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July 28, 2014

The HOF Rule Change

What Happens After 10 Years?

by Mike Gianella

On Saturday, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame made its most significant rule change to Hall of Fame voting rules in nearly 30 years, reducing the amount of time a candidate can spend on the ballot from 15 years to 10.

How would this change have impacted earlier Hall of Fame candidates? Would reducing the eligibility requirement from 15 years to 10 years have eliminated worthy candidates for the Hall? Is this change relevant to the Hall of Fame landscape now?

In order to examine this change, I went through every Hall of Fame election from 1949 to the present and looked at candidates who were on the ballot for 11 years or more and had received at least five percent of the vote throughout their first 10 years of eligibility. 1949 was chosen because it was the first year that any candidate had 11 or more years of eligibility (the Hall of Fame did not hold elections during most of World War II). The 5 percent minimum vote threshold was not instituted until 1979. A number of candidates prior to this time received less than 5 percent of the vote but stayed on the ballot. This change was grandfathered, so some candidates (such as Bobby Thomson) stayed on the ballot despite garnering less than 5 percent of the vote. I did not include players like Thomson in this study.

The only exception I made for the 5 percent rule was for candidates who received votes before the modern five-year eligibility standard. Hall of Fame voters used to be allowed to vote for players immediately after they retired if they wished to do so. Phil Rizutto, who received less than 5 percent of the vote the year he retired, is included in this study. Ron Santo, who received less than 5 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility and was then reinstated at a later date, is not.

On Saturday, several media outlets reported that more than 100 players stayed on the ballot for more than 10 years. This is correct, but does not account for the modern 5 percent rule. When this rule is accounted for, there were only 43 players who received 5 percent or more of the vote for 10 straight years. These players are listed in three tables below. The source for all Hall of Fame voting data and WAR is Baseball Reference.

Table 1: Elected to the Hall of Fame after 10 Tries

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Related Content:  Hall Of Fame,  Cooperstown

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

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I'd add Hoffman and Wagner in '16 and Posada in '17 as guys who have reasonable enough Hall of Fame cases.

Jul 28, 2014 05:45 AM
rating: 2

If over the course of 10 years, you are not seen as a HOF'er, are you really a HOF'er?

Come on now, this is all the more reason to take this out of the hands of writers. Quit playing these games year in and out. If a guy is worthy, put him in, if not be done with him.

Jul 28, 2014 06:14 AM
rating: 5

It is a bit unfair to say Blyleven would have missed out with the 10 year rule. Having that time limit from the beginning may have changed how some people voted. He may have gotten more support in the years leading up to 10 if the voters didn't have that extra 5 years.

Jul 28, 2014 07:44 AM
rating: 7
John Collins

Exactly. The writers knowing that certain players are about to exhaust their eligibility might affect who they vote for, and when.

Jul 28, 2014 07:56 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

I think Edward's point is generally true, but not with Blyleven, whose buildup was not the typical "oh, guess we gotta act now" progression but a true change in how the world's writers came to view him.

Jul 28, 2014 09:21 AM

Maybe. But maybe not.

Jul 29, 2014 08:12 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Mike Gianella
BP staff

It's possible you are right; however; most of the banging for the drum for Blyleven in his later years on the ballot took place because of where we were with analytics and advanced data in his last three or four years on the ballot. He is good example of a case where the extra time helped him out a great deal because people looked at him quite differently in 2006 than they did five years later in 2011.

Jul 28, 2014 09:56 AM

What's wrong with Piazza?

Jul 28, 2014 08:20 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Mike Gianella
BP staff

Nothing. I think he belongs, but I think some don't see him as an obvious case.

Jul 28, 2014 09:20 AM

Isn't Piazza's only real problem that he has been, inaccurately/unfairly or not, associated with steroids? How could anyone possibly make any argument that Piazza doesn't deserve to be in the hall based on his career performance?

Jul 28, 2014 09:47 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Mike Gianella
BP staff

The arguments against (and I'm merely playing devil's advocate here) are:

1) He was an offensive only catcher and defense should count too in a player's overall profile.
2) Since he did play in such a high octane offensive context, his numbers should be viewed in the context of his era, not simply versus all catchers all time.

My colleague Eugene Freedman has swayed me to the belief that catchers are generally underrated, particularly by mechanical valuation systems like WAR. Where a 62-63 WAR is a reasonable baseline for other hitters, catchers should not be judged in the same manner.

Jul 28, 2014 10:02 AM

I certainly agree with Eugene Freedman and understand you're just restating others' arguments. My take is even considering the context of the era he's still one of the all-time great hitting catchers. And the pitchfx data shows he did have value as a catcher, if not on the throwing side of things.

Jul 28, 2014 11:14 AM
rating: 3

To take your solid point a step further, Piazza's not one of the the best hitting catchers; he's the best hitting catcher of all time. The argument against him is not sponge-worthy.

Jul 28, 2014 17:07 PM
rating: 3
BP staff member Mike Gianella
BP staff

His defense would have to have been historically bad. It was not

Jul 29, 2014 13:06 PM

This rule is nothing more than the HOF assisting MLB in removing the taint of PEDs from the game quicker. Every winter the discussion is whether known and suspected users belong in the Hall. By shortening the stay of McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, Manny et. al. moves that discussion into the past just that much more quickly. If deserving candidates don't make it in because of ballot saturation, so be it. The goal here is to cleanse the image of the brand, not to give the worthy their due.

Jul 28, 2014 08:46 AM
rating: 4
BP staff member Mike Gianella
BP staff

So they're going to knock Bonds and Clemens off of the ballot in 2022 instead of 2027 while knocking a significant number of non-users off earlier? Good job, good effort.

Jul 28, 2014 10:04 AM

That's my read on it, too. And I think it does two things beyond simply advancing the timeline for them to naturally drop off the ballot. First, it might directly cost them votes. If there are fewer years to get "clean" players over the threshold, writers might be forced to kick PED guys off their ballots to make room for guys on the bubble who have 5 fewer years of eligibility than they used to. This could result in some PED guys dropping below 5% and falling off the ballot long before the 10 year window is up. Second, it shortens the time that writers have to change their collective stance on PEDs, for the outrage over PEDs to continue to fade, and for momentum to build behind an objective evaluation of players from the steroid era that could result in some PED users getting in.

Jul 28, 2014 10:20 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Mike Gianella
BP staff

There are four guys on the ballot with definitive or all but definitive ties to PEDs: Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, and Sosa. McGwire and Sosa were likely to fall off of the ballot anyway, particularly since I do agree with you in theory and believe that some of the voters will err on the side of knocking players like Sosa/McGwire off of the ballot. While anything is possible, I have a hard time believing that Bonds/Clemens are going to drop all the way from the 35% or so range each player is at now to below 5%.

Jul 28, 2014 10:35 AM

I think this also helps to absolve all the writers who chose to overlook the steroid use taking place. I would also like to see full ballot transparency. I am less worried about PED guys falling off the ballot because there are too many worthy candidates than a worthy candidate falling off the ballot because some crusty old writer sends in a blank ballot.

Jul 28, 2014 12:19 PM
rating: 3
BP staff member Mike Gianella
BP staff

I agree with this point. I don't mind the PED guys being left off as much as I mind writers handing in empty or near-empty ballots at a time when there are so many amazing candidates.

Jul 29, 2014 13:08 PM

Would changing the way they count ballots to 75%/5% (or some similar percentage) of all votes thereby "throwing out" the blank/near-empty ballots and eliminate the grumpy old men factor be better?

Jul 29, 2014 19:56 PM
rating: 0
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