HOF 2019: One sure thing, plenty of questions

There's plenty to ponder when looking ahead to the next ballot

July 30th, 2018

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The Hall of Fame never rests. Here we are, just hours after an emotional ceremony in which six players were inducted in Cooperstown, and already it's time to talk about what might happen next year. Well, maybe it isn't quite time to talk about it yet but, well, I can't resist.
Here are 10 Hall of Fame topics about the 2019 Hall of Fame ballot.
No. 1: One sure thing: Mariano
We know that on the next ballot, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera will get elected to the Hall of Fame. He won't get elected unanimously, because nobody gets elected unanimously, and there might be a handful of members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who do not think relievers belong in the Hall. But expect Rivera to be much closer to 100 percent than the 75 percent necessary for election.
Rivera's career is unmatched. Not only does he have the saves record (652), and not only is his 205 adjusted ERA+ the highest for any pitcher with 1,000 innings, but he is also the most dominant postseason closer by miles. Rivera is 8-1 with an 0.70 ERA and 42 saves in the postseason. He will be here next year, and he's likely to bring an enormous, perhaps even record-setting crowd to Cooperstown.
No. 2: Finally the year for Edgar?
Things do look promising for Edgar Martinez. He got 70.4 percent of the vote last time -- an enormous jump from the year before -- and this will be his last year on the ballot. Players always get a nice boost in their last year. Martinez's Hall of Fame journey has been slowed by his relatively short career and the fact that he spent most of his time as a designated hitter, but his extraordinary hitting talent seems to finally be breaking through. He finished 20 votes shy of election in 2018. It's a good bet that Martinez will get those 20 votes and a few more for comfort.

No. 3: Halladay?
The late Roy Halladay was one of the most dominant pitchers -- at times, he was the dominant pitcher -- of his era. My gut tells me that he will get into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, and that it won't be all that close. But I might be overconfident; we just saw another dominant pitcher of the 2000s, Johan Santana, get almost no support. So we will have to wait and see. Halladay did pitch quite a bit longer than Santana -- he won 203 games and struck out more than 2,000 batters. Those aren't exactly traditional Hall of Fame numbers, but the game has changed. Halladay will be an interesting case to watch.
No. 4: What happens with Mussina and Schilling?
Mike Mussina is on the rise. After a very sluggish start in his first couple of years on the ballot, Mussina rose to 63.5 percent of the vote in January, which suggests it's only a matter of time before he gets elected. Will it be next year? Probably not; it is very rare that a player would jump 12 points in the voting, especially with it not being Mussina's last year on the ballot. But if we're guessing, you can look for him to get to the 70-percent threshold, sort of where Martinez is now.
Schilling's Hall of Fame future is a mystery. From a pitching standpoint, it's hard to see how Mussina's case is better. Schilling has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of the Modern Era (not counting active players), and he was undeniably one of the best postseason pitchers ever. But since his retirement, Schilling has alienated a lot of people, and his Hall of Fame chances spin in the mud.
No. 5: Bonds? Clemens?
Last year, Hall of Fame vice chairman Joe Morgan sent out a letter to the BBWAA essentially asking writers not to vote for Clemens and Bonds. It's hard to judge the impact that request had, but neither player made any real progress in 2018. They will each be on their seventh ballot, which means time is running out -- players only stay on the ballot now for 10 years. If they don't make much progress this time around, it will be tough for them to ever get to 75 percent.

No. 6: Helton and the Coors factor
Larry Walker (who will be on his ninth ballot) has a viable Hall of Fame case, but he has mostly been ignored by voters. The big reason is probably Coors Field. Nobody really knows what to make of the monster numbers he put up at Coors Field before the humidor was employed. So far, they have not been impressed.
Now, here comes Todd Helton. He's a lifetime .316 hitter, and he's a rare .300 average, .400 on-base, .500 slugging player. Helton is in the Top 20 all-time in doubles and OPS, and 40th all-time in extra-base hits. These are overwhelming Hall of Fame numbers. But, alas, he too played at Coors Field. We shall see how the voters react.
No. 7: Omar
Every Hall of Fame ballot, it seems, needs a contentious candidate, and this generation's version is Omar Vizquel. He was a breathtaking defensive shortstop. Vizquel also had almost 2,900 hits in his career. His supporters compare him to Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio, two Hall of Famers. But Vizquel also has an 82 adjusted OPS+, which is well below average, and his non-supporters claim that there are numerous other shortstops -- like Bert Campaneris, Dave Concepcion and Tony Fernandez -- who are at least as worthy. The argument got a bit ugly, but Vizquel showed well with 37 percent of the vote on his first ballot.
No. 8: One final push for McGriff?
This will be Fred McGriff's last year on the ballot, which is probably good for his Hall of Fame chances. It is clear that he will not get 75 percent of the BBWAA vote -- he got only 23.2 percent last time. Falling off the ballot is the best thing now; he has a much better chance of getting support from the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee. But it will be interesting to see if McGriff takes a huge jump forward, the way Alan Trammell did in his last year on the BBWAA ballot. That could be a harbinger of good things; Trammell was elected to the Class of 2018 by the Modern Era Committee.
No. 9: Anyone from Today's Game?
This year, the Hall of Fame's Today's Game Committee will look at players who played the bulk of their careers from 1988 on and who have fallen off the BBWAA ballot. Two years ago, the Today's Game Committee voted in general manager John Schuerholz and Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig, but none of the players on the ballot came close.
This could be where we see candidates like Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire, who fell off the ballot because of PED use. It's also possible that some players who controversially fell off the ballot -- like Kenny Lofton, Jorge Posada, Kevin Brown and Bernie Williams -- will get a look here. Also look for George Steinbrenner and manager Lou Piniella to be considered.
No. 10: Some minor things to watch
Well, maybe "minor" is not the right word, but it will be interesting to see what kind of support Andy Pettitte gets. He will likely not make too big of a splash, but with 256 wins, a distinguished postseason career and a popular presence in the game, he could surprise. Pettitte did admit to using human growth hormone. … Scott Rolen has a small but strong Hall of Fame support group. We will see if he can improve on his 10-percent showing. … Does Manny Ramirez go up or down? I suppose this was the question many asked during Ramirez's career. He certainly had a Hall of Fame-caliber career. But Ramirez's multiple positive PED tests seem to guarantee that he will remain in limbo.