Winners and losers on a Hall of Fame election day in which nobody got elected

26. January 2021

MLB Insider

For the first time since 2013, no player received the required 75% vote to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Kurt Schilling came closest with 71.1 percent of the vote, and three other players got more than 50 percent of the vote.

While no one passed this year, there was still good news for some eligible players and lots of questions for others. We asked ESPN MLB experts Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez and David Schoenfield to examine the biggest surprises and disappointments – and what Tuesday night’s vote says about the current state of the Hall of Fame.

Who is the biggest winner on Election Day if no player is inducted into the Hall of Fame?

Gonzalez: Andruw Jones has gone from 7.5% support in 2019 to 33.9% support in 2021 with six years to go. He didn’t make it to 30, but he did score between 20 and 29. Lifetime has an OPS of .852, 337 home runs, 130 stolen bases and nine Gold Gloves. He’s one of the best center-backs of all time, he was a kicker in his prime, and he’s in the Defense Hall of Fame in the middle of the balloting.

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Schoenfield: Scott Rolen, who made a big jump on the ballot compared to last year and is now on track for a possible election after scoring 52.9%. The argument against him is largely, well, he didn’t feel like a Hall of Famer when he played, but he lacks his complete genius (eight Gold Gloves, 316 home runs, nearly 1300 RBI). Even though his case is more sabermetric (70.1 career) than intuitive, he is one of the top 10 basemen of all time.

Doolittle: Stolen, apparently. Going from just over a third of the vote to over half in the fourth year of eligibility is a huge task. He seems pretty sure of himself now, and soon.

Who is the biggest loser on Election Day if no player is inducted into the Hall of Fame?

Gonzalez: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. They have made steady progress, but not fast enough. Their penultimate year of voting resulted in support of 61.8% and 61.6% respectively, and it is questionable whether they have maximized support among current BBWAA members. Today’s match committee could look into his case, but the apparently more traditional electoral body is probably less inclined to take him on than the BBWAA, which has become increasingly lenient towards players influenced by the PED.

Schoenfield: Kurt Schilling. With a weak poll, aside from the guys from the PED – and he was clearly the best candidate to pitch, aside from Roger Clemens – this should have been his year, especially after getting 70% last year. But some voters stopped voting for him because of his offensive comments on Twitter, and it’s not certain he’ll be elected next year, his last on the BBWAA ballot.

Doolittle: That must be Schilling. If you get 70%, like last year, that should be a turning point. But if the ballots weren’t in by the 6th. In January, his income would have been even lower. This does not bode well for next winter’s elections.

What is not being said about the current status of the Hall of Fame election?

Gonzalez: Let the voters wrestle with the issue of morality, which I admit to being. They have not only used PEDs in this election cycle, but also domestic violence allegations, drunk driving arrests, and snide remarks when they resigned. Where is the boundary where one can no longer separate art from the artist? How do you draw this line without creating a slippery path? And how can you justify such a limit when current members of the Hall of Fame are guilty of these offenses? There is no correct answer.

Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs looks at the top player records for each team yet to reach Cooperstown in the HOF.

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Schoenfield: The fact that no one will be chosen this year doesn’t bother me that much. The BBWAA has elected 19 members to the Hall of Famers in the last six years, so they haven’t been particularly stingy or anything. It will be interesting to see what happens when Clemens and Bonds are no longer on the ballots, because that could help some candidates who are no longer being compared to the two greats.

Doolittle: What a waste. The whole process needs to be revisited, even if it is long, long ago. We need more voters and there are many. And Hall – or MLB – should be concerned that writers are not the arbiter of justice and morality.

Our job should be to assess the field performance of suitable candidates. If a person is not allowed to participate because the institution does not want the person to participate, the institution may not allow the person to participate.

What is the result of a player’s vote that surprised you the most?

Gonzalez: These numbers didn’t surprise me very much – thank you, @NotMrTibbs – but it is remarkable that Todd Helton continues to make such a big jump from 16.5% in 2019 to 29.2% in 2020 and 44.9% in 2021. Helton put up a .316/.414/.539 cut line in 17 seasons, and while the Coors Field factor can’t be ignored, his .855 OPS on the road and his adjusted OPS for 133 parks prove that he was just a very good hitter. Voters have finally rallied behind Larry Walker, and probably Helton as well.

Schoenfield: I never understood the lack of support for Jeff Kent, who barely made it to 30% after eight votes. I’m not saying he should be a lock or anything, but he hit 377 home runs, did over 1,500 games (including eight seasons with 100-RBI), won the MVP title and played until he was 40. Historically, voters like longevity, but that hasn’t won Kent enough support. And his defense wasn’t as bad as everyone says.

Doolittle: I wasn’t surprised by anything, but I think the increased support of Billy Wagner makes me think, in a positive way. The criteria for an exception remain unexplained, and I hate to make that argument, but if some of the other exceptions that have done so were valid, it’s hard to argue that Wagner is not.

Who is a player on the ballot that you think was underestimated by voters?

Gonzalez: I don’t know if Bobby Abreu is really a Hall of Famer, but he’s closer than you think – and he’s constantly underrated. This man struck out six times over 300, collected at least 20 home runs and 25 stolen bases each nine times, walked at least 100 times and reached at least 140 games 14 times. In 12 years, from 1998 to 2009, Abreu had the eighth-best batting average of any position player. However, he only made it to two All-Star teams. And today, for the second year on the ballot, it has received only 8.7% support.

Where will the best available players meet? Our experts give their opinion.

Updated projections

Winners in the offseason, losers so far.

Schoenfield: Besides Kent, I’m going for Andy Pettit. Again, he’s hard to beat, and I understand that he’s been a regular and solid collector rather than a dominant ace, but 60.7 career WAR puts him on the verge of being a good candidate. And when you consider his postseason numbers (19-11, 3.81 ERA, five World Series titles), you’d think a key figure in this Yankee dynasty would get more than 16% of the vote.

Doolittle: Stolen is almost in my head, and it’s great to see that the others are working on it too. All the others, I would say, are underestimated, it seems, because of the symbol clause.

Based on these results, do you think any of these actors will be present next year?

Schoenfield: I’d say shilling, but a motion to withdraw from the balloting pretty much eliminates any possibility of promotion in the past year, whether the Hall of Fame honors him or not.

Gonzalez: Schilling would have been my answer before he asked to be eliminated in his senior year (16 votes is pretty easy to calculate, especially when political tensions are – hopefully – not that high). Ultimately, I think Rolen gets in, but I’m not sure he can make the jump to 75% next year. I see several members of the Hall of Famers on the ballots this year, but I’m not sure any of them will end up being admitted.

Doolittle: I think Rolen will, if only because of his momentum and lack of electoral competition.

But the best players on the ballot…. It’s hard to estimate how enough voters will change their minds at this stage to make a difference next year.


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