2017 Hall of Fame Voting Preview: The Leftovers

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In part 1 of our look at the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot, we focused on the newcomers to the ballot. In part 2, we’re going to look at the key players who return from the 2016 ballot.

There are a number of players whose candidacies could shift—and by extension affect Mike Mussina‘s chances for election. We’re going to run down the main culprits and offer our opinions on their chances.

At the top of the list is Jeff Bagwell, who nearly got elected with 71.6% of the vote last year. Bagwell, whose numbers (79.6 WAR, .408 OBP, 449 HR) would normally make him a lock for the Hall, struggled to gain traction in the voting from 2012 to 2015, sitting in the mid to high 50s each year. Last year, he made a massive jump and almost got enshrined. We think Bagwell should have been in years ago. The good news is, it’s unprecedented to see a player with a vote total as high as Bagwell’s get stuck. Players simply don’t break the 65% mark with multiple years of eligibility left and not get elected. Under the modern voting system — which means none of the run-off elections that helped Luke Appling and Red RuffingEnos Slaughter and Orlando Cepeda are the only position players to break 65% and not got elected by the BBWAA. It took Slaughter 14 years to get to 65% and Cepeda made it on his 15th and final ballot. The current ballot is only Bagwell’s 5th. He’s going to get in.

Patrick’s prediction: 80%.
Ryan’s prediction: 84%

Next is a personal favorite of ours (and our friend Jonah Keri), Tim Raines. Raines is a criminally underrated player whose biggest sin seems to be that he wasn’t as good as Rickey Henderson (News flash: Henderson was obscenely great. It is not a baseball sin to be not as good as Rickey Henderson). But a .385 OBP, more than 800 steals and a WAR close to 70 should be enough for him to get elected in his 10th and final year on the ballot.

Raines was stuck in a morass for awhile. His support stagnated around 50%, before the voters woke up and started realizing how good he was. Last year, he finished with just a shade under 70%, an increase of nearly 15 percentage points from the year before. This is Raines’ final year on the ballot, so whether he gets in or not, his 300 or more votes are going to be coming off the ballot, which is good for Mussina.

We think there’s some support coalescing around Raines, as voters start to understand the importance of on-base percentage and elite baserunning. He gained a net of 31 votes among returning voters, and earned 81.8% of the vote among the 11 first-year voters. Players also tend to get a boost in their final year on the ballot (see: Trammell, Alan), which we think will help Raines as well.

Patrick’s prediction: 77%
Ryan’s prediction: 79%

We now come to the “Players who are not as good as Mike Mussina” section of our ballot. Trevor Hoffman is a good pitcher, but like all closers, is not as valuable as an elite or above-average starting pitcher. However, voters like traditional states, and the save, like the win, is the one of the BIG stats writers look at to see how good a relief pitcher was. Hoffman has more than 600 of them. As a result, he debuted last year with a fantastic 67.3% of the vote.

Closers are a little trickier to predict than other players. Lee Smith, for example, spent 11 years on the ballot seeing his percentage barely move, from 42.3% to 47.8%, before cratering when the ballot started getting crowded in 2014. There seems to be two mindsets on closers, and people who are anti-closer aren’t likely to suddenly become pro-closer.

As a result, we think there’s a small chance that despite Hoffman’s excellent debut he doesn’t see much of an improvement. His numbers among the 11 first-year voters on Ryan Thibs’ ballot tracker were not good. In fact, if Hoffman were at 50% of the vote, I’d predict him to endure a Smith-like fate. But he only needs something in the range 25 to 30 new votes next year. I wonder if a few pro-Smith voters who didn’t vote for Hoffman—Thibs’ tracker showed nine—might be willing to admit defeat on Smith and switch to Hoffman. I’ll be adventurous and say he finds the votes.

Patrick’s prediction: 75.1% and in.
Ryan’s predication: Voters love narratives that make easy columns and Hoffman’s 601 saves gives them one 77%.

Then, there’s Curt Schilling. Sigh.

Look, we don’t want to get into a whole back-and-forth about what Schilling tweeted or what he said on TV or who he voted for. We’ve got our personal opinions about them but we’re not going to share them because well, our opinion on the matter is irrelevant for the purposes of this website.

But, as much as we strive to make this site about baseball, and baseball only, we can’t ignore the fact that there might be voters who don’t like who Schilling publicly supported for President and choose not to vote for him as a result. Do we have any proof of this? No, although someone may come out and say it in a column. If we know anything about baseball writers it’s that they tend to skew to the left of Schilling’s politics. Some writers may argue there is a viable case that someone with Schilling’s position on North Carolina’s public bathroom law or memes or Making America Great Again, doesn’t belong in the Hall of the Fame. We don’t agree with this position. Curt Schilling is not Darren Sharper. He’s not even Manny Ramirez, who was caught cheating twice. His baseball resume says he’s a HOF pitcher and he’s not broken the law or the public trust, or violated the rules of his sport. 2016 election results aside, his views may be on the wrong side of history, but–as we are sure you’ve heard–so we’re the views and personal opinions of many players now in the HOF. But again, this matters very little. It only takes 25.1% of BBWAA voters to be bothered by what’s he’s said for Schilling to not get elected.

What we care about, for the purposes of this site, is what Curt Schilling’s vote total will be next year. Ryan wrote about how similar Schilling and Mussina’s candidacies are—though Curt’s relies more on peak than Mussina’s. He, like Raines and Bagwell, shot up the ballot last year. We believe his pitching performance is Hall of Fame caliber. In fact, Patrick predicted he’d be in the Hall of Fame in two years…as long as he didn’t put his foot in his mouth.

But it seems like there are people who think he did do just that, and as a result, we don’t really know what to expect. His total could drop, it could continue to rise, it could stay unchanged. We can’t delve into the psyches of 400+ voters to figure it out, but this is one of the more fascniting side stories of these year’s vote-tracking.

Patrick’s prediction: Pass
Ryan’s prediction: He’s going to lose about 20 votes from his 2016 total. I’m eager to see how many voters address why they drop him from their ballot. 

Finally, we get to Edgar Martinez, who made an even bigger jump than Mussina last season. The DH stigma is still a controversial subject, and not likely to go away—Martinez earned a vote from just 5 of the 11 first-year voters last year—but a lot of voters seem to be warming up to the idea of Edgar in the Hall.

It’s not likely to be enough. Even gaining a net of 51 votes among returning voters last season gained Edgar just 16 percentage points. He’d need to double that percentage to get in this year.We hope that he adds around another 15% this year. Including this year he has three more years of eligibility.

Patrick’s prediction: 57%
Ryan’s prediction: 55%

Apologies to everyone else on the ballot, but you’re not really on my radar. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens went up slightly, but there’s such a strong anti-steroid bloc in the BBWAA, we don’t see them going anywhere, certainly not next year (their results among 1st-year voters aren’t helping either). Lee Smith’s dead in the water—and he comes off the ballot anyway next year—and no one else’s percentage is high enough to really merit analysis. Guys like Larry Walker and Jeff Kent may move a bit, but it’s not likely to matter much in the grand scheme of things.

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