|Who will join the Hall of Fame |
legends this year?
In a tradition I let slip the last few years I am picking up again to convey my thoughts on who I would vote for if I had a ballot for the 2021 National Baseball Hall of Fame. As most readers probably know, the actual voting committee is the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA). Prior to 2016, once a member, always a vote. In 2016, several changes to the voting process were made (see my Blog here) culling the list of voters to those who had covered the game in the prior 10 years. This played out to remove a number of small vote ballots and increase percentages for those on the bubble.
The BBWAA vote will be revealed on Major League Baseball (MLB) Network on Tuesday, January 26, 2021. The Hall of Fame vote reveal remains one of the most anticipated moments on the baseball calendar and certainly of the offseason. Here is the 2021 National Baseball Hall of Fame Candidates Eligible for vote (via Baseball Reference with prior year percentage total for returning candidates). 75% of all ballots cast must include the players name for induction.
There are a few overarching factors that cannot be ignored when it comes to voting.
1) A major controversial specter over the Hall will continue to be Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) use in baseball primarily in the 1990s, an era for which many players accused are now appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot. There are players whose on-field performance clearly merits first ballot election, however because of their associated with substances that enhanced their performance, many members of the BBWAA has been hesitant to cast votes their way at least in the 75% needed for induction. Because the official voting rules include the words "integrity, sportsmanship, and character," their reluctance is justified in my mind. For my selection, I will not presume guilt, but if there is legal, eye witness (including Mitchell Report) or strong anecdotal evidence of PED use, I will strongly weigh against voting for the candidate.
2) A change in consideration for me is how to assess pitchers. Whereas the 300 win plateau with low ERAs reflective of the dead ball, or pitcher dominated, eras prior to 1970 used to be a norm, it's become increasingly more difficult to get wins in the era of specialty relievers with starters leaving the game before the end of the sixth inning many times in close games. Conversely, however, one would think this would benefit starting pitchers ERA by seldom going through a lineup more than twice in some cases, rarely more than three times. Also, after many years of closers not being strongly considered, Mariano Rivera became the first and only to date unanimous inductee to the Hall, along with Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith in recent years. The doors have opened a bit in that regard. In the end, I strongly weigh dominance over a reasonable period of time, along with Cy Young Awards, All-Star games, Win titles, career saves, and ERA.
3) There is also first and last ballot bias. First ballot some BBWAA voters will hold their vote to protect some sort of integrity of being a "first ballot hall of famer". Evidence, three voters who did not include Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016. Likewise, when a player is on his last ballot (as Tim Raines was in 2017, Edgar Martinez in 2019, and Larry Walker in 2020) voters who previously withheld tend to pay a bit more attention to their candidacy considering it's a final shot and vote accordingly. Editors note, I advocated for Walker and Martinez all along, did not so for Raines. So a bump is normal (up to 15% for a candidate close to election). Neither of these is a major factor this year as the ballot lacks any strong first ballot candidates, and no candidates in their final year (however, 2022 will be a doozy).
With a limit of ten players on a ballot, here are the players I would put on my ballot (in order of my credibility). I don't use all ten votes or even half. In fact, my prior Blog ballot in 2018, only two are not yet in, they will appear below.
|Billy the Kid|
Factors against him: Only 900 career IP, lack of postseason success
Wagner jumped from around 17% in year four up to over 30% in year five. As several high profile inductees cleared the list to make room on ballots and he seems to be getting more scrutiny which is good. I'm still guessing he'll never gets in during the ten year window, but may get in on a veteran ballot in decades to come once the Hall figures out how to assess relievers.
|Helton Belts one|
Factors against him: Playing in Denver, huge home/road split differences
Helton jumped from 16.5% to 29.2% in his first to second year (now in his third). This is encouraging. Probably not the next two, but assuming his momentum keeps going he'll be to 50% in a couple of years and then likely in by year 7 or 8.
|Kent joins Clemens and Bonds as the only|
former MVPs on the ballot
3) Jeff Kent - Last Blog I did in 2018 I had listed him as my 8th pick out of 8. One of the top offensive second basemen of all time. His line across the major stats is .290, 377, and 1518. He has an MVP in his closet, and three other Top 10 finishes. Add to that six All-Star appearances and four silver sluggers. He's 54th all time in RBI (more than Mantle, Vlad, Rice) with most of those eligible ahead of him already inducted. His power numbers dwarf Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar, but is getting very little buzz or momentum.
Factors against him: Below average on defense, late bloomer, played in a power era in which his home run numbers aren't considered extraordinary, cold to media.
Kent started around 15% and only last year got more than 20% with 27.5% of the votes. Now in his eighth year it seems like he won't get close. Not a popular guy around the league from my memory he may not get much love on veterans ballots either.
|Shilling was a dominant force|
Factors against him: The aforementioned lackluster wins/ERA take him from can't ignore to can ignore but mostly his interaction with the media and political opinions.
Schilling went from 61% to 70% from year 7 to year 8. Normally this momentum would be certain to get in, however that 30% against him may be inconvincible. Like Kent, if he doesn't get in by 2022, he may not get veterans committee support due to his lack of likeability within the game.
First four out
5) Scott Rolen - Really good, but Hall of Fame worthy? A good Twitter debate I had noted that by most any measure, he was a Top Ten 3B of all time. The position is underrepresented it seems in Cooperstown. Numbers are solid but not overwhelming. Certainly elite defense and 7 All Star games are good. I just don't feel like when you played a team with Rolen, he was the guy to watch out for in the lineup. Only two Top 15 MVP finishes. Never led the league in any major statistical category. Only one Silver Slugger. I'll keep my eye on him going forward but does no make the cut for now.
Factors against him: Not elite at anything, very good at everything. No overwhelming stat accomplishment at which to point.
He's surging pretty well, from 10.2%, to 17.2%, to 35.3% in three years. This is a trajectory which leans toward getting in. Also a popular guy in the league on good teams, would likely get in on a veterans ballot if the surge stalls out. Not a chance this year.
6) Andruw Jones - Power, speed, and defense, he was a 5-tool player. Started his career at 19, but wore out at Age 35, he still hit well over 400 HR. His .254 batting average really drags him down, with a lack of huge walk numbers it leaves him only .337 OBP. His defense was his calling card, but also won a Silver Slugger and narrowly missed the MVP in 2005 to Albert Pujols. I will keep him on my radar, that batting average though.
Factors against him: Low batting average, barely was a factor after age 30.
After two years of barely staying on the ballot, is starting to at least get discussion. Year 3 was 19.4% so he'll stay on the ballot through 10 years. I've seen more social media campaigning on him than anyone. I don't think he gets in after the 10 years.
7) Bobby Abreu - I will at least say he needs more discussion. If you look at all the 2021 NBHOF candidates OPS, the only one ahead of him not associated with PEDs is the aforementioned Todd Helton. Switch hitter with eight years in a row of over 100 walks, was durable playing 162 twice during his career. Modest power but produced 100 RBI in eight seasons. Good speed as well with 400 career SBs. But no Top 10 MVP finishes, one Silver Slugger and one Gold Glove and only two All Star games. I think overlooked but not worthy in the end.
Factors against him: Never seemed elite related to peers (see AS Games, SS, GG), not a lot of home run power
Barely eeked out 5.5% of the vote in his first ballot certainly is better than that. In a low year of top candidates (Jeter, Walker cleared, no major first timers) he may get a bump from voters who maxed out their 2020 ballot at 10. Little chance of ever being inducted.
8) Aramis Ramirez - Interestingly close comparison to Rolen on offense. More HR, more RBI, a better career batting average, slugging almost identical. Did not get on base as much. Good defender, but not elite like Rolen. Three Top 10 MVP votes (but never higher than 9), only 3 All Star games. A single silver slugger. This is where I draw the line just above he and Rolen, as there starts to be a lot of guys that look like this over a long career.
Factors against him: Never seemed like an elite player at his time. Very good across the board, not extraordinary
Ramirez is in his first year on the ballot, there's a chance he doesn't get 5%. He should get more like 10%. Another guy I don't see making it in the long run.
Most of the remaining repeat candidates fall into the PED category. Their stats are more than deserving, even before they might have juiced, but would not get my vote): Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte. All would easily be in without it except maybe Pettitte who would be close anyway (would not get my vote even without PEDs).
The only other returning candidate not discussed is Omar Vizquel. Like Schilling, I don't consider his recent off the field issue in my voting. I just don't see enough offense. The defense was there. There's a long history of middle infielders leaning on good defense and good enough offense to get in, but I don't see Vizquel in that category. Only a .336 OBP, worst of this pool of candidates besides Torii Hunter. He got >50% of the vote last year in his 4th ballot and probably will get in by the BBWAA. I'd be in the 25% not voting for him,
Newcomers that might stay on the ballot (besides Ramirez mentioned above): Torii Hunter, Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson. I don't see any of the rest staying.
So my opinions aside, I think only Curt Schilling gets in this year. May be a null class.
Here is my mock ballot
The 2022 Ballot will be a battle royal. Likely to contain the last chances for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Curt Schilling (if not this year). Will include PED suspended Alex Rodriguez, DH extraordinaire David Ortiz, and former MVP Jimmy Rollins in their first ballots. Mark Teixeira another strong first time candidate. Buckle up buttercup, next years blog of this sort will be a doozy!
Note that the 2020 inductees will be honored this year since no ceremony was held last year. That includes Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons, and Marvin Miller on July 25, 2021.