The votes are in! Let’s check in on the winners and losers from Tuesday’s Hall of Fame voting results that saw Derek Jeter get elected in his first year on the ballot, Larry Walker make it in his final year on the ballot and Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds finish with similar totals as a year ago.
Winner: Derek Jeter
Even though Mariano Rivera finally broke the 100% barrier last year, Jeter fell one vote short of being a unanimous selection. There will, of course, be a witch hunt for that solitary voter, but let’s not let one misguided voter ruin Jeter’s day.
He fell one vote short, but his spot in Cooperstown is secure. Is Jeter the greatest shortstop of all time? No, that’s Honus Wagner, or, if you prefer a player who debuted later than 1897, Cal Ripken. Jeter’s career WAR of 72.4 is a lot closer to Alan Trammell (70.7) than Ripken (95.9). Still, Jeter’s legacy goes beyond the raw numbers and — overrated, underrated or somewhere in between — he’s a clear inner-circle Hall of Famer, one of the sport’s living icons.
Winner: Larry Walker
Walker’s meteoric rise over the past few ballots — he was at just 21.9% in 2017 — culminated with a final-year push that raised his total from 54.6% in 2019 to 76.6% this year, just over the 75% threshold. Walker’s election was always going to be a tough battle, despite a career WAR of 72.7 that … well, it’s higher than Jeter’s. Walker’s 8,030 plate appearances are the third fewest for any Hall of Fame hitter who began his career after 1950, ahead of only Mike Piazza and Kirby Puckett. His greatest seasons came in Coors Field, a baseball amusement park. He played at least 150 games just once in his career. So how come he finally was elected?
1. The thinning of the ballot. During Walker’s early years on the ballot, it was overstuffed with a backlog of strong candidates. Walker may have been a Hall of Famer in the minds of many voters, but he wasn’t one of their top 10 players on the ballot and the rules allow for a maximum of 10 votes. But 17 players were elected in the past five years and the relative lack of obvious candidates the past couple of years helped open more slots for Walker’s name.
2. A younger voting bloc that is going to pay more attention to numbers like WAR and less attention to some of the traditional numbers like hits and home runs. It appears the younger voters are also more willing to consider players who had a high peak value even if their careers lacked longevity or counting numbers — in recent years, we’ve seen Walker, Edgar Martinez and Roy Halladay fit this pattern.
3. That final-year thing. Voters want to elect Hall of Famers. The average voter selected more than six names and sentiment often rules the day on a player’s 10th year. Walker, Martinez and Tim Raines all were elected in their final ballot over the past four years.
4. Oh, yeah, Walker was a great all-around player, a five-tool talent who hit .313/.400/.565 with a park-adjusted OPS+ of 141 that is higher than Vladimir Guerrero, Alex Rodriguez, Reggie Jackson and Ken Griffey Jr.
Winner: Curt Schilling
In his eighth year on the ballot, Schilling saw his vote total increase from 60.9% to 70.0%. By comparison, his total is higher than Walker (34.1%), Martinez (58.6%) or Raines (55.0%) were in Year 8, and Schilling arguably has a stronger Hall of Fame case than any of those three. Of course, nothing is a slam dunk with Schilling. It seems that a certain percentage of voters have held his post-career propagation of hate speech and conspiracy theories against him. Players — like Walker — who were once behind Schilling in the voting leapfrogged over him. There will be no groundswell of folks advocating for him like there was for Raines, Martinez and Walker. Still, the 2021 ballot is particularly weak (Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle are the best newcomers) and that could help Schilling clear the hurdle.
Losers: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
Also in their eighth year on the ballot, Bonds and Clemens had a similar result as 2019: Their vote totals went from 59% to just over 60% (for Bonds 60.7% and Clemens 61.0%). As has been the case, the totals from the publicly revealed ballots — which are almost all from active baseball writers — are much more favorable to Bonds and Clemens (both were over 70% on the public ballots) than the private voters, who tend to be the retired writers or football writers who used to cover baseball and the like. With just two years remaining, the voter turnover isn’t happening fast enough to get them elected. That would eventually turn them over to the veterans committee, and that’s assuming the Hall of Fame hierarchy, which has made its ant-PED stance rather clear, even puts them on that ballot.
Winner: Scott Rolen
In his third year on the ballot, Rolen took a big leap, from 17.2% to 35.3%. That’s no guarantee of future election, but it certainly puts him on the right path and the relative dearth of strong candidates in upcoming years should help his vote total continue to mount. He’s a stathead favorite due to his 70.2 career WAR that ranks him ninth all time among third basemen, a total heavily boosted by his defensive metrics. (He did win eight Gold Gloves, so it’s not like the numbers don’t match the reputation.) He also had just one top-10 finish in MVP voting and I wonder if the current crop of in-their-prime third basemen like Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman and Anthony Rendon could actually hurt Rolen’s chance.
Winner: Omar Vizquel
I’m hesitant to call Vizquel a winner, as his vote total in his third year went from 42.8% to just 52.6%, not as big a leap as Rolen had. Still, it puts Vizquel in a strong position to get to 75% over the next seven years. Vizquel is also in a different boat than Walker, Schilling or Rolen: He is not a stathead favorite, with just 45.6 career WAR. Some will argue that, despite 11 Gold Gloves, his defense is overrated and his defense is basically his entire ticket to Cooperstown (he did play the most games ever at shortstop). So while he’s in a good position after three years, there’s also a large bloc of voters who don’t see him as even a borderline candidate.
Loser: Manny Ramirez
On his fourth ballot, Ramirez received 28.2% of the vote. He has two big strikes against him. Compared to Bonds and Clemens, he isn’t on the same level as a player. You can reasonably contend that those two are the greatest position player and greatest pitcher of all time. Ramirez was an amazing hitter with a .312/.411/.585 career line, 555 home runs and 1,831 RBIs, but was nowhere near the all-around player that Bonds was. In fact, Ramirez’s 69.4 WAR — dragged down by his terrible defense — is similar to some of the borderline candidates we’ve just discussed. The bigger strike — or strikes — is the two positive PED tests in 2009 and 2011, which arguably places him a different category than Bonds or Clemens.
Loser: Andy Pettitte
Pettitte debuted last year at 9.9% but failed to get any kind of significant traction in Year 2, receiving 11.3%. He won 256 games and started and won more games than any pitcher in postseason history, but voters having assessed his lack of peak value — only three seasons above 4.0 WAR — and deemed him short of Hall standards. Pettitte feels like a veterans committee selection sometime in the 2030s, when we’re feeling especially nostalgic for those great Yankees teams of the ’90s and early 2000s.
Winner: Todd Helton
Now that Walker broke the Coors Field bias, Helton’s chances have to be greatly improved. He nearly doubled his vote total, from 16% to 29.2%. He’s not as qualified as Walker, with 60 career WAR and only five seasons of 5 or more WAR, but now it’s possible to see a path for him to Cooperstown.
Winner: Bobby Abreu
Another stathead favorite, although even his 60.0 WAR is borderline at best. His supporters will point out that total is higher than Guerrero’s. OK, maybe Abreu is underrated and Guerrero is overrated. From 1998 to 2006, Abreu hit .305/.416/.513. If you like RBIs, he had eight 100-RBI seasons. He stole 400 bases, including six seasons of 30-plus steals. His case does deserve to be debated (and now it will, as he managed to remain on the ballot).