21 January 2020

Notes on the MLB HoF Voting before the 2020 Announcements

Modern technology is great.

For the last decade or so, a small group of devoted fans, led by Ryan Thibodaux, has been collecting the publicly and privately confessed Cooperstown voting results from BBWAA members  prior to the announcement of the actual vote, which is anticipated tonight at 6PM.  Far from eliminating any tension or wonder before the official announcements, this serves only to increase it, or perhaps just change its nature.  

Since we only know a portion of the voting results (they have a little over half of the ballots accounted for at this point) they also calculate the percentage and number of remaining ballots needed to make enshrinement, or to meet the 5% minimum requirement for staying on the ballot. They track not just which sportswriters voted for whom, but who they didn't vote for, if they did last year, and who they may have added to their ballot.  Additions are coded in green, retractions in red.  

Pete Abraham, for example, added Todd Helton and Billy Wagner to his ballot.  Filip Bondy removed Gary Sheffield (in his 6th year of eligibility) but added Helton, Jeff Kent, Manny Ramirez and Larry Walker, in his 10th and final year.  Bondy used all 10 of his available votes, so you can see why he would think Sheffield expendable, if it meant giving Walker one last chance at enshrinement.  

Peter Gammons, on the other hand, removed Helton and Walker from his ballot, but added Kent.  Gammons has also consistently voted for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, so I guess it's OK to be a loudmouth who jokes about reporters being killed or a cheater who uses drugs to improve his results, but being an awesome hitter in Colorado is somehow no longer acceptable behavior.  Man, having his face on the $20 bill has really gone to Gammons' head.  

Other curious things to note here:

  • Derek Jeter is the only player named on every ballot so far.  With Mariano Rivera having finally broken the longstanding trend of non-unanimous voting results, writers have no good reason not to vote for an obvious Hall of Famer like Jeter except spite.  Nobody can stand any longer on the logic of, "If Joe DiMaggio didn't get in on the first ballot then nobody should!"  or, "If Babe Ruth wasn't unanimous then nobody should be!"  That ship has sailed.  There is a precedent now, and it's doubtful any of the BBWAA members want to deal with the backlash from perhaps being the ONE writer who inexplicably refused to vote for Jeter.  

Whatever his shortcomings, and this is not to say that there were none, Jeter checks EVERY box for a Hall of Famer:  He was a 14-time All Star shortstop who hit .310 over a 20-year career on the game's biggest stage, led the team to five World Championships, won five Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers, a Rookie of the Year award, and the MVP awards for the All Star game and the World Series.  His postseason career is like another All-Star caliber season unto itself, as he is the career leader in almost everything except homers and RBIs, not the stats you expect from a shortstop who usually hits leadoff.  (He's 3rd and 4th all-time in those, BTW.)  He's the total package, and his defensive shortcomings or perceived overratedness are no reasons to pass him up.  

  • Three voters - Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe, Anthony Reiber of New York Newsday, and former Newsday writer Steven Marcus all voted for ONLY Derek Jeter.  
    • Marcus either did not vote for anyone last year or did not have a vote, as his line shows neither greens nor reds, including the Jeter vote.  
    • Shaughnessy is a well known curmudgeon who's not above making something like this about himself and his own sense of indignation.  Last year he voted only for Mariano Rivera.  
    • The real curiosity is Reiber, who actually had voted for Bonds, Clemens, Pettitte, Ramirez, Schilling and Vizquel last year, but took those away so he could make a statement, I guess.  Maybe in the blinding light of the awesomeness that was Derek Jeter's career he saw that nobody...OK, never mind.  He's an idiot.  
  • Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are getting closer, but are not there yet.  Both have over 70%, but experience suggests that the writers who do not publish their ballots in advance or email the trackers privately about them tend to slant more conservatively in their voting, so those percentages are likely to drop a bit in the final tally.  Since both finished with about 59% last year, though, they're still poised to make a significant jump.  
    • Curiously, two voters, Jon Heyman and Christina Kahrl, have given the nod to Bonds (a 7-time MVP award winner who ostensibly started using PEDs after having already won three of them.) but not to Clemens (a 7-time Cy Young Award winner who ostensibly started using PEDs after having won three of them.)  Clemens even has the better postseason resume, often something of a tiebreaker for tossups like this.  Heyman's logic was picked apart by Deadspin a few years ago, but as far as I can tell, despite all the questions about her ballot on Twitter, Kahrl has not explained her ballot. 
  • Curt Schilling (78%) and Larry Walker (83%) are the only other players polling over the 75% required for enshrinement at this point.  
    • Walker's vote total, like those of Bonds and Clemens, dropped a little more than 11% in the final tally last year, which would put him slightly below the threshold.  Again, the more old-school voters who don't know (or care to know) how to Internet tend to discredit players whom they think received a disproportionate benefit from their home ballpark.  (Jim Rice excepted, evidently.) However, players often get a bit of a bump in their final year, and this being a less crowded ballot than in recent years, Walker may still make it.  
    • Schilling probably will not, as he's just barely over the threshold to begin with, and if he drops as much as he did last year (about 9%) he'll end up well below it, but still close enough to likely achieve enshrinement in 2021, his 9th year on the ballot.  
  • The only other players polling even close to 50% are Omar Vizquel and Scott Rolen.  This is their third year on the ballot, but they've followed very different paths here.  Vizquel started out strong, with 37% and then 43% last year.  He may even end up over 50% this year, as he and Andy Pettitte were the only two from last year who did better in the final count than the pre-announcement polling had showed.   Rolen, however, started at about 10%, then got 17% last year, so if this result holds - he's currently at 47.7% - it would be a ~30% jump in one year, which is pretty rare, I would imagine.  Evidently there is a pretty serious Scott Rolen is better than you think campaign going on somewhere, and it's working.
  • Several players appear likely to fall off the ballot for not receiving at least 5% of the vote.  In fact, several of them have only one vote to date: Cliff Lee, Eric Chavez and Jason Giambi.  
    • Not that I expected him to get elected, or even think he should be, but it surprises me that Giambi isn't getting a little more support.  He has the sort of resume that might have kept him on the ballot in the Old Days - 440 homers, over 2000 hits, an MVP award (and he probably should have won another) - but players like this have gone once-and-done on the ballot several times recently: Carlos Delgado, Lance Berkman, Mo Vaughn, Andres Galarraga, Jim Edmonds, Paul Konerko (who currently has two votes and is epected to fall off the ballot), etc.  
The unfortunate side effect of the so-called Steroid Era and all the wonderful hitters we got to watch at the time is that we don't know whose stats to take seriously, and the BBWAA tends to err on the side of caution.  Plus, Giambi has his sniveling press conference in which he apologized - sorta - for using steroids.  

And he has recency bias going against him.  That is, the way in which his career just kinda petered out over a drawn out time after his Yankees contract probably hurts him a bit, too.   He hit .212 over parts of six seasons at the end of his career, with about as many homers (44) in his last 410 games - more than half in a Rockies uniform - as he did in his MVP season alone (43).  The voters tend to frown on "padded stats" preferring guys to go out closer to their peak.  Take away those six seasons and Giambi's career (.286 batting average, 396 homers, 146 OPS+ in almost 8000 plate appearances) looks a lot like Duke Snider's or Orlando Cepeda's, but also Frank Howard's and Albert Belle's.  Not a slam dunk or anything, but maybe more than one person would have thought him worthy of a check mark.
  • Two players - Rafael Furcal and Alfonso Soriano - have not received a single vote yet.  Furcal I get: He was a pretty good player for a few years, but didn't amass the counting stats the voters like to see.  His defense bumps his overall WAR total to about 40 (Vizquel has about 45, for reference, in about 10 more seasons) which is impressive for a short career, but just not enough.  
  • Soriano, though?  He got some MVP votes, finishing as high as 3rd one season.  He hit over 400 homers, had over 2000 career hits, had a 40-40 season and just missed a second one by a single homer. You'd think someone would give him a vote.  I mean, Danny Tartabull got a single vote, for crying out loud, and Soriano hit 150 more homers!  Danny Tartabull!  
Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how this goes tonight.  I fully expect Jeter to be unanimous and Walker to just make the cut, but that should be it.  

Next year though, with all of these guys carrying over and nobody who seems particularly like a Hall of Famer being added to the ballot (Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Torii Hunter are the best of the new nominees next year) it could be Clemens, Bonds, and Schilling giving speeches on the dais in Cooperstown next July.  

It may be a good year to get cheap accommodations and tickets to the ceremonies.  To paraphrase  Yogi Berra, people will be staying away in droves.  

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