Occasionally we take a break from politics and turn our attention
to weightier matters, such as our annual prediction of who will be elected to
the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. It is a Ruthian task,
It’s that time of year again…the votes have begun to be tabulated
for the Baseball Writers Association of American (BBWAA) Hall of Fame (HOF)
ballot. The BBWAA voting is underway now and the results will be announced on January 24, 2023. Each year we at BTRTN analyze the ballot – in-depth, analytically — to answer two questions:
Which nominees do we predict will be
elected in this year’s voting, receiving at least 75% of the vote
of the BBWAA?
Who do we think amongst the nominees deserves to
be in the HOF, based on our own analysis (and opinions)?
The two lists are never identical.
For the first question – our prediction of who will be
selected — we use various statistical models (based on the candidates’ stats
and, for those returning to the ballot, how they’ve done in prior years) to
come up with an initial estimate of the percentage of the vote they will
receive, and then overlay that with a dose of judgment. For the
second question – who should be in the HOF — we have
developed a methodology to compare nominees to their same-position predecessors
to determine their “Hall-worthiness.”
(This year we’ve re-tooled that approach quite significantly, which
we’ll explain a bit later.)
A few notes before we get into our answers. First, we are aware that votes for the MLB
HOF are again being publicly tabulated, as members of the BBWAA publicly
announce them (some do, some don’t). I have not looked at those
tabulations. The truth is, they are
actually not very helpful in making predictions, because the writers who reveal
their votes publicly tend to differ quite a bit from their more private
counterparts, especially on the more controversial candidates. So one can easily be misled by the public
tally. So we ignore the trackers ongoing
tabulations entirely, and rely on our own analysis.
Second, it is also worth noting that the performance-enhancing-drug
(PED) is drawing to a close with respect to the ballot. The two major poster children of the era,
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, had a rather terrible 2022. First, they were rejected for
the 10th and final time on the BBWAA ballot in January (as was Sammy
Sosa). Bonds and Clemens were then again
rejected, resoundingly, by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee in December,
just over a week ago. Bravo to the BWAA
and to the Committee!
Let’s see what that PED-push-to-the-dumpster does to the candidacy of
Alex Rodriguez, who was suspended for the 2014 season for violating MLB’s drug
policy and collective bargaining agreement.
Rodriguez is back on the ballot after securing 34% of the
vote in his first shot last year. I
suspect he will be on the ballot for quite some time to come, perhaps for the rest of his ballot eligibility.
Our custom is to not consider the Hall-worthiness of the PEDsters,
for reasons we have enumerated many times — basically, they violated a clear rule of the game, established by Fay Vincent in 1991, a violation that materially affected the outcome of games and artificially inflated the users’ statistics. We have heard every counterargument under the sun, including those who cite baseball’s lax enforcement of the prohibition in the era, and that the HOF is full of sinners, and we reject those arguments and others. Our view is that the PED players are, ipso
facto, all unworthy for consideration.
Unfortunately that general view also extends to the biggest new name on the ballot, Carlos Beltran. Beltran was not involved with PEDs, but he was the only player named in the official report on how the Astros cheated their way to a World Series title in 2017 (and also cheated in parts of 2016 and 2018 as well). Beltran was clearly a team leader and a ringleader in the cheating escapade, as he later admitted. It is obvious that the cheating could easily have been decisive to the outcomes of many games. So this is a longstanding and material offense, much like the use of PED’s.
HOW DID WE DO LAST YEAR?
We rather immodestly bill ourselves as “The Best MLB Hall of Fame
Predictors” (we are quite likely the only ones left now that
Bill Deane hung it up after over 30 years of predictions). Last year was not our best year, but we did reasonably well, as
you can see by the chart below.
The main miss was that David Ortiz did much better than we
expected in his first year on the ballot and was, of course, elected to the Hall
of Fame, against our expectations. We
thought he might be punished for appearing on the Mitchell Committee’s list of
players who failed a PED test. Most of
the PED-tainted players are more surly personalities – Bonds and Clemens head
that list – but Big Papi has spent his years since that flap trying to spread
sunshine in his own special way, and it surely helped (Jeff Kent, take note).
We did a good job predicting that Curt Schilling, Bonds and
Clemens would all fall short in their last year on the ballot. Most players, when they get as close of those
three did in their penultimate ballot, push on through in Year 10, but we
rightly figured their sullied reputations would put the brakes on that
potential source of momentum.
We did quite well with the rest of the field, nailing a few and
coming very close on most of the others.
We were right on with Scott Rolen’s 10-point jump to 63% and almost
nailed Billy Wagner’s jump as well. We
did miss by quite a bit on Omar Vizquel’s fall from grace on various abuse
charges, but did reasonably well in predicting where Alex Rodriguez would land
in his debut.
One thing we did very well was predict total votes per ballot. We
said there would be 7.2 players selected on each ballot, and the final number
was 7.1. That is excellent, as this figure can vary considerably
given the strength or weakness of the field. Not long ago it was
common for each voter to make over eight selections on average, though in 2021
it was down to 6.2. (The writers are not allowed to name more than
Overall, we were off by an average of 3.8 percentage points per
nominee, exactly the same as in 2021, about the same as in 2020 (3.7) and not
quite as good as in 2019, when we had our best showing at 3.3. (We’ve
been doing this since 2015.) Anything
under three would be spectacular, anything over five is pretty bad.
Here are last year’s results:
WHO WILL BE ELECTED? THIS YEAR’S
On to this year! And here is our most important
prediction: BTRTN predicts that
the BBWAA will elect Scott Rolen to the MLB Hall of Fame. Rolen will be the only candidate to reach the 75% threshold for election, and he will make that with some room to spare.
While some of the stench of last year’s ballot has been removed
with the ousters of many PEDs (Bonds, Clemens, Sosa,
Ortiz) and other reviled characters (Schilling and A.J. Pierzynski, who was once named the “most hated
players” in a survey of MLB players, who failed to clear the 5% threshold in
his ballot debut), that hardly means we have a squeaky clean ballot. We still have some PEDsters (Rodriguez, Gary
Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and Andy Pettitte), serial abuser Omar Vizquel, and
the clean but despised Jeff Kent. And, as we have already discussed, the big newbie on the this year’s ballot, Carlos Beltran, is tainted as well as a ringleader in the 2016-2018 Astros cheating scandal. Sigh.
The first chart below shows the complete voting history (in
percentages) of all the returning players.
With the departure of a number of large vote-getters and the
arrival of only the controversial Beltran, this is a good year to be a
repeater on the ballot. There is a
great deal of vote capacity to be spread around, and it is obvious where it
will likely go – to those at the top of the chart, who also happen to be among
the “cleanest” names on the ballot.
Expect great upward movement from the first four names – Rolen, Todd Helton,
Billy Wagner and Andruw Jones – in
particular. They all have been on an upswing
that continued last year, and, after this year’s jump will all be in field goal
range of Cooperstown immortaility.
The next six returnees, however — Sheffield, Rodriguez, Kent,
Ramirez, Vizquel and Pettitte — are all controversial in various ways. Their progress over time, while evident, has
been slower and, importantly, was non-existent last year. Vizquel actually took a steep tumble. In the prior year, more abuse revelations
occurred during the balloting, and obviously affected his tally somewhat in
2021. But the full force of the
repugnance took hold in 2022 and he dropped like a stone.
Kent, who’s only “sin” is to be surly, is likely to see an upsurge
given that this is his last year on the ballot. But to jump from 33% all the way to 75% will
be a stretch, and so his fate will ultimately be left to a future veteran’s
Apart from Rodriguez, Jimmy Rollins was the only first-balloter
last year to survive, and this will be a make-or-break year for him. If he maintains or exceeds his first-year
total, he may be in for a long and perhaps successful run. You only have to look at the trajectory of
Rolen, Wagner and Jones to see where a decent showing could take him long term. But others, like Mark Buerhrle and Torii
Hunter, dipped in their second year, barely surviving a third try this year.
This will be a crucial year for Beltran, as well, of course. It is a brutal call to offer a prediction of
where he may land, given his rather unique backstory.
So, what’s the answer? Here’s the summary chart of this
year’s ballot, including our predictions.
We have also included in this chart our views on which candidates
belong in the HOF. For the explanations of those ratings, read on.
One thing to note…despite the increased “vote capacity” and the
general increases we foresee for many returning players, we do think the “votes
per ballot” will drop below six this year.
WHO SHOULD BE IN THE HALL OF FAME?
The second question we ask annually is this: putting
aside what the writers think, who on the ballot do we think is
We believe Scott Rolen, who as noted we predict
will be elected, is completely worthy of being in the HOF. We also think that four other players on the
ballot should be in the HOF, though we don’t think they will be elected this year: Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent, Andruw Jones and Francisco
To arrive at our conclusions, we use the following analytic
methodology. We compare each player to Hall of Famers and “just
misses” (among those whose careers started after 1950) at his position across a
number of key statistics, both traditional (hits, homers, RBI’s and batting
average) and non-traditional (OPS+ and WAR).
To get a sense of how they were valued “in their time, “ we also look at
their number of All Star selections and times appearing in the Top 10 in the
MVP balloting (for pitchers, we use an identical methodology but, of course,
with various pitcher stats instead). We
show the average statistics for these comparison groups, by
position. So we will compare, say, Todd Helton, to first baseman who
are in these four groups:
The “top half” of all post-1950 HOF first basemen (using a ranking
based on WAR)
The “average” of all post-1950 HOF first basemen
The “lower half” all post-1950 HOF first basemen
The “next ten,” the ten post-1950 first basemen who have the
highest WARs among those who are not in the HOF.
The last two groups define the so-called
“borderline” candidates. Our general feeling is that to be worthy of
the HOF, a candidate should be at least as good and probably materially better,
on balance, than the last two groups. Thus, they have to be better than borderline candidates, most
of whom are either not in the HOF (the “next ten”) or include at least a few
players who should never have been enshrined in the first place, and reside in
the “lower half.” (We are not rigid, and you will see, we make
exceptions – you will be interested in the discussion of third basemen.) We also take into account, as a bit of a
tie-breaker, a player’s postseason performance.
The big change we made this year was eliminating, for comparison
purposes, all players whose careers began before 1950. The statistics before 1950 have various
issues and, with a solid base of players in the last 70 years to draw from, we
thought it was time to make the change.
Pre-1950 stats are compromised primarily segregation, full stop. But other problems include the “Dead Ball
Era,” the explosive hitters’ era in the 1930s, the way-above-proportion
representation of the 1930’s in the Hall of Fame, the degradation of play in
the World War II years, and more. (We
make a few exceptions to keep the comparison groups large enough, including a
few players such as Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, whose careers began in
the late 1940’s).
Again, we do not include the PED players or Beltran in this analysis. We stipulate that on the basis of their stats alone, they would make it.
Rather remarkably, there are no catchers on the ballot this year.
Todd Helton is an exceptionally difficult case, one of the hardest on
the ballot. You have to take into account the “Coors Field” high
altitude effect that inflates any Rockies’ stats. His OPS+ is down
with the borderlines, and, if you break this stat down further, Helton’s
home/road OPS splits are 1.048/.855. The .855 is not Hall-worthy for
a first baseman. But his WAR of 61 is
excellent, right in line with the average for HOF first baseman, and WAR is a
park adjusted figure. And yet, his power
stats are low, as are his All-Star and MVP votes. We went to the postseason stats to see if
they would help him but, alas, he went 11-66 with no homers and a mere four RBI
across 66 games. This is a real toughie,
but our view is that if it is this hard, then we should probably pass. So…we give Helton a very difficult thumbs
Mike Napoli, on the other hand, is an easy thumbs
down. He was principally a first
baseman in his career, but he also caught a fair number of games, and DH’d. But however way you cut it, this is one of
those first-ballot candidates, and every year there are too many of them, who,
while fine players, really should not be on the ballot at all.
Jeff Kent is the all-time leading home run hitter among second
baseman, and is third in RBIs behind Rogers Hornsby and Napoleon Lajoie. He
is simply one of the greatest power-hitting second basemen ever and the best in
modern times. His power numbers dwarf
the best of the HOF second basemen, and his OPS, hits and batting average are
all right with them. His WAR is well
above the borderline groups. If he had
been a little nicer to sportswriters over the years, he might be doing better
in the voting to date. But he is unquestionably a Hall of Famer.
(By the way, for you Helton fans smarting over our snub, Kent’s home/away OPS
splits are .853/.857 – in other words, Kent has a higher OPS than Helton on the
road, while playing a middle infield position.)
A total thumbs up.
Omar Vizquel did well in the balloting in his first three years,
establishing a voting track record (37%/43%/53%) that seemed well on the way to
enshrinement. But after a series of abuse charge (separate incidents
involving sexual harassment and domestic violence), Vizquel plummeted to 24%
last year, and it seems unlikely that he will be able to recover. But, regardless, we have never considered
Vizquel to be HOF-worthy. The only offensive stat he really has
going for him, in comparison to the peers, are his 2,877 hits (which he
compiled over 24 seasons). But there is
no getting around his OPS of only 82, which settles the matter on the offensive
side. He was an excellent defender, with
11 Gold Gloves, and 129 “runs saved” in his career. But he was no Ozzie Smith or Mark Belanger,
who had 239 and 241, respectively (and even Craig Counsell had 127.) He
made only three All-Star teams in those 24 years and was never a Top Ten
finisher in the MVP balloting. Thumbs down.
Jimmy Rollins stats are largely better than those of the non-HOF borderline
group, but they are generally below the bottom half HOF group, in particular
his OPS (which is below the league average for his career) and his WAR. He only managed three All Star selections, though he did win an MVP in 2007. But the view here is thumbs
J.J. Hardy and Jhonny (no typo) Peralta
had better careers than I thought, but virtually all of their stats are below
the borderlines. Thumbs down.
Scott Rolen’s case for the Hall of Fame is less about Rolen and more about
the position. For reasons I cannot quite
determine, third base is simply underrepresented in the HOF. And so the “comparison” analysis is not
really relevant (though I’ve included the numbers below).
Regardless of position, if you have a Career WAR of 70 or more,
you are a lock for the HOF: 57 out of 60
among our post-1950 group of hitters who achieved the mark are in the Hall of
Fame. (The three excluded are Lou
Whitaker, Bobby Grich and Dead Ball era shortstop Bill
Dahlen.) Scott Rolen has a WAR of
70. Case closed.
You also have an excellent shot if you are in the 60-69 WAR range
– unless you are a third basemen. Among
that group, 30 out of 38 non-third baseman are in the HOF. But third basemen are 0 for 4 (they are Graig
Nettles, Buddy Bell, Ken Boyer and Sal Bando).
This pattern also extends to the 50-59 WAR group, where the other positions are
38 for 66, and the third basemen are 0 for 2 (Ron Cey and Toby Harrah). Put the entire 50-70 WAR group together in a chart and
it looks like this:
We thought some progress was being made when Ron Santo was finally
elected by one of the veteran’s committees in 2012, but the pattern reverted to
form when Ken Boyer was shut out last year.
(Tony Oliva was elected! Compare their
stats someday, and while you do, remember Boyer played a glove position – and was
superb defensively by any metric — and Oliva, a left fielder, did not).
HOF third basemen (in our post-1950 comparison group) have an
average WAR of 86, which is higher – much higher – than every other position
(outfielders are next with 77). You are
talking about a group of some of the greatest players in the game: Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Chipper Jones, Brooks
Robinson, Wade Boggs and Eddie Mathews.
That’s the entire group, and no position has fewer.
So Scott Rolen is not necessarily better than the “bottom half” of
this group, but that is comprised of Brooks Robinson and Ron Santo, and I say
if you hang with them, you are a Hall of Famer.
Especially if you have a WAR over 70!
Rolen is a clear thumbs up.
Andruw Jones is an interesting case, with those 434 homers and a 63 WAR
that also reflects his outstanding defensive skills. He had 253
“runs saved” for his career, an astounding number exceeded only by
Brooks Robinson. That is truly impressive. His relatively
low 111 OPS+ is the big knock, but we think the power, defense and WAR – plus
five All-Star selections and two Top Ten MVP vote totals — add up to a thumbs
Bobby Abreu is a better candidate
than you might think, and another difficult case. His power stats
are above average for a HOF outfielder, but his OPS+ and WAR are
borderline. His stats are almost completely aligned with the bottom
half of HOF outfielders, which gave me pause.
I started looking at the other factors, and here his case gets
weaker. He only made two All Star games
in his career (though he did put on quite a display in the Home Run Derby in
one of those years) and never once was a Top 10 MVP vote getter, so it’s hard
to make a case that he was recognized as one of the very best players of his
generation. And he played in 20 postseason games and put up just one
homer and nine RBI. With some hesitance,
we gave Abreu a thumbs down.
Torii Hunter, like Andruw Jones, has a similar “great field, solid hitter” profile,
but the comparison for HOF purposes does not quite hold. Hunter was a slightly better hitter than
Jones, on balance, but light years away from Jones defensively. He did win nine Gold Gloves, but unlike Jones,
who won 10, modern defensive stats don’t quite back up Hunter’s reputation as
they do for Jones. As noted, those stats
reveal Jones to be one of the transcendent defensive players of all time, but
try as I might, I could not find Hunter among the Top 250 in Total Zone
Runs. He had fantastic defensive years
early in his career but did not match that in later years (and won Gold Gloves
off that reputation). And that
ultimately shows up in his WAR, which, at 51, is well below Jones, Abreu and
the borderline groups. All in all,
another reasonably tough call, but we give Hunter a thumbs down.
It pains me a bit to see Jacoby Ellsbury, Jayson Werth and Andre Ethier on the
ballot. Fine players all, but none even
managed to get to 1,500 hits, which every HOF batter except a few catchers has
achieved – it’s basically a price of admission to be considered, and they don’t
make it. Every other statistical marker
falls short, too.
We recognize that the sands are shifting for the criteria to
evaluate starting pitches for the Hall of Fame.
Long gone are the days of complete games and 20-game winners, and Justin
Verlander may be the last pitcher to seriously threaten to crack the 300-win
club (he stands at 244 and won 18 games for the champion Astros last year and
just signed a two-year deal with the Mets).
Indeed, Clayton Kershaw (197 wins) and Adam Wainwright (195) may become
the last members of the 200-win club next year.
David Price is next on the list at 157, then Johnny Cueto at 143; each
are 36 and neither has won as many as 10 games in a season for years, since
Price won 18 in 2018 and Cueto won 18 in 2016).
Gerrit Cole, who is 32 and has 130 wins, may have a shot, but he had a
fine year last year for a very good team and still managed only 13 wins. Does he have 6 more of those left in him?
So our comparisons will have to change in light of this, and thus
we will deemphasize wins, won/loss percentage and innings pitched in our little
chart, and put more focus on ERA+ and WAR, as well as All Star Games and Cy
Young Award winners. If anything, given
that starters are now expected to go only five or six innings, ERA+ for
starters might be expected to rise.
Mark Buehrle is certainly one of the better pitchers of the modern era, a
member of the now-more-respected 200+ win club.
He hangs reasonably well with the borderline group, which essentially
means he is a borderline candidate, nothing more. But if we are going to accept his low win
total, he have to see more elevation in his ERA+, and it is not there. His All Star recognition is also a bit low, though
he won a Cy Young. He did nothing
special in the postseason, despite multiple opportunities. I find myself being tough on the
borderliners, and simply can’t find enough to get excited about him. So we say thumbs down to
The other five starting pitchers are all on the ballot for the
first time and none of them — John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Matt Cain, Bronson Arroyo and R.A. Dickey – are worthy of HOF consideration, as a
cursory look at the chart with confirm.
At least they all made at least one All Star team and Dickey won a Cy
Young in a wondrous year. Lackey was a
durable pitcher and started 23 postseason games, generally outperforming his
regular season performance. We recite
these accomplishments because we will not have an opportunity to do so again in
There are only 31 relievers who have saved 300 or more games in
their careers, including three who are active (Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen,
who are both approaching 400, and Aroldis Chapman). Of the 28
retirees, only 8 are in the HOF. We use 300 saves as a standard –
essentially a price of entry to be considered for the HOF — because 7 of the 8
HOF relievers have achieved that mark. Only Hoyt Wilhelm had fewer,
and he toiled in an era when the term “closer” was not even in use; indeed, the
save was not even an official stat (it became one in 1969, very late in
Wilhelm’s 21-year career). But nonetheless Wilhelm compiled a 50
WAR, a figure that has been exceeded among relievers only by the incomparable
The role of closer has also evolved, from a rubber armed,
multi-inning stud to a specialist who toils only in the ninth
inning. Yankee HOF closers Rich Gossage, who averaged 1.8 innings
per appearance in his career, and Rivera, who averaged 1.2, embody this
transition. The closer role may evolve further in the coming years, as managers
have started to questions the logic of saving their best reliever for the ninth
inning when, say, the heart of the order is due up in the eighth. So defining what it takes for a reliever to
make the HOF is a moving target, and not an easy one. But we press
on with a range of statistics to try to capture the overall sense of what is HOF-worthy.
Billy Wagner’s statistics are amazing, and voters are now finally catching on,
as Wagner has advanced in his eight years on the ballot from 11% to 51%. But
time is running out for the BBWAA to finish the deed, and Wagner still has a
ways to go in the voting. The stats are
there: he has well over 400 saves and a
1.00 WHIP that is – incredibly – equal to Mariano Rivera’s (and better than
Trevor Hoffman’s 1.06). His stats compare favorably to the average of the
eight relievers in the HOF. Wagner is a thumbs up – he
is simply one of the greatest relievers of all time.
Francisco Rodriguez is not that far behind Wagner, but he is not his equal by any
stretch. He too recorded over 400 saves
– more than Wagner, in fact – but his WHIP and his WAR are lower. But his stats, including his All Star
selections and top 10 appearances in the Cy Young voting, hold up well against
the average HOF reliever group, and so, without too much effort, I give him a thumbs up.
Huston Street had a fine record but generally below the borderline groups, and
so we give him the thumbs down.
That’s it! We’ll be back after Tuesday, January 24, 2023, when the
selections will be announced and see how we did! Comments welcome,