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Don’t Expect To See Any Players Elected To The Baseball Hall Of Fame This Year

In baseball, every year is an election year. On Tuesday at 6 p.m. EST, we’ll learn which players will be honored with induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer (hopefully with an in-person ceremony in the Hall’s hometown of Cooperstown, New York). But unfortunately for the 25 stars studding this year’s ballot, it’s looking like the answer might be “none of them.”


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Earning a spot in the Hall of Fame is no small feat: In addition to playing Major League Baseball at an elite level for years, players have to receive at least 75 percent of the votes cast by the roughly 400 voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.1 And at first glance, it looks like several players are within striking distance of election this year. With 41 percent of the estimated vote reporting as of Sunday evening, Curt Schilling was at 74 percent, Barry Bonds was at 72 percent, and Roger Clemens was at 71 percent.

Who is on track to make the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Each player’s vote share on publicly revealed Hall of Fame ballots as of Jan. 24 at 6:30 p.m. EST, with 164 out of an expected 396 votes known

Player Vote Share So Far
Curt Schilling 74%
Barry Bonds 72
Roger Clemens 71
Scott Rolen 65
Todd Helton 53
Billy Wagner 47
Gary Sheffield 46
Andruw Jones 41
Omar Vizquel 39
Manny Ramírez 33
Jeff Kent 30
Sammy Sosa 21
Andy Pettitte 17
Bobby Abreu 13
Mark Buehrle 9
Torii Hunter 5
Tim Hudson 4
Aramis Ramírez 1

Excludes candidates who have received zero votes on public ballots.

Source: Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker

We know this thanks to indefatigable baseball fan Ryan Thibodaux and his team of volunteers, who hunt down ballots shared by voters (e.g., in columns or on Twitter) before the official announcement and log them in their Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker. But take the tracker’s percentages with a grain of salt. As anyone who followed the results of the 2020 presidential election in real time can tell you, partial election returns can look very different from the final results.

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In the case of Baseball Hall of Fame elections, that’s because the ballots in the tracker — early votes, if you will — come disproportionately from a certain type of Hall of Fame voter: younger, stat-savvier and more likely to be on social media. These voters tend to support candidates — such as Scott Rolen — whose excellence is only appreciated through advanced metrics, and they tend to care less if a player used performance-enhancing drugs.

By contrast, the voters not captured by the tracker are more conservative: They tend to refuse to vote for PED users on principle, base their votes on traditional statistics and vote for fewer players overall. As a result, most players finish with a lower percentage than the tracker gives them.2 The main exception is nominees whose Hall of Fame cases rest primarily on old-school counting stats or the “eye test” — players such as Omar Vizquel. Here’s how the tracker’s percentages right before last year’s Hall of Fame announcement3 compared with the final results:

The tracker overestimates most candidates

Difference between each player’s vote share on publicly revealed Hall of Fame ballots just before the results announcement and his final vote share in the 2020 Hall of Fame election

Player Pre-Election Vote Share Final Vote Share Difference
Derek Jeter* 100% 100% 0
Larry Walker 84 77 -7
Curt Schilling 78 70 -8
Roger Clemens 70 61 -9
Barry Bonds 71 61 -11
Omar Vizquel 49 53 +3
Scott Rolen 48 35 -13
Billy Wagner 36 32 -4
Gary Sheffield 36 30 -5
Todd Helton 33 29 -4
Manny Ramírez 32 28 -3
Jeff Kent 33 27 -5
Andruw Jones 25 19 -6
Sammy Sosa 17 14 -3
Andy Pettitte 11 11 +1
Bobby Abreu 6 6 0
Paul Konerko 1 3 +2
Jason Giambi 0 2 +1
Alfonso Soriano 0 2 +2
Eric Chávez 0 1 0
Cliff Lee 0 1 0

*Derek Jeter received 99.7 percent of the final vote, just missing becoming the second player in history to be unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame.

Preelection vote shares are based on 219 known ballots, out of 397 total ballots cast.

Sources: Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker, Baseball-Reference.com

As you can see, Schilling, Bonds and Clemens were all doing about the same in last year’s tracker as they are in this year’s (Schilling was even doing a bit better), but they all saw their final vote shares drop off significantly. This was no fluke, either: All three have underperformed their pre-announcement public vote shares in every election since they debuted on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2013, with Bonds and Clemens experiencing some of the steepest drop-offs thanks to their association with PEDs. So it’s a pretty safe bet that they will lose ground again this year, thus falling short of the 75 percent threshold for the ninth straight election. (And because unelected candidates fall off the ballot after 10 years, that would mean they have only one year left to get elected by the BBWAA.)4

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A better number than simple vote percentage to look at might be net gained or lost votes from returning voters. The tracker also records when a writer votes for a player she didn’t vote for last year (a gained vote) or snubs a player she did vote for last year (a lost vote). So far, Bonds had gained one vote on net, while Clemens had seen no net change — a level of stability attributable to the fact that both sides of the steroid debate are intractably dug in at this point. And Schilling had lost one vote on net, the product of some voters’ disgust with his bigoted comments and endorsements of violence.5 That suggests that the trio’s vote shares this year will be about equal to what they were last year.6

Players close to election aren’t gaining votes

Each returning Hall of Fame candidate’s 2020 vote share and net number of gained or lost votes on publicly revealed 2021 ballots as of Jan. 24 at 6:30 p.m. EST, with 164 out of an expected 396 votes known

Player 2020 Vote Share Net Gained/Lost Votes
Curt Schilling 70% -1
Roger Clemens 61 0
Barry Bonds 61 +1
Omar Vizquel 53 -2
Scott Rolen 35 +26
Billy Wagner 32 +22
Gary Sheffield 30 +17
Todd Helton 29 +28
Manny Ramírez 28 +5
Jeff Kent 27 +6
Andruw Jones 19 +25
Sammy Sosa 14 +6
Andy Pettitte 11 +10
Bobby Abreu 6 +8

Sources: Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker, Baseball-Reference.com

Notably, a lot of other players are gaining votes at impressive rates: By Sunday night, Todd Helton had gained 28 votes on net, Rolen 26, Andruw Jones 25 and Billy Wagner 22. It’s just that they are starting from a much lower place: They got between 19 percent and 35 percent in last year’s election. They’ll certainly improve upon that Tuesday, but not enough to reach 75 percent. (The biggest year-over-year vote share increase in a Hall of Fame election was 26 points, by Luis Aparicio in 1983.)

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So you don’t need a statistical model to tell you a shutout is likely on Tuesday — but we have one anyway. Forecaster Jason Sardell’s model divides voters into groups based on the number of candidates they vote for, 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. He also estimates the probability of each candidate’s election by accounting for sampling error in the tracker and other uncertainties. Sardell has been the most accurate Hall of Fame forecaster in the small community of Hall of Fame forecasters for two years running; here are his latest projections for Tuesday.

Sardell concurs with our more casual assessment: No player has a realistic chance of getting elected this year. Schilling, Bonds and Clemens are projected to finish in the 60s, while Rolen, Helton, Vizquel and Wagner make up the second tier at around 50 percent. The most interesting takeaway from Sardell’s model is actually which players are in danger of getting less than 5 percent of the vote — which eliminates them from consideration on future BBWAA ballots. Every year, most first-time candidates (for whom appearing on the ballot is usually just a tip of the cap to a nice career) fall off the ballot in this way, but Mark Buehrle (currently at 9 percent in the tracker), Torii Hunter (4.9 percent) and Tim Hudson (4 percent) are the three ballot rookies who appear to have a fighting chance of staying on the ballot. Sardell thinks Buehrle is extremely likely to live to see another election cycle, but he gives Hunter a 46 percent chance of elimination and Hudson a 75 percent chance.7

Ultimately, this year’s Hall of Fame election may be most important for how it sets up future elections. The non-election of Schilling, Bonds and Clemens sets up genuine suspense about whether they will ever be inducted, considering that 2022 will be their final appearance on the BBWAA ballot. Meanwhile, massive gains by Rolen, Helton and their ilk would put them on track to be inducted as soon as 2023, a notion that seemed ridiculous after their unimpressive debuts just a few years ago. So even though we’re pretty sure no one will be elected Tuesday, it will still be worth paying attention to how close the candidates get to 75 percent.


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Footnotes

  1. BBWAA members who have covered baseball for at least 10 consecutive years over the past 20 years are eligible to vote in Hall elections.

  2. This is essentially the same phenomenon as the “red shift” or “blue shift” in politics, which is a consequence of a certain type of ballot — mail or in-person — being counted before the other.

  3. At the time, the tracker had canvassed 219 of the 397 ballots eventually cast.

  4. Although that doesn’t necessarily end their Hall of Fame chances. The Hall has set up a backdoor method of election, the Eras Committees, to periodically review lapsed candidates and correct any egregious snubs.

  5. And he might have lost even more votes if ballots hadn’t been due on Jan. 1; after Schilling tweeted in support of the mob that ransacked the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, at least one voter reportedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to retract his or her vote for him.

  6. Of course, players can also increase their vote share if first-time voters give them their votes or if writers who voted against them last year do not vote this year. But because there isn’t a ton of turnover in the Hall of Fame electorate, the easiest way to increase your vote share is to change voters’ minds.

  7. If you ask me, Hudson deserves to stick around for a few years until we figure out a good way to compare modern starting pitchers to their more heavily used predecessors, but that’s a whole ’nother article.

Nathaniel Rakich is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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