When will remaining Hall candidates get call?

Predicting the election year for ballot holdovers

January 27th, 2022

There were 30 names on the 2022 BBWAA ballot for the Hall of Fame, and we have resolution, in one way or another, on 16 of them. We know that David Ortiz will be enshrined forever in Cooperstown; we know that four other prominent stars had their 10-year eligibility expire; we know that 11 more did not meet the minimum 5 percent threshold and will be dropped from future ballots.

Which leaves us, then, with 14 returning names who will make up nearly half of the Class of 2023 ballot that goes out later this calendar year. Will any of those returning 14 get in? If so, when? Let’s start reading the tea leaves.

The easy part is to figure out who isn’t likely to get in, and for that, we look to the bottom of the voting. Five players received 10 percent of the ballot or less, and it’s somewhat difficult to see Andy Pettitte, Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu, Mark Buehrle or Torii Hunter ever getting to the required 75 percent. (Although we do believe there’s a very compelling case to be made for Abreu.) A sixth, Omar Vizquel, has seen his candidacy collapse in the wake of multiple allegations of off-field abuse. At this point it's hard to see him ever being elected.

Which leaves us with eight remaining names, the players who were named on between 25 percent and 65 percent of the ballots this year. They’ll all benefit in some way, just because having Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling all finished with their eligibility opens up a lot of oxygen in the room, but more importantly, it opens up precious ballot spots, since the Hall of Fame requires voters to choose no more than 10 players -- and we know several voters would have added more names if they were allowed to.

So we’re left with Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, Billy Wagner, Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Jeff Kent and Manny Ramirez -- eight names with various on-field cases and off-field baggage. They won’t all get in, of course. But some will. Here’s one person's opinion on when that will happen.

2023: Scott Rolen gets in.

Looking ahead to the likely Class of 2023 ballot (this all being hypothetical, since no official ballot has been released yet), there’s only one candidate arriving with a seemingly strong case, Carlos Beltrán. (Who hardly arrives without controversy of his own, of course.) There’s no Derek Jeter or Chipper Jones or Randy Johnson here, no absolute no-brainer open-and-shut candidate.

Which, then, leaves a considerable amount of room for the returnee who not only had the highest share of the ballot (63.2 percent) among those still eligible, but who has been on a considerable upward trend for several years. Rolen’s case is not big, loud and flashy, like those of many others, but he’s got the support of the analytical community, he plays a position that is sorely underrated in the Hall and after all the controversy around voting in the last few years, he’s clearly a “safe” choice -- if you care about such things.

Rolen debuted on the ballot in 2018 with a mere 10 percent of the vote, but he’s steadily gone up (17 percent in 2019) and up (35 percent in 2020) and up (53 percent in 2021) and up (63 percent in 2022). He’s easily the best returning candidate, and, entertainingly, has the exact same career WAR total as Beltrán, 70.1. No one, aside from Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling, has ever received 50 percent or more of the vote and not made it in. Rolen won’t have to wait long.

Kent, however, does not get it. A case built on having the most home runs by any second baseman in history has generally failed to gain traction, and he’s not going from 33 percent this year to over 75 percent next year, his final on the ballot. He's headed for one of the Era Committees.

2024: None of these players get in.

That doesn’t mean no one will, because this is the year Adrián Beltré debuts, and he’s a slam-dunk choice. (Joe Mauer and Chase Utley will have interesting cases as well.) But in his 10th and final year on the ballot, Sheffield does not, having plateaued at 40.6 percent in each of the last two years, his seventh and eighth tries.

Ironically, Sheffield has a case not dissimilar to Ortiz, posting similar numbers at the plate while being a much better baserunner, having similar questions regarding PEDs, and leaving it open to your interpretation whether you value “a poor defender” or “a designated hitter” differently. But the well-traveled Sheffield didn’t have anything like the connection to one team or town that Ortiz did, nor were his postseason moments as loud. They shouldn’t, really, have such a disparity in votes. But, it seems, they will.

2025: Billy Wagner gets in.

Here is the difference between Wagner and Trevor Hoffman, who was elected in 2018 on his third ballot: Saves. Hoffman held the all-time record until Mariano Rivera passed him, Wagner didn’t, and otherwise their careers look quite similar. With saves falling out of favor as an evaluative measure, Wagner’s candidacy has accelerated.

Thus, in his first four years on the ballot, he received between 10 percent and 17 percent each time. That jumped to 32 percent in 2020, 46 percent in 2021, and 51 percent in 2022. He still holds the all-time record for highest strikeout rate (minimum 900 innings) and despite some ongoing cognitive dissonance about celebrating closers and not the starters that teams would have never traded one-for-one for them (like Tim Hudson or Jake Peavy), it’s clear that “relievers” are treated in their own class, not just against all pitchers. The Wagner arrow is pointing up. It just might require that final-year bump.

2026: Todd Helton gets in.

Helton, like Wagner, might have been the 12th-best player on a lot of ballots over the last few years, which is a big problem when the Hall limits voters to choosing only 10. So the clearing of the logjam at the top of the ballot helps, and will help, except Helton has a different issue to contend with: Playing half his games at altitude, in Colorado.

Still, Larry Walker’s election in 2020 seems to have opened that door somewhat, and it surely can’t hurt when ex-Rockies hitters like Matt Holliday, Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu depart Coors Field and still succeed elsewhere.

Similar to Rolen and Wagner, Helton’s support has increased, going from 17 percent in 2019 to 29 percent in 2020 to 45 percent in 2021 to 52 percent in 2022, giving him a steady base to build on. What also won’t hurt, if he doesn’t get in before this, is there appears to be no strong first-year ballot in 2026. Helton, three years behind Wagner on the ballot track, would likely be the cause célèbre if he’s still here.

Manny Ramirez, however, does not. While his baseball case is not in dispute -- 555 home runs and 12 All-Star games -- he’s stuck in an isolated middle ground in the PED controversy. Unlike Bonds and Clemens, he was suspended twice for failed tests. Unlike Alex Rodriguez, who was also suspended, he’s already 60 percent of the way through his ballot journey, not 10 percent. He’s held steady in the 20-29 percent range in each of his six tries, and while he’ll likely gain some support in his remaining time, it won’t be enough.

2027: Andruw Jones gets in.

For a player with no notable PED implications, Jones has a complicated case. He’s either the best defensive center fielder ever or close to it, to go with 434 home runs. On the other hand, for all those homers, he had a mere 111 OPS+, didn’t get to even 2,000 hits, completely fell apart after turning 30 and was arrested on domestic violence charges in 2012.

You could make a case either way, is the point. We’re inclined to say he won’t get in, but the voters are making it clear that they’re more and more impressed by his case each year, elevating him from just 7 percent in 2018 to 8 percent in 2019 to 10 percent in 2020 to 34 percent in 2021 to 41 percent in 2022. Like several of the other names here, he was probably the 11th- or 12th-best name on a list limited to 10, and the big names at the top leaving can only help him. It might, however, take until that final year.

2028-30: None of these players get in.

There’s only one name left, of course, and it’s a big one, so let’s look ahead to the currently distant future of 2031, and …

2031: Alex Rodriguez gets in.

OK, hear us out on this one. If there’s one thing everyone can safely agree upon with Rodríguez’s candidacy, like with Bonds and Clemens, it’s that there’s no argument over the merits of the baseball case. Rodriguez did, after all, hit 696 home runs, win three MVP Awards and make 14 All-Star teams. Per advanced metrics, he is one of the dozen or so most valuable position players, well, ever.

Of course, that’s not at all the reason he got a mere 34.3 percent of the vote in his first try. He was excluded for the same reason Bonds and Clemens were, which was the PED association, in his case leading to a suspension for the entire 2014 season. So: Why are we saying he might succeed where they failed with cases equally strong?

In a word: Timing. The odds are still stacked against Rodriguez ever making it in, but that his candidacy is on a nine-year lag beyond Bonds and Clemens is actually a huge deal, because while his biography won’t change, the makeup of the electorate voting for him will. That is, certain voters will retire and eventually give up their votes, while newer voters will gain them -- and newer voters are overwhelmingly less likely to use perceived PED concerns as reasons to prevent players from getting into Cooperstown.

As The Athletic’s Jayson Stark wrote on Tuesday, referring only to voters who have joined the electorate over the last five years, “new voters have delivered [Bonds and Clemens] 86 percent of the vote. And that’s such a hefty number, it’s about the same percentage Sandy Koufax received when he was elected to the Hall in 1972.”

New voters, then, will only continue to come online. If they were so willing to include Bonds and Clemens, it stands to reason they would apply the same standard to Rodriguez. Maybe he’ll never get in, of course. And maybe it won’t actually take him 10 full years to get there.