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3 Players Could Fall Agonizingly Short Of Baseball Hall Of Fame Election This Year

The election for the Baseball Hall of Fame is fun again — mostly. After a decade of debate over whether baseball bad boys such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling were worthy of induction into the sport’s most sacred shrine, that trio has lapsed off the regular ballot (though they are still periodically eligible for reconsideration in a separate special election that is held every third December). By contrast, this year’s election — the results of which will be announced Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET — is headlined by Scott Rolen, Todd Helton and Billy Wagner, three candidates untainted by allegations of steroid use or other major controversies.

And each has a compelling case for his enshrinement. Though perhaps underappreciated in his day, Rolen’s combination of great offense and defense made him one of the top 10 most valuable third basemen of all time — and the Hall of Fame needs more third basemen. (There are only 17 of them in the Hall, fewer than any other position.) Helton is one of only 13 players in history with a career batting average over .300, an on-base percentage over .400 and a slugging percentage over .500 in at least 9,000 plate appearances, and one of only six who did it all for one team.1 And Wagner has the lowest career opponent’s batting average and second-lowest WHIP of any pitcher who has thrown more than 800 innings. Relief pitchers of his ilk are also underrepresented in the Hall, with only three and a half modern-day closers enshrined.2 

All three are flirting with the magic number of 75 percent, the share of the vote they need to get elected. We know this thanks to baseball fans Ryan Thibodaux, Anthony Calamis and Adam Dore, who do the hard work of canvassing every Hall of Fame ballot that is publicly released before the announcement and publishing a running tracker of each candidate’s vote total so far. And as of Jan. 23 at 5 p.m. ET, Rolen and Helton were each above 75 percent, with Wagner just a few points behind.

Who’s on track to make the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Each player’s vote share on publicly revealed Hall of Fame ballots as of Jan. 23, 5 p.m. ET

Player Vote Share So Far
Todd Helton 79.8%
Scott Rolen 79.2
Billy Wagner 73.2
Andruw Jones 68.3
Gary Sheffield 63.4
Carlos Beltrán 55.7
Jeff Kent 51.4
Álex Rodríguez 40.4
Manny Ramírez 37.7
Bobby Abreu 19.1
Andy Pettitte 17.5
Jimmy Rollins 12.6
Mark Buehrle 10.9
Omar Vizquel 8.7
Francisco Rodríguez 8.7
Torii Hunter 3.3
Huston Street 0.5
R.A. Dickey 0.5

Excludes candidates who have received zero votes on public ballots.

Players must be named on 75 percent of ballots to be elected.

Source: Baseball Hall of Fame Tracker

But as I write every year, you can’t take these numbers at face value. Thibodaux and company’s tracker is the Hall of Fame election equivalent of an unweighted poll, and certain types of voters are more likely than others to respond to it. Specifically, voters willing to share their ballots publicly are also more likely to vote for players who score better on advanced metrics or who were connected to performance-enhancing drugs, and they’re also likely to use more slots on their ballot (voters can vote for anywhere between zero and 10 candidates). As a result, most candidates tend to underperform their “polls,” except those whose Hall of Fame cases are driven by vibes more than stats.

The table below shows how much lower each player’s final vote share was than their public vote share in Thibodaux and company’s tracker — both in last year’s election and on average across all the elections in which they’ve been candidates.

Public votes overstate support for most Hall of Fame candidates

Percentage of votes received by each returning candidate on this year’s publicly revealed Hall of Fame ballots (as of Jan. 23 at 5 p.m. ET) and how much these public ballots have differed from final vote shares in past elections

Player 2023 Public Vote Share 2022 Election Career Avg.
Todd Helton 79.8% -5.0% -3.1%
Scott Rolen 79.2 -8.0 -6.8
Billy Wagner 73.2 -0.7 -0.6
Andruw Jones 68.3 -8.4 -3.5
Gary Sheffield 63.4 -8.7 -2.2
Jeff Kent 51.4 +0.1 -0.5
Álex Rodríguez 40.4 -3.8 -3.8
Manny Ramírez 37.7 -6.7 -3.5
Bobby Abreu 19.1 -2.1 -1.5
Andy Pettitte 17.5 +0.9 +0.6
Jimmy Rollins 12.6 -0.9 -0.9
Mark Buehrle 10.9 +1.0 +1.8
Omar Vizquel 8.7 +13.6 +6.5
Torii Hunter 3.3 +3.9 +4.5

Sources: Baseball Hall of Fame Tracker, Baseball-Reference, Baseball Think Factory

Rolen has historically seen the largest such drop-off of any player on this year’s ballot. On average for his career, his final vote share has been 6.8 percentage points lower than his public vote share. If that happens this year, he’ll finish at only 72.4 percent of the vote. In order to get elected this year, he’ll need to drop off by around 4.2 points or fewer — something he hasn’t done since the 2019 election.

Helton typically sees his support slip in the final results too, but not by as much: His average drop-off is just 3.1 points. Given that he’s currently sitting at 79.8 percent in public ballots, he can withstand a hit similar to his drop-offs from 2019 (1.2 points), 2020 (3.7 points) or 2021 (2.7 points) and still get elected. Unfortunately for Helton, though, his most recent drop-off (5.0 points in 2022) would be enough to sink his chances, so he’d better hope that that election was a fluke.

Finally, Wagner’s final vote share typically looks very similar to his public vote share; his average career drop-off has been just 0.6 points. However, since Wagner is currently pulling just 73.2 percent of the public vote, he’ll need to gain 1.8 points from private ballots in order to get elected. He’s never done that in his electoral career; the closest he’s come was gaining 1.4 points in 2016.

Based on all of this history, it would seem like Helton has the best chance of getting elected to the Hall this year, with Rolen and especially Wagner looking like longer shots. 

However, the Nate Silver of Hall of Fame elections disagrees. Jason Sardell’s Hall of Fame forecasting model divides voters into groups based on the number of candidates they vote for and their attitude toward steroid use, then extrapolates each candidate’s net gained or lost votes among public voters in each group to the group’s private voters in order to come up with projected final vote shares for each candidate. Sardell has been the most accurate Hall of Fame prognosticator for four straight election cycles, and this year, he thinks Rolen has the best shot — albeit with just a 9 percent chance of getting in. In other words, Sardell is currently predicting that Hall of Fame voters will pitch a shutout.

Rolen, Helton and Wagner aren’t the only players on the ballot, of course. I said that this year’s election was still only “mostly” fun; there are still a few controversial candidates whose finishes will be comment-worthy, even if they have no chance of getting in. 

Sardell is projecting Álex Rodríguez, the superstar infielder who was suspended for the entire 2014 season for using performance-enhancing drugs, to finish with 34 percent of the vote in his second year on the ballot, virtually identical to the share of votes he received last year. He’ll probably need something to fundamentally change in order for him to climb to 75 percent before his candidacy expires. 

Sardell also expects Carlos Beltrán to get around 50 percent of the vote in his ballot debut. The center fielder was once seen as a surefire Hall of Famer, but that was before he was identified as a central figure in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal of 2017. There was a lot of speculation as to how many votes this would cost him, however, and a debut at 50 percent would still be pretty solid for him. Not counting the candidates still on the ballot, every player who has received 50 percent or more in a Hall of Fame election has eventually been elected, except for three. (You guessed it: Bonds, Clemens and Schilling.)

Rodríguez, Beltrán and most of the other candidates on the ballot will be back for another try in 2024 if they don’t get elected this year, but some won’t be so lucky. Candidates lapse off the ballot if they receive less than 5 percent of the vote, which will almost certainly happen to the 12 candidates who have received zero or one public votes to date. But it’s going to be a close call for Torii Hunter, who has received just 3.3 percent of the vote thus far. And finally, this is definitely the last time on the ballot for Jeff Kent — not because he will finish below 5 percent (Sardell currently projects him to get 45 percent), but because he debuted on the ballot in 2014 and candidates can appear on the ballot for a maximum of 10 years.

But like Bonds, Clemens and Schilling, Kent will have more opportunities to get elected in the future, thanks to those aforementioned special elections — the next of which is scheduled for December 2025. So just like the never-ending political election season, Baseball Hall of Fame elections are never really over.


  1. The fact that that team was the high-altitude Colorado Rockies makes that stat a little less impressive, but only a little; he still ranks 44th all time among players with at least 9,000 plate appearances in park-adjusted OPS+.

  2. Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, Lee Smith and half of Dennis Eckersley, who forged a second career as a closer after 12 seasons as a starting pitcher.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.


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