We are officially in Cooperstown season. The Baseball Hall of Fame has announced the 2015 ballot, but the inductees will not be known until January 6th. This leaves us with about a month to debate the merits of these 34 former players. Not everyone – even very smart baseball minds – will agree with each other, to say the least, and that is what makes this whole process simultaneously awesome and infuriating.
I originally planned for a mock election identically mirroring the rules set by the BBWAA. In short, there were no set voting guidelines, but an elector could not vote for more than ten players on his ballot. This mimic election would beget enough debate on its own, but thanks to a Tweet from Graham Womack, founder and editor of Baseball: Past and Present, I decided to add a twist:
Idea: Mock HOF election with no limit on how many players a voter can select. Anyone interested? Anyone already doing this?
— Graham Womack (@grahamdude) November 25, 2014
Baseball fans often complain that there is not enough room on the ballot to vote for every candidate deserving of an induction. However, the strategy involved in fitting so many players into a limited ballot is fascinating in itself. As a result, I decided to run two concurrent mock elections, one with the ten-player limit and one without it.
Remember that a player needs to be mentioned on 75% of the ballots to be inducted. Here are the results:[table “” not found /]
- Total number of voters: 28
- Average number of players on a ballot: 9.1 ± 1.6 players (ballot with 10 player limit); 10.8 ± 3.3 players (ballot without limit)
- Range: 5 players (limit); 14 players (without limit)
There is a lot to sift through here. Naturally, we should start with the players that Baseball Essential inducted. The only surprising part about Randy Johnson‘s and Pedro Martinez‘s elections is that they were not unanimously selected. Even on the relatively small scale of this mock election, it is nearly impossible to get everyone to agree on a player’s Hall of Fame case. There is not much of a need to explain either pitcher’s case. Johnson was a five-time Cy Young Award winner, including four consecutive at the turn of the century, and he was the most dominant strikeout pitcher of his generation. Martinez won three Cy Young Awards himself during the most dominant pitcher prime of all-time. Unless you want a Hall of Fame with ten players, these two pitchers have to be inducted.
Craig Biggio got a surprising amount of support, clearing 90% in both mock elections. There is no evidence suggesting Biggio is a ubiquitously-regarded, all-time great. Regardless, Biggio’s case for the Hall of Fame is pretty strong. He is one of the best hitters to play second base, and his 3,060 hits satisfy a milestone some still use as automatic induction. I am still stumped, though. Maybe it is a product of small sample size, but I was not expecting Biggio to almost receive unanimous induction.
John Smoltz was not overshadowed in his debut on the ballot alongside Johnson and Martinez. His induction case was carried by consistently great performance for the Atlanta Braves as a starter and a reliever. A 2.67 ERA over 209 postseason innings cannot be forgotten, either. Mike Piazza, the greatest-hitting catcher ever, got almost 80% of the vote. His career 143 OPS+ puts Piazza in a tie with Eddie Mathews, Harmon Killebrew, and Alex Rodriguez. Yup.
Baseball Essential writers, on the whole, were open to voting for alleged or admitted steroid users on the no-limits ballot. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa all received 10-plus percentage point jumps from their 2014 totals, an increase they are unlikely to receive in the actual election. However, with the 10-player limit, voters were more in line with the BBWAA; only Bonds received the ten-point jump, and both Sosa and Mark McGwire got less support than they received in 2014.
Speaking of Bonds, it is quite the coincidence he received exactly 50% of the vote. It also should not come as a surprise that he did not receive any extra help on the no-limits ballot. Nobody thinks Bonds is the 11th- or 12th-most deserving player on the ballot. Nobody begrudgingly votes for Barry Bonds. He is either viewed as one of the greatest baseball players of all-time or seen as a cheat who should never be allowed induction.
The difference between him and Roger Clemens in the election was small, just as it was in the 2014 BBWAA Hall of Fame vote, but it is still hard to understand how people vote for Bonds and not Clemens, and vice-versa. The two players have extremely similar Hall of Fame cases; both are the best of their generation and are highly suspected of PED use. For most voters, these players are either the first two on the ballot or two of the first to be taken out of consideration.
BBE writers definitely considered postseason performance; Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina had very comparable careers, but Schilling won three World Series, including a 2001 World Series Co-MVP honor with Randy Johnson, and it showed in the voting results.
Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, and Larry Walker continue to receive lukewarm support, even on the no-limits ballot, which implies that none of the players are widely considered as Hall-of-Fame-worthy. It might be too simplistic to just say Rickey Henderson overshadowed Raines; besides that, the Montreal outfielder was consistently great early in his career, but he never had an outstanding season. Walker’s career accomplishments have been diminished by pre-humidor Coors Field, his home park for most of his career, but his league-and-park adjusted OPS of 141 puts him within range of Eddie Collins, Chipper Jones, and Reggie Jackson. Walker was not just a slugger – he also rates as a fantastic base runner and fielder – but voters still have not recognized his play with a Cooperstown plaque. Similarly, Trammell’s case relies a lot on his defensive ability, so his on-field contributions are not immediately apparent.
At least Edgar Martinez was shown a lot of love. The greatest designated hitter of all-time was known for his consistently stellar offensive performance year-in and year-out, especially after turning 30. His case relies solely on his bat, but field-only players (ahem, Bill Mazeroski) have been inducted before, so there is still hope for the original Papi.
I did not cover everyone on the ballot, but those were my main takeaways. Ultimately, the results show that the problem is not necessarily with the ten-player limit on the ballot – Jeff Bagwell was the only player who truly benefited from the no-limit mock election. This project should make us realize that it is really difficult for a player to receive three-quarters of the electorate’s votes. The Hall of Fame is very open-ended in its election process, and everyone has different standards and methods of evaluation.
Luckily, in the coming days, you will be able to hear the rationale behind the decisions of some of the Baseball Essential voters (myself included). This information will be far more valuable and easy to understand than the data presented here.
Let the kvetching begin.