Who’s In, Who’s Out: Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot Breakdown, Predictions, and Picks
The month of January is down time for Major League Baseball (MLB). Months after the World Series has wrapped up, a few weeks remain before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. Free agency has slowed to a lull, and fans of America’s Pastime are forced to either redirect their baseball consumption to another sport or browse through a seemingly endless twitter feed of baseball rumors and statistics (in my case, both).
The exception comes on one winter day each year, when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) announces their selections for the Baseball Hall of Fame. This year, that date falls on Jan. 24.
Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for my BBWAA membership card (which could have something to do with my lack of the required 10 years of baseball coverage.) In the meantime, I’ll detail my picks for the upcoming ballot.
First off, some quick rules. Ballots can include up to 10 selections from a predetermined group of players, with no minimum. To be considered, players must be retired for at least five seasons. Any candidate who receives votes on 75% of the 400-odd ballots cast is elected to The Hall. After ten seasons on the ballot, a player is eliminated.
I’ve divided the 28 players on the ballot into six tiers, in increasing order of achievement. The top three tiers contain players that I would put on my ballot. Full statistics and accolades can be found here.
Group 6 — First Ballot, Last Ballot:
While each enjoyed successful careers, none of these players had an impressive enough peak or the longevity to warrant serious consideration. These players all should fail to meet the 5% threshold to stay on the ballot for next year.
- Bronson Arroyo (SP) — Despite the fact that many big-leaguers with 10 or more years of service get onto the ballot, it still feels weird to see Arroyo, with a career ERA of 4.28 and a singular All-Star appearance, next to some of MLB’s greatest.
- Matt Cain (SP) — Unlike most in this category, Cain was dominant in October (2.10 ERA in eight playoff starts, two World Series rings). But his regular season ERA was over a point and a half higher, and he finished his career with a losing record.
- Jacoby Ellsbury (OF) — Aside from one stellar season, a very mediocre career- Ellsbury made just one all-star team and capped off his career with four terrible seasons with the Yankees.
- Robert Allen “R.A.” Dickey (SP) — The knuckleballer does have a Cy Young to his name, but lackluster career statistics (23.7 WAR, 4.04 ERA) make him a definite no-go.
- Andre Ethier (OF) — Ethier spent 12 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. While he was reliable during his career for the Dodger as a very serviceable outfielder, he does not deserve serious contention for Cooperstown.
- James Jerry “J.J.” Hardy (SS) — Hardy had a nice glove and a little bit of pop, but he finished his career with a poor .305 on-base percentage.
- John Lackey (SP) — Lackey’s three World Series Rings were more a product of being on the right teams at the right time than his own performance on the mound. With a career ERA of 3.92 and WHIP of 1.295, Lackey does not come close to the hall.
- Mike Napoli (C/1B) — When compared to other catchers, Napoli’s career statistics would be solid (267 home runs, .821 OPS), but the slugger played less than half of his games over his 12 seasons behind the plate.
- Jhonny Peralta (SS/3B) — Even ignoring his 2013 suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs (more on steroids later), Peralta does not have the resume of a hall-of-famer.
- Huston Street (RP) — Never a particularly dominant closer, but consistently an effective one. I was surprised to see him on the ballot — and to find out that he’s 20th of all time in career saves (325). However, with the lowest wins above replacement (WAR) on the ballot, Street is still an easy cut.
- Jared Weaver (SP) — Weaver had an impressive few seasons, but he lacked longevity.
- Jayson Werth (OF) — A largely unremarkable player with remarkable hair, Werth enjoyed a successful career, albeit one that lands him far from Cooperstown.
Group 5 — Barely Hanging On:
Each of these players received less than 10% of the vote last year. For them, making it to another year of consideration should be considered a success.
- Bobby Abreu (OF) — Abreu was a really underrated player; his 1,476 walks are 20th on the all-time list, and he stole 400 bases while playing an above-average right-field. However, he never finished above 10th in MVP voting, and he was just a two-time all star.
- Mark Buehrle (SP) — Buerhrle’s rate statistics are similar to hall-of-famer Mike Mussina, but Buerhrle lacked the longevity (79 wins, 1.303 WHIP after the age of 30) to deserve serious consideration.
- Torii Hunter (OF) — Hunter was an elite defender in center field and a very capable hitter for power (353 home runs) and average (.277). He was a key piece on a number of good teams, and certainly belongs in the hypothetical “Hall of Pretty Good for a Long Time,” but not in Cooperstown.
- Jimmy Rollins (SS) — Another interesting case. Rollins’ combination of speed (470 stolen bases), contact (2455 hits), defense (four gold gloves), and availability (2228 games, all but one at shortstop) make him an interesting sleeper case for The Hall. I still think he falls decently short, and his lack of success on the ballot means that the BBWAA tends to agree with me.
Group 4 — Close, but no Cigar:
While these players will most likely fall short, they each have a relatively sound case for The Hall.
- Andruw Jones (OF) — Jones’ case comes down to his impressive peak. His WAR7 (wins above replacement over a player’s seven best seasons) is third on the ballot, ahead of players with stronger cases for The Hall like Carlos Beltran and Manny Ramirez. But the reality is that after Jones’ age-30 season, his career batting average (then .263) fell to a measly .210, and he failed to top even 20 home runs (something he had done in each of the 10 seasons prior). Jones’ 10 gold gloves do add to his case, but in the latter half of his career, his defense fell to below average. If he had just stayed healthy and performed a bit better over his last few seasons, he would be an easy selection.
- Omar Vizquel (SS) — The 11-time gold-glove winner has more hits (2,877) than any non-steroid Hall of Fame exclusion. However, Vizquel was never an elite player, hitting over .300 just once and making three All-Star teams. His sixth year on the ballot, Vizquel seems unlikely to reach Cooperstown, and the defensive wizard just misses the cut in my book.
Group 3 — Just Makes the Cut:
There are a lot of close calls this year. I think the next five players are plenty deserving of their place in the Hall, but I predict that all five will fall short of the 75% threshold this season.
- Jeff Kent (2B) — Spending 17 years with five teams, Kent tore up opposing pitching to the tune of a .290/.356/.500 slash line. Kent was an average-at-best defender, and his advanced metrics lag behind other hall-of-famers at his position, but the 2000 MVP consistently delivered while avoiding accusations of steroid use. It’s his last year on the ballot, but with the record for most home runs of all time by a second baseman (351), Kent makes the cut in my book.
- Andy Pettitte (SP) — Pettite is a guy I’m higher on than most. Yes, he admitted to use of HGH, a banned steroid, but he claims it was only used in injury recovery, and he continued to pitch at a high level after the league began to crack down on usage. Despite only making three All-Star teams, Petite finished top six in Cy Young voting an impressive six times. And he holds the all-time record for most postseason wins (19) and innings pitched (276.2). I would have voted for Roger Clemmens and Curt Schilling despite respective red flags of steroid usage and character concerns, so Pettitte just gets my vote. His 250 wins are 5th for non-hall-of-famers, behind only Clemens, Jamie Moyer, Tommy John, and CC Sabathia, and Pettitte’s career ERA+ of 117 (measure of ERA relative to league average) is second-highest of the group and on par with recent inductee and former teammate Mike Mussina.
- Francisco Rodriguez (RP) — With 437 saves, K-Rod ranks fourth all time, behind hall-of-famers Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith. Rodriguez also has a lower ERA than both Smith and Hoffman and has a lower WHIP than Smith. K-Rod’s Hall of Fame case comes down to his lack of longevity — but when considering his dominance throughout the 2000s and 2010s (leading the National league in saves three times, and finishing in the top five in his league in saves four other times) his career is certainly Hall of Fame worthy. Holding the record for most saves in a season (62 in 2008) is the cherry on top of a Hall of Fame career.
- Billy Wagner (RP) — As a closer, Wagner’s case for Cooperstown is very similar to K-Rod’s, except that by nearly every metric, Wagner was a better player. His saves (422) may have been slightly lower, but he still ranks 6th all time. Wagner holds the record for the most strikeouts by a lefty reliever, and dominated during the heart of the steroid era. As noted by MLB writer David Adler, Wagner’s career ERA of 2.31 and ERA+ of 187 are both second among all pitchers in the Live Ball Era, trailing only Mariano Rivera, the Hall of Fame’s first and only unanimous entry. Wagner has been trending upwards on the ballot (51.0% last year), but in his eighth year on the ballot, it will be close on whether or not baseball writers determine him worthy of a place in Cooperstown.
Group 2 — Steroid Inclusions:
Each of these players would be first-ballot hall-of-famers if they had not been caught or admitted to usage of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). As such, the case for each of them is largely the same. Other steroid users like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens recently failed to reach Cooperstown, and it looks more likely than not that each of the following players will fail to do so as well. However, after much deliberation, I would put each of them on my ballot, due to the extent of their achievements as well as the previous selection of a number of other players who almost certainly used PEDs (looking at you, Big Papi).
- Gary Sheffield (OF) — The Hall of Fame ballot seems to place the role of steroid judge, jury, and executioner in the hands of writers, and it’s clear that their verdicts are inconsistent. Sheffield is in his ninth year on the ballot, and he has never received more than half of the vote, despite racking up 509 home runs and 2689 hits. Sheffield admitted to using a banned substance unknowingly in 2002, but he was never suspended. The nine-time All Star and three-time MVP top-three finisher is a yes on my ballot.
- Manny Ramirez (1B) — It continues to confuse me why a player like Ramirez hovers around 30% in voting, while his former teammate David Ortiz, who was named in the same 2003 report of nearly a hundred active PED users, was selected with nearly 80% of the vote. Sure, Ramirez actually served a suspension for his substance use, but that alone shouldn’t account for the disparity. Ramirez also had a slightly better career, putting up an impressive 555 home runs with a .312 batting average, and he made 12 All-Star teams over a Hall of Fame-worthy 19 seasons.
- Alex Rodriguez (SS/3B) — A-Rod is many things: a cheater (with both his on-field steroid usage and extramarital affairs), a jerk (described by himself and his teammates), and always the center of attention. The infielder was my favorite player for years, his number 13 gracing my Little League jersey. But, above all else, Rodriguez was a really, really good baseball player. When looking at statistics alone, he is arguably a top-five player of all time. His 696 home runs are fifth all-time, and he would have easily moved into the top three if he hadn’t spent a season and a half under suspension for steroid usage. He ranks fourth all-time in RBI (2,086), seventh in extra base hits (1,275), seventh in total bases (5,813), eighth in runs scored (2,021), and 22nd in hits (3,115). He won three MVPs, was a 14-time All-Star, and was a big part of the Yankees 2009 World Championship Team. Regardless of his antics, A-Rod deserves a place among baseball’s greatest.
Group 1 — Best of the Best:
Of the three, Rolen is most likely to make The Hall this year. I imagine that the other two will get in at some point, but most likely not this year.
- Carlos Beltran (OF) — If Carlos Beltran had decided to hang up his cleats just one year early, at the age of 39, he would probably have a clear path to Cooperstown. He may not be a first-ballot hall-of-famer, particularly with voters being notoriously stingy in recent years, but with 435 home runs, 2,725 hits, 312 stolen bases, and a .279/.350/.486 slash line, Beltran has the counting stats worthy of Cooperstown. However, his involvement in the 2017 Astros cheating scandal during his final season complicates his case. In my view, Beltran has already served appropriate punishment, having been fired from his post as New York Mets manager before he even managed a game, and it seems unfair to keep the nine-time All-Star out of Cooperstown.
- Todd Helton (1B) — If Helton was to be counted on for one thing, it was getting on base. His career .414 OBP is highest on the ballot, and he led the league twice. His OPS is 23rd all time, behind only hall-of-famers, steroid inclusions, and future hall-of-famers Mike Trout and Aaron Judge. Helton put up one of the best seasons of the Modern Era in 2000, hitting .372 with 42 home runs and a league leading 1.162 OPS, somehow finishing only fifth in NL MVP voting. Helton also won three gold gloves and hit 369 home runs.
- Scott Rolen (3B) — Rollen did it all in his 17-year career. He was an elite defender at the hot corner (eight gold gloves), got on base (.281 AVG, .364 OBP), and had enough pop (ten 20+ home run seasons). Much like Beltran, he was never a superstar, but he was good enough for long enough that I (and, I imagine, most voters) see him as Hall of Fame-worthy. His career WAR of 70.1 is exactly the same as Beltran’s, and is the ninth-best figure among third basemen all time (!).
Final Ballot (in alphabetical order)
Carlos Beltran, Todd Helton, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettite, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Francisco Rodriguez, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner
Scott Rolen and Todd Helton get inducted this season. Billy Wagner gets in next season, and Carlos Beltran gets in in two seasons. No other players on this year’s ballot are inducted by the baseball writers.