The Hot Stove has dominated conversation this winter, but believe it or not, it's almost Hall of Fame time.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results of the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot today, live on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com. Live coverage is underway, with the announcement to be made shortly after 6 p.m. ET, and the baseball world will find out who will join Veterans Committee selections Harold Baines and Lee Smith in the Class of 2019. This year's class figures to follow suit with the last five elections that featured at least two BBWAA inductees, further clearing the ballot "logjam" that has characterized the most recent voting cycles.
It seems that more and more BBWAA voters are making their ballots public with each passing year, and so while we don't know this year's results for certain, the 200-plus ballots aggregated by tracker Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs) can help us make educated guesses (as a reminder, players need to be named on at least 75 percent of ballots to gain election). Scanning those public ballots, here are the storylines emerging from this year's Hall vote.
Mo still has a chance at perfection
Ken Griffey Jr. came oh-so-close to being the first unanimous Hall of Fame electee when he garnered a record 99.3 percent of the BBWAA vote in 2016, but longtime Yankees closer Mariano Rivera could claim that honor -- or at least break Griffey's record. Rivera's name had appeared on all public ballots compiled by Thibodaux as of Monday, for some obvious reasons: He was an essential part of five World Series championship teams in the Bronx, owns the all-time saves record and also the best league-adjusted ERA+ (205, where 100 represents the league average) in history by a wide margin.
But there's a reason why legends like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays (and countless others) were not voted in unanimously; getting roughly 400 people to agree on anything is nearly impossible. At least one voter will likely omit Rivera for a variety of factors, including his role as a reliever, a strategic decision to give his vote to another candidate more in need or to simply hold the line that no player should go in with a perfect vote. That won't take anything away from Rivera, who was destined for Cooperstown the moment he stepped off the mound for the last time in 2013.
There was some uncertainty whether the late Roy Halladay would also be a first-ballot choice, but the longtime ace now seems like a lock with his current percentage hovering around 94 percent.
This could be the year for Edgar and Moose
The past 10 players who have received between 70-74 percent of a BBWAA vote gained election the very next year, and Edgar Martinez looks like he'll be No. 11. The Mariners legend, who earned 70.4 percent of last year's vote, has already gained a net 17 ballots from returning voters. He now looks like a sure bet with more than 90 percent of the public ballots going his way.
Mike Mussina has also gained a net 17 votes from 2018, when he improved his chances significantly by earning 63.5 percent. The former Orioles and Yankees stalwart needs to maintain that pace, as Thibodaux estimates Mussina will need to land on roughly 70 percent of the unknown ballots. That would give the Hall a four-player BBWAA class for just the fifth time ever, but it would be the third such class within the last five years.
Two ballot mainstays are changing the conversation
Larry Walker entered the BBWAA ballot in 2011 as Coors Field's first major test case in Hall of Fame voting, and now the conversation around Walker seems to be changing in his penultimate year of consideration. Many voters are recognizing Walker's excellent numbers away from Denver's mile-high altitude (along with his performances in Montreal and St. Louis), and that's helped him surge in the polls. The popular right fielder has already gained 37 net votes -- more than any other returning candidate -- from 2018, when he finished at just 34.1 percent. Walker stands to enjoy the same final-year push as Martinez and Mussina in 2020 if he can remain somewhere near his current 67-percent pace on public ballots. His case will likely have a lot of bearing on fellow Rockies great Todd Helton, who's currently hovering around 20 percent in his ballot debut.
Slugging first baseman Fred McGriff is trending at roughly 36 percent and won't get into the Hall this year, but he should get serious consideration in his first Veterans Committee cycle (the "Today's Game" era electorate in 2022) thanks to a significant bump. McGriff has gained a net 32 ballots in his 10th and final year of eligibility as voters have begun to recognize his consistency and clutch postseason performances at the precipice of baseball's "Steroid Era."
The debate continues
Speaking of that high-octane era, the Hall conversation wouldn't be complete without mention of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Their numbers would be unassailable if there weren't questions as to how they attained them, and that complicated question has split the electorate ever since the pair landed on the ballot in 2013. Bonds and Clemens are currently trending right near the 75-percent threshold, but the pair has gained just three votes apiece from 2018, when they finished at 56.4 percent and 57.3 percent, respectively. They'll need much more than that, since private voters have historically left Bonds and Clemens off their ballots. More ballot stagnation would mean the superstars' candidacies could truly come down to the wire if they don't gain election before their final year of eligibility in 2022.
Curt Schilling is another player who could already be in the Hall if not for off-field considerations, but his 13 net votes gained give him an outside chance of election as soon as this year. Schilling, like Bonds and Clemens, has until 2022 to get over the hump.
These stars are on the bubble
Former Yankees great Andy Pettitte started and won more postseason games than any pitcher in history, but nevertheless he's in some danger of being a one-and-done candidate. Pettitte has been named on 6.8 percent of public ballots to this point, and needs to stay above 5 percent to remain on the ballot. Ten-time Gold Glove Award winner Andruw Jones is also in jeopardy, having received roughly 9 percent of the vote so far. Fellow first-timers Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and Michael Young will all need significant help to stick around for 2020.
There are a handful of interesting cases in the middle of the pack. Manny Ramirez has gained just four points over his 22-percent total in 2018, and he needs to build significant momentum moving forward. Another pair of 500-homer hitters in Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa remain stagnant between 10 and 15 percent, and second baseman Jeff Kent and closer Billy Wagner remain stuck under 20 percent. Defensive stalwarts Scott Rolen and Omar Vizquel have gained a net 15 and 14 votes, respectively, with eight years of BBWAA consideration left.