'Tis the season. Hall of Fame season, that is. With just over two weeks until the results of the 2023 Baseball Writers' Association of America balloting are announced live on MLB Network on Jan. 24, it's time to have a look at how various candidates are doing based on public ballots in Ryan Thibodaux's Hall of Fame Tracker.
We asked Thibodaux for some insight behind the numbers as part of this FAQ-style primer on where things stand (all information is as of 5 p.m. ET on Sunday):
1. Let's lead things off with the big question: Is anyone going to be elected on this ballot?
The leading candidate on the ballot right now is former All-Star third baseman Scott Rolen, who is polling at 80.6 percent (75 percent of the vote is required for election to Cooperstown). Now, it's worth noting here -- and this applies to every candidate's total on the public ballot tracker -- that when it's all said and done, ballots that remain private tend to have check marks next to fewer candidates.
Rolen is on his sixth ballot -- each candidate is eligible on the BBWAA ballot for 10 years. The seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove Award winner at third base has gained significant support over the past few years, and the way things are trending, Rolen appears to have a good chance to eventually be elected.
Will Rolen be elected on this year's ballot? He'd need to jump 11.8 percent from last year's 63.2 percent.
"We've seen candidates make up a bigger gap than that to get elected (Larry Walker from 54.6 percent in 2019 to 76.6 percent in 2020, for example)," Thibodaux said. "The thing working against Rolen, though, is that there isn't the same 'last chance on the ballot' urgency as there was with Walker (and Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez before him). Rolen has been gaining ground in the early balloting, but it's not overwhelming, and he looks like he might truly be on the bubble this year. It could go either way."
Beyond Rolen, though, it doesn't seem that anyone else really has a chance to be voted in this year.
"Like 2021, this looks like a ballot where it's possible there will be no BBWAA electees," Thibodaux said. "... Todd Helton is off to an incredibly strong start and leads all candidates as of 130 ballots recorded at +22 gained votes (voters who voted for him this year but not last year). He has further to climb than Rolen, though, after finishing last year at 52 percent.
"While it is possible that this fevered pace of gained votes continues throughout the entire cycle and Helton is elected this year, a more likely scenario is that he makes a significant jump compared to last year's result and puts himself in an excellent position to be elected next year. Billy Wagner is in almost the same position as Helton and has been gaining new voters with similar speed."
2. Given his role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal, Carlos Beltrán doesn't seem as though he's getting in this year. But does he get elected eventually?
Beltrán has the resume on paper to be elected to the Hall of Fame. He was the 1999 American League Rookie of the Year, a nine-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner in center field, and hit 435 career home runs with an .837 OPS over 20 Major League seasons. But even with those credentials, his role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal from 2017 may be hurting him in the balloting.
"Based on everything we've seen in the past, we anticipate that most candidates, including Beltrán, will drop from what the Tracker is showing now to what their final result ends up being," said Thibodaux. "Still, Beltrán looks like he may have a chance to top 50 percent (or come close to it) in his first chance on the ballot. We've also seen numerous voters hint that they're imposing a one-year (or possibly longer, for some) penalty on Beltrán due to the sign-stealing scandal.
"It seems many who didn't check his box this year intend on including him on future ballots. Unless the late public ballots and private ballots are significantly tougher on Beltrán than the early ballots, I would guess that the question isn't if Beltrán will be elected, but simply how many years it will take."
3. Who makes the biggest jump this year?
Helton has been getting the most attention in this area, and rightfully so given that he's currently leading the pack in gained votes over last year. The former Rockies first baseman garnered 52 percent of the vote last year, and in this, his fifth year on the ballot, he could break the 60-percent barrier or beyond.
But Helton isn't the only candidate making big gains so far on this ballot.
"There are a few candidates in the running here," Thibodaux said. "Through 130 ballots, the 'net gained vote' (changed minds versus last year) leaders are Helton at +22, Andruw Jones at +21, Jeff Kent at +21, Gary Sheffield at +19, and Wagner at +19.
"Kent is in his 10th and final year on the ballot and may benefit from the 'final year bump' we've seen many times before. Sheffield's final year is next year, and he will need a strong showing well above his 40.6 percent finish last year to have a chance at election next time around. Helton and Wagner, if they fall short this year, are fighting to be in position to be elected next year. Jones is right on their heels. I would not be surprised by any of those five candidates having the biggest year-over-year jump."
4. Who might be in danger of falling short of 5 percent and being one-and-done on this ballot?
If a candidate does not reach 5 percent or more of the vote on any given ballot, that candidate falls off the list completely. Which first-time candidates are in danger of that fate?
"The only first-time candidates who have recorded votes so far are Beltrán and Francisco Rodriguez. Beltrán is clearly safe to make future ballots. With 11 votes so far, K-Rod is polling at 8.5 percent and only needs an estimated nine more votes in the final two-thirds of ballots to secure a second year. I would be surprised if he falls below 5 percent. All other first-time candidates have received zero votes and are in danger of being one-and-done (Matt Cain, R.A. Dickey, Jacoby Ellsbury, John Lackey, Mike Napoli, Jhonny Peralta, Huston Street, Bronson Arroyo, Andre Ethier, J.J. Hardy, Jered Weaver, and Jayson Werth).
"Among returning candidates, Torii Hunter is currently tracking at 2.3 percent, but he is at net +2 gained votes and hasn't suffered any drops. Most of his support comes from late public and private ballots, and if that continues, he should make a fourth ballot. All other returning candidates appear to have enough support to safely secure 5 percent."