Reassessing Utley's Cooperstown chances

January 7th, 2024

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will not make the Hall of Fame this year, but history suggests he has a very good chance in the future.

Utley has appeared on 43.1 percent of known ballots cast in his first year of eligibility, according to Ryan Thibodaux’s most recent Hall of Fame ballot tracker. Players need to appear on 75 percent of ballots for enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y. Those named on at least five percent of ballots are eligible for a maximum of 10 years.

If 43.1 percent seems like a solid percentage for a first-time eligible player who isn’t a slam-dunk candidate -- like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Chipper Jones, Pedro Martinez, Jim Thome, etc. -- that's because it is. Anthony Calamis, who works on Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker, said that since the BBWAA returned to annual voting in 1967, Steve Garvey has been the only player to debut at 40 percent or more and not be inducted into the Hall of Fame -- aside from Carlos Beltrán’s current candidacy.

Here are the eight players since 1967 who previously received shares in the 40 to 49.9 percent range in their first year:

Carlos Beltrán (70.1 WAR): Beltrán appeared on 46.5 percent of ballots in 2022. He’s at 66.7 percent in Thibodaux’s latest update, certainly trending in the right direction. Beltrán’s last year of eligibility is 2031.

Jeff Bagwell (79.9 WAR): Bagwell was on 41.7 percent of ballots in 2011. He got inducted in '17, his seventh year of eligibility. 

Ryne Sandberg (67.9 WAR): He appeared on 49.2 percent of ballots in 2003 and was inducted in his third year, in '05.

Lee Smith (28.9 WAR): Smith was on 42.3 percent of ballots in 2003. He failed to reach the 75 percent threshold after 15 years of eligibility, appearing on only 34.2 percent of ballots in '17. (Players had 15 years of eligibility from 1967-2013. That has since been changed 10 years.) Fortunately for Smith, the Today’s Game Era Committee inducted him in '19. 

Andre Dawson (64.8 WAR): He appeared on 45.3 percent of ballots in 2002 and was inducted in '10, his ninth year of eligibility. 

Gary Carter (70.1 WAR): Carter appeared on 42.8 percent of ballots in 1998. He got inducted in 2003, his seventh year on the ballot. 

Steve Garvey (38.0 WAR): Garvey appeared on 41.6 percent of ballots in 1993. He got as high as 42.6 percent in 1995, but his candidacy fizzled from there. He finished at just 21.1 percent in his final year of eligibility in 2007. 

Hoyt Wilhelm (46.8 WAR): He appeared on 41.7 percent of ballots in 1978. He got inducted in his seventh year in 1985.

Utley finished his career with a 64.5 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. As many people have pointed out, he was one of the baseball’s truly elite players for years. From 2004-14, Utley’s 62.0 WAR ranked third in baseball behind only Albert Pujols (76.2) and Adrián Beltré (63.3). Miguel Cabrera (59.3) and Alex Rodriguez (52.2) are just behind Utley to round out the top five.

Utley should get to Cooperstown someday. But keep an eye on where he finishes this year, and if he makes any gains or losses in vote percentage next year.

What about Jimmy Rollins?

Rollins (47.6 WAR) is Hall of Fame worthy, too. But he has appeared on only 13.8 percent of known ballots in his third year of eligibility. He appeared on 9.4 percent in 2022 and 12.9 percent last year.

A lot of people have mentioned that Scott Rolen (70.1 WAR) appeared on only 10.2 percent of ballots in 2018, his first year, but he eventually got to Cooperstown. However, Rolen jumped from 17.2 percent to 35.3 to 52.9 to 63.2 before he got to 76.3 last year.

Rollins isn’t rising as fast as he probably needs to be. But perhaps voters won’t want to make the same mistake they made in the past, when they inducted Detroit’s Alan Trammell, but excluded Lou Whitaker. 

Trammell-Whitaker are one of baseball’s all-time double-play combinations, just like Rollins-Utley.