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It’s Hall of Fame time again. And since there’s not a lot to do this week—it's something of a mutual agreement that teams give their employees the last week of the year off, so that everyone can get some vacation—it’s pretty much the only thing to write about. But of course, Hall of Fame voting has been anything but boring in the past few years. Enshrining someone in the ranks of the immortals for the rest of time is sure to start a few arguments on what merits inclusion in that very select group, but now the process itself has come under scrutiny. Voters for the Hall of Fame are restricted to only 10 checkmarks on their ballots, but many of them have said that they believe that more than 10 currently eligible bachelors are worth swiping right on (or is it swiping left… I’ve been married almost 10 years and have no idea how Tinder works).

There have always been protest votes for the Hall of Fame. Every year, someone seems to write Pete Rose in. But lately, we’ve seen a rise in the strategic vote (or strategic non-vote). Many writers reveal their ballots and discuss their reasoning (the BBWAA allows this) even before the full results are revealed (and you can follow along as the results come in thanks to the magic of the internet). Writers who have more than 10 names they wish they could support often talk about how they triaged the list down to the allowable 10. Sometimes they talk of leaving someone off because “He’s going to get plenty of support from others, so I’ll save that vote for someone who really needs it.”

This year, ESPN writer Buster Olney reported that he is abstaining from voting this year, after determining that casting a ballot would actually harm the chances of a few guys whom he considers worthy of induction (he mentions Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, and Tim Raines). Because players need to be named (or really, checked) on 75 percent of the ballots that are submitted, Olney figures that he is better off removing his ballot from the denominator. What times we live in when a respected and smart guy like Olney is saying that the best way that he can help Tim Raines’ cause for the Hall of Fame is by not voting for him!

Maybe there are writers out there who are still agonizing over their ballot. They aren’t due until December 31st, so there’s still time to send in votes after the Festivus Pole has been taken down and the pulled muscles from the feats of strength have healed. If you’re a voter (real, or like me, pretend) who wants to vote strategically, here’s how to do it.

1) If you love someone, vote for him.
You love Tim Raines. (Insert any pet cause in place of Raines, if you like. I’m just trying to—Alan Trammell—gently influence you.) You think Raines is deserving for a spot in the Hall, but you think that he’s the 12th-best guy on the ballot. Your one vote might not get him over the top (but then again, you and a buddy could have put Craig Biggio in the Hall of Fame last year). Should you kick someone else off and vote for Raines, vote for the 10 best, or like Olney, leave your ballot blank?

If the choice is between a vote for Raines or for withholding your vote, then by all means, vote for Raines. Consider a world in which there are currently 19 ballots submitted for the Hall of Fame, and unbeknownst to you, 14 of them list Raines (73.7 percent). Withholding your vote keeps Raines out of the Hall. Voting for him gives him 15 votes on 20 total ballots (75.0 percent) and somewhere in Colorado Jonah Keri does a little dance. Try that with any set of numbers. (n+1) / (d+1) will always be greater than n / d.

But then there’s the situation where, because of the 10 player limit and your belief that Raines is the 12th-best player on the ballot, you would be submitting a ballot without Raines on it. But you don’t want to hurt Raines’ chances or his feelings. So, like Olney, you abstain. If those are the only two choices, you do actually increase Raines’ chances by abstaining. But is voting for the 10 best (however you define that) eligible players the best way to vote?

2) Think like a public health worker
We are all gaming the system in one way or the other. It’s what humans do. As a psychologist, I find it funny that people can be so uptight when someone else does what they commonly do themselves. In Hall of Fame balloting, there is some sort of weird rule that writers should vote for the 10 players whom they feel were the best. Again, people have differing definitions of “best” or “valuable” or “fame” but—and I mean this question in the most sincere way possible—why should I vote that way? The “Top 10” rule seems so deeply ingrained that no one seems to question it. Question everything.

At this point in the article explaining their ballot, writers usually start talking about triaging their votes. Usually, it starts with “Well, I voted for X, Y, and Z because they are obvious Hall of Famers, but when I got down to the eighth, ninth and 10th votes, I decided to vote for Raines, even though I consider Rich Aurillia a better candidate for induction because Raines is much later in his eligibility cycle while Aurillia still has some time left.” Voters only seem willing to throw guys overboard who are at the edges of their ballot. I think that they have it all wrong.

This year, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and (for reasons that continue to baffle me) John Smoltz appear to be stone-cold locks to get into the Hall of Fame. Consider the logic behind the Olney abstention: That because Olney doesn’t have enough room for Raines on his ballot, it’s not likely that his vote for Pedro would push Pedro into Cooperstown, but that he would do more for Raines’ chances by doing no harm.

Why not turn that logic on its head? Why not throw Pedro off your ballot and vote for Raines? It is more likely that your vote for Raines is the one that pushes him in than your lack of a vote for Pedro is to keep him out. Yes, you are breaking the “Top 10” rule, but if you believe both men are qualified, you are taking the course of action that best accomplishes your goals by voting for the guy who actually needs the vote.

In public health, when you don’t have enough to go around, you move resources to the place where they are likely to have the biggest impact on whatever problem you are trying to solve. It’s called triage. This is simply applying that principle to Hall of Fame voting. The catch: You have to be willing to be The Guy Who Didn’t Vote for Pedro™ and have to explain that non-vote until you retire or at least through most of next week. I’d propose that the biggest obstacle in Hall of Fame voting right now isn’t the 10 player limit. It’s the Cool Kids Syndrome. There are perfectly good votes that are being wasted on guys who are going to get in (and on guys who will never get in—more on that in a minute) because it means that the writer won’t have a ballot that looks mostly like everyone else’s ballot.

3) Recognize a lost cause when you see one
I believe that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame. Yes, even though they may have done that. But this year, I wouldn’t recommend voting for them. It’s not to penalize them for alleged misdeeds. It’s because this isn’t going anywhere and it’s pointless to keep voting for them. Tyler Kepner of the New York Tmes summed up the argument rather well. We know that there are those writers who will vote for suspected PED users and those who won’t. Absent the allegations of PED use, Bonds and Clemens would have waltzed into the Hall of Fame in their first year with more than 95 percent support. In the two years that both men have been on the ballot, they have gotten roughly 36 percent of the vote and then 35 percent of the vote. While it’s possible over the next 13 years we’ll see a melting of the hearts on the matter, it’s going to take more than double their current level of support for Bonds and Clemens to get in.

Votes (or non-votes) for Clemens and Bonds are now more about a writer’s stance on the PED issue than about the merits of Clemens or Bonds. The problem is that votes for them are probably bumping two other Hall-worthy guys off the ballot who have a better chance. Again, we need to think strategically. It is more likely that your vote will take a ‘tweener case into the Hall than about half the electorate all at once deciding “So, I was thinking back about the 90s and I realized that if I can forgive the existence of parachute pants, I can forgive the (alleged) PED users.”

On the downside, it means you can’t use your ballot to make a statement about yourself and what a tolerant, kind, and modern person you are for being able to look past… y’know… that.

4) Embrace the #SmallHall
There’s a concept in the field of psychology known as the Flynn Effect. It’s the name for the fact that over the course of several decades, average scores on all of the big-name standardized IQ tests have gone up. In theory, the average score for an IQ test should be 100 (it’s specifically written that way), but now it’s a few points more than that. What happened? It’s hard to tell whether people in general are actually getting smarter or whether test-writers are subconsciously writing the tests a little easier.

I think we have something similar going on in baseball right now. There’s no doubt that, as compared to 50 years ago, fastballs are faster, power hitters are more powerful, and the mascots have only gotten weirder. But I think that when we evaluate players, we now have a slightly exaggerated tendency to call more of them “above average” and more of them Hall of Famers.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@pizzacutter4) know that around this time of year I start breaking out the #SmallHall tag. There’s no #GoryMath behind my preference for a #SmallHall. It’s just an aesthetic thing. Not surprisingly, I don’t have a whole lot of trouble with the 10-man limit. For starters, I don’t buy the arguments that it’s kept anyone out of the Hall of Fame. From what evidence we have, a lot of voters don’t actually use all 10 spaces on their ballots. But even if they were, I’d argue that the fault there is with the voters, not the system. The limit is a warning to the voters. You can’t put everyone in the Hall. Now, no one would advocate putting Kris Benson in the Hall of Fame, but I’d rather err on the side of being a little more exclusive.

How to Vote
Assuming that no one will listen to me on #SmallHall, then voters who truly believe that more than 10 players this year are Hall-worthy should make their check marks in the following order:

1) ‘Tweeners/cause celebres whom you support

2) “I want to give this guy a vote because he always gave me a quote”

3) Surefire guys that are going to get in anyway, but whom you want to say that you supported

4) PED suspected players (if you are so inclined)

5) Anyone else left

If you followed my logic above, you’ve already knocked five players or so off the list. Pedro, Randy, and Smoltz don’t need your vote. Clemens and Bonds aren’t getting in, no matter how hard you vote for them. You now have some prime real estate to take a good look at those ‘tweeners. Remember, the laws of mathematics say that they will always be better off with a vote from you than an abstention. If you really are concerned about the 10-player limit, that is the way to vote that does the most to negate it.

Thank you for reading

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sldetckl16
12/29
Anna Benson is definitely in my Baseball Wives HOF.
sbnirish77
12/29
Lets hope everyone follows your suggestions and both Clemens and Bonds can get below the 5% so you don't have to worry about them at all going forward.
jbibza
12/29
A small mistake in your math! Clemens and Bonds do not have 13 yet to garner the 75% vote, since the time for eligibility has been shorten from 15 years to 10 years last year.
pizzacutter
12/29
#GoryMistake!!!
therealn0d
12/29
Cool #Gory, bro.
aea0016
12/29
the only chance the 10 person limit gets removed is if writers follow your strategy and Pedro or Randy Johnson get below 75%. If they are left off of ballots with 10 names, a change would be made the next day.
Dodger300
12/29
If you convinced as few as 96% of the voters to follow your plan then Pedro, Randy, and Smoltz will all drop off the ballot after this year.

#SmallHall indeed.
tannerg
12/30
"Pedro, Randy, and Smoltz don’t need your vote."

In spite of all the idiocy in the process, this is a horrible reason not to vote for someone.
pizzacutter
12/30
Well, if you only have 10 votes... why vote for someone who will get in with or without your vote?
TeamPineTar
12/30
"Horrible"? Did you even read the essay? At the very least, it's a RATIONAL reason not to vote for the players who are virtual locks. IMO, it may even be a BRILLIANT reason. At the very least, Russell is mathematically literate, which is more than I can say for Buster Olney.
rogerb
12/31
yeah can someone explain to me how decreasing the denominator for Mussina et al by not voting increases their chances, as opposed to voting for them and increasing num/dem 1/1? Am I stupid because that makes no sense to me at all
Dodger300
1/01
That was not Olney's argument.

His decision to withhold his ballor had nothing to do with the ten players he would vote for.

He did not vote because he wanted to improve the chance of staying on the ballot for players who he did not have room on his ballot to vote for.

It is still a screwy theory and does not make sense. But it is important to at least understand which screwy theory Olney was pushing.
whiffers13
1/03
Until you explain what "ballor" means i will scratch my head in perpetuity. (Don't misspellings suck? Even worse when auto correct does it. Some people don't make big deals about it though.)
Dodger300
1/03
We all make typos and I make more than my share.

The difference being that "ballot" is easily interpreted to be ballot, while the meaning of "roar stays" was truly incomprehensible.

There was really no need to be defensive. Just fix it and move on.

But When you need to lash out I can handle it.
worldtour
12/31
The problem is, there is actually zero evidence (at least, that I can recall), that the 10 player problem is widespread enough to make a difference. If we had data on the percentage of ballots that maxed out, my guess it would be a miniscule number.

I know, I know, Biggio. He is still young in his tenure and if he doesn't get in this year (with the bumper crop you mentioned), he will in the next couple of years.
Dodger300
12/31
The key is to stop looking at this individually, as in how it affects only Biggio, and begin to look at it globally, as in how Biggio affects everyone else.

When one considers that Biggio will take approximately 75% of the votes away again this year, which could have been used on other deserving players, his failure to win election last year by only two votes may actually become quite significant.
whiffers13
12/30
There is no need to be strategic at all. Remove the moralizing which can in no ways be consistent and simply vote for all the guys roar stays say they should be there. End of story (and a shorter article).
Dodger300
12/30
Well, it may be the end of the story once you explain what "roar stays" was supposed to say. Until then, I will be scratching my head in perpetuity.
whiffers13
1/03
"Roar stays" = "whose stats"
theduke11
12/30
The obvious answer is to leave Clemens and Bonds off until the overhang clears so that raines/trammel/schlling etc get some momemtum. Also allows you to keep sosa/mcgwire, sheffield and walker on the ballot. In a couple years you can start pushing again for the bonds/clemens.

It looks like at least five guys on this ballot and maybe six will be in within 2 years which should largely solve the problem since the remaining guys are borderline anyhow.
apbadogs
12/30
I don't get the 10 vote limit not being enough. Are you telling me that every year there are more than 10 HoF worthy candidates? If that is the case then the HoF is being watered down.
Dodger300
12/30
Your point is fallacious because the fifteen or so most qualified candidates who are splitting up the vote did not all retire in one year. They retired over a period of thirteen years.
apbadogs
12/31
But if voters voted in a guy on the first ballot (they either are a HoFer or aren't...the "he isn't a first ballot guy" is ridiculous) there wouldn't be log jams. 10 Hall of Fame players do not retire each year.
JasonPennini
12/30
What would happen if you were to ignore the instructions and select 14 players?
pizzacutter
12/30
I briefly considered suggesting this very thing. This mischief maker in me says that this would be so awesome to see someone do. I honestly don't know what BBWAA would do. Probably invalidate the ballot.
jfranco77
12/30
They'd give your vote to LeBatard.
gpurcell
12/30
There is the also risk that it would be Your Vote (tm) that would prevent a unanimous entry to the HOF. Probably will raise its head when Jeter is up.
BrettLarter
12/30
Does the math work out so that in no single year more than 10 people could get in? Or if the voters colluded could they squeeze 12 in, with none getting more than 75%?
pizzacutter
12/30
Let's assume that there are 100 voters. That means 1000 votes available. 75 would be needed to get in. If everyone colluded perfectly 13 could get in. Those numbers work if you adjust them for the actual number of voters, because it would all be multiplied by the same factor.
bline24
12/30
Are we really prepared to live in a world in which John Smoltz is a HoFer but Roger Clemens is not? Really? In Smoltz' best year Clemens was 2 full wins better. Over the course of their careers, Clemens was roughly 70% better. Heck, Clemens generated more WARP in just 13 years for the Red Sox than Smoltz did in 20 years for the Braves. It makes a mockery of the whole thing.
Dodger300
12/30
Brilliant!

Your point is dead right on.

And I do believe that Smoltz belongs, too. I wish he had not hung on one more year and might have had the chance to go in with Maddux and Glavine.
GFUPhil
12/30
This is a tempest in a teapot. Go for a smaller HOF.
JParks
1/04
Hard to see how the strategy of not voting for truly deserving players so less deserving players can get in fits in with the #SmallHall philosophy.

I'm with apbadogs on this one. I think probably 2-3 HoF caliber players retire each year.

Maybe the answer is less votes, not more. One and done. The ballot is all the players that retired that year (or 3 or 5 or whatever years ago) and if you don't get in, too bad.
JParks
1/04
Meant to add that much less than 10 players per ballot would be allowed (maybe 3-5 names?)