The Major League Baseball lockout has made the hot stove ice cold, leaving baseball fans with just one thing to obsess over this winter: the annual election for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
There has been plenty of grist for the mill: It’s the final year on the ballot for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — two of the greatest players of all time, but whose alleged steroid use has provoked resistance to their candidacy. Ditto for Curt Schilling, the clutch postseason ace who has alienated voters with his support for lynching journalists and the Jan. 6 insurrection. Meanwhile, two other high-profile sluggers who have also been connected to steroids — Álex Rodríguez and David Ortiz — are up for election for the first time. And an already-polarizing debate over slick-fielding shortstop Omar Vizquel has gained a sinister dimension with recent allegations of domestic violence and sexual harassment.
Will any of them actually join the Hall of Fame this year? We’ll find out Tuesday night, when the votes of the roughly 400 eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America1 are revealed. Players need at least 75 percent of the vote to get elected — a high bar, and one that no player cleared in last year’s election. Despite early fears of a second consecutive shutout, though — something that has never happened since Hall of Fame elections became an annual occurrence in 1966 — it now looks like the BBWAA will elect one, and only one, lucky player.
We can make educated guesses about who will be elected thanks to the work of Ryan Thibodaux, Anthony Calamis, John Devivo and Adam Dore, who run the Baseball Hall of Fame Tracker. The Tracker team, well, tracks down every ballot that has been publicly released (e.g., in a column in the voter’s media outlet or on Twitter) and tallies how many votes each candidate has earned so far. Here are the results as of Jan. 24 at 10:30 a.m. Eastern, when 181 ballots were public:
|Player||2022 Vote Share*||2021 Vote Share||Net Flipped Votes|
Few players are anywhere close to the magic 75 percent threshold. Rodríguez, for instance, is polling at only 40.3 percent, meaning he certainly won’t get elected this year. And although he received 71.1 percent of the vote in last year’s election, Schilling is pulling only 60.8 percent of the vote so far; that’s because, so far, a net 22 voters who checked off his name last year declined to do so this year. But that’s nothing compared with the net 46 votes that Vizquel has lost this year — the most that Thibodaux and Co. have ever tracked. At 11.6 percent of the vote so far, he’s in the worst spot he’s ever been.
Just three candidates crack 75 percent in the Tracker data. Clemens sits at 76.2 percent of the vote thus far, Bonds has scraped together 77.3 percent, and Ortiz leads the entire slate with 84.0 percent.
However, the Tracker paints only an incomplete picture. Voters who share their ballots publicly are fundamentally different from voters who keep their ballots private; private voters tend to be older (often, they’re retired) and less online. Accordingly, they typically embrace a more old-school voting philosophy than the one that dominates Twitter: They tend to vote for fewer players, take a harder line on steroid use and eschew advanced metrics.
As a result, the Tracker consistently overestimates most players — especially the most notorious alleged steroids users. For example, in their nine Hall of Fame elections so far, Bonds has always done between 6.9 and 11.6 percentage points worse in the final results than he was doing in the Tracker just before the results were announced, and Clemens has always done between 5.3 and 11.6 points worse. Bonds’s average drop-off over that span has been 9.2 points, while Clemens’s has been 7.9 points.
|Difference Between Public Vote Share and Actual Vote Share|
|Player||2022 Vote Share*||2021 Election||Career Average|
That’s bad news for Bonds and Clemens considering that they are barely above 75 percent in the Tracker right now. It would be unprecedented for them to get elected this year with those kinds of numbers.
In an alternate universe, Bonds and Clemens would still have five more chances to get elected. Players used to have 15 years before they aged off the BBWAA ballot — but the Hall of Fame Board of Directors shortened that period to 10 years in 2014, shortly after Bonds and Clemens debuted on the ballot. The move was widely seen as an attempt to keep alleged steroid users out of the Hall — a plea that was made explicit by Hall vice chairman Joe Morgan in 2017. As a result, Bonds and Clemens will end their stay on the BBWAA ballot this year with, in all likelihood, nothing to show for it.
For their supporters, the absence of arguably the greatest hitter and greatest pitcher of all time will leave a gaping hole in the Hall of Fame. But it’s a hole that could still eventually be filled. The Hall has set up a handful of committees to periodically review lapsed candidates and correct any egregious snubs,2 and the committee charged with reviewing players who were active after 1987 is scheduled to vote on their induction twice in the next three years — including this December. Since committee members are chosen by the Hall’s Board of Directors, we shouldn’t hold our breath that Bonds and Clemens will be elected via this method either, but it should be noted that the door isn’t shut on their candidacies quite yet.
For much the same reason we expect Bonds and Clemens to underperform their Tracker numbers, we should also expect Ortiz to finish lower than his preliminary public-ballot haul of 84.0 percent. Ortiz was one of 104 major leaguers who reportedly tested positive for steroids in a 2003 round of testing that was supposed to be anonymous (although MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has since cast doubt on those results), and he has the added handicap of being a designated hitter, something that old-school private voters are likely to hold against him.
Because this is Ortiz’s first year on the ballot, we have no data to suggest how big his drop-off might be. But we do know that he has built up quite a lead in the Tracker — enough to withstand a drop of 9.0 points and still get elected. While drops of that magnitude aren’t unprecedented, they are rare — and since 2011, they have never happened to a candidate polling as highly as Ortiz is. (There appears to be something of a bandwagon effect among private voters.) In other words, since 2011, every Hall of Fame candidate who received more than 80 percent of the pre-announcement public vote was elected.
|Ken Griffey Jr.||2016||100.0||99.3||-0.7|
It’s not a sure thing, but in my view, Ortiz can start writing his Hall of Fame speech. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. There is something of a cottage industry online of Hall of Fame election forecasters, and the most accurate of them in each of the last three years has been Jason Sardell. Sardell’s model divides voters into groups based on the number of candidates they vote for and their historical 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 the candidate’s projected final vote share. And as of Jan. 20, Sardell was giving Ortiz a 99 percent chance of getting elected. His median projected vote share was 81 percent.
No one else has a real chance of getting elected. In fact, Sardell’s projections point toward the fact that the biggest suspense about this year’s Hall of Fame vote is at the bottom of the ballot. Players must garner at least 5 percent of the vote in order to qualify for the next year’s ballot, and several candidates are in danger of falling short. For example, Sardell gives Tim Lincecum a 91 percent chance of dropping off the ballot, Tim Hudson a 90 percent chance and Torii Hunter a 63 percent chance. And an intriguing Hall of Fame candidate in former Twins closer Joe Nathan is 97 percent likely to have his candidacy cut short by the 5 percent rule.
Hunter, Hudson, Lincecum and the rest of the candidates don’t have long to wait to learn their fates, and neither do all of us who are just along for the ride. The election results will be announced live on MLB Network on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Eastern.