Editor’s note: For the third consecutive year, I’m honored to feature Hall of Fame predictions from Bill Deane, former senior research associate at Cooperstown. Historically, Bill has been highly accurate, nearly calling the ballot in 2013. He finally stumbled a bit last year, though it was an unusual election, one that could have thrown even the most experienced of Hall forecasters for a loop. In a post-mortem, Bill vowed to return, and I’m glad he’s done so. I’m curious to see how Bill’s predictions, compiled in November, fare this year. He has a place at this website as long as he wants it.
I’ve been predicting Baseball Hall of Fame elections for 34 years now, with an 80% success rate (51-13) in guessing who would or would not make it among candidates receiving between 65-85% of the vote. If there has been one thing predictable about Hall voters, it is how many names each one will check. Though they are permitted ten selections apiece, the typical voter uses considerably fewer than that: six, to be exact. For 27 straight years, 1987-2013, the average number of votes per voter was more than five, but less than seven. Now, that’s consistency.
Then came 2014: the average leaped up to 8.39, some 40% above average. That shattered my crystal baseball, leading to my worst forecast ever. Yes, there was a bumper crop of newcomers on the 2014 ballot, including Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas, but that’s not the first time that was the case. In 1999, for example, ballot rookies Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, and Carlton Fisk joined holdovers Tony Perez, Gary Carter, Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter, and Bert Blyleven, among others, on the slate – yet writers used an average of just 6.74 votes per ballot.
So the question for me is, was the 2014 voting a fluke, or the start of a new trend? I believe the average will remain well above the 1987-2013 standard, but below the 2014 level – I’m guessing about 7.7 votes per voter in 2015. That should allow for two more Cooperstown inductees.
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. 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 15 (reduced from 20 this year) 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 2015 results will be announced on January 6 at 2 PM EST.
More than half of the 35 players who were listed on the 2014 ballot are not on the 2015 version: Maddux, Glavine, and Thomas, who were elected; Jack Morris, who failed in his final attempt; and 14 others (Rafael Palmeiro, Moises Alou, Hideo Nomo, Luis Gonzalez, Eric Gagne, J. T. Snow, Armando Benitez, Jacques Jones, Kenny Rogers, Sean Casey, Ray Durham, Todd Jones, Paul LoDuca, and Richie Sexson) who were dropped for failing to reach the 5%-cutoff. These men collected a whopping 1,958 votes in 2014, which conceivably could be redistributed to the new and returning candidates this year. The solid 2015 rookie class – led by three pitchers who combined for nine Cy Young Awards – figures to get the bulk of those, but the 17 returnees are likely to move up in the voting.
Most first-time eligibles are destined for just one try on the writers’ ballot, the consequence of receiving less than 5% of the vote. These include Rich Aurilia (186 homers, .275 average), Aaron Boone (126 HR, .263, plus the 2003 AL pennant-winning homer), Tony Clark (251 HR, .262), Carlos Delgado (473 HR, including four in a game, 1512 RBI, .546 slugging percentage), Jermaine Dye (325 HR, .274, plus a Gold Glove and the 2005 World Series MVP), Darin Erstad (124 HR, .282, and a monster 2000 season, in which he amassed 240 hits and became the first leadoff man ever to knock in 100 runs) , Cliff Floyd (233 HR, .278), Nomar Garciaparra (1997 AL Rookie of the Year Award and two batting titles en route to a .313 career average), Brian Giles (287 HR, .291), Tom Gordon (138-126, 158 saves), Eddie Guardado (187 saves), Troy Percival (358 saves), and Jason Schmidt (130-96, ERA title). Though many of these will get votes, only Delgado, Garciaparra, Percival, Giles, and Dye have even outside chances of making the cut.
Here’s the way I foresee the rest of the election shaping up, with newcomers in bold and predicted percentages in parentheses:
Randy Johnson (94) – A late bloomer who won five Cy Young Awards after his 32nd birthday, The Big Unit finished with a 303-166 won-lost record, 4875 strikeouts (second behind only Nolan Ryan), four ERA titles, a perfect game, and a 20-K performance. Making it easily on his first try, Johnson will stand tall in Cooperstown.
Craig Biggio (79) – An excellent but not dominant player who amassed 3060 hits, 1844 runs, 668 doubles, and 414 stolen bases. He missed election by just two votes in 2014, and should get over the hump on his third try.
Mike Piazza (69) – The best offensive catcher of all time (419 homers, .308 average), Piazza managed to survive steroids rumors and a poor defensive reputation. He’ll get near the doorstep of election this year but fall a bit short.
Jeff Bagwell (60) – Batted .297 with 449 homers and 1529 RBI in just 15 seasons, winning the 1994 NL MVP Award.
Pedro Martinez (57) – Finished 219-100 with 3154 strikeouts against just 760 walks, winning five ERA crowns and three Cy Young Awards.
Tim Raines (52) – Rock was an outstanding player whose credentials (including an 808-146 stolen base record) are starting to be appreciated by voters.
John Smoltz (46) – Despite a modest 213-155 career record and credentials very similar to two-time also-ran Curt Schilling, Smoltzie is getting a lot of buzz as a “future Hall of Famer,” with many expecting him to go in on his first try. I see him making a strong showing, but far short of election. Smoltz had 3084 strikeouts, 154 saves, the 1996 NL Cy Young Award, and a 15-4 record in post-season play.
Roger Clemens (38) – 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 (38) – 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, accusations of his 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 (36) – 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).
Lee Smith (32) – 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.
Edgar Martinez (28) – 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.
Mike Mussina (27) – Moose went 20-9 in his final season to finish at 270-153. Since the current pitching distance was established in 1893, only 12 pitchers have more wins over .500, and just three have a higher career strikeout-to-walk ratio. Mussina made a respectable 20% showing in his first try in 2014.
Alan Trammell (25) – A fine shortstop, overshadowed throughout his career by Cal Ripken and Robin Yount.
Jeff Kent (17) – Kent set the record for most career home runs by a second baseman and won the 2000 NL MVP Award. He finished with 377 homers and a .290 average, and received a decent 15% of the votes in his first attempt.
Fred McGriff (14) – 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 became the voters’ poster boy for players accused of using PEs. With the new rule cutting eligibility from 15 to ten years, this is Big Mac’s next-to-last try.
Larry Walker (12) – 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.
Don Mattingly (11) – 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. Mattingly received 28% that same year, but has gone steadily downhill since then; this is his last try on the BBWAA ballot.
Sammy Sosa (8) – Slammed 609 home runs, including three 60-homer seasons and an MVP Award, in a career also tainted by performance-enhancer accusations.
Gary Sheffield (5) – Blasted 509 homers with 1676 RBI and a batting crown. But as an admitted steroids user, he’ll be lucky to make the 5% cut.
Looking ahead toward upcoming elections, in 2016 the leading newcomers will be Ken Griffey, Jr., Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner. The following year, Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Vlad Guerrero will top the rookie list. The 2018 ballot will include Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Omar Vizquel, Johnny Damon, and Jamie Moyer.
Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte, and Todd Helton are among those who will become eligible in 2019. And any ten-year veteran who played in 2014, but does not return next season – Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko, Bobby Abreu, and Adam Dunn, to name four – will join the 2020 ballot.