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Breaking down the 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot


On Tuesday, the Baseball Hall of Fame’s 2019 induction class was completed with the announcement that Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Mariano Rivera had all received the required 75% of votes to earn a trip to Cooperstown, New York this summer. But these players won’t be the only ones removed from the 2020 ballot – a number of notable players, including Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, and Miguel Tejada, all didn’t receive the necessary 5% of votes needed to remain on the ballot, while Fred McGriff completed his tenth and final year on the ballot.

The 2020 ballot is going to be very interesting when the BBWAA gets to submit their votes at the end of the year. There is only one slam dunk first timer, and many of the remaining candidates have warts on their name in one way or another. It’s far too soon to definitively say how voting will go, but here’s a breakdown of the 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

The Lock

Derek Jeter.
Voters can simply replace Mariano Rivera’s spot on their ballot with Derek Jeter’s. Rivera received 100% of the vote, the first ever unanimous inductee, and Jeter will come pretty damn close to being the second. There’s no use discussing or debating his credentials – he’s a Hall of Famer.

The qualified guy who needs to delete his social media accounts

Curt Schilling.
Schilling’s candidacy was progressing nicely in 2016, with him reaching 52.3% of ballots after four seasons of eligibility. Then he, uh, made some comments about journalists on Twitter, shared some memes on Facebook, and his vote total ticked down in 2017, ticked back up (but still couldn’t reach his 2016 percentage) in 2018, and finally in 2019, soared to over 60% of the vote. Schilling still has three years left on the ballot to crack the 75% threshold, and the induction this year of both Halladay and Mussina can only help his case – as long as he doesn’t inflame the voter base once again.

The legends tainted by PEDs (despite not being suspended)

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
If Bonds and Clemens weren’t linked to PEDs, they would have been in the Hall years ago. But, of course, they have been linked to PEDs, and as a result, neither player has cracked 60% in their seven years on the ballot, and have only been slowly creeping forward in the voting. At their current pace of 2-3% a year, both players will stall out before their tenth and final year on the ballot, and it’s going to take a significant surge for either to earn induction at this point.

The surger in his final year

Larry Walker.
In 2014, his fourth year on the ballot, Larry Walker received votes on just 10.2% of the ballots. In 2019, his ninth year on the ballot, Walker’s vote total surged all the way to 54.6%. He’s going to need to pick up a significant amount of votes this winter, even more than he did from 2018 to 2019, to earn induction in his last year of eligibility, but a strong showing could but him in line for induction by the Hall of Fame’s Modern Era committee in a couple of years.

The PED crew that has made no progress

Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa.
All three of these guys have ties to PEDs (or in the case of Ramirez, multiple PED suspensions). All are qualified on paper. However, none of made any strides during their years on the ballot. Ramirez has fluctuated between 22% and 24% in his three years of eligibility. Sheffield’s been on the ballot for five years, and has fluctuated between 10% and 15%. In his seven years on the ballot, Sosa peaked at 12.5% in year one, and hasn’t even cracked 9% since. They’re all worthy on paper, but the PED baggage all bring to the ballot has doomed all of their candidacies.

The defensive studs going into year three

Omar Vizquel, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones.
All three of these players were known for their defense, winning a combined 29 Gold Gloves. All three of these players have warts on their resumes. Jones was essentially done as an every day player at 29, and hasn’t even reached 10% in his two years on the ballot. Rolen dealt with injuries in the later years of his career, reaching 500 plate appearances just three times after his age 29 season, and improved from 10.2% in his first year on the ballot to 17.2% in year two. Vizquel was an absolutely atrocious hitter, especially when compared to Jones and Rolen, only made three All-Star Teams, and received MVP votes in just one year. He also has a lower career WAR than both Jones and Rolen, and naturally, he was named on 37% of ballots in his first year and improved to 42.8% in year two.

There really isn’t much to dive into with Vizquel’s case. It begins and ends with his defense. With Jones and Rolen, there’s more to analyze, given their proficiency both in the field and in the batter’s box. I think those two could see some gains this year, given the lack of compelling first-year candidates past Jeter.

The underrated closer

Billy Wagner.
Wagner got a boost this week in his fourth year on the ballot, jumping to 16.7% of the vote. The lack of buzz for his candidacy, especially given the strong support for Trevor Hoffman in his two years in the ballot, blows my mind. Wagner had nearly 200 fewer saves in his career than Hoffman, but had an ERA more than half a run lower, more strikeouts (in fewer innings), a better WHIP, a better strikeout to walk ratio, and allowed a lower batting average. Wagner really needs to be given a harder look by the voters, especially with Lee Smith getting elected by the Modern Era committee last month.

The guy who has never gained any traction

Jeff Kent.
The 2000 NL MVP’s high vote percentage in his six years on the ballot came this year, when he received…18.1% of the vote. Kent did not have a long (or very strong, for that matter) peak, and aside from the MVP award, the strongest part of his case is his second base-record 377 career homers. He probably deserves more of a discussion than he’s gotten to this point, but Kent’s running out of time to make an impact on voters.

The Coors Field enigma

Todd Helton.
Mr. Rockie debuted on the ballot this year and picked up 16.5% of the vote. But even with Coors Field clouding the minds of voters, Helton slashed a ridiculous .349/.450/.643 from 2000-2004 with 138 more walks than strikeouts, four Gold Glove awards, five NL All-Star nods, and three top ten NL MVP finishes. It’s too easy to write off Helton’s career highlights because of Coors Field, and while his effectiveness fell off after 2007, Helton has a compelling case that those who stumped for Fred McGriff should take a hard look at.

The PED-linked workhorse

Andy Pettitte.
I really thought Pettitte would get more support, PED admissions aside. He did not – in his first year on the ballot, Pettitte didn’t break the 10% mark. But maybe I was blinded by Pettitte’s five World Series rings and 256 career wins. He never won a Cy Young award (and finished in the top five just four times in his 18 year career), somehow only made three All-Star teams, never struck out 200 hitters in a season, and even only won 20 games twice. I don’t think he’ll be able to build much momentum either, because the bulk of his case rests on all those rings and wins, and the people most swayed by those arguments are those who will staunchly hold his PED admissions against him.

The perennially underrated first timer

Bobby Abreu.
Bobby Abreu was a really good player, but I feel like he’s not going to get much traction. He fell short of both 3,000 (or even 2,500) hits and 300 homers. He only made two All-Star teams, and never finished in the top ten of MVP voting. He was only a member of one team that won a Postseason series (in case that’s your thing). With all that being said, he had a career .870 OPS, stole 400 bases, and had an OPS+ of 105 or better every year of his career between 1998-2011. He shouldn’t be one and done, but I fear he may be.

The PED-linked first timer

Jason Giambi.
The 2000 AL MVP has the scarlet letters PED branded on his chest, and if history is any guide, he won’t be getting into the Hall. Giambi had a ridiculous peak with the A’s and Yankees from 1999-2003, slashing .311/.444/.596, but again – PEDs. Giambi was named in both the BALCO investigation and Mitchell report, and both apologized for and admitted to PED use on both of those occasions. And despite his prodigious power, Giambi fell short of 500 home runs and barely cracked 2,000 total hits. I think he’s destined to fall into the same bucket with Ramirez, Sheffield, and Sosa.

The first timer with a great peak, but no longevity

Cliff Lee.
If Johan Santana was one and done on the ballot, I feel relatively confident that Cliff Lee is also going to be one and done. He won the AL Cy Young award in 2008, but was pretty poor in three of the first four full seasons of his career. After that Cy Young award at 29, he was great until 2014, his age 35 season, when he got hurt and his career came to an end soon thereafter. When Lee was healthy, he was great – his highest ERA from 2008 to 2014 was 3.65 in the 13 starts of the final year of his career. In each of those final seven seasons, he struck out at least four times as many people as he walked. But unlike former Phillies teammate, and 2019 HOF inductee, Roy Halladay, Lee wasn’t good in his mid-20s, and those years count just as much as the brilliant ones in his early-30s.

The first timer who flamed out

Alfonso Soriano.
Alfonso Soriano, 2002-2008: .285/.333/.531, 249 homers, 203 steals. That is the start of an amazing career – only one player in baseball history has a 400/400 career, and that’s Barry Bonds. Soriano looked like he could have come pretty damn close to doing that, especially after falling one homer short of going 40/40 in 2002 as a 26-year old and finally getting there in 2006 as a 30-year old during his one season with the Nationals. Then he signed with the Cubs, and after two great seasons, he fell off a cliff.

In the final six years of his career, spent between Chicago and New York, Soriano hit 142 homers, but only stole 41 bases. His OPS fell by nearly 100 points. He broke the 400 home run total for his career, but didn’t even steal 300 bases (which is wild, considering he was 2/3 of the way there over a seven year stretch). Soriano did make seven All-Star teams, but had just two top ten MVP finishes. No matter where you put him on the diamond, he was never a good defender, and his plate discipline was atrocious. Like Andruw Jones, his career had a Hall of Fame start, but petered out way too soon.

The first timer that was a workhorse, but had no peak

Paul Konerko.
I don’t have a lot to say about Paul Konerko. He had an OPS+ of better than 100 in 13 of his first 14 years with the White Sox. He logged at least 500 plate appearances in all but two seasons on the South Side. He finished his career with 439 home runs, six All-Star Game appearances, and a pair of top ten MVP finishes. He won a World Series. But he was a worse candidate than Fred McGriff, who didn’t come remotely close to induction until his final year, and he’s a worse candidate than Todd Helton, who didn’t get much of a first look this year. None of that bodes well for Konerko’s future on the ballot.

The first timers who will be one and done

Jason Bartlett, Josh Beckett, Heath Bell, Eric Chavez, Adam Dunn, Kyle Farnsworth, Chone Figgins, Rafael Furcal, Alex Gonzalez, Raul Ibanez, Ryan Ludwick, Nate McLouth, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Pena, Brad Penny, JJ Putz, Brian Roberts, Joe Saunders, Marco Scutaro, Jose Valverde, Jamey Wright.
These guys all had great careers. They’re not going into the Hall of Fame. Hell, some of them aren’t even going to make the final cut onto the ballot (though they are all eligible for the first time this winter). Those who make the ballot may get token votes, but won’t receive the necessary 5% to stay on the ballot for a second year, and that’s totally fine.

The ballot

After Jeter, there are no sure things. He could very well be the lone player inducted by the writers next January. I don’t think Walker is going to have the necessary votes to make it in his final year on the ballot, despite his surge this year. I think Schilling will take another step forward this year, but will fall a bit short. I think Bonds and Clemens will both take tiny, insignificant steps forward – but they both might finally clear 60%. I’m also of the opinion that Helton, Rolen, and Wagner will take steps forward in 2020, though all will remain well short of induction. The backlog has cleared a bit in recent years, and this winter, voting for fewer than ten candidates won’t be the miscarriage of voting privileges that it has been in recent years.

And for whatever it’s worth, the 2021 ballot has a whole bunch of first timers that I don’t think anyone is too excited for. Who’s first in line to write up the Hall of Fame cases for Aramis Ramirez, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, and Mark Buehrle?

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