Last month, before he climbed the ladder from ESPN to SBNation, Rob Neyer wrote an article that really resonated with me about how congested the Hall of Fame ballot is going to become. There are two problems at play that will cause this to happen:
- Hall of Fame voters are holding modern players to a ridiculously high standard. Bert Blyleven ranks 13th all time (all time!) in WAR (according to Baseball-Reference). But it took him fourteen tries to get in the Hall. Jeff Bagwell is the top position player not in the Hall by wWAR. He struggled with just 41.7% of the vote. Blyleven was the top post-1900 pitcher not in by wWAR, but right after him was Kevin Brown. Brown, of course, fared so poorly (2.1%) that he's off the ballot for good. We're talking about the top eligible players by wWAR since 1900—and they couldn't get in. In history. Look at guys like Alan Trammell or Barry Larkin. If they played in a different era, they'd be easy first ballot selections. (Yet, somehow—through all of this—Jim Rice gets in.)
- Hall of Fame voters are pretending they are the moral police. They're shunning any player who has not only admitted steroid use or failed a test (Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro), but also anyone who happens to have big muscles (Jeff Bagwell).
How will these two problems affect Hall of Fame voting going forward (assuming voters remain consistent—which is an enormous assumption)?
Over the next several years, we're going to see some interesting debates hit the ballot—for example, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens (see reason #2), Curt Schilling and Kenny Lofton (see reason #1), and Jim Edmonds and Jim Thome (certainly fit under #1, but if Jeff Bagwell is suspected of #2 then these guys will be, too). The list of interesting—and controversial—candidates is a long one.
I want to stress this: There are a ton of players I believe should be in the Hall of Fame—and a year ago I probably would have assumed most would easily be inducted. But Blyleven's struggles combined with Bagwell's non-election have left me shocked and, quite frankly, confused.
Quite simply, we're going to have a ton of Hall-worthy players hanging around on the ballot.
How bad will it be? Let's make a little projection. I'll start with next year's ballot.
This includes all players with 30+ WAR along with Lee Smith. Who's going to get in?
Class of 2012: Barry Larkin
That's it. I want to believe Jeff Bagwell will make the jump, but 41% to 75% is too big a jump for one year. I hope we basement dwellers can get him a good boost, though. I figure Bernie Williams, Brad Radke, Tim Salmon, and Brian Jordan will fall off the ballot. Some may disagree with Bernie, but we'll see.
Some major stars hit the ballot in 2013. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Craig Biggio, Sammy Sosa, and Mike Piazza are the biggest. Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, and Piazza all have the varying degrees of steroid allegations. Heck, even Biggio is being pulled into it. Year #3 might have been a good time for Bagwell to get in, but I can also see voters thinking "Well, if I'm not going to put Bonds or Clemens in, I can't put Bagwell in." That leaves Schilling. And honestly, I feel he's incredibly underrated and will struggle to get in. So, who will actually be inducted?
Hall of Fame Class of 2013: No one
I think we'll have a ton of players in the 25-75% window, but nobody is "clean" enough to get inducted. This ballot will be a media circus. Lost in all of this will be the departure of Dale Murphy from the ballot. Given the number of suspected steroid users on the ballot, Murphy will likely get his highest percentage ever, but still fall significantly short. David Wells and the rest of the new candidates will likely fall off the ballot.
Well, we're finally going to get some inductees. Who will it be?
Hall of Fame Class of 2014: Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine
I think Maddux has a chance to be the first unanimous inductee. Glavine will get in while Mussina doesn't get in right away. Why? Well, because Glavine is a bit overrated (I said "a bit", don't yell at me!) and Mussina seems to be terribly underrated. Once this ballot passes, we'll be able to say that Mussina is the best pitcher outside of the Hall. I always assumed Frank Thomas would coast to a first ballot induction. I also assumed that about Jeff Bagwell. If the voters can make a 'roid case out of Bagwell, they can certainly do it for Thomas. Jeff Kent will also hit the ballot. He'll stay on it, but he won't get inducted (any time soon, if at all). Luis Gonzalez, Kenny Rogers, and the rest will drop off. Jack Morris, in his fifteenth season, will finally drop off.
Another excellent crop of pitchers hits the ballot, including Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz. Who gets in?
Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez
I don't think John Smoltz will have much trouble getting in. I just don't think it'll be on the first ballot. Johnson will get in and I'm fairly certain Pedro gets in (unless someone starts slinging mud). Gary Sheffield's PED ties will hurt him, but he should at least remain on the ballot. He's a worthy candidate if his record was clean. Delgado, Giles, and Nomar will drop off the ballot (though Nomar could stick around a little bit) along with Tom Gordon and Don Mattingly, who will be in his fifteen season.
What does that leave us with? That leaves us with the hypothetical ballot that led off this post: 25 guys who have (at least) a realistic Hall of Fame case hanging around the ballot (well, 24, but I'm not sure exactly when Juan Gonzalez will drop off). I see 18 or so that I would put in.
This is going to be a problem.