The Baseball Hall of Fame's change in voting rules has cleared out an immense amount of dead wood. By requiring that a Hall of Fame voter be actively covering the game -- with a 10-year grace period -- there are expected to be about 125 fewer BBWAA voters this year. An overhaul of the voting process has been long overdue, and while many of the most informed baseball historians and analysts are still kept out of the process, this is a major step in bringing the vote to a higher analytical standard.
Now to the ballot. Here's the first group: The Suspected.
I'm not saying everyone in the group took performance-enhancing drugs, or that use of PEDs is limited to those on the list. I'm saying let's acknowledge what's happening. Here are the players whose vote totals are being affected by suspicion of steroid use:
Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa.
On a numbers-only basis, all of these players would be voted into the Hall of Fame. It might take Sheffield a while, but until the home run barrage of the 90's, 500 home runs was the ticket in. Sheffield would get in, as would Sosa (a national hero-turned-pariah, who is in the 600-home run club). This doesn't include Rafael Palmeiro, who fell off the ballot for dipping below 5 percent.
So make your choice on the suspects, and move on. There's no right or wrong answer. You're conferring an honor, so you may absolutely withhold your vote from someone who you believe cheated the system, or benefitted from what you think was a corrupt system. But voters must also make this list, and then move on with their lives and do some Hall of Fame analysis.
With these guys gone, check out this list with some fresh eyes:
Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff.
All these guys are Hall of Famers, in my opinion. As I have pointed out, the players of the 80's and 90's are still underrepresented in the Hall. There is plenty of room without diminishing standards. Let's go through these guys one by one:
Raines: The most efficient base-stealer of all-time. Over a 12-year period, Raines had a .387 on-base percentage, averaging 60 steals a season. Precisely the same level of production -- offensively, and overall -- as Tony Gwynn, who sailed in on the first ballot. Raines stands to make the biggest gains from a voting body trimmed of the old-guard flotsam. He received 55 percent of vote in 2015.
Schilling: Has the fifth best ERA+ in the post-World War II Era, ahead of Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson (with fewer innings). Schilling is one of the best postseason pitchers of all time, leading two different clubs to three World Series titles. He received an inexplicable 39 percent of the vote in 2015.
Mussina: Not an obvious call, but with research, Mussina arrives well over the HOF line. In the post-WWII era, Mussina is 11th in ERA+ and 13th in WAR. WAR measures the total run prevention and production of the pitcher, and Mussina finished ahead of Bob Gibson, Tom Glavine, Don Sutton, Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal and Jim Burning. Moose got 24.6 percent of the vote in 2015.
Martinez: A career 147 OPS+, the same as HOF sluggers Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell. Martinez just did it with doubles and walks, rather than home runs. He was primarily a DH, but also played 564 games at third. He received 27 percent of the vote in 2015.
Trammell: Among those who played at least half their games at shortstop, Trammell is the eighth best at the position in baseball history. He had big seasons, and is also 8th among shortstops in WAR7, a nice stat used by Jay Jaffe totaling the player's seven best seasons. It's his final year on the ballot, and he was just at 25 percent last year.
McGriff: A close call, but a worthy Inductee. McGriff was Top 5 in OPS+ a whopping 7 times. He batted .380/.514 for a 15-year period, and slugged .532 in 218 post-season PA's. McGriff had the misfortune of hitting the ballot just at the point where the alleged steroid guys made 493 home runs look paltry. He received a mere 12.9 percent of the vote last year.
That's six votes on the "not suspected of PED use" list, to go with three from this year's first-ballot group of Ken Griffey, Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner. Assuming no votes went to the first group I mentioned, that leaves one more vote to go to one of the following: Jim Edmonds, Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Nomar Garciaparra and Lee Smith. All of these players are strong candidates. I would also throw in that Bernie Williams, Kenny Lofton, John Olerud and Carlos Delgado have fallen off the ballot because of the minimum 5 percent rule. This is a bad rule, which does nothing but take possible candidates out of the running.
So a stats-only vote would bring my total to 16 Hall of Famers on this ballot. If I choose to go by the voting rules, I would get it down to a solid 9, and since the BBWAA has taken Williams off my imaginary ballot, I would give the 10th vote to Kent (a second baseman who slugged .507 over a 15-year period). If you'd like to lobby me on any of the others, I'm listening.
This will be a fascinating vote, and I'm honored to be a part of the MLB Network Hall of Fame special Wednesday evening, where I will introduce Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson for the announcement. I hope this year we are introduced to the active branch of the voting BBWAA, the ones who put the work in by writing columns and using the latest tools of analytics. It's been a long time coming.