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The crowded Hall of Fame ballot

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There are over twenty worthy players on this year's Hall of Fame ballot. Will this doom many of these players never to be enshrined? Not necessarily.

Does Edgar Martinez have a prayer of ever being elected into the Hall of Fame?
Does Edgar Martinez have a prayer of ever being elected into the Hall of Fame?
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

I was minding my business on Sunday evening when I saw a random tweet:

Outstanding, another graph, but unlike many of mine, this one is very easy to explain. Rob had combed through the Hall of Fame voting data available at Baseball-Reference and cobbled together the average number of players per ballot over the years. I had created a similar chart in a post I wrote some time back:

HOF Vote Percent

Same data, different manner of presenting it, same irritating issue -- with expansion and more players, the typical BBWAA voter has dramatically reduced the number of players on their ballots. Granted, there was a significant uptick in 2014, but the question remains -- are there enough HOF slots on the ballot to handle the current number of players who deserve enshrinement, and will this issue become even worse in the future?

Dave Cameron wrote a piece at FanGraphs last year that addressed this and gives an interesting angle with which to view the issue, stratifying players by birth year, and thanks to Eno Sarris for bringing it to my attention. I created a data viz in my earlier posts that filters players by when they began their career, and this screen grab illustrates what Cameron mentioned (click here to view the actual data viz):

HOF Ballot

This graph plots how well players perform using Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor and Career Standards, and the easiest way to explain it is to state that players in the upper right quadrant are sure-fire HOF selections, and those closer to the edges deserve serious discussion. Dots in red denote players on the 2015 ballot, and viewing the actual data viz and hovering over the individual data points shows more information.

There are three filters -- the first filters by Position played, and the third filters the HOF Monitor to separate the chaff from the wheat. The one I'm interested in for the purposes of this post is the From filter, which allows us to approximate what Dave Cameron was describing. His argument is that players born between 1961-1970 are underrepresented and there will be a huge log jam going forward if voters don't start adding more players to their ballot, and we can see those players if we slide the From filter to around 1980 or so, when these players would have begun their careers. When Dave wrote his post, two players born after 1960 had been enshrined, Barry Larkin and Roberto Alomar, followed last year by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.

Most of these players are newer to the HOF ballot, but expansion will make it more difficult for players to be recognized if voters don't change their habits and put more names on the ballot. They're allowed a maximum of ten players, and there is discussion to expand it to twelve, but is this really necessary? Consider these players currently on the ballot and those about to come on:

2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020*
1 Biggio Raines Raines McGriff McGriff McGriff
2 Piazza L. Smith L. Smith* McGwire McGwire McGwire
3 Bagwell E. Martinez E. Martinez L. Walker L. Walker L. Walker
4 Raines Trammell* McGriff Sosa Sosa Sosa
5 Clemens Mussina McGwire Edmonds Edmonds Edmonds
6 Bonds McGriff L. Walker C. Jones Rolen Rolen
7 L. Smith McGwire Sosa Thome Andruw Jones Andruw Jones
8 Schilling L. Walker Sheffield Rolen J. Santana J. Santana
9 E. Martinez Sosa Edmonds Andruw Jones A. Rodriguez Helton
10 Trammell Sheffield I. Rodriguez J. Santana M. Rivera Berkman
11 Mussina Griffey M. Ramirez
Halladay Beltran
12 Kent Edmonds Guerrero Helton Pujols
13 McGriff
Pettitte Beltre
14 McGwire
Berkman Jeter
15 L. Walker
D. Wright
16 Mattingly* Utley
17 Sosa *Last year *Last year Abreu
18 R. Johnson M. Cabrera
19 P. Martinez I. Suzuki
20 Smoltz RCano
21 Sheffield Giambi
22 *Last year T. Hunter
23 10 selected 3 selected 6 selected 2 selected 4 selected Longoria
24 Teixeira
25 D. Ortiz
26 Tejada
27 Mauer
28 Rollins
29 Holliday
30 Pedroia
31 Crawford
32 Kinsler
33

* The 2020 players highlighted are purely my speculation as to who will be worthy of induction. Further explanation is below.

If this is too painful for you to look at on your particular device, this Google Docs spreadsheet has the same information. Clicking on the year goes to the Baseball-Reference HOF page for that year. Players I believe will be enshrined are in bold. I'm also purely speculating on Alex Rodriguez being eligible for the 2019 ballot, since that would only be the case if he doesn't play this year and instead retires.

Of these players I believe twenty-five are worthy of induction, and five were born after 1970 and cancel out the five from the 1960s already inducted. Twenty-five players born in the 1960s would be very similar to other decades, and it shouldn't be difficult for them to be selected in the next five elections. An argument could be made it's under-representative of the total number of players, as well as that some of the players I left out deserve enshrinement, but I'm very comfortable stating the folks I left out set the new standard for the Hall of Very Good. I could also be wrong.

A brief word on the players in the 2020 column -- the players I selected for enshrinement are those I believe that if they quit playing this very day would be worthy of enshrinement, and I'd add several more (Utley, Cano, Wright and Rollins for sure, probably Pedroia) if they can put up a few more good years. The beauty of this group is they won't retire in the same year, so they'll be spread out and won't crowd a ballot and make for difficult choices.

There is a logjam of HOF-worthy players at the moment, but it doesn't have to stay that way. I'd be surprised if voters select ten players this year, but as the first graphs show, the tendency to place more players on the ballot increased markedly in 2014. However, even with an average of 8+ candidates per ballot, there were still only three players elected, so just adding more players won't necessarily solve the problem. In addition, the new trend of "I'm not voting for Obvious Candidate X because I know he's in and will instead vote for Borderline Candidate Y" is throwing monkey wrenches in as well.

We'll find out the results on January 6th, and the 2015 ballots available for review so far (this is from Tom Tango's site, and big thanks to Ryan Thibs for compiling this data) show many voters with 8-10 players listed. A couple more years with similar trends and posts like this one will be moot and voters will be back to seriously considering new candidates and hopefully selecting deserving candidates the first time they're eligible. But let's not get too carried away -- one issue at a time.

All data from Baseball-Reference. Any issues in amalgamating and processing the data in the data vizzes are the author's.

Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA and wishes you a very Happy New Year. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.