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.
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.