The 2018 Hall of Fame Election Forecast

For most baseball fans, autumn means the playoffs, awards, and winter meetings. For me, it means it’s time for my annual Hall of Fame election forecast. I’ve been predicting the elections for 36 years now, and despite some rough roads in recent years, claim a 79% success rate (58-15) in guessing who would or would not make it among candidates receiving between 65-85% of the vote.
A review of the voting process: Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) do the voting. Late each fall, ballots are distributed to beat-writers who have been BBWAA members for ten years or more, and are active or retired no more than ten years. The ballots, which are to be returned by the end of the year, list candidates in alphabetical order, instructing voters to choose up to ten players. Eligible candidates include men who played in at least ten seasons in the majors, the last of which was not less than five nor more than 15 years prior to the election. Any candidate being named on at least 75% of the ballots is elected to the Hall; anyone receiving less than 5% of the vote is dropped from further consideration. The BBWAA honors an average of about two players per year. The 2018 results will be announced on January 24.
Twenty of the 34 players who were listed on the 2017 ballot are not on the 2018 version: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez, who were elected; Lee Smith, who failed in his final attempt; and 16 others (Jorge Posada, Magglio Ordonez, Edgar Renteria, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, Corey Blake, Pat Burrell, Orlando Cabrera, Mike Cameron, J. D. Drew, Carlos Guillen, Derrek Lee, Melvin Mora, Arthur Rhodes, Freddy Sanchez, and Matt Stairs) who were dropped for failing to reach the 5%-cutoff. These men collected 1,273 votes in 2017, which conceivably could be redistributed to the new and returning candidates this year. Members of the 2018 rookie class figure to get the majority of those, but most of the 14 returnees are likely to move up in the voting – two of them enough to earn enshrinement, along with one of the newcomers.
Most first-time eligibles – even some solid candidates – seem destined for just one try on the writers’ ballot, the consequence of receiving less than 5% of the vote. These include Jamie Moyer (269-209 record, including a win at age 49), Andruw Jones (434 homers, 10 Gold Gloves), Chris Carpenter (144-94, including the 2005 NL Cy Young Award, plus 10-4 in postseason), Carlos Lee (358 HR, .285 average), Scott Rolen (517 doubles, 316 homers), Hideki Matsui (175 HR, 2009 World Series MVP), Livan Hernandez (178-177, 1997 NLCS and World Series MVP), Aubrey Huff (242 HR, .278), Kevin Millwood (169-152), Carlos Zambrano (132-91, 24 homers), Kerry Wood (86-75, strikeout title, 20-K game), Orlando Hudson (four Gold Gloves), and closers Jason Isringhausen (300 saves) and Brad Lidge (225).
Here’s the way I foresee the rest of the election to shape up, with predicted percentages in parentheses (note that these predictions were made two months ago, long before the ballots went out and the results started trickling in):
Chipper Jones (88) – Batted .303 with 2726 hits, 468 homers, and 1623 RBI, earning the 1999 NL MVP. He’ll join the short list of Hall of Fame third basemen in his first try.
Vlad Guerrero (79) – Batted .318 lifetime with 449 homers and the 2004 AL MVP, leading each league in total bases. He made a strong showing on his first try, and should cross the threshold this time.
Trevor Hoffman (78) – Had a 2.87 ERA over 1035 games, and retired as the all-time saves leader (601), a mark topped by Mariano Rivera in 2011. Personally, I don’t see how someone with just 1089 career innings can merit the Hall of Fame. But most of the voters will disagree, sending Hoffman to the Promised Land in just his third try.
Jim Thome (72) – Crushed 612 homers and knocked in 1699 runs. Thome won the 2002 Roberto Clemente Award and the 2004 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, but didn’t do as well in MVP campaigns. He’ll fare better in the Hall of Fame poll, nearing election in his first try.
Edgar Martinez (64) – Though he didn’t become a big league regular until he was 27, the DH wound up with 2247 hits, 514 doubles, 309 homers, and a .312 average.
Mike Mussina (60) – Moose went 20-9 in his final season to finish at 270-153. Since the current pitching distance was established in 1893, only 12 pitchers have more wins over .500, and just six have a higher career strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Roger Clemens (58) – The most-accomplished pitcher of the past century, if not any century, Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards and seven ERA crowns while going 354-184 with 4672 strikeouts. His reputation has been skewered by well-documented accusations of steroids and HGH use, though he was acquitted of perjury on the subject.
Barry Bonds (58) – The most accomplished non-pitcher with the possible exception of Babe Ruth, Bonds won a record seven MVP Awards and set all-time marks for career homers (762, including a record 73 in 2001) and walks (2558, a record 668 of them intentional). For good measure, he added 514 stolen bases and eight Gold Glove Awards. But, like Clemens, accusations of his using performance enhancers in the second half of his career, along with his surly relationship with the media, will keep him out of Cooperstown for the foreseeable future.
Curt Schilling (48) – His résumé is almost a dead ringer for John Smoltz’s: Schilling was 216-146 with 3116 strikeouts, a 3.46 ERA, and an 11-2 post-season record; Smoltz was 213-155 with 3084 K’s, a 3.26 ERA, and a 15-4 post-season log. Yet Smoltz made it to Cooperstown with 83% of the vote in his first attempt in 2015, while Schilling has not come close in five tries. Schilling had three second-place Cy Young Award finishes and a record 4.38 SO:BB ratio, and starred for three different World Series teams.
Manny Ramirez (26) – His quirky behavior and PED busts obscured the fact that Ramirez was one of the best sluggers in major league history (.585 lifetime). He led the AL in homers, RBI, and batting in various years, and his 165 ribbies in 1999 are the most in a season by anyone since 1938. Manny, who is on the ballot for the second time, finished with 555 homers and a .312 career average. The only man to top him in both categories? Babe Ruth.
Fred McGriff (26) – Crime Dog had 493 home runs and 1550 RBI, winning homer titles in each league.
Larry Walker (24) – Hit 383 homers and batted .313, winning three batting titles and the 1997 NL MVP Award, though most of his damage was done a mile above sea level.
Jeff Kent (20) – Kent set the record for most career home runs by a second baseman and won the 2000 NL MVP Award. He finished with 377 homers and a .290 average.
Omar Vizquel (20) – Many writers are touting Vizquel as a serious new Hall of Fame candidate, noting his 2877 hits and 11 Gold Gloves at shortstop. My question: Where were those writers while he was playing? Vizquel received a total of three MVP points in his entire career!
Gary Sheffield (15) – An admitted steroids user who blasted 509 homers with 1676 RBI and a batting crown.
Billy Wagner (12) – Had 422 career saves and a 2.31 ERA.
Sammy Sosa (10) – Slammed 609 home runs, including three 60-homer seasons and an MVP Award, in a career also tainted by performance-enhancer accusations.
Johan Santana (7) – Won three ERA titles, three strikeout crowns, and two unanimous Cy Young Awards before arm problems prematurely ended his career. Santana wound up 139-78, including a no-hitter, with a 3.20 ERA. He’ll fight to stay on the ballot on his first try.
Johnny Damon (5) – Had 1668 runs, 2769 hits, 522 doubles, and 408 steals, but will struggle to make the cut.
Looking ahead toward upcoming elections, in 2019 the leading newcomers will be Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte, Todd Helton, Lance Berkman, and Michael Young. The following year, Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko, Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn, Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano, and Cliff Lee will top the rookie list. The 2021 ballot will include Torii Hunter, Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Aramis Ramirez, Michael Cuddyer, Dan Haren, and Barry Zito. David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Prince Fielder are among those who will become eligible in 2022. And any ten-year veteran who played in 2017, but does not return next season – Carlos Beltran and Matt Cain, to name two – will join the 2023 ballot.

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