By Cliff Corcoran
The results of the 2018 Hall of Fame voting were announced by the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Wednesday, with four players surpassing the 75 percent required for induction: Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman.
Those four names weren't the only news to emerge from that announcement. As is the case every year, the down-ballot results provide us with new information about which players will appear on next year's ballot, what to expect from subsequent votes and voting trends in general.
Here are a few key takeaways from the BBWAA vote.
Martinez's last chance is a real one
This year's nearest miss was longtime Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez, who fell 20 votes shy of induction in his penultimate year on the ballot. That is, somewhat counterintuitively, very good news for the man who is arguably the greatest DH in Major League history.
Martinez's candidacy was stagnant for his first four years on the ballot, with his vote percentages ranging from 32.9 to 36.5 percent, and when the ballot got crowded in 2014 and '15, his vote share dipped below 30 percent. However, he has made dramatic progress over the past three years, gaining 43 votes in 2016, 68 in '17 and 38 more this year. Given the extra consideration he is likely to get in his final year on the ballot, there is an excellent chance that the writers will elect Martinez next year alongside the only slam-dunk first-year candidate, Mariano Rivera, whom Martinez just happened to own at the plate.
Also encouraging for Martinez is just how similar his candidacy has been to that of 2017 inductee Tim Raines, who experienced a similar surge in his final years on the ballot (see chart). In fact, Martinez's gains in years seven, eight and nine have been greater than Raines', putting him closer to induction than Raines was in his penultimate year. Raines cleared the bar easily in his 10th and final year of eligibility.
Moose is on track
One candidate who should avoid such drama is Mike Mussina, who actually picked up more votes than Martinez this year, adding 39 to his 2017 total to reach 63.5 percent in his fifth year of eligibility. Mussina was still 64 votes short of induction (a number that changes year to year with the number of ballots submitted), but he has been gaining fast. Moose has averaged 38 additional votes each year he has re-appeared on the ballot, with a high of 54 gained in 2016, and now he seems likely to cross the threshold in the next two years.
Walker could follow Trammell's path
Not counting Guerrero, a holdover inductee who gained 75 votes to sail into the Hall on his second try, the largest gain by the holdovers belonged to a long underappreciated candidate, Larry Walker. Walker picked up 47 votes this year to reach a new high of 34.1 percent of the vote. Unfortunately, he has only two years of eligibility remaining, which means election by the writers is still likely out of reach. However, another of this year's inductees offers a new hope for Walker. Consider this comparison between Walker's candidacy thus far and Alan Trammell's final 10 years on the writers' ballot:
Trammell's late surge suggested that he might have received the nod from the writers with another five years on the ballot, and that might have helped his candidacy with the Modern Era Committee, which elected him to the Hall this year with 13 of 16 votes. Walker isn't likely to get in via the writers, either, but he has been trending up steadily, and now aggressively, over the past four ballots and is well ahead of Trammell's pace. Like Trammell, he will be eligible for an Era Committee ballot soon after falling off the writers' ballot. The Today's Game Committee will vote in 2021 for the '22 inductions. Walker, who could surpass 50 percent of the vote in his final year of eligibility in 2020, should be on their ballot.
Some is forgiven
Curt Schilling was the only holdover to lose multiple votes on last year's thinner ballot, dropping 31 supporters. I wrote then that it would be interesting to see if that drop was a one-year punishment or if the writers would hold a grudge after his controversial comments. This year's result suggest a split decision. Schilling did regain some of those votes, but not all, adding just 17 to last year's total. That got him back over 50 percent (to 51.2, to be exact), but his candidacy, which had previously been outpacing Mussina's, still appears stalled, as he is at a 14-vote net loss since 2016.
… but not all
Contrary to reports of a wave sweeping Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Hall, based on the candidates' strong early showing on Ryan Thibodaux's public ballot tracker, the two most complicated candidacies on the ballot barely budged in this year's vote. Clemens gained just three votes, while Bonds' repeated his 2017 total of 238. Their percentages went up, but only because there were 20 fewer ballots returned this year, some of that drop due to the divisions created by these candidates.
Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez, a slam-dunk candidate by the numbers tainted by two suspensions, lost 12 votes in his second year on the ballot. Gary Sheffield lost a dozen votes, while Sammy Sosa lost five, skirting elimination from the ballot by just 11 votes.
All of that said, this was an extremely crowded ballot, with a deep class of first-timers, two of whom were elected, and three of whom will return on next year's ballot. By comparison, 2017 saw one first-timer inducted, and just two others survive to this year's ballot. I said earlier this offseason that even a slight drop in votes for Bonds and Clemens wouldn't necessarily prove much about their candidacies, given that there were more deserving candidates this year than available spots on each writers' ballot. Indeed, half of the ballots returned this year used all 10 slots, with the average number of players named surpassing eight per ballot. With four candidates inducted this year and a thinner crop of first-timers arriving next year -- led by Rivera, Roy Halladay, Todd Helton and Andy Pettitte -- the results of next year's ballot will be far more informative about Bonds' and Clemens' ultimate chances for induction.
One conclusion it does seem safe to draw from this year's voting, however, is that Joe Morgan's letter to Hall voters had little impact on their decision-making.
Fred McGriff and Billy Wagner each gained just two votes, while Jeff Kent lost 13, the biggest drop of this year's holdover candidates. McGriff, who has now gained a total of just six votes in the past two years and will be in his final year on the ballot in 2019, will not get in via the writers. Kent's 61 votes are his lowest total in his five years on the ballot. He would need a massive reevaluation of his candidacy just to be in the Walker/Trammell category.
As for Wagner, who has received between 45 and 47 votes in all three years of his candidacy, it will be interesting to see if he is reevaluated after fellow closers Hoffman and Rivera are inducted. There's certainly an argument to be made that he is as deserving as Hoffman, who was just elected in his third year of eligibility, but we may need to wait until 2020, Wagner's fifth year on the ballot, to see if that argument gains any traction.
Despite being the Best Pitcher in Baseball for four straight years, finishing in the top five in the Cy Young Award voting five straight years and having a nine-year peak that compares favorably to the shorter peak of Sandy Koufax (particularly after adjusting for ballparks and scoring levels), Johan Santana received just 10 votes, falling a dozen shy of the minimum required to return on next year's ballot. Given the opportunity, I would vote for both Santana and Halladay, whose candidacy has some similarities. Santana, however, is now out of the writers' hands, while Halladay seems likely to be inducted after he joins the ballot.
The new holdovers
Andruw Jones just barely stayed on the ballot, getting nine more votes than necessary to return, but I suspect his support will increase on next year's thinner ballot. Scott Rolen bested Jones by 12 votes and seems like a ripe subject for a Hall campaign from the sabermetric community, as he is the only one of the new holdovers to best the JAWS standard at his position.
Finally, Omar Vizquel, arguably the most divisive candidate on the ballot other than Bonds and Clemens, made a strong debut with 37 percent of the vote. The last two players to debut at or above 37 percent but not get in via the writers were Lee Smith (42.3 percent in 2003) and Steve Garvey (41.6 in 1993), both of whom had a similar discrepancy between their perceived value and the sabermetric evaluations of that value. The only other holdovers for 2019 to debut that high are Schilling (38.8) and Clemens (37.6), though Bonds and Martinez both debuted with 36.2 percent of the vote. Vizquel has not run afoul of the character clause, but given his weak statistical profile, I wouldn't be surprised to see his candidacy stagnate as all but Martinez's have from that group.
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Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.