In a Longhorndave Blog tradition, I am once again conveying my thoughts on who I would vote for if I had a BBWAA ballot for the 2023 National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The BBWAA vote will be revealed on Major League Baseball (MLB) Network on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. 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 2023 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.
|The welcoming entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY|
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 related 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.
There are a few overarching factors to cover before we get to the specifics.
1) A major, controversial specter over the Hall will continue to be how to handle candidates associated with Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) use in baseball primarily in the 1990s and early 2000s, 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, some members of the BBWAA have been hesitant to cast votes their way at least in the 75% needed for induction (note that MOST of the voters did check the boxes for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, just not three out of four). 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 findings, first hand accounts (including Mitchell Report) or strong anecdotal evidence of PED use, I will strongly weigh against voting for the candidate. You can count me in the "The PED STJ" type here in a blog I wrote. That means, I absolutely think Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Clemens (and Manny Ramirez) are Hall of Famers without PEDs but I hold them accountable (just like the person who did lots of good things but committed a crime...he still committed a crime).
2) A change in consideration for me is how to assess pitchers. Whereas the 300-win plateau with a low ERA 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 high save count Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith in recent years. The doors have opened a bit in that regard. In the end, for pitchers, 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 candidates some BBWAA voters seem reticent to vote in 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 a vote tend to pay a bit more attention to their candidacy considering it's a final shot and vote favorably.
So how do I sort through very worthy candidates that each has at least some argument for a vote for induction. Here's some parameters I use
1) I don't deal with first ballot / last ballot. I may sway in between as I hear arguments, but I'm not going to withhold someone I know I think should get in, nor be swayed in the last year. Example, Schilling, was not a proponent earlier but more I heard arguments I came around and began to vote for him. Similar with Andruw Jones.
2) I don't hold OFF THE FIELD issues (to an extent) against the player. Don't care that Schilling is unlikable or has some political view that is disagreeable. I do need to consider Domestic Violence as that becomes an integrity issue. I do not vote for Vizquel anyway, so not really an issue.
3) Per the above, not me for PED guys. You're welcome to vote for them I'm not. Even if Selig, who shouldn't be in, is in (see number 6 below).
4) I don't handicap candidates if they played in Coors Field (Colorado) or DH's or were on good teams for win. Stats are stats, the eye test stands, it is what it is, games are played there, value exists wherever.
5) I struggle voting for candidates with good cumulative stats but never great. This makes me look for high finishes in MVP and All-Star appearances. Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves help. If you hit 30 HR for 15 years but everyone else hitting 45+ it's a sign of the times. Also, bold stats, leading the league in meaningful things, matters.
6) Comparisons to "this guy is in, so should this guy" or "if he isn't in, this guy can't be". It's candidate against criteria. I actually looked at Lance Berkman as a guy not in as someone who should be exceeded and quickly realized stat comparisons to him for a below 5 percent first ballot guy is tough because his numbers hold against guys already in, yet he isn't even close.
7) I lean toward classic stats (Average, HR, Runs, RBI, Steals, okay to combing OBP/SLG for OPS). WAR I don't emphasize, rewards longer play, doesn't have eyes, I don't know who the replacement is and while I agree it can be an assessor, it's not for me. So don't say "if this player has X WAR, and this player has X+10 WAR, I must change my mind". Eye test trumps all that.
8) As stated above, pitching is tough. Starters need to find themselves in Cy Young Top 10s. Relievers must meet the Lee Smith or Bruce Sutter entry bar. Few do.
With a limit of ten players on a ballot, here are the players I would put on my ballot (in order of my credibility).
|Billy the Kid|
Factors against him: Only 900 career IP, bad postseason numbers, closer bias
Wagner has increased appreciably in each of the last three rounds which bodes well now over 50% in his seventh year. As several high-profile inductees cleared the list or fell off to make room on (vote limited) ballots and he seems to be getting more positive attention and buzz, which is good. In the past I felt like he wouldn't get in on the BBWAA ballot. I now think he will in Year 8 or 9.
|Helton Belts one|
Factors against him: Playing in Denver, huge home/road split differences, limited post-season action.
Helton has tripled his support from first to fourth year. This is encouraging. He'll likely get in by year six.
|Kent joins only Rollins and Alex Rodriguez|
as former MVPs on the ballot
3) Jeff Kent - 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 those 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 fellow HOF 2B 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 last year still was getting fewer than one out of three votes. Now in his tenth and final year, he won't make it. With the way the Era Committee has been voting I think he gets in on that ballot within 10 years of his falling off the ballot. The numbers are just too much to ignore.
|Rolen had five tools|
4) Scott Rolen - We're now entering the really close cases for my vote. I'm really on the fence on Rolen, previously did not vote but now am for the past two years. He absolutely never led the league in anything. Seven All-Star appearances (in 17 years) is decent but not overwhelming. I'm putting all my chips in defense and third base being a position that is overlooked for Hall of Famers. Third base is one where it's as demanding defensively as SS at times, yet offense for a corner OF or 1B is expected. It's a physically demanding position. He was part of a number of postseason runs.
Factors against him: Only one Top 10 MVP finish. Never led the league in any major stat. Wasn't that guy in the lineup you worried about beating you that day.
Jumped to over 50% in 2021, then over 60% in 2022. With folks falling off the ballot he is going to be right on the line this year. Interesting if any writers check his name as very likely the only one to get the percentage and it looks bad if nobody gets in. If not in 2023, then in 2024.
|K-Rod shut them down a lot|
5) Francisco Rodriguez - Elite closer of his era for a substantial period of time. Single season career record for saves (2008). Fourth all-time in saves behind the other-worldly Rivera/Hoffman and former all-time leader Lee Smith (all HOFers, only Rivera with a lower career ERA0). Three Cy Young Top 5s and an MVP Top 10. Six All-Star games. K-Rod (as he was known) checks all the boxes of best at his position, best over an extended period of time, recognized with awards, led league several times, top career stats. No penalty for being first ballot or reliever.
Factors against him: Fewer than 1000 career IP, first ballot, closer bias.
He seems to be someone that will get in as several closers have lately. Probably not first year, but by third year would be logical. Early returns are discouraging.
|Beltran electrified crowds with his tools|
6) Carlos Beltran - Another first ballot guy (with K-Rod) that stacks up well against most objective criteria. What most stands out are his 435 HR which currently rates Top 50 (career RBI Top 50 also). Top 35 total bases. Played all facets well with over 300 career steals and three Gold Gloves. Led the league in CF assists four times. A couple of Silver Sluggers which means something. Comparable career paths to Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield who are well respected HOFers.
Factors against him: Never a leader in categories for a season, just two Top 10 MVP finishes. Bounced around teams which sometimes doesn't give voters an anchor. Also was the center of the Astros sign-stealing scandal (which really was not limited to him or the Astros so I don't consider it anything to factor in).
He played in big markets which gets media attention I think he likely gets in within the first three years. As always, the first year percentage sets the tone.
|Andruw Jones was unmatched with the glove|
7) Andruw Jones - Power, speed, and defense, he was a five-tool player. Started his career at 19, but wore out at Age 35 (really ordinary after 30), 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'm now for him for the leading the league stats and MVP finishes. Five great years in a seven-year span and 153 games or more 11 straight years. Just on the border due to longevity, but I've flipped my vote to a yes, he meets the criteria
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% then year 4 33.9% then 41.4% last year. Will be interesting as the ballots clear up whether he gets another bump this year or has collected as many as he's going to collect. I think he'll get in year 9 or 10. And deserved.
First two out
8) Jimmy Rollins - Rolen and Rollins are so close. Rollins at least has an MVP (but not that many other sniffs of MVP Top 10s.). Rollins's league leading stats focus on AB, runs, triples, and SB. On base percentage of .324 is not so good for a leadoff guy. A few Gold Gloves but seemed more lifetime achievement than highlight reel stuff. I don't like to compare one to one with Hall of Famers, but I look to Barry Larkin as an entry level offensive minded, modern era SS and Rollins isn't that close to him. So I'm passing now.
Factors against him: Lack of several outstanding seasons, just three All-Star appearances, doesn't seem to excel over his peers in his era.
Under 10% the first year, I hope he gets momentum and consideration in the second half of his candidacy.
9) Bobby Abreu - I will at least say he needs more discussion. If you look at all the 2023 NBHOF candidates OPS, the only two 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. But still under 10%. In a low year of top candidates, he has a few hearty followers likely to keep him on the ballot but little chance of ever being inducted.
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): Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez. All would easily be in without it except maybe Pettitte who would be close anyway (would not get my vote even without PEDs).
Torii Hunter and Mark Buehrle just seem like guys who had memorable moments, but not the consistent greatness worthy of the Hall. The only reason you might think Buehrle is really the lack of other starting pitchers perhaps we should judge against a curve.
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. Dropped to below 25% of the ballot last year don't see his candidacy gaining much now in his sixth year.
No other newcomers will stay on the ballot, not even close.
So, my opinions aside, I see Rolen as the single inductee, with Wagner, K-Rod, and Helton in the next year or two after. A shame Kent won't.
Here is my mock ballot
|The Official Longhorndave Ballot (for seven)|