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2020 Hall of Fame Election Recap, and What to Expect Going Forward

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What we discussed this morning is now official: Derek Jeter and Larry Walker are the newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. For the seventh year in a row, multiple players are going to Cooperstown off the BBWAA ballot, making it 22 in the last seven years. Both are far and away records.

Let’s start with Jeter: the long-time Yankees shortstop went in on his first try, falling one vote shy of unanimous support. We’ll probably never know who that one voter was, but to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. Sure, it would have been just the second unanimous induction in Hall history, but it’s not like they print the vote percentages on the plaques or anything. All it is in the end is trivia.

And for as much as it feels like Jeter is overrated to some degree, it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He’s sixth all-time in hits (3465), made the All-Star team fourteen times, and posted a 119 wRC+ over 20 seasons while playing shortstop. For all of the holes in his game, none of them were big enough to overcome that strength.

Walker was also a close call, but in the other direction: he cleared the bar for induction by just six ballots, ending with 76.6% of the vote. Walker was a five-tool player, carrying a .313/.400/.565 batting line along with one of the ten or so best gloves in right field history. His induction was long-deserved, but he finally made the mark in his tenth and final year on the writers’ ballot.

That 76.7% is still shocking, in some ways. Just six years ago, Walker was stuck beneath a ton of other snubbed candidates, and pulling in just 10.2% of the vote. Even as recently as three years ago, Larry was getting just under 22% of the vote. Last year alone saw him jump 20.5%, the ninth-biggest single-year increase in modern Hall of Fame voting, and then he topped that this year by increasing another 22.0%, tying him for seventh all-time with Don Drysdale. That combined two-year gain also falls just a hair behind Luis Aparicio’s record 42.7% increase from 1982 to 1984.

Outside of those two, what happened down the rest of the ballot, and how does it bode for the 2021 election? It may seem too early to be asking that, but we already know who will be eligible, and what their final career numbers are. The only other major variables are how they finished in voting this year. And given next year’s relatively weak class of newcomers (Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, and Torii Hunter are the biggest newcomers), we could very well be seeing a lot of improvement in the vote totals for the returning players.

At the top of the backlog is Curt Schilling, who finished with 70.0% of the vote. 2021 will mark his ninth year on the ballot, meaning he has two tries to pick up 5%. He’s done that each of the last three years (including topping 9% each of the last two years), so it seems likely he’ll be standing on the stage in 2021.

Following him were Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, at 61.0% and 60.7%. As high as those percentages are, it’s hard to be optimistic about their chances of making it in. Like Schilling, they only have two more tries, but unlike Schilling, they’ve only been adding about 2% each of the last few seasons. Picking up nearly 15% in two seasons seems like a tall order given that, unless a large number of voters suddenly change their mind on steroids. The last time either of them saw an increase that big was 2017, but that year featured Bug Selig getting elected, likely causing some voters to question what the point of punishing steroid users was if the architect of said era was going in. Nothing of that magnitude seems to be coming down the pipeline, so Clemens and Bonds will likely need the support of the Veterans Committee if they’re to make it one day.

Omar Vizquel converted nearly 10% of voters, and finally broke 50% of the vote in his third year on the ballot. Now at 52.6%, I find it very likely he gets elected eventually, although I can’t say I’m a huge supporter of his campaign. I have no idea how long it will take for him to make it in from here, if his lack of advanced stats will slow his growth or if passing 50% causes BBWAA members to consolidate around him even quicker than they have been. But given that he has seven more tries to pick up just 22.4% of the vote, he doesn’t exactly need to be improving each year by leaps and bounds the way Walker did.

Somehow, Scott Rolen might be both the most positive and negative surprise of the day? I’m a big supporter of his candidacy, and I don’t know how exactly to feel about it. On the one hand, it’s hard to feel too upset; Rolen finished his third go-around at 35.3%, over double the 17.2% he got last year. That means he’s almost halfway to that fabled 75%, and maybe a big jump like that sets him up for a next few years similar to Walker’s past few; election in two or three years doesn’t seem at all out of the realm of possibility!

But on the other hand, Rolen entered today trending around 50%, which we all knew would be high compared to the final totals, but a 15-point drop is rough. Publicly released ballots were nearly split down the middle on him, but private ballots only went his way 20% of the time. Of course, while that might not seem like much of an improvement, it’s worth noting his public-private split last year was 21%-9%, so this is still an improvement either way. Maybe the big jump he got this year will spur another big jump in 2021?

Immediately after Rolen were Billy Wagner (31.7%, fifth election), Gary Sheffield (30.5%, sixth), and Todd Helton (29.2%, second). Like Rolen, Wagner nearly doubled his support, from 16.7% in 2019. Unlike Rolen, Wagner is two years further along in the process, meaning two fewer chances to make up the 40%+ he still has to go. Right now, I’d rate his chances as “feasible”, though; another double digit gain next year and he’s looking a lot more likely.

I’m more encouraged by Todd Helton’s performance than either Wagner’s or Sheffield’s, though. I think Sheffield has a ceiling near wherever Clemens and Bonds end up, so I don’t know that we can expect another 17-point gain next year. On top of that, he’s a year further along than even Wagner. Helton, meanwhile, just took a major step forward from his 16.5% debut last year, and he has eight more tries to go. It might take him a while, but with an even emptier ballot next year, it’s very possible he makes another double-digit jump. And Walker going in also likely helps his case by helping to remove some of the Coors Field stigma (although I’m not sure if that’s the biggest factor hurting either of them, it’s probably not helping things either). I think he’s looking at a Tony Perez-like campaign, taking several years, but not quite pushing things to the wire like Walker.

And that’s really all of the major movement downballot. Manny Ramirez still hasn’t broken 30%, and will likely lag behind even Sheffield from here on out. Jeff Kent jumped up nearly 10%, but he’s still only at 27.5% with three more tries to go; he’s technically closer than Larry Walker was at this point, but he also isn’t the player Walker was. Let’s see him at least make a 12% jump in year eight before we start using Walker as the blueprint here (although I think Kent will find a more receptive audience in the Veterans Committee, so it’s not all doom and gloom).

Andruw Jones more than doubled his prior support, but that only takes him to 19.5%. Jones is a legendary fielder, so it feels a little silly he’s trending so far behind Vizquel. Then again, it’s at least good to see voters are open to considering him, and maybe Vizquel’s candidacy will lead to greater appreciation of Jones’s glove. With seven more tries, he’s not done yet, but I don’t feel as confident about his chances as I do Rolen or Helton.

The only other players to clear 5% and secure a place on the 2021 ballot were Sammy Sosa, Andy Pettitte, and Bobby Abreu. Sosa’s eighth time (13.9%) around marked both a new personal best and the first time he broke double digits since his debut back in 2013. So yeah, he’s basically just playing out the string at this point. Pettitte’s second ballot saw him jump from 9.9% all the way to 11.3%. I feel like he’ll be on the ballot for a while, if nothing else. And really, at 5.5%, I’m just glad Abreu is sticking around; like I said earlier, he’s more deserving of an extended hearing than most people give him credit for. He’s at least gotten a second year, now.

And with that, we can close a book on this year’s Hall of Fame election. Congratulations again to Derek Jeter and Larry Walker, as well as Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller, who are your new Hall of Fame Class of 2020. To everyone else, we’ll see you again next year.

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Author:

Theo Gerome

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