Much like the day after Thanksgiving marks the time that a lot of people start thinking about Christmas, baseball’s awards season marks the time when we can officially start thinking about the HOF election. If history is our guide then Hall of Fame ballots will be in the mail next week.
This will mark our fourth time going through the process, and our first two trips down Cooperstown lane in 2014 and 2015 ended in pretty stark disappointment, with Mike Mussina collecting roughly 20% and 25% of the vote, respectively. But then last year, a collection of factors, some of which we had predicted, resulted in his total shooting up to more than 42%. It was such a good result, it led me to predict that Mussina would reach the magical 75% mark and be elected on the 2019 ballot. But we’ve got a little bit of time before we crown a winner to our debate.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot and make some predictions. Since there’s a lot to unpack, we’re going to break this post up into three pieces. The first piece will discuss the newcomers to the ballot. The second will focus on the returning players, and the final will build off of those two in an attempt to discern Mike Mussina’s potential place in the results.
I’m going to be honest, This is one of the most interesting crop of first-timers I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s try to unpack it.
There are three new names on the ballot that we should pay close attention to: Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez, and Manny Ramirez. And unlike previous years, I really have no clue what’s going to happen with any of them.
Let’s start with Vlad. His stats aren’t great by Hall standards. A WAR of about 60 is hardly lock territory. Larry Walker (72 WAR), Dwight Evans (67 WAR) and Reggie Smith (65 WAR) aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Neither is Gary Sheffield (60 WAR). Guerrero’s home run total puts him smack in between Jose Canseco and Juan Gonzalez, while his RBI total is virtually identical to Dave Parker‘s. These men were all fine players, and some deserve to be in the Hall, but they’re not (yet), which doesn’t bode well for Vlad
There are two things I see helping Guerrero next year. The first is his career .318 average. That’s a number few right fielders have hit, and those who have are in the Hall. Traditionalists looking for something to hang their hat on could do worse than start there.
But there’s a second, bigger reason I think he’ll do well. During his career, he was always more appreciated by the media than his stats seemed to warrant. Despite only finishing in the top 10 in single-season WAR four times in his career and in the top 5 twice, Guerrero did incredibly well in MVP voting. He won the award in 2004, finished in the top four four separate times, and in the top 10 six times. Now, maybe some of this was due to voters in the 2000s placing outsized importance on his average and RBI totals, which new voters tend to ignore. But whatever the reason, I think we’re going to see a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy here. Guerrero’s going to do better than he should in Hall voting because he did better than he should have in MVP voting.
My prediction: 65%
Manny Ramirez would normally be A slam dunk. He has a WAR of 70, more than 550 home runs, a slash line of .312/.411/.585, and he played a central role in the greatest baseball comeback of all-time. If everything were normal, he’d be getting 90% of the vote because he was a prodigious offensive force
But, there’s a complicating factor: Manny was suspended for PED use.
One of the early editorial decisions Ryan and I decided on a while back was not to wade into the game of picking sides in the steroid fight. Regardless of what we (or you) feel about this issue, the battle lines are drawn, and the debate over Who Did What and What Does It All Mean? rarely serves to elevate the level of discourse. So we’ve chosen to talk about steroids only in the context of what we’ve observed it do to the vote totals of players who have been suspected using.
As we’ve seen with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the voting body as a whole is not interested in electing those who they strongly suspect did something. I’m not arguing the morality of a vote for those players. But based on all the available evidence we have, Clemens and Bonds are unlikely to ever get elected by the writers. Seeing as how Ramirez was suspended for PED use, I’d have to think that if you’re anti-Bonds and anti-Clemens, you’re anti-Manny.
If Bonds and Clemens—both of whom were better players than Ramirez—only get 45% of the vote, how can Ramirez—who, unlike those two, actually served a 50-game suspension for PED use—expect anything better?
In fact, I’ll take it a step further: I think Manny’s going to do significantly worse than those two. I think his suspension is going to give anti-steroid voters something tangible to hang their hat on. And, even for those who aren’t going to use that as a disqualification, I wonder how they’ll feel about the prospect of using up 1/3 of their ballot on players who history has shown us have no shot to get in.
My prediction: 20%
Ivan Rodriguez: Much like Manny, a slam dunk to get in if everything were normal. One of the greatest catchers of all-time, his resume of nearly 3,000 hits, World Series glory, and a truckload of gold gloves speaks for itself.
But there’s PED rumors and innuendo surrounding Pudge as well. There’s no suspension, like there is in Manny’s case, but Bonds and Clemens (and Bagwell and Piazza, for that matter) weren’t suspended either. Piazza was dogged by whispers, but he got in. Bagwell probably will overcome the stigma attached to him. But others have been less fortunate. I really just don’t know how voters view Rodriguez’s career. He could get 80% or 30% and neither would surprise me. I’m copping out on a prediction here.
My prediction: Unknown
With apologies to Mike Cameron, Javier Vazquez, J.D. Drew, Jorge Posada, Magglio Ordonez, Tim Wakefield and other players who had good careers and will appear for on the ballot for the first and likely only time in 2017. these are our predictions on how the newcomers to the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot will do.
Check in soon to see our take on the holdovers from the 2016 ballot.