Baseball: Past and Present

Editor’s note: I’m pleased to welcome Bill Deane back to the site. The former senior research associate at the Hall of Fame, Bill’s made a science of predicting voting results for more than 30 years. As a commenter noted, most of Bill’s predictions last year were close to dead-on. Once again, I’m proud to have Bill’s predictions exclusive to this website.

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In 2013, for only the second time since 1971, the baseball writers failed to select anyone for enshrinement into the Hall of Fame.  Most observers think this was an aberration, and that there may be as many as five people elected to the Hall in 2014, with plenty more to follow.  After all, Craig Biggio and Jack Morris were each just 7% short of making it last time, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza were not far behind, and newcomers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas should be shoo-ins.

Yet, according to my crystal baseball, 2013 was the start of a clear trend on the writers’ ballot, and only one of these stars will make it to Cooperstown in ’14.

This is my 33rd year predicting Hall of Fame elections.  I think the acid test of prognostication performance lies in guessing the fate of men who finish within 10% either way of being elected (i.e., who receive between 65-85% of the vote).  Among such candidates, I have gone 50-12 (.806) in correctly predicting who would or would not make it over the years.  I was one of the few who correctly, publicly forecast the 2013 shutout.

A review of the voting process: Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) do the voting.  Late each fall, ballots are distributed to active and retired beat-writers who have been BBWAA members for ten years or more.  The ballots, which are to be returned by the end of the year, list candidates in alphabetical order, instructing voters to choose up to ten players (the average writer selects about six).  Eligible candidates include men who played in at least ten seasons in the majors, the last of which was not less than five nor more than 20 years prior to the election.  Any candidate being named on at least 75% of the ballots is elected to the Hall; anyone receiving less than 5% of the vote is dropped from further consideration.  The BBWAA honors an average of about two players per year.  The 2014 results will be announced on January 8 at 2:00 EST.

More than half of the 37 players who were listed on the 2013 ballot are not on the 2014 version: Dale Murphy, who failed in his final attempt; and 19 others (Bernie Williams, Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar, Jr., Julio Franco, David Wells, Steve Finley, Shawn Green, Aaron Sele, Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton, Jeff Conine, Roberto Hernandez, Ryan Klesko, Jose Mesa, Reggie Sanders, Mike Stanton, Todd Walker, Rondell White, and Woody Williams) who were dropped for failing to reach the 5%-cutoff.  These men collected just 177 votes in 2013, and the strong 2014 rookie class figures to amass many more than that.  This means that most if not all of the 17 returnees are likely to drop down in the voting.  There are a lot of new and returning candidates with Cooperstown credentials, but there are simply not enough votes to go around.  Though each voter is permitted ten selections, the average voter uses considerably fewer than that.  The number of votes per voter has been below seven every year since 1986, and sunk to a record low of 5.1 in 2012.  Though I expect that number to soar to its highest level in three decades, it won’t be enough to unclutter the ballot

Many of the 2014 first-time eligibles are destined for just one try on the writers’ ballot, the consequence of being overshadowed and receiving less than 5% of the vote.   Those include Moises Alou (332 home runs, .303 average, between injuries), Luis Gonzalez (2591 hits, 596 doubles, and 354 homers, including 57 in 2001), Sean Casey (.302 average), Kenny Rogers (219-156 record, including a perfect game), Richie Sexson (306 HR), Hideo Nomo (123-109, including two no-hitters), Ray Durham (2054 hits), Eric Gagne (187 saves, including 84 straight, and the 2003 NL Cy Young Award), and Keith Foulke (191 saves).

Here’s the way I foresee the rest of the election shaping up, with newcomers in bold and predicted percentages in parentheses:

Greg Maddux (94) – The winningest right-hander of the past century, Maddux went 355-227 with four straight NL Cy Young Awards (1992-95).  He’ll make it to Cooperstown easily.

Tom Glavine (67) – Though seldom considered the ace of his own team, Glavine won two Cy Youngs himself while going 305-203.  In this crowd in this year, that won’t be good enough for Cooperstown.

Frank Thomas (63) – The most fearsome slugger of the 1990s, The Big Hurt finished with 521 homers and a .301 average, winning the 1994 and ’95 AL MVPs.  See the Glavine comment.

Craig Biggio (61) – An excellent but not dominant player who amassed 3060 hits, 1844 runs, 668 doubles, and 414 stolen bases.

Jack Morris (58) – The winningest pitcher of the 1980s, he went 254-186 in his career without ever posting an ERA below three or a Cy Young Award finish above third.  This is his final try on the BBWAA ballot.

Mike Piazza (54) – The best offensive catcher of all time (419 homers, .308 average), he managed to survive steroids rumors and a poor defensive reputation.

Jeff Bagwell (48) – Batted .297 with 449 homers and 1529 RBI in just 15 seasons, winning the 1994 NL MVP Award.

Tim Raines (45) – Rock was an outstanding player whose credentials (including an 808-146 stolen base record) are only starting to be appreciated by voters.

Lee Smith (39) – Lost his all-time saves record (and his only persuasive Hall of Fame argument) in 2006 to Trevor Hoffman, who in turn lost it to Mariano Rivera in 2011.

Roger Clemens (29) – The most-accomplished pitcher of the past century, if not any century, Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards and seven ERA crowns while going 354-184 with 4672 strikeouts.  His reputation has been skewered by well-documented accusations of steroids and HGH use, though he was acquitted of perjury on the subject.

Barry Bonds (29) – The most accomplished non-pitcher with the possible exception of Babe Ruth, Bonds won a record seven MVP Awards and set all-time marks for career homers (762, including a record 73 in 2001) and walks (2558, a record 668 of them intentional).  For good measure, he added 514 stolen bases and eight Gold Glove Awards.  But, like Clemens, his accusations of using performance enhancers in the second half of his career, along with his surly relationship with the media, will keep him out of Cooperstown for the foreseeable future.

Curt Schilling (27) – His won-lost record (216-146) is modest by Hall of Fame standards, but he had three second-place Cy Young Award finishes and 3116 strikeouts with a record 4.38 SO:BB ratio.  Moreover, he starred for three different World Series teams, the 1993 Phillies, the 2001 D’backs (for whom he shared Series MVP honors), and the 2004 Red Sox (for whom he authored the gutsy “bloody sock” performance).  Nevertheless, he’ll drop sharply from his strong 39% showing in his first try.

Edgar Martinez (26) – Though he didn’t become a big league regular until he was 27, the DH wound up with 2247 hits, 514 doubles, 309 homers, and a .312 average.

Alan Trammell (25) – A fine shortstop, overshadowed throughout his career by Cal Ripken and Robin Yount.

Larry Walker (16) – Hit 383 homers and batted .313, winning three batting titles and the 1997 NL MVP Award, though most of his damage was done a mile above sea level.

Fred McGriff (15) – Crime Dog had 493 home runs and 1550 RBI, winning homer titles in each league.

Mark McGwire (13) – Had 583 home runs, a .588 slugging average, and the highest homer percentage of all time, but has become the voters’ poster boy for players accused of using PEs.

Don Mattingly (10) – After a half-dozen years as one of the game’s most productive hitters, Mattingly was reduced to mediocrity by back problems.  Still, he wound up with credentials eerily similar to 2001 first-ballot inductee Kirby Puckett’s.

Jeff Kent (9) – Kent set the record for most career home runs by a second baseman and won the 2000 NL MVP Award.  The recent Survivor contestant finished with 377 homers and a .290 average, but will struggle to survive on this ballot.

Mike Mussina (7) – Moose went 20-9 in his final season to finish at 270-153.  Since 1893, only 12 pitchers finished with more wins over .500, and just three have a higher career strikeout-to-walk ratio.  Nevertheless, Mussina will be lucky to even make the 5% cut.

Rafael Palmeiro (5) – He was a slam-dunk Hall of Famer until a positive steroids test (shortly after his finger-pointing denial of steroids-use under oath) effectively ended his career.  Voters remember that performance more than his 3020 hits, 569 homers, or 1835 RBI, and may just snub him off the ballot.

Sammy Sosa (5) – Slammed 609 home runs, including three 60-homer seasons and an MVP Award, in a career also tainted by performance-enhancer accusations.  He too may be knocked off the ballot, after just two tries.

Looking ahead toward upcoming elections, it appears the ballot will only get more crowded.  In 2015 the leading newcomers will be pitching aces Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Pedro Martinez (nine Cy Young Awards among them), along with sluggers Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado.  The following year, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Trevor Hoffman will top the rookie list.  The 2017 ballot will include Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada.  Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Omar Vizquel, Johnny Damon, and Jamie Moyer will become eligible in 2018.  And any ten-year veteran who played in 2013, but does not return next season – Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Todd Helton, to name three – will join the 2019 ballot.



23 Comments so far

  1.    joet on December 16, 2013 8:09 am      

    Before I discovered this site I predicted 4 players would be elected to the Hall of Fame this year: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio. It is a consolation to see that the “master” Bill Deane chose these four players as the top vote-getters for 2014.

    It is bold of Bill to post the actual vote percentages so I will do the same:
    Maddux: 97% (it’s hard to believe that any voter would leave off Maddux)
    Glavine: 80%
    Thomas: 79%
    Biggio: 78%

    [note about Maddux, if voters leave him off it's likely because they thought umpires gave him too many "off-the-plate" strikes.]

    Terrific article, thanks!

  2.    jake on December 16, 2013 10:11 am      

    Not sure who coined Bill an expert but his numbers make no sense. Judging by the people who are have already posted ballots online, Mussina is on 7 of the first 14 ballots. He has a better chance of reaching 50% than he does of falling off the ballot.

    Glavine has been named on ALL 14 ballots so far. He is getting in this year.

  3.    Richard Wood on December 16, 2013 10:30 am      

    The writers are getting very stingy by historical standards. I watched Jeff Kent allot & he was by far the best hitting second baseman after Joe Morgan & his numers are Morganish. He blelongs. I’m not sure about Biggio but Thomas belongs in any generation. Glavine was a great pitcher with allot of wins & you can’t hold pitching on that staff against him.

    Good story thanks

  4.    Martin Zelnik on December 16, 2013 11:05 am      

    Clearly the system is brokeN when only one major league player from quite a distiguished list fails to get in to the HOF. It’s an insult, not just to the players who are left off ballots, but to all baseball fans.
    For a writer to have 10 votes, and to only find 6 worthy of voting for is the height of chutzpah and irresponspoibility. For those who never saw JAck Morris pitch, there was none better in his era. Mike Piazza without a doubt the best hitting catcher ever. FRANK THOPMAS AND TOM GLAVINE…NO BRAINERS.
    Cooperstown and MLB needs to wake up as you will eliminate generations of true baseball fans as a resut of these ballot omisions.
    The voting system is broken and nees to be fixed and fixed fast!

    KUDOS FOR BILL DEANE FOR WRITING ABOUT THIS BUT WHERE ARE THE OTHER VOICES? WHERE ARE THE OTHER HALL OF FAMERS?

  5.    Daniel on December 16, 2013 12:47 pm      

    Mussina with 7%?!? You’ve got to be kidding me!

  6.    PJ on December 16, 2013 7:10 pm      

    Schilling actually played on 4 world series teams. You forgot 2007 Red Sox.

  7.    Bill Hom on December 16, 2013 7:18 pm      

    I’m not an expert by any means but if Mussina only gets 7% of the voting and Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas don’t get in first ballot, I won’t even concern myself with who gets into HOF anymore. Now to clarify, I’m not sure if Mussina is HOF-worthy but winning that many games with the O’s in the toughest division for many of those years should count towards election. The best pitchers can win even when they’re on a bad team. Moose has a good case, but I’m not sure it’s enough for him to get in to HOF at all during his eligibility but surely he warrants more than 7% out of the gate?

  8.    Adam on December 16, 2013 8:55 pm      

    I’m always amazed at how some voters will not vote for a guy one year, but will vote for him 4 or 5 yrs. down the road. The only legitimate reason for doing so is if the ballot is crowded w/ deserving candidates (like this yr’s ballot arguably is…) and the voter runs out of votes, but this should almost never happen. Biggio and Glavine have the magic milestones that make them surefire HOFers (3000 hits, 300 wins respectively). Everyone eligible for the HOF w/ 300 wins or 3000 hits is already in, except Pete Rose, Clemens, & Palmeiro, but each of these guys are associated w/ scandals that may keep them out. Neither Glavine or Biggio carry that kind of stigma, so why make them wait?

  9.    Mike on December 17, 2013 9:33 am      

    The fewer the better. Only the very best should be eligible. The HOF is disrespected by many (me included) for playing politics in inducting players. Members of the BBWBA are hardly above playing favorites and qualifications of some are suspect. So many inductees were good blue collar players who had friends amongst the selectors. Somehow, I can’t see a bust of Craig Biggio (yeah, so he got 3000 hits in 22 years) next to Ty Cobb. Bill Mazeroski and Hank Aaron in the same room? So, let it be Maddox alone and the others wait their turn. The HOF has a long history of corruption and shouldn’t be glamorized by syncophant writers.

  10.    Scott on December 17, 2013 9:38 am      

    I think that Maddux will not get 100% because of two kinds of voters. First is the voter who refuses to put any first timers on their ballot. Second is the voter who knows that Maddux will get plenty of votes and will make it in on the first ballot regardless and uses that slot on their ballot to make sure that a guy like Trammell/McGriff/Mussina get enough votes to stay on the ballot next year. What is a larger crime, Maddux not get 100% or Mussina potentially falling off the ballot?

  11.    Kevin on December 17, 2013 1:30 pm      

    If Biggio had played for the Yankees, he would be a lock.

  12.    A different Mike on December 17, 2013 2:17 pm      

    Maddux and Biggio are locks this year. Glavine and Thomas will be above 65%. Piazza, Bagwell, and Raines will be above 50%

  13.    Chuck M on December 18, 2013 5:23 am      

    Just my opinion – but I think some people get too upset over the fact that some less than “no-brainer” players have been voted into the HOF. If you look at the HOF voting history, it appears that the initial concept was to vote in just the very best. From 1936 to 1944 only 18 players had been voted in and only one player, Rogers Hornsby, was voted in during the time period from 1940 to 1944. Heck, even Cy Young took two years to be elected! Then came the torrent in 1945 with the election of some good but unspectacular players such as Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and a few others. The HOF bar had been lowered and once it was lowered, it can never be raised again. I just accept the fact that on occasion, some seemingly less than deserving players get in. I don’t understand voting in some borderline players after they’ve left this earth (Ron Santo) – if they are to be voting in please do it during their lifetime so they can enjoy the recognition but that’s just about my only gripe.

  14.    Jason on December 18, 2013 6:50 am      

    Mussina might fall off the ballot? Only one player voted in?
    This would be a travesty, period. I don’t want to hear any BS about Mussina not getting 300 wins. There are plenty of pitchers in the HOF that don’t have his numbers.
    There are a bunch of worthy candidates this year. Let’s get them in please.
    Maddux
    Glavine
    Thomas
    Biggio
    Piazza
    That looks about right.

  15.    Dave on December 18, 2013 7:50 am      

    Any voter who doesn’t have the name Greg Maddux on their ballot should have their credentials stripped immediately, and with extreme prejudice.

  16.    Aisle424 on December 18, 2013 10:43 am      

    Over on our blog we asked readers to vote as though they were BBWAA members and we elected Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, and Piazza. Last year, we elected Tim Raines, Barry Bonds, and Piazza, but Raines and Bonds didn’t get enough votes this year because the voting got thinned out.

    Our voters averaged 8.7 votes per ballot with 50 of 84 ballots using all of the maximum 10 votes. The BBWAA averaged 6.6 votes per ballot last year (and that was a record high for them going back to at least 2000).

    Between the guys who turn in blank ballots every year, the guys who refuse to vote for any first year candidate no matter who they are, and the large number of guys who don’t use all of the 10 votes allocated to them, having 15-16 serious HOF candidates even more marginal ones on the ballot thins the vote too much and I think Bill is dead on.

    If you care, the full results of our vote, compared with last year’s vote totals from both the BBWAA and our survey is available here:

    http://www.obstructedview.net/commentary-and-analysis/ov-hall-of-fame-voting-results-class-of-2014.html

  17.    DJ on December 18, 2013 2:22 pm      

    refusing to vote for a first year player is crap. I am, however, supportive of having the wait time for an inductee be representative of his accomplishments. Meaning that the only the very best players should get voted in their first year with the numbers of years they have to wait a sign of a relative reduction in their numbers or contributions to the game.

    Of the currently eligible list, here is who I think should be in and where I would place them based on that logic:
    first year: Maddux, Glavine
    2-5 years wait: Thomas, Bagwell, Biggio
    5-10 yrs: Morris, Raines
    10-15: Trammel, Mattingly, Piazza

    Perfectly fine leaving those out who’s performance numbers are suspect (for me this leaves Rose in as his numbers are not suspect in my view even if his judgement is)

    Next year Johnson, and Martinez should go first year, Sheffield in yrs 2-5, Smoltz in 5-10

  18.    Nate Walter on December 19, 2013 9:33 am      

    I think only 4 guys have a real shot at getting in this year:

    1. Maddux
    2. Biggio
    3. Thomas
    4. Piazza

    Guys like Bagwell and Glavine will certainly get in, although I’m curious if it’ll take a ballot expansion to do so (especially with 2015 being jam-packed as well with Randy Johnson, Pedro, and Smoltz, plus multiple carry-overs from previous years).

    That the BBWAA has made it an impossible standard to make it into the Hall, that they only see baseball as linear (constant comparisons to Ruth, Aaron, Gehrig, etc.) and not cyclical, is a huge issue.

    Jonah Keri of Grantland posted a great article this week regarding the BBWAA.

    http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/10155321/breaking-baseball-hall-fame-ballot

    It would be a travesty to not see guys from my childhood like Thomas, Biggio, Maddux to not make it in.

  19.    Jerry on December 23, 2013 8:28 am      

    How much credibility can I give this guy when he gets Frank Thomas’ MVP years wrong? Thomas won his MVP’s in ’93 & ’94… not ’95 as stated here. C’mon, get your facts right.

  20.    Fart on December 27, 2013 5:07 pm      

    Early returns at BBTF indicate these predictions are way off. Glavine is looking like a lock. Thomas has a good chance, Biggio/Morris fair but not great. The others are polling much higher than expected, and the number of votes per ballot is insanely high. Granted, it’s a severely biased sample (most voters do not publish their ballots, and tend to vote differently from those that do), but as of now, I think a “class of one” is extremely unlikely.

  21.    Tom Gardner on December 29, 2013 11:50 am      

    Bill, I’m taking you on! Here are my analytically-based predictions: http://www.borntorunthenumbers.com/2013/12/hall-of-fame-prediction-2014-protest-is.html

  22.    Dennis Corcoran on December 30, 2013 11:12 am      

    I spent six years researching and writing “Induction Day at Cooperstown A History of the Baseball Hall of Fame Ceremony.” I disagree with anyone who states that only the best of the best deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. They are entitled to their opinion but precedent indicates there are many controversial inductees in the Hall of Fame. There are over 20 controversial selections that I agree with and many more that I don’t agree with. I use three critics who have written about controversial selections, including Bill James, as the basis for this criticism. One example would be Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance, who many believe got in because of the famous poem. Here are some that many of you might not be aware of-Tommy McCarthy, George Kelly, Rick Ferrell and Jesse Haines.
    If I had a vote I would make 10 selections because of all the outstanding candidates on the ballot this year.

  23.    Tom Gardner on December 31, 2013 3:32 pm      

    In case you didn’t see this, my HOF prediction is at the link. Afterward I will post on who did better, me or Bill Deane! http://www.borntorunthenumbers.com/2013/12/hall-of-fame-prediction-2014-protest-is.html

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  • Written by Graham Womack