There are more than a few deserving players left over from yesterday’s election, but it’s not exactly clear who needs the most help. Barry Larkin is perhaps the most deserving of the remaining options, but he is all but assured of a coronation at some point in the near future. Therefore, he really doesn’t need any help from the minions of stat crunchers who dare to be objective. So, if not Larkin, than whom?
Since the BBWAA started conducting annual ballots in 1966, 71 Hall of Famers have been inducted by the writers. Of that total, 37 were honored with a “first ballot” election, while 34 were forced to endure varying degrees of suspense (included in this latter group is Red Ruffing, who in 1967 was selected as the result of a run-off, a part of the process discontinued thereafter).
As evidenced by the chart above, it becomes increasingly difficult to earn a nod from the BBWAA as the years pass. Since 1966, there have been 663 unique candidates considered for election, of which only 5% have been enshrined after being passed over in their first year of eligibility. In other words, the first impression given by a player usually dictates their chances for election. Recently, however, we’ve seen more “long-term” candidates overcome low vote totals in their initial years of eligibility. An evolving understanding of statistics as well as an increased appreciation for more limited roles (i.e., relief pitchers) has likely been a part of this reversing trend, but in general, a candidate’s road to Cooperstown continues to get steep with each subsequent election.
So, outside of falling off the ballot completely, is there a vote percentage that effectively amounts to a death sentence for candidates in their first year of eligibility? The average first ballot score for the 34 Hall of Famers who did not win immediate selection was 40.2%. However, if you remove six players whose first year of eligibility occurred before 1966, the average rises to 46.2%. The median of that more select group is still higher at 50%.
That data won’t be encouraging to this year’s first timers. Of the 19 candidates making their ballot debut, only four received the minimum 5% needed for future consideration. From that quartet, only Jeff Bagwell recorded a respectable total, but even his 41.7% (which is almost identical to the total earned by Steve Garvey in his inaugural year on the ballot) falls below the first ballot average of multi-year candidates who eventually made the Hall of Fame. On the other hand, Bagwell’s first year total ranks third among non-Hall of Famers, behind only Larkin and Lee Smith at 51.6% and 42.3%, respectively. Considering Larkin’s likelihood of being elected, Bagwell seems to be in a gray area. Perhaps a future electorate more enlightened about PEDs will give him a boost, but regardless, Bagwell seems assured of facing an uphill battle.
In addition to Bagwell, there are seven others players for whom one can make a strong argument (Alan Trammell, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Tim Raines, Barry Larkin, Larry Walker and Edgar Martinez) as well as two other candidates who have received solid support over several years on the ballot (Lee Smith and Jack Morris).
2011 Hall of Fame Ballot “Holdovers”
|Player||YoB||% of Vote||WAR|
As previously mentioned, Larkin is not only the most deserving of all holdover candidates, but also the most likely to eventually win election. Meanwhile, like Bagwell, McGwire and Palmeiro have to overcome the electorate’s steroid aversion before making a significant jump, so the merits of their candidacies must continue to take a backseat. Digging further, Morris and Smith really don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, while Walker (Coors Field) and Martinez (career DH) both have issues that give pause. So, after whittling down the list, Trammell and Raines remain as the candidates most deserving of a concerted advocacy campaign.
As illustrated in the chart above, only Larkin’s vote total is above the average and median pace of other Hall of Famers who failed to win election on their first ballot. Every other player’s most recent vote total stands well below the milestone that is relative to their current year of eligibility. Unfortunately, both Raines and Trammell remain far off the pace, but it is really the latter’s candidacy that faces the most peril. With only five years left of consideration, the former Tigers’ shortstop finds himself over 30% behind the average and median vote totals that would foreshadow an eventual selection. At this point, Trammell’s election would require such an unprecedented about face from the BBWAA that his candidacy seems to be a lost cause. As a result, we are left with Raines as the best candidate upon which to mount a new Hall of Fame campaign.
Although Raines respectively stands 10% and 20% below the average and median milestone vote percentages, all hope is not lost. Over the past two cycles, he has experienced a considerable bump of approximately 7% in each. If Raines were to enjoy similar support over the next two elections, he would suddenly be on pace for induction. Of course, continuing the momentum is key, which is exactly why Raines seems to be the ideal candidate for a focused effort on the part of those who use knowledge as influence. Hopefully, the Rock will find his very own Rich Lederer sooner than later.