 in 2013, to 8.39 in 2014. More and more voters have taken notice that there are a historically significant number of Hall of Famers on the ballot, and are adjusting their behavior accordingly. We should not get too excited, however, by the second key point, which is that none of the many deserving holdovers on the ballot were elected. Yes, the number of overall votes rose sharply in both 2013 and 2014, but one argue that this was solely due to the astounding influx of talent onto the ballot in those two years, not to some new awareness on the part of the voters. Even with the increased number of votes cast, there remains about 20% of unused ballot capacity, with more than 10 viable talents remaining on the ballot, even before you consider next year’s influx of talent, which includes Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado.

The process is becoming more and more public, and this is a very good thing. Many voters are demonstrably using all 10 ballot spots, and explaining their respective rationales. One of the chief reasons that almost 20% of ballot capacity remains unused is what can now be called the Gurnick Factor. Ken Gurnick, of course, is the writer who voted only for Jack Morris, choosing to pass on the rest of what he deems “The Steroid Era”. While I certainly do not agree with his vote, he is at least being transparent and public, and he has apparently decided to abstain from voting in the future. After all, they are called Hall of Fame electors, and if one is no longer an “elector”, it is probably best to no longer accept the privilege of the role. Every elector that follows Gurnick’s lead toward abstention helps unclog the system – subtracting from the denominator helps just as much as adding to the numerator.

One word on Craig Biggio’s near-miss would be appropriate at this point. The “fault” for this result does not lie with the handful of voters for whom Biggio was vote #11 – it lies with the Gurnicks who left lots of blank space on their ballots. There appears to be some degree of momentum building for expansion of the maximum number of votes per writer above the current ten, but I still don’t think it is necessary. Get as many voters as possible to use the current maximum number of votes, get through the current logjam, and things should return to normalcy in a few years. In a decade or less, we should be back to a more typical ballot, with less than 10 near slam-dunk candidates on it.

The 2014 results would appear to suggest a somewhat greater reliance on advanced analysis by the BBWAA. One shouldn’t exult over the plight of Jack Morris, but the decline in his vote total in his last year of eligibility would seem to be evidence of this fact. Given the limitations of the 10-player maximum, electors had to cut somewhere, and many of them cut Morris. An even more stark indicator of the greater emphasis on analysis occurred farther down the ballot, where Lee Smith went from 47.8% of the vote in 2013 to 30.0% of the vote in 2014. That makes him this year’s biggest loser in terms of raw votes. He has only three years left on the ballot, and now has no realistic shot at being enshrined by the BBWAA. It is likely not a coincidence that he would likely be ranked last among viable candidates by analytically inclined voters.

What did this year’s vote say about steroids? Well, not much changed, raw vote wise. What is changing, for the better, is the quantity and quality of the discussion. More and more voters are making their votes public, and are very publicly anguishing over their reasons for player inclusion or exclusion for a variety of reasons including steroids. No one is 100% right or wrong, but many discussions that could or should have taken place a long time ago are finally taking place. I’ll reiterate my opinion from last week’s article – Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are inner-circle greats who are clear Hall of Fame talents, without any of the help they might have gotten from steroids. One might make the same arguments about others on the ballot as well. Let’s get Bonds and Clemens in the Hall, and fight the battle farther down the ballot.

Biggio 74.8 6.6 2
Piazza 62.2 4.2 2
Morris 61.5 -6.2 15
Bagwell 54.3 -5.3 4
Raines 46.1 -6.1 7
Clemens 35.4 -2.2 2
Bonds 34.7 -1.5 2
L.Smith 30.0 -17.8 12
Schilling 29.2 -9.6 2
E.Martinez 25.2 -10.7 5
Trammell 20.8 -12.8 13
Mussina 20.3 1
Kent 15.2 1
McGriff 11.7 -9.0 5
McGwire 11.0 -5.8 8
L.Walker 10.2 -11.4 4
Mattingly 8.2 -5.0 14
Sosa 7.2 -5.3 2
Palmeiro 4.4 -4.4 4

Lastly, what do these results mean for the future? This year’s results for meaningful holdovers are listed above. As stated earlier, votes per ballot did increase by 1.79 from 6.60 in 2013 to 8.39 in 2014, but over 3.0 votes per ballot were allocated to 2014 ballot newcomers. Again, zero of the many deserving holdovers were elected, thanks to Biggio’s near miss. Next year’s newcomers are comparable in quality to this year’s, and Johnson, Martinez, Sheffield, Garciaparra and Delgado should be good for at least 3.5 votes per ballot. If you eliminate the ineligible Morris and Palmeiro from the list above, about 5.0 votes per ballot were dedicated to the others in 2014. If you assume some upward drift to about 9.0 votes per ballot in 2015, that leaves room for 0.5 votes per ballot of growth for the holdovers in 2015. That leaves no room for bold upward moves. Expect the BBWAA to rally around more viable electees such as Biggio, Piazza and Bagwell at the expense of those beneath them.

Fearless Predictions for 2015:

– Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio are elected.
Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell again earn over 50% of the vote and are well positioned for 2016.
– Gary Sheffield lands in the 35-40% ranges and settles in as a long-term, borderline candidate who deserves better, a la Edgar Martinez.
Nomar Garciaparra and Carlos Delgado earn over 10% of the vote, and remain on the ballot.
– All other holdovers see their vote totals trickle downward. Sammy Sosa falls off of the ballot due to lack of support, while Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire and Larry Walker barely survive.
– Voters look to 2016 for potential relief, as only one slam-dunk, Ken Griffey, Jr., arrives on the ballot. If the average number of votes per ballot can remain around the projected 2015 level of 9.0, some damage can finally be done to clear the HOF logjam.

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