Breaking down 2017 Hall of Fame voting and what it means for the future
Wednesday evening's announcement of the Hall of Fame voting results from the BBWAA balloting brought plenty of suspense. Based upon the published ballots at Ryan Thibodaux's Ballot Tracker, there existed a slim possibility that as many as five candidates could be elected—something unseen since 1936, the institution's first year. In the end, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were all elected and will be inducted in Cooperstown on Sunday, July 30. Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero fell just short, though all signs point to their eventual enshrinement.
What follows here are my three quick thoughts about the election results. As in years past, I'll have more in-depth candidate-by-candidate coverage and a look at the next five years of voting over the next few days.
Three's not a crowd
The elections of Bagwell (86.2% in his seventh year of eligibility) and Raines (86.0% in his 10th year) were both long overdue, but both candidates benefited from the slow but steady acceptance of advanced statistics and internet-boosted campaigns, à la 2011 honoree Bert Blyleven. Blyleven was the last player elected whose debut on the ballot (1998, 17.5%) was lower than Raines’s 24.3% in 2008.
Bagwell and Raines both appeared to be in especially good shape coming into Wednesday, having received roughly 88% of the publicly shared ballots. Neither saw their final shares of the vote fall by much, particularly relative to years past, when they experienced double-digit drop-offs between the publicly revealed ballots and the private ones. Raines wound up posting the ballot's largest year-to-year gain, 16.2%, and became the fifth modern candidate elected in his final year of eligibility, after Red Ruffing (1967), Joe Medwick (1968), Ralph Kiner (1975) and Jim Rice (2009). Bagwell posted the ballot's third-largest year-to-year gain, 14.6%.
The fates of Rodriguez and Guerrero, both first-year candidates, and Hoffman, a second-year candidate, were far more uncertain, but the support each received was fairly close to the pre-election public balloting. Rodriguez received 76.0% in the final voting, down from 79.0% in the Tracker, a small but expected dip given that was connected to performance-enhancing drugs via Jose Canseco's book, Juiced. Even with some voters withholding their support due to that, he became just the second catcher ever elected on the first ballot, after Johnny Bench. That's right, candidates as strong as Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk and Bill Dickey had to wait, sometimes several years, to get the nod from the writers. Meanwhile, Hoffman, who received 67.3% in his ballot debut last year, finished at 74.0% (up from 72.8% in the tracker), meaning that he missed by a mere five votes, and Guerrero received 71.7% (nearly a perfect match with his 71.6% in the Tracker) in his debut, missing by just 15 votes.
Those near-misses can't be much fun, but the good news is that since the voters returned to annual balloting in 1966, 17 out of 18 candidates who received at least 70% of the vote and had eligibility remaining were elected the next year (not including Ruffing, who was elected in a run-off procedure the same year). Jim Bunning, who fell short in both his 11th and 12th year of eligibility (with 70.0% and 74.2%, respectively) is the exception; he was eventually elected by the Veterans Committee.
This year's trio means that 12 candidates have been elected over the last four cycles, something that hasn't been seen since 1936–39, the first four Hall of Fame classes. That hasn't entirely solved the ballot's longstanding bottleneck problem. Hoffman and Guerrero will join a particularly strong class of holdovers as well as another strong class of first-year candidates, the JAWS-approved Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Scott Rolen plus Andruw Jones (below the standard but 10th all-time among centerfielders) and fan favorite Omar Vizquel.
A total of 442 ballots were cast, two more than last year but 107 fewer than in 2015, just before the Hall decided to purge the rolls of voters more than 10 years removed from actively covering the game. This year's voters were slightly more generous than last year (when only Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were elected) on two fronts, namely the percentage using all 10 slots, and the average number of names per ballot. The recent trend:
|Year||All 10||AVG Per Ballot|
Turning Tide regarding PEDs
In their fifth year on the ballot, both Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds broke the 50% threshold for the first time, paving the way to their eventual elections given that they still have five years of eligibility remaining. Clemens received 54.1%, up 8.9% from last year, while Bonds received 53.8%, up 9.5% from last year. The 50% threshold is significant, because in the history of voting, excluding current candidates, the only ones to reach that level and not get elected eventually are Gil Hodges, Jack Morris and Lee Smith, who fell off the ballot this year after receiving 34.2%. Morris and Smith will likely be viewed as strong candidates on the Modern Baseball Era Committee balloting, but that's a story for another day.
As noted before, Bonds and Clemens appear to be benefiting from two trends. First, the electorate is either showing a greater grasp on the nuances of the era, or more forgiveness, distinguishing between the often murky allegations regarding PED use that came prior to the implementation of a testing-and-penalty program in 2004, and those who tested positive and were penalized, namely Rafael Palmeiro (who fell off the ballot after four years, having topped out at 12.6%) and now Manny Ramirez, who received a still-surprising 23.8% in his first year of eligibility despite not one but two suspensions. Second, last month's election of former commissioner Bud Selig has spurred some reflection from a certain segment of voters. Though the game ultimately prospered on Selig's watch and he departed having implemented the most extensive drug-testing program of any major North American team sport, he is widely viewed as having enabled the whole so-called steroid era, or at the very least acted far too slowly. He also participated in in the game's late-1980s collusion scandal, in which owners and executives tried to hold down salaries by not competing for free agents. By that logic, if his misdeeds aren't disqualifying, then neither should the pre-testing era ones of Bonds and Clemens.
That's not to say that every candidate connected to PEDs is getting a free pass. Neither Gary Sheffield (13.3% in year three, up 1.7% from 2016) nor Sammy Sosa (8.6% in year five, up 1.6% from 2016)—with 509 and 609 home runs, respectively, numbers that used to mean automatic enshrinement—are making headway even with allegations that date to the pre-testing era.
Trending toward election
Two other candidates crossed the 50% threshold for the first time, and what's more, they're the pair who posted the biggest year-to-year gains last year: Edgar Martinez, whose 15.2% jump to 58.6% was the ballot's second largest behind Raines, and Mike Mussina, who backed last year's 18.4% jump with a solid 8.8% gain to 51.8% this year. Martinez, who has two years of eligibility remaining, is in slightly better position than Raines was following the 2015 election (55.0%). Among ballots logged into the Tracker prior to the announcement—which accounted for 55% of the final vote—the 42 votes he picked up from voters who left him off last year dwarfed the 29 gained by Raines. As noted, the next wave of newcomers as well as the other holdovers won't make his upward progress easier, but for a candidate who received 27.0% in 2015, this is a whole lot better position to be in.
As for Mussina, he still has six more years of eligibility, so he's in very good shape in the long run. He doesn't appear to have benefited much from Curt Schilling's social media-fueled self-immolation, which dropped his share of the vote from 52.3% to 45.0%; I counted only two voters who both added Mussina and subtracted Schilling relative to last year's ballots, with one doing exactly the opposite.
The total of nine candidates receiving at least 50% of the vote matches the 1947 ballot for the largest such contingent. For what it's worth, four candidates were elected that year (Mickey Cochrane, Frankie Frisch, Lefty Grove and Carl Hubbell), but just two (Herb Pinnock and Pie Trayonr) the next year.
x-eliminated from future consideration
No votes: Casey Blake, Pat Burrell, Orlando Cabrera, Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Carlos Guillen, Derrek Lee, Melvin Mora, Arthur Rhodes, Freddy Sanchez and Matt Stairs.