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I'm from Houston, a graduate of the University of Texas, a fan of the Houston Astros and Houston Texans. But this blog will be about the "greater sports", whatever that means.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2023

2024 National Baseball Hall of Fame Vote

In an LHD on Sports Blog tradition, I am once again conveying my thoughts on who I would vote for if I had a BBWAA ballot for the 2024 National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The BBWAA vote will be revealed on Major League Baseball (MLB) Network on Tuesday, January 23, 2024.  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 2024 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 Plaque Gallery will add to its fold this year (Credit: Me)

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 on the Hall of Fame ballot although the number is dwindling with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire running out of eligibility.  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 (a minority) of the BBWAA have 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 are legal findings, firsthand 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.  A constant I hear is "how can it be a Hall of Fame without Bonds, Clemens, Pete Rose, etc."  Their accomplishments, records, videos, etc. are more than prominent in the museum portion of the Hall of Fame and museum, but down by the plaques, you won't find them there.  Did the crime, do the time.

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 2017Edgar 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 play games 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 via a soft corner 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 on this ballot.

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 at a minimum for discussion 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.

9) I take postseason stats as gravy, not essential.  If a guy is close but went off in the postseason that could edge them across the vote threshold.  If they were borderline but not good in postseason, nothing taken away.  Sample size and team has much more to do with it than a player's Hall of Fame worthiness.

With a limit of ten players on a ballot, here are the players I would put on my ballot (in order of my credibility).

Platinum/Gold Glover

1) Adrian Beltre - Not anticipating much pushback from voters on Beltre who is easily one of the Top 10 3B of all time, if not Top 5.  3000 hit club.  Approached 500 HR.  Six Top 10 MVP finishes (never won one though) and five Gold Gloves at a difficult position (including two platinum gloves).  Led the League in HR one year, doubles another. 

Factors against him: Hard to find but we'll go with only four All Star games and a limited postseason resume (did appear and play well in the 2011 World Series).

He'll get in first ballot with probably 90% of the votes or more.  No further discussion needed.

Billy the Kid
2) Billy Wagner - Gained significant momentum from the BBWAA last year with an increase of 17% appearing on nearly 70% of ballots.  Especially when comparing to four specialty relief pitcher "comps" already in the Hall (Eckersley, Sutter, Fingers, and Gossage) as he has 30 more saves than the best of them.  And a lower ERA.  And a better K/9 IP.  His seven All Star Game appearances are comparable to that lot as well.  He sits sixth in career saves (no current player will threaten him for years to come) and his stuff was dominant.  I noted above we've seen an increase in relievers recently, but I believe we're going to see fewer relievers going forward with huge career numbers (which takes longevity) because so many are going to flame out with arm problems given their use.  More reason to recognize his greatness.  Wags should get strong consideration.

Factors against him: Only 900 career IP, bad postseason numbers, closer bias

Wagner has increased appreciably in each of the last four rounds which bodes well now over 68% in his eighth 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 this year or next (his final year).

Helton Belts one
3) Todd Helton - Beltin' Helton was an offensive machine for a number of great Colorado Rockies teams.  Some point to Coors Field for his gaudy offensive numbers, however they are way too good to ignore.  His .316 career batting average is only bested by Vlad, Puckett, Boggs, and Gwynn for hitters since 1980.  He was a batting and RBI champion, 5x All Star, 4x Silver Slugger, 3x Gold Glove Award winner.  He was also selective at the plate with over 1300 career walks and a .414 career OBP.  More walks than strikeouts.  A complete package, the only drawback is hitter friendly Coors Field.

Factors against him: Playing in Denver, huge home/road split differences, limited post-season action.

Like Wagner, Helton surged in support last year, his fifth on the ballot.  Needing just a 3% bump, he is a virtual lock for the Class of 2024 in his sixth year

K-Rod shut them down a lot

4) 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 ERA).  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.  Surprisingly little support on his first ballot last year appearing on barely more than one in ten ballots

Factors against him: Fewer than 1000 career IP, closer bias.

He seems to be someone that will get in as several closers have lately.  But it will be the second half of his ballot eligibility if at all.  This second year will be a decent bellwether.

Beltran electrified crowds with his tools

5) Carlos Beltran - Like K-Rod appearing on his second ballot and he 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.

He played in big markets which gets media attention I think he likely gets in within the first five years.  Decent showing over 45% his first year and some voters probably held back a vote for the sign stealing.

Mauer had offense and defense in his bag

6) Joe Mauer - I initially didn't have him as a must vote but took me just a few moments looking at the career opus to put a thumbs up.  Maybe should be ahead of some of the above.  Start with three batting titles and a career .306 hitter at of course a defensively demanding position.  A position in which he won three Gold Gloves and also won an MVP with three other Top 10 finishes.  Didn't stretch his career out as some others but still impressive career stats.  Hitting, catching, all of it he checks the box for Hall of Fame.

Factors against him: Not much power, not a big run producer, small market with little postseason success

Mauer seems like he would get in either the first year, or if some voters hold back the first ballot, the second year.  The catcher's wing is expanding with Yadi and Buster right on his heels but I think he's in sooner than later.

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 within the last couple of years, 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.  The subsequent years were 19.4%, 33.9%, 41.4%, and now 58.1% 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 believe will get in this year or next.

First three out

8) Matt Holliday - Didn't look that closely when the ballot first came out but strong numbers across the board warrants a vote or at least a closer look.  Won a batting title in a year he also led the league in hits, doubles, and RBI (finishing runner up to MVP Jimmy Rollins by a razor thin margin see next entry).  Seven All-Star appearances, four Silver Sluggers, and handful of other Top 20 MVP vote finishes.  A career batting average near .300 and OPS of .899.  Some years in Colorado may dissuade some voters.  Wouldn't be surprised if I flip to "yes" after hearing more discussion.

Factors against him: Not that many surges to the top of the MVP board, some offensive numbers padded in Colorado, never seemed like "the guy" on his team.

First vote is always a measuring stick I wouldn't be surprised if he is overlooked and needs to use the full ten years of runway to get close.

9) Jimmy Rollins - Rollins stacks up favorably to 2023 inductee Scott Rolen.  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, upticked a few in year 2.  I hope he gets momentum and consideration in the second half of his candidacy but not my vote at this point.

10) Bobby Abreu - I will at least say he needs more discussion.  If you look at all the 2024 NBHOF candidates OPS, the only two ahead of him not associated with PEDs are the aforementioned Todd Helton and ballot newcomer Matt Holliday.  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.

Doesn't seem to be upticking very rapidly and likely to go through the ten years never getting more than 40%  This is probably my toughest omission but a line has to be drawn somewhere.

As for the rest of the ballot...

Many 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 new criteria.  One of these two may fall off if some full ballot guys don't have room anymore given that only one cleared last year (Scott Rolen) and Beltre is joined by a few other worthy guys.

The only other returning candidate not discussed is Omar Vizquel.   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 20% of the ballot last year don't see his candidacy gaining much now in his seventh year.  

A couple of other intriguing newcomers I believe are Chase Utley and David Wright.  I believe both will garner a good chunk of votes and get continued discussion.  Utley for me was a really good, but not great player.  Strangely fell below 2000 hits for his career.  .275 hitter, under 300 HR.  A really good four-year span (Top 15 MVP from 2006-2009) but not enough to put him above the line for me.  Wright of course was ravaged by injury after age 30.  I believe if he continued healthy and demonstrated the level of play he had in his early 20s into his early 30s he would have moved into the favorites list.  It's a painful (no pun intended)"no" for me right now but will listen to the debates over the next few years and may change my mind.

I don't believe any of the other newcomers will get the 5% needed to stay on the ballot for 2025 besides Holliday, Mauer, Utley, and Wright (presuming Beltre is a lock). 

So, my opinions aside, I see Beltre and Helton as locks, with Wagner, Beltran, and Mauer all with strong possibilities.  Seems like when they get that close we see something between 70% and 75% which wouldn't surprise me.  So I'd bet the two inductees this year and a bigger class in 2025 when Ichiro also enters the ballot.

Here is my mock ballot:

Any player elected by the BBWAA will be honored with Contemporary Baseball Era Non-Players Committee inductee Jim Leyland on July 21, 2024.

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