By Cliff Corcoran
The 2018 Hall of Fame ballot was released by the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Monday, and it's a doozy. A deep ballot comprised of 14 holdovers and 19 first-year candidates, this year's writers' ballot includes two players who received more than 71 percent of last year's vote (75 percent is required for induction), five others who have topped 50 percent in previous years and six first-time candidates who could draw significant support.
No writer is allowed to vote for more than 10 players. As a result, there will be players this year who won't receive the vote of every writer who thinks they are deserving of induction. That could result in some holdovers losing ground and might even push a first-year candidate, who would otherwise be deserving of at least a prolonged stay on the ballot, off the ballot entirely by keeping his vote share below the 5 percent minimum required to appear on next year's ballot.
Eligible members of the BBWAA must have their votes in by Dec. 31 (I am a BBWAA member, but not yet eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame). The results will be announced on live MLB Network on Wednesday, Jan. 24.
Here's my full breakdown of this year's ballot.
Chipper Jones (85.0 bWAR career)
Jones is a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer. A career .303/.401/.529 hitter, he is one of just seven players in Major League history to finish his career with a .300 average, .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage over 10,000 or more plate appearances. The other six (Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Frank Thomas) are all in the Hall of Fame. Jones ranks among the greatest switch-hitters in Major League history. ranking in the top five in hits (2,726), doubles (549), homers (468), runs (1,619), RBIs (1,623), walks (1,512) and total bases (4,755). He's the greatest third baseman in history, ranking in the top six in all of those categories while playing the position. Only Hall of Famer Greg Maddux compiled more wins above replacement (Baseball-Reference version) for the Braves teams that won 14 division titles from 1991 to 2005. There are just 16 third basemen in the Hall of Fame, fewer inductees than at any other position. Jones' induction should work to remedy that in 2018.
Jim Thome (72.9)
A three-true outcome (home runs, walks and strikeouts, all defense-independent results) first baseman during the power-hitting surge of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Thome sneaked up on some who didn't see him as a Hall of Famer until his career was nearly over. The five-year waiting period helps here, as I believe the idea of Thome as a clear-cut Hall of Famer has sunk in by now. His calling card is his career total of 612 home runs, but his career .402 on-base percentage is almost as important. Thome ranks eighth all-time in home runs and seventh in walks with 1,747. Everyone else in the top 10 on the latter list is in the Hall except for Barry Bonds. Take those two skills in combination, and Thome stands as the fifth-most-efficient home run hitter in Major League history. Among players with 300 or more career home runs, only Ruth, Mark McGwire, Bonds and Ted Williams made fewer outs per home run than Thome's 10.4. Add in Thome's central role in the great Cleveland teams of the '90s and his standing as one of the game's true gentlemen, and he should best 80 percent of the vote.
Scott Rolen (70.0)
Here's where things start to get tricky. I think Rolen is a Hall of Famer. JAWS thinks Rolen is a Hall of Famer. His eight Gold Gloves, most of them deserved, and seven All-Star selections argue strongly in his favor. Given the relative dearth of third basemen in the Hall and Rolen's status as one of the best-fielding third basemen in the game's history, plus his 122 career OPS+, he seems like an easy pick. However, Rolen missed a lot of time during his career due to injury, averaging just 132 games per season from his Rookie of the Year performance in 1997 through his age-35 campaign in 2010, the last in which he played in 100 or more games. As a result, he compiled just 2,077 hits and 316 home runs, numbers some may see as well shy of Hall-worthy coming from a non-catcher. As a result, he's one of three of this year's first-time candidates that I think deserve to go in but stand just as much chance of falling below 5 percent due to the crowded ballot.
Andruw Jones (62.8)
Like Rolen, Jones is an all-time great with the glove, a winner of 10 straight Gold Gloves and arguably the greatest defensive center fielder of all time, but he comes up a bit short on the career numbers. In Jones' case, the problem wasn't chronic injuries, but a swift and sudden decline. Jones was hitting Word Series home runs at 19 and was a star through the age of 29, but he fell off dramatically in his age-30 season and never recovered. From his age-30 season on, Jones had just 4.9 bWAR, a total he matched or surpassed in eight individual seasons prior to turning 30. He did still hit 434 home runs, but he also finished with just 1,933 hits. No hitter active since 1960 has reached the Hall of Fame with fewer than 2,000 career hits. Worse yet, Jones' poor discipline and conditioning is often blamed for his early decline, so there may not get the sympathy votes of a player who was undone by injuries. Jones is a close call via JAWS (he clears the peak standard but is just shy on the overall number), but the crowded ballot doesn't bode well for his first-year showing.
Johnny Damon (56.0)
Damon collected 2,769 hits, 408 steals and championships with both the Yankees and Red Sox, but he falls comfortably short of being Hall-worthy due to his middling power, patience and fielding. He is likely to be one-and-done on this year's crowded ballot. More deserving center fielders have suffered similar fates in recent years (Jim Edmonds last year and Kenny Lofton in 2013, and also Bernie Williams falling off after his second appearance in 2013). Andruw Jones and recent retiree Carlos Beltran should represent the era's center fielders in the near future, provided Jones survives this year's vote.
Johan Santana (51.4)
Santana's candidacy might be the most intriguing among this year's first-timers. He was the Best Pitcher in Baseball over a four-year stretch in the 2000s. Over a nine-year span from 2002-10, during which he helped the Twins emerge as a perennial contender, Santana posted a 150 ERA+ while finishing in the top five in the Cy Young Award voting five times and winning the award twice (and deserving a third). The trouble is, that peak was effectively his entire career. Santana threw 129 2/3 innings with an 84 ERA+ prior to 2002 and 117 innings with a 79 ERA+ after 2010 due to a torn anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder that all but ended his career after his age-31 season. By JAWS, he doesn't even reach the peak standard for starting pitchers. However, arguments for peak-only pitchers such as Santana carry significant weight because of the precedent set by Sandy Koufax, whose dominance lasted just six seasons.
In terms of WAR and JAWS, Santana and Koufax are near matches, with Santana coming out ahead by what amounts to a rounding error in that statistic:
Santana: 51.4 career bWAR, 44.8 7-year peak, 48.1 JAWS (85th among starting pitchers)
Koufax: 49.0 career bWAR, 46.1 7-year peak, 47.5 JAWS (88th among starting pitchers)
Using the park and era-adjusted ERA+, which corrects for the fact that Koufax pitched in an ideal environment for pitchers, Koufax posted a 135 ERA+ over his final nine seasons and in only four seasons surpassed the 150 ERA+ Santana averaged over that nine-year span. Statistically speaking, Koufax may set the bar too low, but Santana's peak was brilliant enough for me to believe he belongs in the Hall. I'm curious to see how many of my fellow writers agree. He's another who could just as easily fall off the ballot this year as get inducted in the next five.
Jamie Moyer (50.4)
Moyer had a fascinating career. Not long after he emerged as a viable Major League starter with the Cubs in his mid-20s, shoulder problems derailed his career. He didn't stick in the Majors for good until his age-30 season (compiling just 4.0 bWAR in his 20s) and didn't make 30 starts in a season again until his age-34 season in 1997, a decade after his best season with Chicago. A changeup artist who was among the softest throwers of his era, Moyer nonetheless finished in the top six in the Cy Young Award voting three times between the ages of 35 and 40. He ultimately hung around for 25 years, pitching until the age of 49 and finishing his career with 269 wins, as well as the all-time record for home runs allowed with 522. Moyer seems like a lock for the Shrine of the Eternals, but this will likely be his only appearance on a Hall of Fame ballot.
Omar Vizquel (45.3)
Ladies and gentlemen, here's your new Jack Morris. Vizquel won 11 Gold Gloves at shortstop, most of them for the great Cleveland teams of the '90s, and he stole 404 bases and compiled 2,877 hits in a 24-year career that saw him play until the age of 45. Those facts will likely earn him significant support this year and could lead to his eventual induction. However, the hits are a red herring. Vizquel was never a consistently above-average hitter. In fact, in his 24 seasons, only twice did he post an OPS+ or wRC+ above league average. In his career, he had an 82 OPS+, which would tie fellow glove-first shortstops Rabbit Maranville and Luis Aparicio as the worst mark by a non-pitcher in the Hall.
Indeed, Maranville and Aparicio, the latter a countryman and hero of Vizquel's, are his closest Hall of Fame comparisons, but neither stands among the Hall's better selections. Vizquel trails both, themselves well below the Hall standard for shortstops, in JAWS, falling roughly in the neighborhood of Mark Belanger and Dave Concepcion, the former of whom was one-and-done on the ballot and the latter of whom peaked at 16.9 percent of the vote. On this ballot, it's useful to compare Vizquel to Rolen and Andruw Jones. Vizquel wasn't significantly superior to either in the field, but he was vastly inferior to both at the plate. If Vizquel is going to get into the Hall, he should have to get in line behind them.
On the cusp
Last year's vote total: 74.0 percent
Years remaining: 8
Last year: 71.7 percent
Years remaining: 9
Last year, Hoffman fell just five votes shy of induction in his second year on the ballot, and Guerrero fell 15 shy in his first year. Two years ago, Jeff Bagwell had a nearly identical result to Guerrero, and he sailed in last year, picking up 66 votes, albeit on a shallower ballot. Both Hoffman and Guerrero will likely get in this year, though Guerrero may have to wait one more year, given how crowded the ballot is.
Running out of time
Last year: 58.6 percent
Years remaining: 2
Among this year's holdovers, Martinez gained the most ground last year, picking up 68 votes and jumping from 43.4 percent in 2016 to a personal high of 58.6 percent. The latter figure would have put him well on his way to induction before eligibility was reduced from 15 to 10 years. Instead, he has to hope he can continue to make dramatic gains in his final two years on the ballot. The good news for Martinez is that Tim Raines was at 55 percent in his eighth year on the ballot and sailed in with 86 percent two years later. A career .312/.418/.515 (147 OPS+) hitter, Martinez was the greatest designated hitter in Major League history, but he also played 564 games at third base and 28 at first. Per JAWS, he clears the standards for third basemen despite the late start to his career and his lack of defensive value. He'd be a deserving inductee, but time is running out.
Last year: 54.1 percent
Years remaining: 5
Last year: 53.8 percent
Years remaining: 5
Last year: 51.8 percent
Years remaining: 6
These three all gained roughly 40 votes and 9 percent last year relative to the year before, each surpassing 50 percent for the first time, improving their showing for the third-straight year. I expect Mussina to continue to gain ground on his way to eventual induction, but I suspect the PED-tainted Clemens and Bonds will stagnate on a ballot as crowded as this one.
Caught in the middle
Last year: 45.0 percent
Years remaining: 5
Schilling climbed to 52.3 percent in 2016, but he suffered the largest drop of any of last year's holdovers, shedding 31 votes in 2017. Many of those who rescinded their vote likely did so in protest over Schilling approvingly tweeting a photo of a T-shirt implying that journalists should be lynched. I'll be curious to see if that drop was merely a one-year penalty, or if Schilling's name is one writers continue to have an easy time omitting, particularly if they have a full ballot.
Still early, but it's not looking good
Last year: 23.8 percent
Years remaining: 9
Last year: 13.3 percent
Years remaining: 7
Last year: 10.2 percent
Years remaining: 8
Wagner was arguably as good or better than Hoffman, but he actually lost a vote last year in his second year on the ballot. Sheffield gained slightly, but that 13.3 percent is his high-point thus far. As for Ramirez, that 23.8 percent wasn't an encouraging debut from a player whose on-field record was clearly deserving but whose two doping suspensions torpedoed his Hall chances. By way of comparison, Mark McGwire debuted at 23.5 percent and peaked at 23.7 percent in his fourth year on the ballot, the last before he confessed his PED usage in 2010.
Future Eras Committee candidates
Last year: 21.9 percent
Years remaining: 3
Last year: 21.7 percent
Years remaining: 2
Last year: 16.7 percent
Years remaining: 6
Last year: 8.6 percent
Years remaining: 5
Kent gained just one vote last year. McGriff gained four. Sosa gained seven. Walker did far better, picking up 29, but he still hasn't topped the 22.9 percent he received in his second year on the ballot. I think Walker is deserving, but with just three years left, he has no real chance of induction. Sosa, meanwhile, could slip below 5 percent on this year's crowded ballot.
One and done
Carlos Zambrano (44.6 bWAR career), Chris Carpenter (34.5), Livan Hernandez (31.1), Orlando Hudson (30.9), Kevin Millwood (29.4), Carlos Lee (28.2), Kerry Wood (27.7), Hideki Matsui (21.3), Aubrey Huff (20.2), Jason Isringhausen (13.2), Brad Lidge (8.2)
These 11 players all had distinguished Major League careers, but none is likely to draw more than a handful of votes. Carpenter won a Cy Young Award, had two other top-three finishes and was the ace of the 2006 and '11 World Series champions, but he battled injuries throughout his career, leaving him with just five seasons of 30 or more starts. Hernandez was a pivotal figure in the increased flow of Cuban talent to the Major Leagues over the past 20 years and a central figure in the Marlins' '97 championship run, but he was little more than an innings-eater for most of his career. Wood had a Hall of Fame arm and showed flashes of that ability in his 20s, but injuries prevented him from realizing his full potential. Matsui remains the second-best Japanese-born hitter in Major League history, but there's not much competition for that distinction.
My imaginary ballot
Again, I don't have a vote yet, but if I did, I'd use it on Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Johan Santana, Vladimir Guerrero, Edgar Martinez, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mike Mussina and Larry Walker. I'm passing on Vizquel, Hoffman and Wagner for now, and am among those who find Schilling an easy omission, given the crowded ballot. If I had one more spot, I'd give it to Andruw Jones, but I suspect he will do better without my help than Rolen or Santana might.
Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, Vladimir Guerrero
The BBWAA has inducted four players in a single year just four times, three of them coming in 1955 or earlier, one of them being the initial class in 1936. However, we did see a four-man class in 2015, when two no-doubt first ballot selections (Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez) were joined by a comparatively borderline case in first-ballot selection John Smoltz and a near-miss holdover in Craig Biggio, who had missed by just two votes in 2014. This year, Jones and Thome seem like sure things, and Hoffman, like Biggio three years ago, was too close last year not to get in this year. Guerrero is the variable here. I say he gets in because Bagwell made a similar jump last year, but he may fall just short, in which case Vlad should be a lock for 2019.