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January 9, 2014

Baseball Therapy

The Hall of Fame Ballots By the Numbers

by Russell A. Carleton

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There’s now officially nothing left to talk about in baseball for another six weeks. But at least we get some good news. Three new plaques will be going up in Cooperstown this summer, a welcome change from the unfortunate shutout that happened during last year’s Hall of Fame voting. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas will all take their places in rural New York. After weeks of the usual arguments over PEDs, the merits of Jack Morris, and the 10-person ballot limit, it’s nice to take a step back and reflect on how good the Class of 2014 really was. Also, we should take a moment to realize that the ballot is starting to read like a BuzzFeed list of “Players that only baseball fans from the ’90s would understand.”

And can we all just agree to let Biggio round it up to 75 percent? He’s going to get in next year anyway.

Now that the balloting is done, what conclusions can we draw about the process behind the votes and the future of the Hall of Fame voting? Let’s do a little #GoryMath and find out, shall we?

What Happens to the 10-Man Ballot?
The biggest storyline leading up to the voting, that didn’t have a mustache, was the problem of the 10-player limit per voter. Last year, I suggested that it was not likely that the 10-man limit actually cost anyone a place in Cooperstown. But this year, with several new Hall-worthy candidates, the ballots were feeling a little more crowded. Thanks to the fine people at Baseball Think Factory, we have nearly 40 percent (as of Wednesday night) of individual ballots accounted for, mostly because their authors published their votes publicly. The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), the organization overseeing the process, stated that they will release full ballots from those who authorized their release on Friday.

Diving into the ballots that are already available (222 as I write), 58.1 percent of them (129 ballots) were completely full. If we assume that the published ballots are a good reflection of the still-private ballots (not necessarily a good hypothesis, but we’ll go with it), there were approximately 331 full ballots (out of 571 total votes cast). A player needed 429 votes to be elected this year. Now, did the 10-man ballot cost anyone a place in the Hall this year, other than Biggio? The next closest candidate to election was Mike Piazza with 355 votes, followed by Jack Morris with 351 and Jeff Bagwell with 310. Were there people who wanted to vote for Piazza or Morris or Bagwell, but didn’t because they felt that there were 10 others more qualified? Probably, but were there enough?

Of the published ballots that were full (129 of them), Mike Piazza did not appear on 23 of them (17.8 percent). Again, assuming that the private and published ballots mirror each other, we can assume that there were 59 ballots (17.8 percent of 331) that were full, but did not contain a vote for Mike Piazza. Even if all 59 of those voters had voted for Mike Piazza, he would have had only have 414 votes, falling 15 short of induction.

As for Morris and Bagwell:

Player

% of published full ballots not on

Estimated total full ballots not on

Votes needed to reach induction

Percentage of full ballots need to reach induction

Piazza

17.8

59

74

125%

Morris

38.8

128

78

61%

Bagwell

26.4

87

119

136%

It’s reasonable to believe that Piazza and Bagwell would have still fallen short if the ballot had been extended. However, from these numbers, we could make the case that Jack Morris would have had a chance to make it if the ballot were extended. If Morris were a first- or second-year candidate, I might buy that he was robbed. The problem is that Morris was in his 15th (and final) year on the ballot. For his partisans, there was every reason to prioritize a vote for him, because they would never have another chance to do so. Note that the reason that Piazza and Bagwell probably wouldn’t have been helped by an expanded ballot is that there just weren’t a lot of full ballots on which they did not feature. Morris just plain didn’t make as many full ballots. It’s hard to believe that even voters who were weakly pro-Morris, but realized that they had a full slate, wouldn’t have strategically sacrificed someone to vote for him. So yes, mathematically he might have had a chance, but logic suggests that the extra votes probably weren’t out there for him either.

There’s plenty of talk that the 10-player limit on the vote will be exterminated by next year’s ballot. But that ignores some major realpolitik that’s also at play. From one point of view, the 10-player limit is a smashing success. Even on a crowded ballot with a 10-man limit, the writers elected three players, meaning that the Hall will have a nice ceremony next year (especially with Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, and Tony LaRussa also being inducted). Craig Biggio’s near-miss is unfortunate for Biggio, but it’s pretty likely that he will be inducted in 2015, guaranteeing that the Hall won’t have to endure another shutout like it did this past summer. Plus, it could be the case again that the 10-player limit will artificially keep a couple of guys waiting an extra year or two. There’s a nice way to ensure that ceremonies for years to come will be well-attended. And those ceremonies drive a lot of the revenue for the museum and for the general Cooperstown area. It’s all about Mike Benjamin, baby.

Can You Bring a Date for My Friend?
A question concerning the cases of Curt Schilling (who got 29.2 percent of the vote) and Mike Mussina (20.3 percent), both of whom will have to wait at least another year—and probably more—before entering the Hall. Their contemporary, Tom Glavine, got the happy phone call on Wednesday. Electing Glavine is hardly a miscarriage of justice, but what exactly did Glavine have that Mussina and Schilling did not? Let’s take a quick look at their career stats:

Player

Years

IP

W-L

ERA (ERA+)

Strikeouts

fWAR

bWAR

WARP

JAWS

Glavine

22

4413

305-203

3.54 (118)

2607

64.3

81.4

57.4

62.9

Schilling

20

3261

216-146

3.46 (127)

3116

83.2

79.9

61.0

64.4

Mussina

18

3562

270-153

3.68 (123)

2813

82.5

83.0

59.9

63.8

There are some differences between those lines. Glavine pitched 850 more innings than did Mussina and 1150 more than Schilling, plus Glavine won more games (and more Cy Young Awards). Maybe more importantly, Glavine won three hundred (and five) games. But their ERAs are comparable, and Glavine notched the fewest strikeouts of the three. Looking at the WAR totals, they all rate pretty comparably. It seems like it’s the same basic case for all three men, or at least close to it. They all even have a “calling card” postseason heroic game to brag about (Schilling’s hematological hosiery heroics in the 2004 ALCS, Glavine’s eight-inning, one-hit performance in the clinching Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, and Mussina’s criminally overlooked 15-strikeout performance in Game 3 of the ALCS, although the Orioles eventually lost that game), as well as his three-inning relief appearance in 2003 ALCS Game 7.

Why then is Glavine (91.9 percent!) getting inner-circle level support while neither Schilling nor Mussina broke the 30 percent barrier? It seems that these three men should have roughly the same support. It’s tempting to think that Glavine’s crossing of the magic 300-win mark is what put him into the 90 percent, first-ballot club. Remarkably, the Hall hasn’t been as eager to let in 300-game winners as we might think. The last time that there was a 300-win pitcher on the ballot (who was not named Roger Clemens, as Clemens is a special case) was actually Nolan Ryan in 1999. Ryan got in on the first ballot with 98 percent support, but before him, Don Sutton (324 wins) took five years to be elected, as did Phil Niekro (318 wins). Steve Carlton (329 wins) got in on his first try, as did Tom Seaver (311 wins), but Gaylord Perry (311 wins) didn’t enter until his third year. (And yes, please spare me the standard argument about how wins are a silly statistic here…Glavine was going to make it at some point, even if he had “only” 250 wins).

Let me float a slightly different theory. If I played a word association game with “Tom Glavine,” I’ll bet the most common response would be “Greg Maddux,” particularly because I live in Atlanta. Maddux was always going to be a no-doubt-about-it, first-ballot Hall of Fame shoo-in. But Maddux and Glavine are two separate people, and in a perfect world, they should be considered separately. The truth is that Glavine’s career was good, but Maddux’s was better.

Suppose that Maddux had not been on this year’s ballot. Or suppose that Maddux had been teammates for most of the ’90s with Mussina or Schilling. Does Tom Glavine break the 90 percent mark, or is he simply a 60 percent guy who will get in eventually, but only after we’ve had enough time to think about it? Did Glavine get in this time because he had Greg Maddux (and fellow electee Bobby Cox) as a wingman? It’s sort of an uncomfortable question, isn’t it?

How many voters had the thought, “Well, I voted for Maddux, so of course I have to vote for Glavine”? It’s fine if you want to vote for Tom Glavine, but I worry that the thought process was short-circuited by some idea that we have to be egalitarian in our treatment of guys who happened to be on the same team. That’s not how this is supposed to work.

Keep Calm and Vote for Pedro
We no longer have to worry about Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jack Morris, Rafael Palmeiro, or Jacque Jones on the ballot next year. Of course, next year we do have to worry about Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz (well, we voted for Maddux and Glavine…), Gary Sheffield, and Alan Embree. The plaques are probably already being sculpted for Randy and Pedro, and there will be decent cases made for Smoltz and Sheffield (who will suffer from his alleged BALCO connections).

Of the published ballots that were full, Greg Maddux appeared on all of them, Tom Glavine on 95 percent of them, and Frank Thomas on 94 percent. Jack Morris appeared on 61 percent. That means that there are a lot of full ballots that now have three or four open spaces, and there are three or four new guys (depending on your views on Sheffield and Smoltz) whom a lot of people will want to vote for. In other words, we’ve basically treaded water as far as the crowdedness of the ballot goes. It’s still tight quarters, and it would have been nice for the writers not to have to use a vote on Craig Biggio next year. But we’ve seen that in this sort of environment, players can get elected, and only Rafael Palmeiro fell off the ballot (how about that!)

In 2016, the only big name to add to the ballot is Ken Griffey Jr. In 2017, Manny Ramirez and Pudge Rodriguez will be eligible. In 2018, we’ll see Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, and the criminally underrated Scott Rolen added to the list. In the meantime, there will probably be a few more years of multiple inductees, and space will naturally be cleared for other names to rise up the list. In 2018, saber-darling Tim Raines will be in his 11th year of eligibility, while most of the other cases that people worry so much about will still be in single digits. There seems to be a big rush to clear the glut of players out, but why? So that we can return to the years when there was no one worth electing? All we need is just a little patience.

Calming the ’Roid Rage
In their second year of eligibility, Barry Bonds (who won seven MVP awards) and Roger Clemens (who won seven Cy Young Awards) did not gain entry to the Hall of Fame. I realize that voters might have been selecting players strategically because of the 10-man limit, but…what’s that? Where was that pimple?

The “steroid era” has managed to taint the reputations of players whom no one has actually ever suspected of using PEDs and spawned Twitter “discussions” of what counts as a PED (Greenies? Adderall? Coffee? Viagra?) and what we should do with the people who drank that coffee. In fact, the evidence suggests that some voters are having the same discussions in their own heads, and are just as confused as to how to parse it all out.

Take the cases of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whom everyone agrees would be inner-circle Hall of Famers if not for those nagging allegations against them. What’s interesting to see is what a difference a year can make. Both men actually lost ground in their quest to be elected: Clemens went from 37.6 percent in 2013 to 35.4 percent overall in 2014. Bonds saw a similar wiggle in his numbers, from 36.2 percent to 34.7 percent. We might be tempted to say that both men are effectively standing still, with people having staked out their opinions on PEDs and voted accordingly. But I don’t think that’s true either.

We have published ballots from 206 writers from both 2013 and 2014. In 2013, 147 of those writers did not include Barry Bonds on their ballot. This year, 35 of those same writers did. Of the 59 who voted for Bonds in 2013, eight rescinded that vote this year. Clemens had a similar pattern in his votes, with 31 of 148 previous “no’s” turning to “yes” and 7 of 58 previous “yes’s” turning to “no.” All told, about 20 percent of the published electorate flip-flopped.

Bonds and Clemens have been implicated, but nothing’s ever been proven conclusively about their involvement in PEDs. If we look at two other candidates—Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive during his playing days, and Mark McGwire, who admitted to using steroids—we can see a somewhat different case. In 2013, 192 of the 206 public voters left McGwire’s name off their ballots. This year, only 11 of them relented. Among the 14 who voted yes for McGwire in 2013, six took it back. Similarly, Palmeiro, despite being a member of both the 3,000 hit and 500 HR club fell below the five percent minimum threshold to continue being on the ballot. Of the 11 writers in our sample who voted for Palmeiro in 2013, five took away that vote. Of the 195 who voted “no” in 2013, only five relented this year. Looks like we’re seeing a two-tiered system. Those who were suspected but not confirmed—who also appear to be two of the best players ever—appear to have people mumbling the words “reasonable doubt.” Those who were confirmed may simply be left in the wastebin.

The bad news for those who grow tired of these arguments is that Bonds and Clemens have 13 more years on the ballot, and about a third of the voters who will likely continue to check their names, so they won’t fall off the ballot any time soon. But the rate at which they will gain votes is not likely to push them over 75 percent any time soon. Chances are, we’re going to be parsing out who inhaled and what to do about it until my oldest daughter is looking at colleges. The thing about Clemens and Bonds is that they demonstrate that people can and do change their minds. In a culture where “But last year, you said…” substitutes for a legitimate critique of someone’s ideas, that may not sit well. Let’s face facts. We have not, as a baseball culture figured out what to do about PEDs, and there are a lot of people who are still trying to figure it out for themselves.

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

Related Content:  Hall Of Fame,  Cooperstown

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

BP Comment Quick Links

SC

Nice analysis. In the next several years as worthy players enter the HOF at a faster rate than they join the ballot it will be interesting to see how much strategic voting is happening w/ Bonds and Clemens. In both their cases, it's easy to understand votes for other players to keep them on the ballot (particularly Kent and Trammell).

Jan 09, 2014 10:38 AM
rating: 0
 
misterjohnny
(925)

I look forward to the induction speech in the next 5 years where the inductee admits to at least trying PED's. I don't know who that is, but I hope it will happen. Because we just don't know.

Jan 09, 2014 10:44 AM
rating: 3
 
bhalpern

I wonder what would happen if the Tejada/Palmeiro rumors turn out to be true and Palmeiro with his 3000/500 is stuck on the outside looking in.

Jan 09, 2014 13:13 PM
rating: 2
 
jdeich

What's your take on the future prospects of two glove-heavy CFs: Jim Edmonds (2016) and Andruw Jones (2018)? Seems like either would be at least as likely as Sheffield, and possibly higher on the list.

Jan 09, 2014 10:59 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Edmonds will probably get a couple of courtesy votes, which is a shame. His career bWAR is 60, which puts him around the McGwire/Piazza/Sosa/Sheffield range. He was never "the best player in the league" but there's something to be said for a decade of 5-6 win seasons. Jones is almost a carbon copy of that same profile. However, I doubt that either will receive his proper due.

They're both a bit #BigHall for my own personal tastes (I know, I'm a little crazy on that count), but they show the difficulties of giving proper credit to defense in the game. We don't even have the vocabulary to discuss it at this point. That's going to be a problem.

Jan 09, 2014 11:50 AM
 
Lyford

I think that Schilling should, and some day will, get in, but Glavine threw 35% more Major League innings than Schilling did (and about 24% more than Mussina), and that's more than enough to render inaccurate the claim that there's "the same basic case" for them.

Jan 09, 2014 12:24 PM
rating: 1
 
bhalpern

If you take Glavine's five seasons with the Mets away then the three are much closer to being the same in IP, W/L, and ERA+. But then Glavine is significantly behind in WAR, WARP, and JAWS. So this strikes me as being an old school vs new school issue plus the Maddux/Cox effect described by RAC.

Old school voters see three somewhat comparable pitchers and chose the one who has significantly more wins. I'm not sure they care as much about the IP difference.

From a sabermetric perspective the extra innings pitched are what allow Glavine to be very similar to MM/CS, rather than not as good as them.

Jan 09, 2014 13:09 PM
rating: 3
 
Dodger300

What possible justification could be made to take away Glavine's five seasons with the Mets? None.

So why suggest it?

Jan 10, 2014 17:20 PM
rating: 1
 
JParks

Rolen is a nice player and almost certainly underrated, but I can't see a player that averaged just 114 games a year over the last 10 years of a 16 year career is a Hall of Famer.

Jan 09, 2014 12:49 PM
rating: 2
 
Schere

It's not true that we don't have evidence that Bonds used PEDs, is it? He said that he didn't realize the details of the stuff he was using ("the cream" and "the clear"), but he admitted using them.

He's still a HOF'er, though.

Jan 09, 2014 12:59 PM
rating: 6
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

If you showed me a video where Barry Bonds was holding a big jug labeled "Steroids! (now in mint)" and drinking from it, I would still vote for him.

Jan 09, 2014 13:42 PM
 
lopkhan00

Which is a good reason why you should be very careful in the words you choose on this subject. Bonds did test positive for steroids.

Jan 09, 2014 16:31 PM
rating: -1
 
Pat Folz

As long as we're being careful with words, he never *tested* positive as far as I know. He did admit to "unknowingly" using them in sworn testimony.

Jan 09, 2014 18:24 PM
rating: 7
 
gpurcell

Exactly. He was the best player of his era, by a wide margin, before he juiced. Once he juiced, he basically broke the game.

Jan 09, 2014 16:35 PM
rating: 4
 
eliyahu

That is fine, and a legitimate stance (though one I disagree with). But there is no reasonable doubt that he didn't use; the only "question" is whether he knew what he was putting in his body.

Jan 09, 2014 18:46 PM
rating: 0
 
Karl Barth

I really want there to be a + button for that comment. Couldn't agree more.

Jan 10, 2014 06:31 AM
rating: 1
 
Schere

well, like I said, he's a HOF'er. I would vote for him too.

I'm just correcting the comment I corrected.

Jan 10, 2014 10:04 AM
rating: 1
 
aikman72
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

That's the problem today. We seem to justify or say it's ok if people cheat. The fact that people justify Bonds and Clemens says a lot about what is right and wrong.

Jan 09, 2014 18:28 PM
rating: -4
 
gweedoh565

That's not a problem of shifting morals; that's a problem of people making lazy black/white moralistic interpretations of the reasons certain voters think Bonds/Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame.

Jan 10, 2014 10:27 AM
rating: 3
 
Dodger300

That's the problem today. We seem to justify or say it's ok when people are judgmental. The fact that people think their interpretation of what is right and wrong is the only one possible one says a lot being closed-minded.

Jan 10, 2014 17:28 PM
rating: 2
 
Noel Steere
(965)

Heh, I put something very similar to this "what's the rush" argument in the "transparency" thread just below this article, and then read this one. Oops!

I'd just like to reiterate that getting rid of, or altering the 5% minimum rule seems like a better way to go: The clear HOFers will still get in with the 10 vote limit, because they'll be on the ballot for *15 years*, so it's fine as long as the pileup doesn't cause more Lou Whitaker/Kenny Lofton situations.

Jan 10, 2014 06:40 AM
rating: 0
 
FastballVelociraptor

I wonder if you can quantify the effect of the "Chicks Dig the Long Ball" commercial on Glavine's candidacy. PS great G'n'R reference.

Jan 11, 2014 05:48 AM
rating: 2
 
NotMrTibbs

For those still interested in voting from this year, my HoF ballot tracker is up to 286 known ballots, or more than 50% of the total vote: http://bit.ly/JAuJji

Jan 11, 2014 11:43 AM
rating: 0
 
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