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2017 Hall of Fame Ballot

On November 21, 2016, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) released the 2017 ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This article looks at the candidates on the 2017 Hall-of-Fame ballot. This is the fifth year for which I have written such an article: see 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 for my previous articles.

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing (fairly brief) articles on each of the players on this year's Hall-of-Fame ballot. These articles will be linked at the end of this article as they are posted.

The first table of this article looks at the 34 players on the ballot as measured by Player won-lost records. In a separate article, I looked at players already in the Hall of Fame and Hall of Merit and how their careers look measured by Player won-lost records. In that article, I identified Willie Stargell as perhaps the most typical Hall-of-Famer as measured by Player won-lost records and Reggie Smith as perhaps the most typical player in the Hall of Merit but not the Hall of Fame. I have included Stargell and Smith in the table below to give some sense of how this year's candidates compare to existing Hall-of-Fame (and Hall of Merit) standards.

2017 Hall of Fame Ballot
Player Won-Lost Records, sorted by pWORL
Player Games pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Manny Ramirez
Mike Mussina
Gary Sheffield
Curt Schilling
Jeff Bagwell
Jeff Kent
Willie Stargell
Edgar Martinez
Vladimir Guerrero
Larry Walker
Tim Raines Sr.
Reggie Smith
Jorge Posada
Fred McGriff
Sammy Sosa
Trevor Hoffman
Lee Smith
Edgar Renteria
Mike Cameron
Ivan Rodriguez
J.D. Drew
Billy Wagner
Tim Wakefield
Magglio Ordonez
Jason Varitek
Orlando Cabrera
Pat Burrell
Carlos Guillen
Derrek Lee
Arthur Rhodes
Matt Stairs
Melvin Mora
Casey Blake
Freddy Sanchez

Returning Candidates
There are 15 players who are appearing on the 2017 Hall-of-Fame ballot who appeared on the 2016 ballot. Their vote totals in 2016 and 2015 are shown in the next table.

Player 2015 Votes 2016 Votes 2016 Percent
Jeff Bagwell30631571.6%
Tim Raines Sr.30230769.8%
Trevor Hoffman029667.3%
Curt Schilling21523052.3%
Roger Clemens20619945.2%
Barry Bonds20219544.3%
Edgar Martinez14819143.4%
Mike Mussina13518943.0%
Lee Smith16615034.1%
Fred McGriff719220.9%
Jeff Kent777316.6%
Larry Walker656815.5%
Gary Sheffield645111.6%
Billy Wagner04610.5%
Sammy Sosa36317.0%

The Hall of Fame undertook to reduce the list of eligible Hall-of-Fame voters prior to the 2016 election. As a result of this, the total number of voters declined from 549 in 2015 to 440 in 2016. In spite of the loss of 109 voters, 7 of the 13 players who appeared on each of the 2015, 2016, and 2017 ballots saw his raw vote total increase from 2015 to 2016. The largest increases were Mike Mussina (+53) and Edgar Martinez (+43).

Although there are several players debuting with solid Hall-of-Fame cases, there are, perhaps, no candidates debuting with a clear slam-dunk case - certainly nobody, for example, with a case as strong as 2016 inductee Ken Griffey, Jr. (or, for that matter, fellow inductee, Mike Piazza). Hence, it seems reasonable to expect there to be an increase in the votes for at least some returning candidates.

Overall, there were a total of 1,063 votes in 2016 cast for players who are no longer on the ballot, which works out to 2.4 votes per ballot. My best guess is that new players could claim, perhaps 1.3 to 1.4 votes per ballot - as will be discussed in the next section. If, say, half of the remaining votes for players not returning were instead cast for returning players, that would produce an additional 230 to 240 votes for returning players (assuming a similar number of voters as last year).

Dividing 240 additional votes by the 15 returning candidates would lead to an average increase of approximately 16 votes per candidate. As noted above, 6 of the 13 returning players who appeared on each of the past two ballots lost votes between 2015 and 2016. In addition, one of the two returning players who debuted in 2016, Billy Wagner, debuted at a vote level (10.5%) from which it is fairly rare for players to appreciably increase their vote total. It may be unreasonable, therefore, to expect these players to increase their vote totals by 16 votes each. Nevertheless, there are enough ballot spots freeing up that it may be reasonable to expect a modest increase in vote totals even for these players. Let's say, for example, then, that these 7 players could be expected to split, say, 20 - 30 new votes amongst themselves.

This would leave an average of perhaps 25 - 30 additional votes (6-7%) apiece for the other 8 remaining candidates.

There are three returning candidates who are very close to election. In the 2016 election, Jeff Bagwell came 15 votes short of election; Tim Raines finished 23 votes short; and Trevor Hoffman missed election in his first year of eligibility by 34 votes. In all three of these cases, these players are close enough to election that history suggests that these players should be poised for further vote increases. When a player has the support of more than two-thirds of all voters - as Bagwell, Raines, and Hoffman do - the challenge for other voters frequently shifts from trying to find justification to elect the player to trying to find justification to exclude the player. This is not to say that players who reach a certain level will always automatically increase their vote total in later years. But for players who have a legitimately strong Hall-of-Fame case - as Bagwell, Raines, and Hoffman do - the normal expectation would be for these players to increase their vote totals. So, perhaps their share of the additional votes could be expected to be more like 40 for Bagwell and 50 apiece for Raines and Hoffman (it's fairly common for players to see their largest vote increases between their first and second years on the ballot - Hoffman - and in their final year on the ballot - Raines).

That would leave perhaps 80 votes to split among 5 other candidates. As noted above, the two largest vote-gainers in 2016 were Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez. If their 2016 gains represented increasing momentum in their candidacies, this could translate into additional healthy gains this year: perhaps an additional 20 votes apiece for Martinez and Mussina.

At the opposite extreme, Curt Schilling has made some controversial statements, mostly on Twitter, that appear to have led at least some Hall-of-Fame voters to consider not voting for him. It's hard to know exactly how much impact that might have, but it could theoretically halt any momentum he gained last year and, perhaps, hold his votes constant this year. This could potentially benefit Mike Mussina, who might suddenly become the best starting pitcher on the ballot with no negative character issues. This could, perhaps, earn Mussina an additional handful of votes - perhaps 10 - 20 or so.

That leaves 20 - 30 votes, then, to split among the last 2 candidates: McGriff and Walker. Give them an additional 10 and 15 votes, respectively.
New Candidates
There are a total of 19 candidates appearing on the Hall-of-Fame ballot for the first time. As is usual on Hall-of-Fame ballots, most of these new candidates do not really have a credible Hall-of-Fame case. The honor for most of these players in in simply appearing on the ballot, having managed to play in Major League Baseball for 10 years.

There are, however, several players for whom one can make a fairly credible Hall-of-Fame case. Specifically, by my count, I see four first-time Hall-of-Fame candidates whose candidacy warrants at least some comment. These players are considered next, in the order in which they appeared in the first table of this article - i.e., as ranked by career pWORL.
Manny Ramirez
Based purely on statistics, the best player debuting on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot is clearly Manny Ramirez, who batted .312/.411/.585 over his 19-year career with 2,574 career hits, 555 home runs (15th-most all-time), and 1,831 RBI (18th-most all-time). Ramirez's accomplishments were certainly widely recognized at the time. He was named to 12 All-Star teams and received MVP votes in 11 seasons, finishing in the top 10 in MVP voting 9 times, and in the top 5 in MVP voting 4 times. He won the Hank Aaron Award, awarded to the best hitter in each league, twice, and was named World Series MVP in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox ended their 86-year World Championship drought.

Manny Ramirez will almost certainly not receive the most Hall-of-Fame support among new candidates, however. Ramirez's career ended 5 games into the 2011 season because he failed a drug test - for the second time in his career - and chose to retire instead of serve out a 100-day suspension.

There are (at least) four returning candidates whose vote totals are being held down due to associations with steroids and/or HGH - Bonds, Clemens, Sheffield, and Sosa. Possible steroid associations may also be affecting Jeff Bagwell's totals, although he appears to be on target to be elected to the Hall of Fame this year. In addition, one other player with a strong Hall-of-Fame case, Rafael Palmeiro (3,000 hits, 500 home runs), fell off the ballot two years ago because of a failed drug test.

Of those five players, I would say that Palmeiro's case is the most similar to Ramirez, who also failed a drug test after the MLB's current PEDs policy was put into place. Palmeiro is also, of course, the worst-case scenario for Ramirez in terms of Hall-of-Fame support. There are, perhaps, two factors operating in Ramirez's favor relative to Palmeiro. Palmeiro dropped off of a much more crowded Hall-of-Fame ballot, and the Hall-of-Fame electorate was culled significantly since Palmeiro fell off the ballot. That said, the new, smaller Hall-of-Fame electorate was that not much more favorable to Sammy Sosa in 2016 (7.0%) than the larger electorate had been to Sosa in 2015 (6.6%).

My best guess is that Manny Ramirez's support on the 2017 Hall-of-Fame ballot will fall somewhere between Rafael Palmeiro's 2014 support (4.4%) and Sammy Sosa's 2016 support (6.6%). Call it 5.5%, just barely enough to hang around for a second ballot in 2018.
Vlad Guerrero
Vladimir Guerrero strikes me as a unique Hall-of-Fame candidate. He was the last great Montreal Expo and won an MVP award in his first season as an Anaheim Angel. But what really made Guerrero unique was his ability to hit anything hard. Legend has it that he once hit a home run on a ball that bounced in front of the plate.

Uniqueness is a very strong Hall-of-Fame credential: at least, when your uniqueness is positive, and Vlad's unique hitting style and ability was, for the most part, a positive.

Guerrero made nine All-Star games, 7 as a starter. He received MVP votes in 12 seasons (the first 11 consecutively) with 5 top-6 finishes including one win. He led the league in outfield assists twice with 5 top-5 finishes. And he finished his career with a .318 batting average.

On the other hand, he never won a batting title - his best finish was third, where he finished four times. His highest finish in home runs was 4th (twice), in RBI's was third (once). He did lead the league in hits once, runs scored once, and total bases twice. He also led the league double plays grounded into twice, caught stealing once, and errors made by an outfielder a whopping eight times.

Guerrero played for 16 seasons in a high-offense era, but failed to hit either 3,000 hits (he had 2,590) or 500 home runs (he hit 449). He even just missed 1,500 RBI (he had 1,496 - which is 57th all-time). Those are all very good totals. But they are not necessarily totals that jump out at Hall-of-Fame voters. The best way to try to guess how much support a player will get in his first year on the Hall-of-Fame ballot is to look at how similar players have done historically. But there are no really good comps to Vladimir Guerrero among players who have appeared on Hall-of-Fame ballots.
Guerrero's .318 career batting average is the same as Kirby Puckett. Puckett was elected in his first year of eligibility with 82.1% of the vote. But Puckett was a centerfielder who won six Gold Gloves (Guerrero never won one) and two World Series (Guerrero played in one World Series, in which his team lost in five games). In addition, Puckett's career ended suddenly due to an eye injury, so Puckett may have been given some "what might have been" credit by some voters (i.e., I suspect some voters treated Puckett as a guy who "should have" gotten 3,000 career hits). Guerrero's career ended for the utterly common reason that he became old and not as good. And yet, interestingly, Puckett's last season came at age 35; Guerrero's last season was at age 36. There are some similarities here, but Puckett seems to clearly have a stronger traditional Hall-of-Fame case.

Guerrero's 449 career home runs match Jeff Bagwell, who also matches Guerrero in MVP awards (1) and World Series titles (0). Bagwell received 41.7% of the vote in his first year on the ballot. On the other hand, Guerrero's career batting average beat Bagwell .318 - .297, and Bagwell was only named to 4 All-Star games (vs. 9 for Guerrero). Guerrero seems to clearly have a stronger traditional Hall-of-Fame case than Bagwell - although that does not necessarily mean that Guerrero will get more votes this year (his first on the ballot) than Bagwell will this year (his seventh on the ballot).

Also close to Guerrero on the career home run list is Hall-of-Famer Andre Dawson, who hit 438 career home runs and received 45.3% of the vote in his first year on the Hall-of-Fame ballot before rising steadily, being elected in his ninth year on the ballot. Dawson's career counting stats were similar to Guerrero's - very good across the board, but short of all of the most well-known milestones. Dawson finished his career with 2,774 hits, 438 home runs, and 1,591 RBI compared to 2,590, 449, and 1,496 for Guerrero. Guerrero beat Dawson in career batting average, .318 to .279, although Dawson beat Guerrero in Gold Gloves 8 - 0. I suspect that Guerrero does better than Dawson did in the "feels like a Hall-of-Famer" category, but overall this may not be a bad comparison.

Going back a couple of generations, a player that Vlad Guerrero reminded me of was Dave Parker. Parker won two batting titles and an MVP award in the late 1970's. He also had a tremendous arm in right field, leading his league in outfield assists once, but, like Guerrero was also error-prone, leading his league in outfield errors five times. Parker was named to 7 All-Star teams (vs. 9 for Guerrero), had five top-5 MVP finishes (including one win), and won three Gold Gloves. The big difference between Parker and Guerrero is that Parker has something of a hole in his career from age 29 - 33 or so (due, at least in part, to cocaine). Because of this, Parker only had 339 career home runs (vs. 449 for Guerrero), although Parker did still manage to amass 2,712 hits and 1,493 RBI (vs. 2,590 and 1,496 for Guerrero). Parker only received 17.5% support in his first year on the Hall-of-Fame ballot. He peaked in his second season at 24.5%, but managed to stay on the ballot for the maximum 15 years. Because of the hole in his career, Parker is not an ideal comparison to Guerrero, but his experience may still be instructive.

It is easiest to compare players to players who played similar positions and had similar skill sets. Hence, the comparisons above of Guerrero to mostly high-average power-hitters and outfielders. One player, though, whose Hall-of-Fame case reminds me somewhat of Vlad Guerrero is John Smoltz. Statistically, John Smoltz is a deserving Hall-of-Famer, but his case isn't that different from the cases of Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina. Smoltz pitched 3,473 innings with a 3.33 ERA (125 ERA+); Schilling pitched 3,261 innings with a 3.46 ERA (127 ERA+); Mussina pitched 3,562.2 innings with a 3.68 ERA (123 ERA+). Smoltz is, however, the only one of the three to win a Cy Young award (in 1996) and Smoltz also differentiated himself from Schilling and Mussina by spending three seasons as a lockdown closer (144 saves over three seasons) in the middle of his career. The result was that, while Schilling and Mussina remain on the Hall-of-Fame ballot in this, their fifth and fourth year, respectively, Smoltz was elected to the Hall-of-Fame in his first year of eligibility, with 82.9% of the vote. To a lot of voters, Smoltz just had the feel of a Hall-of-Famer. And I suspect Vlad Guerrero does, too.
So, with all of that, what's my best guess for how well Guerrero will do in voting this year? Just to put some math on it, I decided to go with the simple average of the first-year totals for the five players discussed above, plus 10% based on Vlad's "uniqueness" as the man who could hit anything. Which works out to 63.9%. My best guess is that Vlad Guerrero debuts very strongly but is not elected this year. I would expect him to then be elected within his first three years on the ballot, give or take a year.
Ivan Rodriguez
Ivan Rodriguez has a very strong Hall-of-Fame case. He holds the MLB record for games caught (2,427), Gold Glove awards by a catcher (13), and most career hits by a player whose primary position was catcher (2,844). He was named to 14 All-Star games and won one MVP award.

Player won-lost records are not overly impressed by Ivan Rodriguez's career. While my dream would certainly be for Player won-lost records to become the statistic of choice for Hall-of-Fame voters, I think, realistically, the fact that Ivan Rodriguez's pWORL and pWOPA are relatively low for a Hall-of-Famer is not likely to be much of a hindrance to his Hall-of-Fame candidacy - at least this year.

There are, however, two potential issues that could hamper Rodriguez's Hall-of-Fame candidacy.

First, Hall-of-Fame voters tend to be fairly hard on catchers. In fact, only one catcher has ever been elected in his first year of eligibility, 2-time MVP and 10-time Gold Glove winner Johnny Bench. The three most recent catchers elected to the Hall of Fame (working backwards) were Mike Piazza, who debuted at 57.8% and was elected in his fourth year on the ballot; Gary Carter, who debuted at 42.3% and was elected in his sixth year on the ballot; and Carlton Fisk, who debuted at 66.4% and was elected in his second year on the ballot.

Second, Ivan Rodriguez was named by Jose Canseco as a teammate (on the 1992-94 Texas Rangers) who Canseco introduced to steroids and personally injected. It's hard to know exactly what voters are likely to make of this. They dropped Rodriguez's and Canseco's teammate, Rafael Palmeiro, from the ballot in his fourth season, but Palmeiro failed a drug test and Rodriguez never did. Rodriguez does not seem to be a drug pariah in the way that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa are, but it's hard to know what that means in terms of Hall-of-Fame voting. I don't really have a good feeling for how, if at all, Canseco's accusation may affect Rodriguez's vote total.
So, what's my best guess for a debut vote percentage for Rodriguez? The simple average of the first-year vote for Piazza, Carter, and Fisk was 55.5%. Perhaps drop that by 10% for possible anti-steroid votes? That would have Rodriguez debut at 45.5%. But I wouldn't be terribly surprised by a number 20% higher or lower than that.
Jorge Posada
The last player new to the Hall-of-Fame ballot who I think has a chance to stick around for a second ballot is Jorge Posada, who was the primary catcher for 6 AL pennant winners and 4 World Champions. Posada's case is certainly not overwhelming. He was named to five All-Star teams and received MVP votes twice - finishing third in 2003 and sixth in 2007.

The player who comes to my mind as a comparable to Posada is his long-time teammate, Bernie Williams. Like Posada, Williams played for 6 AL pennant winners and 4 World Series winners (Williams played for the 1996 Yankees; Posada played for the 2009 Yankees). Williams matches Posada with five All-Star selections. Williams received MVP votes six times to twice for Posada, but Williams never finished as high as Posada's 3rd and 6th. Williams did, however, win four Gold Gloves while Posada never won one.

Bernie Williams received 9.6% of the vote in his first year on the Hall-of-Fame ballot. His vote total declined, however, by two-thirds in his second year and he fell off the ballot with only 3.3% support.

Williams's debut total seems reasonable as a first guess at how well Posada is likely to do.
Other Candidates
There are several other players debuting on the ballot who had very good careers, but none of whom seem likely to get more than perhaps a handful of courtesy votes.

Putting all of that together, then, the next table shows my first guess at how BBWAA voters may vote for the players on the 2017 Hall-of-Fame ballot. Players in bold are predicted by me to receive the 75% necessary for election.

Player 2017 Percent
Tim Raines Sr.81.1%
Jeff Bagwell80.7%
Trevor Hoffman78.6%
Vladimir Guerrero63.9%
Curt Schilling52.3%
Mike Mussina50.9%
Edgar Martinez48.0%
Ivan Rodriguez45.5%
Roger Clemens45.3%
Barry Bonds44.4%
Lee Smith33.9%
Fred McGriff23.2%
Larry Walker20.0%
Jeff Kent17.8%
Gary Sheffield11.8%
Billy Wagner11.0%
Jorge Posada9.6%
Sammy Sosa7.1%
Manny Ramirez5.5%
Jason Varitek1.5%
Tim Wakefield1.0%
Mike Cameron0.4%
Magglio Ordonez0.4%
Derrek Lee0.2%
Edgar Renteria0.2%
J.D. Drew0.0%
Carlos Guillen0.0%
Orlando Cabrera0.0%
Pat Burrell0.0%
Arthur Rhodes0.0%
Matt Stairs0.0%
Freddy Sanchez0.0%
Melvin Mora0.0%
Casey Blake0.0%

Performance-Enhancing Drugs and the Hall of Fame
Unfortunately, lately, it has become impossible to talk about the Hall of Fame without bumping up against the subject of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). This is not a topic that I'm particularly keen on discussing here. My interest is in the data and, as far as the data are concerned, a home run is a home run and a player win is a player win, regardless of what a player did to hit that home run or earn that player win. I gave my opinion on PEDs in baseball in my first Hall-of-Fame ballot article about the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot if anybody cares about my opinion.

The Individual Players on the 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot
Over the next several weeks, I will write up an article about each of the 34 players on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot. For the most part, these will not be advocacy articles: plenty of other people will post plenty of those. But hopefully, they will be interesting articles that may reveal something new and/or interesting, or at least a little fun, about these players, using Player won-lost records. I hope you enjoy them.

Links to these articles will be added to this article as these articles are posted.

2017 Today's Game Era Hall-of-Fame Ballot
Harold Baines
Albert Belle
Will Clark
Orel Hershiser
Mark McGwire
2017 BBWAA Hall-of-Fame Ballot
Jeff Bagwell
Casey Blake
Barry Bonds
Pat Burrell
Orlando Cabrera
Mike Cameron
Roger Clemens
J.D. Drew
Vladimir Guerrero
Carlos Guillen
Trevor Hoffman
Jeff Kent
Derrek Lee
Edgar Martinez
Fred McGriff
Melvin Mora
Mike Mussina
Magglio Ordonez
Jorge Posada
Tim Raines
Manny Ramirez
Edgar Renteria
Arthur Rhodes
Ivan Rodriguez
Freddy Sanchez
Curt Schilling
Gary Sheffield
Lee Smith
Sammy Sosa
Matt Stairs
Jason Varitek
Billy Wagner
Tim Wakefield
Larry Walker
2017 Hall-of-Fame Vote: How Good Were My Predictions?

All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.

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