One of the themes of this site is the phenomenon of the crowded ballot due to a 10-vote limit. This is because it is a very real, and significant, issue in the Hall of Fame candidacy of Mike Mussina.
Right now, much of the outrage over the 10-vote limit is focused on two things:
1) How not elected deserving players is causing a logjam. Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, and Craig Biggio—all of whom should be in the Hall—took up roughly 1,350 votes combined in the 2014 election.
2) How a lack of clear rules on how to vote for suspected steroid users has allowed Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds to take up 400 votes in 2014, despite on-the-field credentials that are insane.
I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about the third type of ballot-clogger: The lame-duck candidate.
Right now, the rules for the Hall of Fame allow for a player to remain on the ballot for 15 years, as long as they receive at least 5 percent of the vote. While I think the 15 years is a good idea—sometimes it takes a while to fully appreciate the value a player’s career. (See, Raines, Tim)—something needs to be done to get certain players off the ballot sooner.
Last July, Craig Robinson at The Score wrote about players who spent 15 years on the ballot and did not get elected by the writers. His full post can be found here, and it is eye-opening. On the one hand, you have players like Neille Fox, Jim Bunning, Orlando Cepeda, Red Ruffing, and Gil Hodges. These are players who either consistently generated strong support, or whose support grew over time. You can agree or disagree with the results, but these are clearly players whose candidacies had a chance. Many were eventually elected by the Veterans Committee.
But on the hand, you can see players like Dale Murphy, Al Dark, Dave Parker, Dave Concepcion, and Curt Flood. These are players who were not elected, but unlike the latter group, never had a chance. These are the players we need to do something about.
Concepcion is probably the perfect example. He barely cleared the five percent threshold in 1994, his first year on the ballot, receiving 6.8% of the vote. This rose to 13.4% in his third year…and then never moved.
This isn’t much of an exaggeration. During his final 13 years on the ballot, Concepcion earned between 10.7 and 16.9 percent of the vote each season. In those years, he received anywhere from 55 to 80 votes. From this, two things are clear:
1. Enough people thought Concepcion was worthy enough for the Hall that he was never going to drop off the ballot. No matter what, a small handful of writers were going to vote for him.
2. Dave Concepcion was never going to get elected to the Hall of Fame. Over the course of thirteen seasons, Concepcion never received enough votes to be considered a serious candidate. Even when he went from 6.8 to 16.9 percent, from years 1-5, he dropped to 11.9 percent in year 6. His percentage went up in years 7 and 8, and then dropped four years in a row.
Concepcion had a very good career. He was very good defensively, and not a bad hitter given his era and position. But he was not Hall of Fame worthy, and, more importantly, it was clear the voting body did not think so either. And this was not a one-year misjudgment like the one that killed Lou Whitaker’s deserving career. This was a decade and a half where there was never a shifting of opinion, or a groundswell of support based on advanced understanding of his value.
Look at Bert Blyleven’s candidacy. His percentage increased seven seasons in a row. His one-year drop in 2007 was met by an increase of 14.2 percentage points in 2008. It took a long time to get him elected, but it’s clear from the vote totals that his candidacy had legs; that enough people were changing the way they viewed the game (and subsequently, his career), and understanding why he was worthy
Blyleven—and others of his ilk—are the positives of the 15-year system. Concepcion—and others of his—are the negative. So how can we keep the baby and throw out the bathwater?
By adjusting the minimum totals a player needs to stay on the ballot based on how long he’s been on it. Rather than keep the minimum at five percent, I’d increase it for players as they reappeared. My proposal:
Year 1: 5%
Year 5: 20% (at any point)
Year 10: 45% (at any point)
If a player drops below 10% at any time after Year 5, he’s gone.
To me, this is the best of both worlds; it allows time for voters to shift ideals, and new voters to come in. But it also ensures that candidates with no hope of getting elected move off the ballot. It doesn’t help Lou Whitaker, but we’re going to need a whole site to fix that disaster (We love you, Sweet Lou!)
How would this have impacted this year’s ballot? Let’s take a look. Disclaimer: Obviously, voter behavior might change with a new set of rules. But we’re not going to be able to predict how. So this method is the best we have. Here’s how different the 2015 ballot would look:
Gone would be the following players:
Don Mattingly: 47 votes in 2014. Donnie Baseball would have been voted off in 2007, his 7th year on the ballot. He had 9.9% of the votes. If that seems so close to be unfair to you, he’d have also received the chop at Year 10 (16.1%). Mattingly got 28.2% of the vote in his first year. That he dropped so quickly and never recovered tells you all you need to know.
Fred McGriff: 67 votes in 2014. The Crime Dog came close, with 23.9 percent in his 3rd year, 2012. And his drop off to 11.7 percent this year was probably the crowded ballot at work. Still, the first four years were not encouraging, and gives me the impression of a guy who would stick around at about 20-25 percent for a long time.
Mark McGwire: 63 votes in 2014. Big Mac would have left the ballot in 2011, never getting to 25%. Even before all the PED noise, I wonder if he’d have been elected. With 583 HRs and a .394 OBP, you could make a case. But you’d still have an oft-injured player who had just 1,626 hits and gave you nothing on the bases or in the field. Regardless, he’s dropped from 23.7% to 11%. He’s not getting elected, though he may drop off.
Alan Trammell: 119 votes in 2014. Look, no system is perfect. I think Trammell, like Whitaker, should already be in the Hall. I have no idea why the writers are so clueless about the amazing middle infield Detroit had in the 1980s and 1990s.
But it’s worth mentioning here that this system isn’t about making a judgment on the career of a player, but his candidacy. Trammell spent eight years on the ballot going nowhere, getting between 13.8% and 17.7% of the vote and would have been gone in 2006. Yes, eventually advanced statistics started showing up and his candidacy gained ground, as it should have, peaking at 36.8% in year eleven. And had this backlog not started, there’s a decent chance it would have continued and he’d make a late charge.
Unfortunately, sometimes this happens. For every Trammell who deservedly gains, I think there are several Mattinglys and Concepcions who deservedly don’t. This is about the greater good. If people had voted Tram to the Hall in 2002, like they should have, we wouldn’t be here.
This system would have freed up 229 votes in the last election, and another 67 next year when McGriff left. Not a huge amount, but enough to get Craig Biggio in the Hall, I’d bet, and maybe Mike Piazza. And the continued use of it might also free us of a couple other candidates in the coming years:
Larry Walker: 58 votes last year, unlikely to get to 25% next year, may also fall below 10%. Here’s another example of the system at work. I would probably vote for Walker, but even before the downturn he faced due to the crowded ballot, his totals went: 20.3%, 22.9%, 21.6%. I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that, fair or not, the “Coors Field Question” would have stalled his candidacy. A WAR of 72, with his combination of defense, power, baserunning and a high OBP should be enough.
But while a lot of people will agree with that last part, too many people will see a player who was frequently injured and had “only” 2160 hits and 383 home runs despite playing in an offensive era in history and probably the best hitter’s environment ever, This system is designed to stop the endless tug-of-wars where neither side gains ground.
A note on Bonds and Clemens: They’ve already cleared the 20%, so they’re likely on the ballot for eight more years in my system. But if the voters aren’t given enough direction regarding PED use, these guys are going to be on the ballot the full 15. They’re not going to lose enough votes to drop off, but clearly a large block of voters won’t vote for them. Enjoy the next 13 years of noise.
A note on Lee Smith: In theory, Smith fits the profile of the kind of player I want to get rid of. Taking out the crowded ballot drop of 2014 (because I think it’s an aberration), Smith got between 36.6% and 50.5% of the vote each season. His year 1 number (42.3%) was not much different than his year 11 number (47.8%). But in his case, while his candidacy is pretty much stalled, (and I don’t think he should be in) enough voters clearly think he’s a Hall of Famer that he’s not some lost cause of a candidate. Stalling in the mid- to upper-40s is a lot different than stalling in the teens.
So there you have it. A perfect system? No. But something that could be implemented to help ease the congestion