HOF Reflections: Unanswered Questions for Mussina

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We’ve had a few days to digest the 2017 HOF results and our GoDaddy servers stayed online despite the traffic increase (thanks everyone). While it’s great to celebrate Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, and Ivan Rodriguez and wonder if Larry Walker will ever get the respect he deserves, this website is about the man who finished 9th in the voting this year, Mike Mussina. With that in mind, Patrick and I are devoting this column to the big questions about Mussina’s chances for the HOF that emerged from the 2017 results.

Do you still think Mussina will get elected?

Ryan: I’m more confident than ever. The 50% threshold is important because it means that voters who aren’t casting votes for Mussina might now see themselves in the minority. In other (obvious) words, the majority of voters have looked at Mike Mussina’s career and thought him to be worthy of the hall of fame. That’s an important symbolic threshold to hit. Hopefully, it means the minority who did not vote for Moose, will consider the percentages and seriously reevaluate the choices that left them in the minority.

Patrick: Of course. Look, he’s moved from 24% to 52% in two years. Over the past two elections, he’s gone 20-for-24 among first time voters, which signals that his candidacy has traction among those who will come on the ballot. For comparison’s sake, Trevor Hoffman has gone 13-for-24. If he had Mussina’s numbers, he’d be in the Hall.

For most candidates, getting in to the Hall of Fame is a process, which makes it about momentum. Mussina’s total rose by more than eight percentage points on a ballot that had five players earn more than 70% of the vote. That’s pretty impressive. In my opinion, you’re being overly pessimistic if you don’t think he’s going to get in. It’s a matter of if, not when.

What is going on with Mussina’s lack of support among private voters?

Ryan: Mussina’s support with non-public voters was 22.5 percentage points below that of public voters. No player, not even Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, had a bigger discrepancy between private and public votes. I have no concrete evidence for why Mussina was only named on 36.5% of the private ballots. We can only speculate as to why this is. This would be troubling if the private voting continued after next year, but ballots will no longer be private next year. Every ballot will be published online. This won’t magically make Mussina’s percentage go up, but the dynamics of voting for the HOF are changing. Just three years ago, 16 voters did not cast a ballot for Greg Maddux. Ken Gurnick was the only voter to come forward and release their ballot. How many of the other 15 would not vote have voted for Greg Maddux if their names were published next to their ballot on the BBWAA website? A few, like Murray Chass might, but the public nature of the balloting going forward will shift voting trends. How much they shift is a question without an answer until this time next year.

Patrick: I mean, it’s odd, but private voters have smaller ballots by one full name. So that’s probably part of it. Ultimately, I think Mussina’s still on the back end of a lot of ballots, and that one vote could matter.

What is going to happen to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and how will that affect Mike Mussina’s HOF chances?

Ryan: I cannot envision a day in the next five years when 75% of the voters are comfortable with putting both Bonds and Clemens on their ballots. I think their percentages will continue to slowly climb, but 75% may be too much of a task. Their best case scenario may be if some voters ease their stances during Bonds and Clemens’ 10th and final year on the ballot and decide that making them wait that long is enough of a statement.

This means that Bonds and Clemens and to a lesser extent Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa will continue to pull votes and limit the number of players a person could vote for. If you combine this with Curt Schilling‘s complete stagnation, you have between three and five players that will continue to get decent support but with little chance of getting to 75%. Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling only impact Mussina if it prevents someone from voting for Mussina because he is the 11th person on their ballot. As I wrote last week at least 9 writers said they wanted to vote for Mussina but did not have enough ballot room. This is less an issue now that three players were elected this year and Lee Smith completed his eligibility, but it would still be good to see more of the ballot clear in 2018.

Patrick: My gut is that Ryan’s right. But…they were both named on 13 of 14 ballots. That’s a really, really, good sign. They still have five years on the ballot. I think there’s absolutely a group of voters who will never vote for either player, but they’re less than 100 votes away from election. Two years ago, that number was more than doubled.

How will the new class of players in 2018 affect Mussina?

Ryan: We will cover much more of this in 10 months, but for now, I think trading four people off the ballot (I’m counting Lee Smith and his 30.2%) for two serious first-year candidates (Chipper Jones and Jim Thome) is a good thing because it opens more spots for Mussina on ballots where people voted for 10 candidates. It probably means Mussina is looking at a 6th or 8th place finish next year (depending on how much Bonds and Clemens move).

I can’t believe we are going to have an Omar Vizquel HOF discussion. Jayson Stark has already said he plans to vote for him. This is going to be Jack Morris 2.0. In addition, Scott Rolen, Johnny Damon, Johan Santana, and Andruw Jones may get some support, but since each of their cases are borderline and largely sabermetric (especially Rolen and Jones) any writer willing to vote for one of these four should have hopefully warmed to Mussina already. Vizquel is the real wild card. I don’t know what to expect when it comes to how writers view him , though I suspect there will be quite a bit of debate about the value of defense and the merit of gold glove awards.

Patrick: That Vizquel is going to get in while Alan Trammell did not is absurd. And don’t even get me started on Lou Whitaker being one and done. Ultimately, though, I think Vizquel voters aren’t going to overlap too much with Mussina ones. Mussina has a strong Sabermetric case. Vizquel does not. It would help a lot if Thome is actually a 1st-balloter. I think he will be, but you never know.

 

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