Ryan and I are going to try something new on the site. Rather than writing stand-alone articles, we’re going to try debating a topic. We often chime in on each other’s pieces anyway, so this will be a chance for us to approach things and present arguments from all sides. Now, we’re not going to take a position just to argue it. We’re going to be intellectually honest and only take positions we agree with.
How much longer will Mike Mussina have to wait to be elected to the Hall of Fame? The line is 3.5 years.
Patrick’s take: Under. Which is to say, I think it’s going to take three years.
Ryan’s take: Over. There’s almost no chance he gets in faster. I’d put the chances at less than 5%.
Patrick: We saw Mussina’s vote total take a massive jump last season, from 24.6% to 43%. There are several reasons for this, the main being that the 24.6% number was artificially low, the product of a 10-vote limit, rather than his actual support. While I do think there are still some voters out there who didn’t have room for Mussina on their ballot last year, I think there’s another reason he’s going to continue to see his vote total rise (Well, there are several, but I’ll stick to one until you respond).
Ryan: Let me jump in here for a quick retort. I don’t think we can assume that there are that many writers who have Mussina at 11 or 12 on the ballot. More importantly, with only two players getting in this year and three decent candidates in 2017 (Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guerrero), Mussina may not move up to spot 10 or above on those ballots. In short, the clogged ballot is still a problem for Mussina. Bagwell and Hoffman coming up short this year, was a serious bummer for Mussina’s HOF chances in the near future.
Patrick: Manny was suspended for PED use. This isn’t rumor or innuendo (which, per our policy, we refuse to engage in.) This was a straight up, a 50-game suspension for PEDs. His absolute ceiling is 45%, and that’s if he gets every voter Clemens or Bonds did, which is unlikely since we actually have proof in his case. Also, remember, we didn’t just lose two candidates. We lost four; Trammell and McGwire were in their last year on the ballot. They took up about 230 votes, and those are free too.
Also, did you notice anything about the players you mentioned? They are all hitters. You didn’t mention Javy Vazquez or Tim Wakefield (who are both eligible next season). This is my main point for why Mussina will continue to rise: Nature abhors a vacuum.
If you’ve never heard of this phrase, here’s a general summation: When there’s a void, something will move to fill said void. While a physics concept, there’s some precedent for this being true in Hall of Fame voting, for starting pitchers in fact.
Bert Blyleven appeared on the Hall of Fame Ballot in 1998. Jack Morris appeared two years later. Blyleven started at 17.5%, and two years later, was at 17.4%. Morris started at 22.2% and three years later, was at 22.8%.
But then a crazy thing happened. There was suddenly a lack of elite starting pitchers appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot. To wit, here were the best of your first-ballot starters from 2001-2009:
2001: Dave Stewart 168-129, 3.95 ERA; Ron Darling 136-116, 3.87
2002: Frank Viola 176-150, 3.73; Scott Sanderson 163-143, 3.84
2003: Fernando Valenzuela 173-153, 3.54
2004: Dennis Martinez 245-193, 3.70; Jimmy Key 186-117, 3.51; Dave Stieb 176-137, 3.44
Ryan: Dennis Martinez doesn’t get enough respect for his career.
Patrick: A tip of the cap to El Presidente.
2005: Mark Langston 179-158, 3.97
2006: Orel Hershiser 204-150, 3.48; Doc Gooden 194-112, 3.51
2007: Bret Saberhagen 167-117, 3.34
2008: Chuck Finley 200-173, 3.85, Todd Stottlemyre 138-121
2009: David Cone, 194-126, 3.46
2010: Kevin Appier: 169-137, 3.74
*Note, I am using wins and ERA here, because this was pre-the advanced stats revolution
That’s a full decade of starting pitchers, who did not have a shot at the Hall of Fame based on how we thought about starting pitchers back then (though if you wanted to use advanced stats to argue for Saberhagen, Appier, and Cone, we’d listen. Steib too.) and unsurprisingly, none of them were elected. Guess what happened to Blyleven and Morris’ vote totals from 2001 to 2010 in the presence of this vacuum?
Morris: Goes from 19.6% to 53.5%
Blyleven: Goes from 23.5 to 74.2%
Nature abhors a vacuum, people. In the absence of better pitchers on the ballot, guys that had originally been passed over were suddenly looking a lot better. Now, this method isn’t foolproof, as it didn’t help Tommy John or Jim Kaat. But there’s some precedent for what I’m arguing.
Ryan: I’m going to cede your point about nature abhorring a vacuum, but I’ll contend that this is not the main reason that Blyleven and Morris saw their support increase between ’01 and ’10. It’s part of it, but there are other factors. First, there was a lack of other qualified candidates to fill ballot slots and second the understanding of those players evolved over the decade. These conditions do not appear to exist for Mr. Mussina.
Patrick: According to Baseball-Reference, here is the number of players eventually elected from each ballot:
2001: 7, 2002: 7, 2003: 8, 2004: 8, 2005: 7, 2006: 5, 2007: 6, 2008: 4, 2009: 4 (Plus Raines), 2010: 4 (Plus Raines, Edgar)
So there were a good number of qualified candidates on these ballots every year. It’s not the loaded ballot we see now, but there was still some talent on these ballots.
Ryan: Between ’01 and ’12 there were five years when only one player was elected. In 2013, no player was elected. At no point in that range did more than two players ever get elected. There were 10 players elected on their first ballot over that 12 year strech. Conversely, there have been nine players elected in the just the last three years (seven on their first ballot), but this hasn’t alleviated the ballot congestion. I’ll put it another way: In 2016, Trevor Hoffman finished fifth with 67.3%. In 2015, Mike Piazza finished fifth with 69.9%. Between ’01 and ’12, no player who finished fifth in a given year got more than 56.7% (Andre Dawson in 2007—the year of Ripken and Gwynn) and half the time the person who finished fifth never broke 50%. Last year Tim Raines got 55% and finished 7th. There is simply much more ballot congestion today (thanks to the anti-maybe-steroid-guy voters) than in previous years. This makes comparing past voting trends to the current landscape difficult.
Patrick: Things are already clearing up for Moose. Once Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz, Pedro, and Johnson quintet got out of the way, and the best new starter on the ballot was Mike Hampton (148-115, 4.06, 29 WAR), Mussina made a huge jump. Remember, in 2014, Mussina received the 15th most votes on the ballot. Last year, he got the 8th most. He’s already moved past a significant part of the backlog.
We’ve already looked at some future ballots, but to refresh your memory, here are the best 1st-ballot starters in 2017 and 2018:
Now, Santana is an intriguing peak guy, but traditionalists are never going to vote for 139 wins. The rest of these guys don’t stand a chance, and all pale in comparison to Mussina. So we’re going to continue to see a rise in his vote totals for the same reason we saw it last year. It’s not going to be as drastic, but it doesn’t need to be. A solid 12 percentage points each year puts him north of 65.
Admittedly, 2019’s ballot is tougher for Mussina, with “True Yankee” Andy Pettitte and the dominant Roy Halladay on the ballot. But my belief is, that with Moose in the high 60s, he’ll get that boost that so many guys get when they reach that number, (especially if Schilling is already elected, which I think he will be)
Book it, Vooris. Three years
Ryan: I’m not sure I’m buying the voters will look for a pitcher to vote for argument. This might be true in some cases, but I’m not sure the trend is strong enough to cause a major impact. There are still good hitters on the ballot who voters might consider above Mussina. And there are more coming. In 2018, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, and Andruw Jones will all get serious consideration with Jones and Thome likely first ballot locks. Mussina should continue to slowly rise as more players are inducted and the 10-year limit forces out other players like Raines, McGriff, Edgar, and eventually Bonds and Clemens (if none of them are elected). The key is getting 2+ players elected per year. If the 2017 class includes Bagwell (currently @ 71.6%), Raines (69.8), and Hoffman (67.3) and the 2018 class includes Jones, Thome, and one more of Schilling, Ivan Rodriguez, or Edgar (final year) I’ll start to believe for 2019, which BTW also includes Mariano Rivera (a slam dunk) and Todd Helton (61.4 WAR). I don’t think that will matter, though. I’m taking the over and I’ll see you in 2020 or beyond.
Patrick: You’re absolutely going to see three guys next season. Bagwell shot up 16 percentage points last season, did well with new voters, and is so close I expect he’ll get some new guys for inevitability’s sake. Raines is (sadly) gone either way, and I’d be willing to bet that that there are some in the pro-closer crowd who voted for Smith and not for Hoffman who will switch allegiances just to stick it to those of us who think relievers are seriously overrated.
Schilling’s also rocketed up the list, from 29% to 52%. Barring any more instances of foot in mouth disease, I bet he gets elected in 2018. And as you say, Chipper and Thome are probably locks. You’re going to see six guys these next two years, minimum. The deck is clearing, the car’s packed up, and we’re ready to go in 2019.
Ryan: If this discussion was about Schilling I’d put him at three years, maybe. One more to get over 60% and then two or three to make the slow climb to 75%. I think you are overestimating the willingness of voters to add guys to their ballots. It took Blyleven five more years to get elected after he crossed the 40% threshold. It took Gossage four years after he crossed 40%. Bruce Sutter waited for five. If Mussina is seen a similar light by voters (great pitchers, but not slam-dunk first ballot guys), he’s going to be waiting more than three years.