In many ways, the National Baseball Hall of Fame voting this year went exactly as you would have expected. Ever since Ryan Thibodaux started the Tracker, compiling public ballots -- he collected 246 of them, which is 58 percent of all the votes cast -- it has been fairly easy to predict who will make the Hall of Fame.
We knew that Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero would get elected by a comfortable margin. All three were polling higher than 90 percent on the Tracker, so they were virtual locks for election. And all three were elected easily, well above the 75-percent threshold necessary.
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Jones, 410 votes, 97.2 percent
That is the 11th-highest percentage in history, just barely behind Greg Maddux, and just ahead of Mike Schmidt.
Guerrero, 392 votes, 92.9 percent
This was a huge leap for Guerrero in his second year on the ballot; he fell 15 votes shy of induction last year. His percentage jumped more than 20 percent.
Thome, 379 votes, 89.8 percent
MLB Network insider Tom Verducci points out that Thome becomes just the third first baseman to get elected on the first ballot, joining Willie McCovey and Eddie Murray. It's a cool fact and is technically correct, but it's a little bit misleading. Lou Gehrig was elected by special election, so he went in before his first ballot. Ernie Banks and Frank Thomas each played more than 40 percent of their games at first base, and they were both elected on the first ballot.
Those three were certainties. Then there were two players who were above the 75 percent threshold on the Tracker, but just barely. Thing is, now that Thibodaux has been doing this tracking for a few years, we generally know how the private balloters think. They tend to be focused less on advanced statistics and more on traditional things like wins, saves, home runs, Gold Gloves, etc.
This boded well for Trevor Hoffman and his 601 saves, and as in the past, his private ballot vote (81.8 percent) was higher than his public vote (78.5 percent).
Hoffman, 337 votes, 79.9 percent
Hoffman becomes only the second pitcher -- after Bruce Sutter -- to make the Hall of Fame without starting one game. He was the purest of closers; only Mariano Rivera, who should be elected next year, saved more games than Hoffman's 601 and finished more games than Hoffman's 856. Hoffman fell just five votes short of the Hall last year.
While the private ballots were expected to come in for Hoffman, history also showed they would probably not come in for Edgar Martinez. He was at 77.2 percent on the Tracker, which suggested he might have a chance to sneak in. Not this year -- only 60.8 percent of the private ballots went his way, and as such he fell 20 votes short.
Martinez, 297 votes, 70.4 percent
It has been a long and exhausting uphill climb for Martinez, who is trying to become the first player elected to the Hall of Fame who was a designated hitter more than 60 percent of the time. Martinez hovered between 25 percent and 37 percent for the first six years he was on the ballot, and only lately has he made a move. His 12 percent jump this year bodes very well for his chances next year, his last on the ballot.
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Mike Mussina was one of the winners on this year's ballot. It has taken a little while for the Baseball Writers' Association of America to warm up to his case. His 270 wins are not quite the 300 that Hall of Fame voters love. Mussina didn't quite reach 3,000 strikeouts. He did not win a Cy Young Award.
Mussina came on the ballot with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Roger Clemens was already on there; Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz joined the ballot a year later. Mussina was swamped. He got less than 25 percent of the vote each of the first two years.
But Mussina's case has been gaining steam and he took another step forward this year as his vote percentage jumped more than 10 points, all the way up to 63.5 percent. It's a strange concept that players can gain so much support having done absolutely nothing to improve their careers, but it has been this way since the start. At 64 percent and five years left on the ballot, Mussina is a virtual lock to get in. The only question is how long it will take.
Mussina's right-handed pitching counterpart, Curt Schilling, had another rough year. In Moose's first three years on the ballot, Schilling had the higher percentage. The narrative seemed to be that while their cases were quite similar, Schilling's postseason heroics made him the slightly better Hall of Fame candidate.
That turned around last year when Mussina made a nice gain and Schilling, probably because he offended voters with some of his comments and social-media posts, lost support. Schilling gained back a little of that support this year, but his 51.2 percent was still below what he had in 2016. There is now a sizable gap between Mussina and Schilling, with the two most controversial players on the ballot stuck between them.
When Hall of Fame vice chairman and legendary second baseman Joe Morgan sent out his letter to voters petitioning us to not vote for suspected steroid users like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, I wrote that it would all but end their chances to ever be elected by the BBWAA. People have strongly disagreed with that prediction, but I'm sticking with it. The issue isn't that I think Morgan's letter will change many minds. I believed that it would stop the momentum that Bonds and Clemens had been building over the last couple of years. And it has.
Bonds got 195 votes in 2016 and 238 votes in '17. Clemens went from 199 to 239. A 40-plus vote gain in one year is huge; if they could have had a similar bump this year, they would have put themselves in excellent position to get into the Hall of Fame over the next four years.
Instead, they made no movement at all. Bonds got exactly the same number of votes this year as last year. Clemens got three new votes. There were 20 fewer voters this year, so their percentages inched up a bit, but the only way they can make any real ground is by changing minds. I think the Morgan letter blunted that, as intended.
There are those who still think that Bonds and Clemens will make a real push toward 75 percent over the next four years. I just don't see it.
Another big winner on this ballot: Shortstop Omar Vizquel. He debuted at an impressive 37 percent. In recent years, Tim Raines, Bert Blyleven, Jim Rice, Goose Gossage and Sutter all debuted with less than 37 percent and eventually were elected to the Hall of Fame.
The voters clearly were impressed with Vizquel's defense -- he won 11 Gold Gloves -- and his 2,877 hits. What's unclear is why voters were so much less impressed by Andruw Jones, who won 10 Gold Gloves as the pre-eminent defensive center fielder of his time and hit more than 400 home runs. Jones got just 7.3 percent of the vote, though that is above the 5 percent necessary to get back on the ballot next year.
Moving forward: Larry Walker, Fred McGriff and Billy Wagner
It was a good vote for Walker, who jumped 12 percentage points up to 34.1 percent. Walker only has two years left on the ballot, so it will be tough for him to get all the way to 75 percent, but with Guerrero off the ballot, Walker should be the most prominent outfielder not connected to PEDs for those two years. So he might move up a lot.
McGriff only went up a couple of percentage points to 23.2 percent. Next year is the last year for him on the BBWAA ballot, which is probably good for him. McGriff stands an excellent chance of being elected by the Today's Game Committee.
Wagner only moved up one percentage point; it remains baffling how there could be such a perception gap between him and Hoffman. The news only gets worse for Wagner next year when Rivera will be on the ballot. Rivera's career was so much better than any closer in baseball history that he might set a different standard in the voters' minds.
Moving backward: Jeff Kent, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa
Kent remains a contentious case. He hit more home runs than any second baseman in baseball history, and he was outspoken about the need for PED testing. But Kent's vote total has basically stayed in place for five years now. He dropped two points to 14.5 percent.
When Morgan wrote his letter, it was assumed -- with good reason -- that his main targets were Bonds and Clemens. But the other three players most notably connected to PEDs (Ramirez, Sheffield and Sosa) all lost votes. Sosa is down to 7.8 percent and, despite hitting more than 600 home runs, he is in danger of falling off the ballot.
It's always fun to see who among the down-ballot candidates received support. Jamie Moyer did much better than expected, getting 10 votes, the same number as two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. All 10 of Moyer's votes came from the 176 private ballots.
Johnny Damon, who was a threat to get 3,000 hits until his career ended abruptly, got eight votes. Hideki Matsui, who starred in both Japan and America, got four votes. Chris Carpenter and Kerry Wood received two votes each. Livan Hernandez and Carlos Lee each got a vote.
There will be at least four very interesting newcomers on next year's ballot. The Great Mariano leads the way, and he will likely become the first relief pitcher to be elected on the first ballot.
Two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay will come on the ballot, and it will be fascinating to see how much support he gets, especially after two-time Cy Young Award winner Santana got just 2.4 percent of the vote. Halladay's career was considerably longer than Santana's; he made 100 more starts and won 203 games to Santana's 139. He should do well.
Todd Helton will be another compelling Hall of Fame candidate. He hit .316/.414/.539, is 19th on the all-time list with 592 doubles, and is top 50 in extra-base hits, runs created and slugging percentage. But, alas, Helton will fight what Walker has had to fight -- the perception that his greatness was an illusion of his home ballpark, Coors Field.
Finally, there will be those who will push the case for pitcher Andy Pettitte, who won 256 regular-season games, 19 more in the postseason and built up a similar bulldog reputation as new Hall of Famer Jack Morris.