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January 10, 2012

Prospectus Hit and Run

Barry, Black Jack, and the Big Ballot Surges

by Jay Jaffe

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That Barry Larkin is headed to Cooperstown is not the big surprise of the 2012 Hall of Fame voting, the results of which were announced on Monday afternoon. As the top holdover (he received 62.1 percent of the vote last year) on a ballot with no overwhelming first-time candidates, and a deserving candidate on both the traditional and sabermetric fronts, he was well-positioned to close the deal. With 86.4 percent of the vote, he cleared the 75 percent bar easily, and will join the family of Ron Santo at the induction ceremony on July 22, 2012.

The inevitability of Larkin's election—for which hearty congratulations are in order, lest anyone think I'm downplaying it—shouldn't obscure the vote’s real surprises: The surges in the percentages of the four next-highest candidates. Jack Morris, whose 53.5 percent last year represented a gain of just 1.2 percentage points over his 2010 mark, pushed forward to 66.7 percent in his 13th year of eligibility. Jeff Bagwell, who debuted at 41.7 percent last year amid a whisper campaign pertaining to suspicions about his connection to performance-enhancing drugs, rose to 56.0 percent. Lee Smith, who spent his first nine years on the ballot riding a rollercoaster between 36.6 percent and 47.3 percent, crossed the 50 percent barrier for the first time, and finished at 50.6 percent. Tim Raines, who in his fourth year on the ballot received exactly half the support needed at 37.5 percent, made a double-digit percentage gain to 48.7 percent. All four now have plausible paths to plaques, which I’ll discuss momentarily. Even Alan Trammell, whose candidacy appeared dead on arrival with 24.3 percent in his 10th year, posted a double-digit gain to 36.8 percent, which may reanimate his candidacy.

At the other end of the spectrum, just one first-time candidate received the necessary 5.0 percent of the vote to earn another shot. That was Bernie Williams, whose 9.6 percent is at least a whole lot better than the three votes he received from among the 112 ballots published prior to the announcement. Those ballots, by the way, were collected as a yeoman service by Leonora Unser-Schutz (@leokitty on Twitter), an effort that was mocked by at least one voter last year but received the official BBWAA seal of approval this year. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you, and eventually they retweet you.  

But I digress. Six first-timers—Jeromy Burnitz, Brian Jordan, Terry Mulholland, Phil Nevin, Ruben Sierra and Tony Womack—were shut out, as they should have been, since the only business they have with the Hall of Fame is whether their admission is full price. Javy Lopez and Eric Young each received one vote, Brad Radke two, Bill Mueller four, Tim Salmon five, and Vinny Castilla six. None of them will be on next year's ballot, and neither will Juan Gonzalez, glossy brochure and all; his support fell from 5.2 percent to 4.0 percent.

In the middle of the ballot, most of the returning candidates made slight gains, namely Rafael Palmeiro (from 11.0 to 12.6 percent in his second go-round), Dale Murphy (from 12.6 to 14.5 percent in his penultimate year as a candidate), Don Mattingly (from 13.6 to 17.8 percent, his highest showing since 2002), Larry Walker (from 20.3 to 22.9 percent in his second year), Fred McGriff (from 17.9 to 23.9 percent in his third year), and Edgar Martinez (from 32.9 to 36.5 percent in his third year, regaining the ground he lost last year). The only candidate besides Gonzalez who lost support was Mark McGwire, who dipped from 19.8 percent to 19.5 percent, and who still hasn't recovered the ground he lost after admitting to using steroids following the announcement of the 2010 voting results.

Though he has just two years remaining on the ballot, a flood of qualified newcomers against whom he must distinguish himself as he vies for limited space, and a case that's entirely overblown, Morris would appear to be a virtual lock to gain entry, though whether his advance is the effect of riding on Bert Blyleven’s coattails or a backlash against that effect is unclear. Either way, Gil Hodges is the only candidate to receive at least 60 percent of the BBWAA vote and never gain entry from either the writers or the Veterans Committee. He topped out at 63.4 percent in his final ballot, the third time he'd crossed the 60 percent line, but none of them consecutively. Several candidates of recent vintage took years to surpass "the Hodges Line" but gained entry soon afterward, reflecting the type of upward ballot momentum Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal described here—not exactly mob rule, but a certain type of peer pressure borne of not wanting to be the voter whose "no" freezes a player out of Cooperstown.

Recent examples of players quickly gaining entry once they cross the Hodges Line abound. Bruce Sutter jumped from 59.5 percent in 2004 to 66.7 percent in 2005 to 76.9 percent in 2006, his 13th year on the ballot. Rich Gossage received 64.6 percent that same year, and was in two years later, his ninth time on the ballot, at 85.8 percent. Jim Rice reached 63.5 percent in 2006 as well, and although it took him three years to make up the rest of the ground, he gained entry in his 15th and final year of eligibility. Blyleven surged from 62.7 percent in 2009 to 74.2 percent in 2010, then went over the top in 2011, his 14th year on the ballot. Further back—though still in the modern era of voting history, demarcated by when the BBWAA reverted to annual voting in 1966—Nellie Fox, Orlando Cepeda, Enos Slaughter, Red Ruffing, and Jim Bunning received at least 63.7 percent in their final year on the ballot, and eventually gained entry via the Veterans Committee. Suffice it to say that the Hall of Fame may as well begin casting Morris' plaque, because the question is when, not if, he'll gain entry.

Likewise, the news is very good for Bagwell… eventually. No candidate has ever received more than 48.3 percent in his second year on the ballot—that's Hodges’ vote total again—and not been elected via the BBWAA. Nonetheless, of those who received between 50 and 60 percent in their second year, the waiting time for entry wasn't insignificant. Harmon Killebrew (59.3 percent) was elected two years later, while Phil Niekro (59.9 percent) and Don Sutton (57.4 percent) took three more—and all three had "magic number" milestones, 500 homers in the Killer's case, and 300 wins in the cases of the two hurlers. On the other hand, both Tony Perez (55.1 percent) and Andre Dawson (50.0 percent), who lacked such round-numbered milestones, needed seven more years.

By clearing 50 percent in his 10th year, Smith suddenly has a fighting chance of gaining entry. With the exceptions of Hodges (59.6 percent) and Morris (44.0 percent), everybody with at least 36.3 percent in their 10th year has gotten in via either the BBWAA or the VC, though the ranks of the latter outnumber the former. Among BBWAA inductees, only Blyleven (47.7 percent) had a 10th year percentage lower than Smith, while Sutter, Rice, Bob Lemon, Duke Snyder, and Don Drysdale were all higher. Everyone else between Smith and Richie Ashburn (36.3 percent) who gained entry did so via the VC route.

Shift the timeframe one ballot year later, as is the case for Trammell, and the situation is less encouraging, though after I all but declared his candidacy dead last year, at least there's a flicker of life. He may have benefitted from the attention brought to Larkin. And though I had Trammell below the JAWS standard, other systems view his defense—and thus his candidacy—more favorably. Red Schoendienst (36.8 percent) and Bill Mazeroski (33.5 percent) received equal or lower totals in year 11 and gained entry via the VC. On the other hand, two other players in the neighborhood, Tony Oliva (40.7 percent) and Harvey Kuenn (34.9 percent) aren't in at all, and the low man to get in via the BBWAA was at 59.5 percent in year 11, that being Sutter.

Raines’ gains, which fall mainly on the plains, are more encouraging. When he debuted on the 2008 ballot, Rock received just 24.3 percent of the vote, and his support actually receded the following year, to 22.6 percent. His advances since then have been steady; his support has more than doubled, and his 11.2 percent jump this year was his largest yet. Again with the exception of Hodges, everybody with at least 40.7 percent of the vote in year five is in eventually. Furthermore, several BBWAA-elected Hall of Famers were in worse shape at that point: Sutter (31.1 percent), Snider (30.4 percent), Rice (29.4 percent), and Blyleven (26.3 percent). Rock’s path to glory remains long—that quartet averaged 13.25 years on the ballot—but again, Raines is in significantly better shape than those guys.

While Martinez’s stagnation—a net gain of 0.3 percent in two years—is disheartening, he isn't in bad shape, either. Among BBWAA-elected players, Sutter (29.1 percent), Snider (21.2 percent), Blyleven (17.4 percent), Lemon (16.6 percent), and Luis Aparicio (12.0 percent) were in far worse shape at this juncture. So were 10 VC choices, bounded by Ashburn (3.7 percent) and Johnny Mize (36.4 percent).

Back to Williams, a personal favorite. With a 54.0 WARP career mark, 40.3 peak, and 47.2 JAWS, he falls considerably short of the center-field standard (72.8/46.8/58.5), but there's an argument to be made for the value of his post-season work (.275/.371/.480 line with 22 homers in 545 PA) bridging the gap. Not that I'm the one making it—Joe Sheehan did, in our “Clubhouse Confidential” roundtable last Friday—but it's a reasonable one, and because of that, I'd rather see Williams stay on the ballot and be subject to further consideration. If Dave Parker and Dale Murphy can last for a combined 30 ballots without ever seriously threatening 30 percent, let alone 75—Parker fell off after last year, while Murphy guaranteed himself the opportunity to play out the string—I see no reason why Williams should be one-and-done.

Speaking of Willliams, the value of post-season performance, and the Yankee dynasty, over the weekend we learned that Jorge Posada will announce his retirement soon rather than search for a new team. Where Williams got a reasonably early start as a regular at 24, but was done as an effective player at age 33, Posada was a late bloomer who didn't make the team as a backup until age 25, and didn't start until age 26. He was still a marvelously productive hitter in his late 30s, hitting a combined .266/.360/.488 with 40 homers in 2009-2010. Among catchers with at least 7,000 plate appearances, he ranks fourth in OBP (.374) and sixth in SLG (.474), but that's partly a function of era and ballpark. His .290 True Average is essentially on par with the average among Hall catchers (.292), a figure that's as likely to come down due to Ivan Rodriguez (.265) as it is to rise due to Mike Piazza (.313) before Posada is too far along in his candidacy.

Posada (46.6/33.8/40.2) is closer to the JAWS standard at catcher (51.7/33.9/42.6) than Williams is in center, but his post-season line (.248/.358/.387 with 11 homers in 492 PA) isn't uniformly great; he had some stellar series (.296/.367/.556 in the 2003 ALCS) and some poor ones (.158/.333/.211 in that year's World Series). He finished higher in the MVP voting than Williams ever did—third in 2003, and sixth in 2007—and while he didn't have Bernie's Gold Gloves, FRAA doesn't ding him particularly hard for defense (-0.1 by my spreadsheet, nine runs below the average Hall of Fame backstop). But catcher defense is difficult to measure, and it's entirely possible that number will decrease between now and when he reaches the ballot if stuff like Mike Fast's groundbreaking work is incorporated into WARP. However, one really can't use it to make historical comparisons against players whose careers entirely predated PITCHf/x. As I've said several times over the years, Posada’s shot at Cooperstown depended upon him remaining productive throughout his contract and perhaps playing past 40, and alas, he did not. But like the similarly patient and tenacious Williams, the advantages he provided as a potent up-the-middle talent were significant, and they're a reason so many world championship banners wave in the Bronx.

Posada’s candidacy is a problem for 2017, and those of us in the Hall of Fame racket figure to have our hands plenty full before then. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Piazza, and Curt Schilling reach the ballot next year. All of them would be serious candidates were there no PED issues to consider, but of course, there are, and the forecast calls for a whole lot of ill-tempered debate and bloviating from certain fronts, not that I’m not trying to keep a cool head. Hell, I’ve already written a JAWS-flavored chapter in our forthcoming Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers about the PED-related implications of the upcoming ballots, and I’ll be on “Clubhouse Confidential” on Tuesday evening talking about the highlights of the forthcoming slate, which also includes lesser lights like Kenny Lofton, David Wells, and Julio Franco.

 As we turn our attention to counting the days until pitchers and catchers report, I’ve still got one or two more JAWS-flavored articles up my sleeve, but I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your support this voting season. To my delight, JAWS continues to gain acceptance, and after nine laps through the ballot, I’ve lost none of my enthusiasm for the topic, mainly because you haven’t either. Yakking about the Hall of Fame is what gets us through the bleak first half of the winter, and until scientists figure out how to put us in suspended animation from around November 1 to February 15, it will remain one of the more pleasurable pastimes in which we can partake. So again, thank you for reading and for continuing to ask questions, because that’s what makes this job so much damn fun.  

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

28 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

jtwalsh

Jay,

Love the JAWS series and respect your writing. Wouldn't crediting Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada for their post season work to bridge the gap between their numbers and HoF standards essentially the same arguement that Morris' supporters are using?

Jan 10, 2012 04:56 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Morris is so much further away from the JAWS standards it's not even funny. Posada's 2.4 JAWS points shy, with a peak that's essentially even. Williams is 11.3 points shy and down roughly one win a year at peak. Both were perennial playoff participants. Morris is 16.3 points shy and more than two full wins a year at peak. It's a HUGE difference.

Jan 10, 2012 06:49 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I was surprised Radke got only two votes.

Jan 10, 2012 07:35 AM
rating: 1
 
CRP13

That's three more than I thought he'd get.

Jan 10, 2012 16:23 PM
rating: 5
 
Cory Schwartz

I dont see the gains in voting for Raines, Morris, et al, as necessarily reflecting any gains in momentum. The average HoF ballot cast this year had only 5.09 names on it, the lowest in history. With such an underwhelming class of newcomers, the voters simply redistributed their votes to the next few players on the incumbents list; it seems to me these votes were motivated more by the will to vote for "someone", as if to validate the time and effort, rather than to express increased support for any particular candidate. My fear is that all of overwhelmingly qualified new candidates of the next 3-4 years will "take back" many of those 5.09 votes, resulting in stagnating totals. It would be a terrible shame if this stasis cost Raines and Bagwell their deserved spots.

Jan 10, 2012 05:48 AM
rating: 5
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

That's an interesting point, Cory. Given the PED-related heat connected to some of the overwhelmingly qualified newcomers in the next few years, and the likely resistance of the electorate to at the very least resist honoring those players with first-year election (which is such a BS distinction anyway), I don't think it will cost that much momentum among the incumbents, particularly those who have attained some type of critical mass.

Jan 10, 2012 06:52 AM
 
Patrick

Makes me wonder how the votes/ballot number changes over time. Do voters tend to vote for roughly the same number of players, regardless of the individual talent available?

Jan 10, 2012 12:50 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

I believe my namesake, Chris "No Relation" Jaffe studied this a few
years ago, I think at the Hardball Times. Will dig up the link when I'm back at my computer.

Jan 10, 2012 13:27 PM
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

I was right, it was 2008 at THT: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/tomorrows-cooperstown-election-results-today/

Good stuff there on the ballot surges above 60% too.

Jan 10, 2012 14:43 PM
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Alas I have jumped the gun on Jeff Kent's Hall of Fame eligibility. He's in the class of 2014 first-time eligibles, not 2013.

Jan 10, 2012 07:04 AM
 
greenengineer

Thank you. I really enjoy this.

Jan 10, 2012 09:41 AM
rating: 1
 
ScottyB

I can understand (though not agree) that Bagwell will need a few years to get in, considering the "whispers". But Piazza's HOF case is so overwhelming, I have to believe he'll be in on the first ballot, regardless of "whispers". Or am I just Piazza-biased?

Jan 10, 2012 10:19 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Kurjikan doesn't think Piazza will get in because he admitted to using andro...

Jan 10, 2012 10:22 AM
rating: 0
 
JimmyJack

Charlie Sheen's admission of steroid use is killing his HoF chances

Jan 10, 2012 13:28 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

I smoke cigarettes. That killed my chances.

Jan 10, 2012 13:47 PM
rating: 1
 
JasonC23
(97)

And don't forget...BACK ACNE

Jan 10, 2012 12:41 PM
rating: 1
 
Gareth31

As an Englishman, I don't quite understand the tempest of emotions stirred by the Hall of Fame ballots. But I can understand even less the demonization of steroids use over amphetamines, alcoholism, illegal drinking during prohibition and the colour barrier. When precisely was the game clean and the statistics unsullied by any temptation?

Jan 10, 2012 14:49 PM
rating: 8
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Only in a very mythical past clung to by a faction of people who are invested in preserving myths instead of presenting facts.

Jan 10, 2012 14:57 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

They were clean in my APBA league...

Jan 10, 2012 15:34 PM
rating: 3
 
WaldoInSC

Look Gareth, you're never going to understand baseball writers if you insist on rational thought. That stuff's for cricket and . . . and . . . tea with crumpets.

Jan 10, 2012 18:24 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think the English will understand baseball writers the day Americans can understand soccer riots.

Jan 10, 2012 18:51 PM
rating: 5
 
onegameref

Amen to that. When the first clean writer walks into the clubhouse then the players might have to raise their standards too. Is cortisone a performance enhancer? How about Advil? Or sugar tablets or caffeine? All work to make it easier for the players to continue playing nearer to their peak yet all are considered legal. Why are HGH or steroids worse? I wish I could see a concise and straight analysis of the supposed benefits and why baseball writers hold it so tightly against the users.

Jan 10, 2012 15:15 PM
rating: 1
 
JohnnyB

Jay, my favorite time of year. Thanks for all your hard work. I love all the analysis. I always feel for the guys that get no votes. They get trashed on so many sites as not being any good. All these guys were good -- even Tony Womack had a great year for the Cards. You do a nice job of celebrating them for the feat of even being considered for the Hall of Fame.

Was excited to see Radke get a couple of votes. Always thought he was much under-rated.

Jan 10, 2012 18:08 PM
rating: 2
 
Tim Carvin

I'm glad Jay gave Leokitty a shout out.

Jan 10, 2012 18:34 PM
rating: 1
 
SC

I really hope Julio Franco can get some votes and hang around on the ballot, ideally for all 15 years. He hung around baseball long enough, and as the oldest position player ever, deserves if not a plaque, at least a sign with some nice words on it. His wikipedia page details other reasons for induction:

Pete Rose and Ty Cobb are the only other players with 4,200 hits (combined majors, minors and international play) in their careers.
Oldest player in Major League history to hit a home run (48)
Franco was the last MLB player eligible to wear a batting helmet with no ear flaps. He elected to wear a helmet with an ear flap throughout his career.

and most important:

Has the distinguished honor of being the last active player in the major leagues from RBI Baseball (NES)

Jan 11, 2012 11:47 AM
rating: 3
 
Richard Bergstrom

I remember one of the BP Annuals that had Julio Franco's comp as the Galapagos turtle.

Jan 11, 2012 13:57 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Oh and btw, I think Ichiro has passed that 4200 hit mark between majors, minors and international play.

Jan 11, 2012 13:58 PM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

A part of me hopes that some of the very good to great players scheduled to join the ballot next year and in 2014 will sign on somewhere for a brief cameo to push their eligibility back five years. Actually, much more than a part of me.

Jan 11, 2012 18:56 PM
rating: 0
 
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