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The Big Questions About the 2024 BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot – Fangraphs

Nov 27th, 2023

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

If you were hoping for a return to larger Hall of Fame classes after a lean few years for candidates on the BBWAA ballot, this is your year. After the writers elected just two candidates in the last three cycles nobody on the 2021 ballot, then David Ortiz and Scott Rolen in the two years since its extremely likely well get multiple honorees this year, a reminder of the unprecedented flood of 22 honorees in seven years from 201420. The list of newcomers is headed by 3,000-hit club member Adrin Beltr and six-time All-Stars Joe Mauer and Chase Utley, while the top two returnees, Todd Helton and Billy Wagner, are both within reach of the magic 75% threshold.

Its officially ballot season, as the BBWAA unveiled its 26-candidate slate on Monday. Over the next six weeks Ill profile all of the ones likely to wind up on voters ballots ahead of the December 31 deadline, with a small handful of profiles trickling into January. Ill be examining their cases in light of my Jaffe WAR Score (JAWS) system, which Ive used to break down Hall of Fame ballots in an annual tradition thats almost old enough to drink. The series debuted at Baseball Prospectus (2004-12), then moved to SI.com (2013-18), which provided me an opportunity to go into greater depth on each candidate. In 2018, I brought the series to FanGraphs, where my coverage has become even more expansive.

Today Ill offer a quick look at the biggest questions attached to this years election cycle, but first

To be eligible for election to the Hall of Fame via the BBWAA ballot, a candidate must have played in the majors for parts of 10 years (one game is sufficient to be counted as a year in this context), have been out of the majors for five years (the minors or foreign leagues dont count), and then have been nominated by two members of the BBWAAs six-member screening committee. Since the balloting is titled with respect to induction year, not the year of release, that means that this years newcomers last appeared in the majors in 2018. Each new candidate has 10 years of eligibility on the ballot, a reduction from the 15-year period that was in effect for several decades. The last candidate grandfathered into getting the full 15 years was Lee Smith, whose eligibility expired in 2017; with Jeff Kent falling off the ballot after last years cycle, were finally done with all of the candidates who had their tenures reduced mid-run.

To be elected, a candidate must receive at least 75% of the ballots cast, and in this case, they dont round up; 74.9% wont cut it. Likewise, candidates who dont receive at least 5% of the vote fall off the ballot and can then only be considered for election by whats now called the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee, an entirely separate process but not until what would have been their 10-year run of eligibility expires.

The voters, each of whom has been an active BBWAA member for at least 10 years and is no more than 10 years removed from active coverage, can list as many as 10 candidates on their ballots, a number thats become a point of contention in recent years given the high volume of qualified candidates. In 2015, the Hall tabled a BBWAA proposal to expand to 12 slots (I was on the committee that recommended the change). Last year, the eighth since the Hall purged the rolls of voters more than 10 years removed from coverage, 389 ballots were cast, the fewest of any cycle since 1983. Thats a reduction of 29% over eight years.

Ballots must be postmarked by December 31 (yes, the BBWAA still does this by mail). Voters may reveal their ballots prior to the announcement, as 53% of voters did last year; you can track the reported ballots via Ryan Thibodauxs Ballot Tracker if you want. Voters can also check a box on the ballot to authorize the publication of their choices via the BBWAAs website two weeks after the election results are revealed. Between that outlet and the Tracker, 82.5% of voters revealed their ballots in 2023, less than two points below the record of 84.1% from 20.

Ill be revealing my own ballot here at FanGraphs a few days before the deadline, taking readers through my thought process as I explain which boxes Ill be checking. This will be my fourth year as a voter, and no, the novelty hasnt worn off.

The election results will be announced on MLB Network on January 23. Any players elected will join any honorees elected via the Contemporary Baseball Managers/Executives/Umpires ballot, whose results will be announced on December 3, for the Induction Ceremony scheduled for July 21, 2024 on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York.

Jeez, hold your baserunners. The ballot released on Monday includes 14 holdovers from last years slate and 12 newcomers, noted in italics:

Bobby Abreu, Jos Bautista, Carlos Beltrn, Adrin Beltr, Mark Buehrle, Bartolo Colon, Adrin Gonzlez, Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer, Andy Pettitte, Brandon Phillips, Manny Ramirez, Jos Reyes, Alex Rodriguez, Francisco Rodrguez, Jimmy Rollins, Gary Sheffield, James Shields, Chase Utley, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, David Wright

It would be a complete shock if Beltr didnt get elected on the first ballot. Hes one of just 12 players with at least 3,000 hits (3,165) and 400 homers (477). Nine of the other 11 are enshrined, the exceptions being Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez, both of whom served suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs. From among the 12 players in the 3,000/400 club, Beltr is one of five who also compiled at least 100 fielding runs (Total Zone through 2002, Defensive Runs Saved since), along with Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Cal Ripken Jr., and Carl Yastrzemski. Such was his defensive prowess that his 216 fielding runs ranks second at the hot corner, behind only Brooks Robinson (293). Hes fourth in JAWS at third base, trailing only Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, and Wade Boggs.

While I try not to get too wrapped up in the first-ballot distinction, Mauer is certainly worthy of it. Hes the only catcher ever to win three batting titles, and while you may not put much stock in batting average, only four other catchers from the AL, NL or bygone 19th century leagues have won even once, with Ernie Lombardi the only other one to do so multiple times. If youd rather stick to on-base percentage, Mauer led the league twice, while all other AL/NL and 19th century catchers have done so just two other times, the last in 1933.

A former MVP who made six All-Star teams and won three Gold Gloves, Mauer ranks seventh in traditional catcher JAWS (47.1), and fifth in seven-year peak (39.0), that despite having to move off the position after 885 games caught due to concussions and post-concussion syndrome. All seven years of his peak were from his catching days, and its worth noting that his five years at first base didnt do a whole lot to boost his value, though they did help his traditional counting stats.

Thats just JAWS using the standard inputs of career WAR and seven-peak WAR, with Total Zone and DRS for defense. We have pitch-framing data for Mauers career, through Baseball Prospectus including their retroframing methodology from the pre-pitch tracking days and our own methodology, and for Mauer, thats worth about a half a dozen extra wins. Ive shown off the data for what Ive called Framing-Inclusive JAWS before, as in the case of Buster Posey. Mauer is more or less tied for fourth with Yadier Molina behind Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez and Posey; his framing gains him some ground on Piazza and Rodriguez, who outrank him on the traditional JAWS leaderboard. Dont worry, well dig deeper into this soon enough.

Utley, a six-time All-Star who didnt play 100 games or get 300 plate appearances in a season until age 26, ranks 12th in JAWS among second basemen (56.9), 0.1 points below the standard, and ninth in peak (49.3), 4.9 WAR above the standard. Hes a stathead favorite who derived about 200 runs worth of value from his defense, baserunning, and double play avoidance, but due to his short career, he finished with just 1,885 hits. The writers havent elected anybody from the post-1960 expansion era with fewer than 2,000 hits, so it could be a real fight to get Utley into Cooperstown, and I dont expect that fight to be won on this ballot.

As for Wright (49.2 career WAR/39.5 peak/44.3 JAWS), he was probably on a Hall-worthy path until shoulder injuries and spinal stenosis derailed his career, but he played just 77 games after his age-31 season. Hes 26th in JAWS, and above him are a handful of third basemen Id enshrine first, including Dick Allen, Sal Bando Buddy Bell, Ken Boyer, and Graig Nettles and thats without discussing the ones who are still active. Wrights just not close enough to merit a spot on my ballot, and I dont expect hell make much of a dent.

Like Rolen, who debuted with 10.2% in 2018, and Larry Walker, who debuted with 20.3% in 2011 and sank to 10.2% himself three years later, Helton and Wagner are in the process of overcoming very slow starts and winding up in Cooperstown. Each has gained at least 10 points from year to year three times:

Climbing Towards Cooperstown: Billy Wagner and Todd Helton

As for their respective outlooks this year, of the last 23 times a candidate received at least 70% but less than 75% and still had eligibility remaining, that candidate was elected the next year 20 times, the exceptions being Jim Bunning (twice) and Curt Schilling. The former was done in once by a barrage of blank ballots and once by a crowd of stronger candidates, while the latter found increasingly intricate and offensive ways to sabotage his own candidacy as he approached 75%.

Helton seems likely to cross the 75% threshold this year, but while Wagners close to election, hes not automatic. Repeating the research I did related to last Januarys election results, since the voters returned to annual balloting in 1966, there have been 30 instances of candidates receiving between 65% and 70% and still having eligibility remaining (23 candidates, five of whom repeated once and one of whom repeated twice). In 14 of those 30 instances, the candidate was elected the next year, and in 21 of the 30, he was elected within two years. Only three of those candidates (Bunning, Enos Slaughter, and Jack Morris) had to wait to be elected by small committees; Bunning and Morris each had back-to-back instances of being stuck in the high 60s. What matters most is that all 23 are now in the Hall. Wagner should join them sooner or later, though sooner would obviously be better.

Jones and Sheffield both received over 50% last year, with the former coming in at 58.1% in his sixth year and the latter 55% in his ninth. Recent voting history tells us that its theoretically possible for either to reach 75% this year Walker jumped from 54.6% in his final go-round in 2020 but given how top-heavy this ballot already is, Id be surprised if one of them crashed the party, which could mean Sheffield winds up alongside Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens on the next Contemporary Baseball ballot in 2026.

Not this year. Even with 256 career wins, a central role on five world champions, and a massive body of postseason work, Pettitte has yet to break 20% in five years on the ballot. His admission of human growth hormone usage has acted as a drag on his candidacy, though it dates to the Wild West era before testing and penalties were in place. He did receive 17% of the vote last year, his highest share to date, and a jump of 6.3 points from the year before. Well see if he can build on that momentum. Buehrle, who is 0.2 points ahead of Pettitte in S-JAWS (47.4 to 47.2) doesnt have as strong a postseason resum and hasnt received more than 11% in any of his three years on the ballot.

Colon is certainly interesting as a player who enjoyed quite the third act in his career, becoming a fan and media favorite. Performance-wise, while he has 247 career wins, his career ERA sits at 4.12 and his S-JAWS is just 40.9, which ranks 130th and is about 16 points below the standard. Whats more, he was suspended for PED usage in 2013, and so far no player has overcome a suspension to get elected.

The next starting pitcher who has a real shot at election is CC Sabathia, who will debut next year.

We werent actually speaking of them, because nothings changed. Nobody suspended by Major League Baseball either for testing positive or incurring a non-analytic positive (i.e., identified as a user via a league investigation such as Biogenesis) since testing began in 2004 has been elected. Ramirez received 33.2% in year seven, a gain of over four points, while Rodriguez received 35.2% in year two, a gain of just over a point. I wouldnt call that momentum.

Despite exceptional counting stats (2,755 hits, 435 homers, 312 stolen bases) and the ninth-highest JAWS of any center fielder, Beltrn debuted with just 46.5% last year. Some voters are penalizing him for his involvement at the center of the Astros illegal sign-stealing efforts, something commissioner Rob Manfred was unwilling to do at the end of his 2020 investigation. Whether voters mean to hold that transgression against Beltrn for the entirety of his time on the ballot as they did PED users, or whether they were withholding their votes as a one-year protest as some did for Roberto Alomar in reaction to his spitting on umpire John Hirschbeck remains to be seen, but either way, its going to take time for him to reach 75%.

I did indeed. The system that would grow up to become JAWS debuted on January 6, 2004, which means Ive already analyzed 20 ballots using this framework. Ill do a little something to celebrate the anniversary sometime in early January, after the ballots are sent off. But first, well dig into the candidates.

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The Big Questions About the 2024 BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot - Fangraphs

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