The Hall of Fame Class of 2017 results were announced Wednesday night, and it was revealed that three new players would be celebrating in Cooperstown this summer. Jeff Bagwell finally broke through in his seventh year on the ballot, picking up 86.2% of the vote. He was joined by long-time sabermetric-darling Tim Raines, who used every one of his ten years to clear the threshold, netting 86.0% and making Jonah Keri the happiest Expo fan on the planet. The third inductee announced was Ivan Rodriguez, who becomes just the second catcher in history along with Johnny Bench to be inducted on his first ballot. Pudge snuck just over the bar with 76.0% of the vote. All three guys qualified for the hypothetical ballot I put together a couple weeks ago, and the highest order of congratulations is owed to them.
Once the new inductees are named and congratulated though, we can turn our attention down the ballot, where the most interesting bits of information are often hidden. How did the rest of the candidates do? Who made a jump, and who fell back? What does it mean for the future? What should it mean for the future? Let’s try to pick out the biggest takeaways from this year’s results.
The ten-player limit strikes again
While we did get a strong trio, it stings to know just how close we came to a five-player induction. Vladimir Guerrero picked up 71.7% of the vote on his first ballot, a measly 15 votes away from enshrinement, and at 74.0%, Trevor Hoffman was just five votes off the pace. Brutal.
While I find it puzzling that Vlad has garnered so much early support as other equally-talented players flounder in the 20-percent range, I do think he’s a Hall of Famer. He did not make the cut for my fake ballot, but I noted that that was strictly because I didn’t have room for him within the ten-player confines. There are plenty of writers with real ballots who had to make the same tough decision, which surely cost Vlad a first-ballot induction.
Hoffman was one I didn’t mention in my Hall of Fame piece. He and the other relief pitchers on the ballot, Billy Wagner and Lee Smith, come down on the wrong side of the fence for me. I regretfully can’t help but view the role of relief pitchers as niche; in almost all cases a reliever is a failed starter. There is almost no way for an elite relief pitcher to amass the kind of value that even an average starting pitcher does, due to such massive differences in workload. The way I see it, if star relievers were capable of starting, they’d be starting. That’s too hard for me to ignore, and sets my Hall of Fame threshold for bullpen-dwellers extremely high. The only pitcher of the era that clears it for me is Mariano Rivera.
My opinion isn’t the be-all end-all though, and plenty of voters think differently. Falling a literal handful of votes short of induction is a clear indication that Hoffman was jobbed by the ten-player limit, as there is undoubtedly at least that many voters who had to sacrifice him for no other reason than space. The good news for both he and Vlad is that they are now mortal locks to eventually enter the Hall, probably as soon as 2018.
We’re still not sure how we feel about performance-enhancing drugs
There was a growing sentiment in the weeks leading up to tonight that the tides had finally turned on suspected PED-users. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were finally seeing a noticeable swing in their early vote-counts, and players with purely anecdotal connections like Bagwell and Pudge seemed like good bets to gain induction. Now that we have voting results in hand, it’s hard to actually tell where the electorate stands.
The good: Bagwell and Pudge did get in. Once Mike Piazza earned entry last year, many suspected the floodgates would open for players of similar ilk — clear Hall of Famers by statistical standards stifled by vague whispers about potential PED-usage. That has seemingly come to pass. If the writers staked out one hard stance on steroids over the past two election cycles, it’s that they will stop withholding votes from players that have no concrete ties to them.
The bad: Bonds and Clemens did make a jump of about ten percent each, but that is noticeably lower than where they were tracking. That means the sector of voters who opted to keep their ballots private were significantly harsher on this duo than those who released their ballots to the public. For those eagerly awaiting the enshrinement of two of the greatest players in baseball history, that’s disappointing. Instead of clearing 60% and setting up a clear path to eventual induction, they sit around 54%, which leaves their future very much up in the air.
The weird: Manny Ramirez was always going to be one of the most interesting players on this ballot. On one hand, he’s one of the absolute best hitters of all time. On the other, he’s the only player on the ballot who actually failed drug tests after the Joint Drug Agreement was implemented. Many were curious to see if voters would handle him like the pre-testing dopers or if he’d suffer a similar fate as Rafael Palmeiro…another player who failed a drug test, and then subsequently maxed out at 12.6% of the vote before falling off the ballot in just his fourth year.
The result was…both? Neither? I don’t really know.
Manny picked up 23.8% of the vote. That’s half the support that guys like Bonds and Clemens got, but twice as much as Palmeiro ever received. It’s also more support than Mark McGwire got in any of his ten years on the ballot and about 15% better than Sammy Sosa did this go-round. If Manny had opened in the low-teens then we’d have known the voters were casting him in the Palmeiro bin. If he had opened at 40% or more than we’d know they considered his transgressions equal to that of Bonds and Clemens. At roughly one-quarter of the vote though, it’s hard to make heads or tails of his candidacy. Whether he’ll softly recede the way Sosa/McGwire did or make a steady climb like Bonds/Clemens is something we won’t know for at least another year.
Voters still be trolling
Tim Wakefield got a Hall of Fame vote.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 18, 2017
Edgar Martinez might be the next Raines
In 2014 Edgar Martinez got just 25.2% of the vote. In 2015 he got 27.5%. He had been on the ballot for six years at that point, and with less than a third of the electorate in his corner, his case looked hopeless. Then this happened:
Edgar has made two giant leaps in his seventh and eighth years, and now has a real shot at induction. It will be a steep climb…he needs approximately 73 more votes and has only two more chances before falling off the ballot…but surging 34% from years five to eight can make anything seem possible. The sabermetric-friendly community was able to rally around Raines to get him inducted in his tenth year. The greatest designated hitter of all time might be their next pet project.
Kill the five-percent rule with fire
Jorge Posada picked up 17 votes on his debut ballot, which works out to 3.8% of the vote. Per the rules, any player who gets less than five percent falls off the ballot forever. This is a travesty.
To be clear, I’m not arguing that Posada is a Hall of Famer. What I am arguing is that he has a case, and that case deserves to be debated. Many writers over the past few weeks, from Joe Posnanski to Grant Brisbee to Jon Heyman, have presented the argument for Posada, who was one of the best-hitting catchers of his era, and one that stacks up well at the position historically. Whether you come down as a yes or a no on Posada, his career at least merits a thorough discussion. Because of an overstuffed, backlogged ballot and this silly five-percent rule, it’s a discussion we now won’t get to have.
If Posada were the only victim, perhaps the rule could be forgiven. But over the past few years we’ve seen players like Jim Edmonds, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Delgado, Kevin Brown and Bernie Williams suffer similar fates, and it’s not unreasonable to expect we see more of it in the next few cycles with guys like Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones and Todd Helton. If the Hall of Fame refuses to expand the rules to allow for more than ten players on a ballot, they need to scrap this five-percent nonsense.
The ballot isn’t thinning out
The writers have voted in multiple players for four straight years now, but it’s not really helping to thin out the backlog they helped create. Sure, Bagwell, Raines and Pudge are now in, and Lee Smith has fallen off the ballot, but next year’s crop of newcomers includes Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Rolen, Andruw Jones, Johan Santana and Omar Vizquel (who will undoubtedly get a ton of support while guys like Larry Walker toil away, driving me and like-minded individuals insane). Of that class, Chipper is the only sure-fire first-ballot guy, but Thome figures to have a reasonable shot as a well-liked guy who hit more than 600 home runs without any steroid-stigma attached.
Even if 2018’s class aggressively includes Chipper, Thome, Hoffman and Vlad, 2019 will add Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay to the slate, along with Helton and Andy Pettitte, both of whom will find a fair share of supporters.
The backlog isn’t going anywhere, and the multitude of strong choices will likely make it harder for every single name on the ballot to find the required 75%.