Editor’s Note: Baseball’s Hall of Fame voting results are coming Jan. 24. To get you ready, we’re breaking down this year’s ballot in a five-part series. Part 1 focused on players who should fall off the ballot. Part 2 focuses on the players who are getting enough support to stay on the ballot, but need a lot of help to get to the Hall.
Looking over the Hall of Fame ballot should be easy. You see a guy’s name, and you instantly get a sense for whether he’s a Hall of Famer.
Recently, however, voting has been anything but easy. The stingy nature of some voters, combined with the recent influx of players from the steroid era finally making the ballot has created a logjam.
In a perfect world, that wouldn’t matter. Voters would punch as many names as they want and it would all get sorted out. This isn’t a perfect world, though. Voters can choose a maximum of 10 names of their ballots each year. If there are more than 10 worthy candidates, certain guys are going to get pushed out.
That’s exactly the case in 2018. There are so many talented players on the 2018 ballot that even some with legitimate Hall of Fame hopes are getting nowhere near the support they deserve.
Without a strong surge from voters in the coming seasons, we could see some Hall of Fame worthy players completely fall off the ballot without receiving serious consideration.
Let’s break down the candidates who fall into that category:
The former San Francisco Giants second baseman does have some eye-popping numbers. His career .290/.56/.500 slash line is strong for the second baseman, and his 377 home runs speak loudly as well. On top of that, he won an MVP award, had multiple top-10 finishes in MVP voting and made five All-Star teams.
Kent is only polling at 12.3 percent on the Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker, though, and there are legitimate reasons for that. Kent played during the steroid era, so voters are less impressed by his power numbers. While he was exceptional at times, he suffers from not being the best player on his team when he was with the Giants. On top of that, Kent was not considered a great teammate. He was probably the only player to get into a fight with Barry Bonds and somehow come out of it with people taking Bonds’ side.
All of those factors are somewhat subjective, but they don’t help his case. When you combine that with Kent’s stats, which are borderline even though they are impressive, you can see why he hasn’t performed well in the voting.
Is former St. Louis Cardinals great Scott Rolen about to become the new Tim Raines? He has all the makings of the next sabermetric darling, including the low vote total in his first year. It’s close, but by both bWAR and Jay Jaffe’s excellent JAWS metric, Rolen should be in the Hall of Fame.
Despite that, Rolen is polling at just 11.8 percent thus far. Why the massive disconnect?
Rolen spent his prime with Albert Pujols, so he was never the best player on his own team. While he was unbelievably consistent, he never had a year where he went completely nuts and won an MVP award — though that was tough to do with Bonds and Pujols winning every other year.
The one area where Rolen was absolutely elite was defense, which is harder to measure. Yes, you can look at his seven Gold Gloves and determine he was pretty good, but that’s not the same as seeing round numbers, like 40 home runs or 100 RBI.
Thanks to advanced stats, we can actually put a number of Rolen’s defensive contributions. According to FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) stat, Rolen is the fifth-best defensive third baseman ever. Defensive metrics can be tricky, and that number isn’t ironclad, but it helps confirm what we know about Rolen: He was unreal at third base.
Put that together with his strong offensive numbers, and you have the makings of an interesting Hall of Fame case. Not a guy who should be trending under 20 percent.
Sheffield is polling all the way down at 9.7 percent, so he’s a candidate to fall off the ballot soon unless things drastically change. While his offensive numbers seem to make him a lock, Sheffield falls flat due to two factors.
First, Sheffield lost a lot of value in his career due to his defense. In fact, if you go by FanGraphs’ DEF metric, Sheffield is the worst defender of all-time. Yeah, it’s that bad.
But the bigger thing keeping Sheffield from the Hall is his connection to steroids. Sheffield admitted he used “the cream,” a steroid ointment, to help with his injured knee. He said, however, that he was told it was a legal ointment, and had no knowledge he was using a banned steroid. Whether true or not, voters seem to have used that admission against Sheffield as a reason to keep him off their ballots.
The case for Omar Vizquel is mostly based on defense and intangibles. You can’t really include offense, as his .272/.336/.352 slash line leaves a lot to be desired, especially considering he played in an era of offensive explosion.
The defensive argument is the way to go. And if you use your new favorite stat, DEF, Vizquel rates as the eighth-best defensive shortstop of all-time. Pretty good.
The question is whether that’s good enough to make up for his career 82 OPS+, which suggests his offense was 18 percent worse than the league average.
Thus far, 30.3 percent of the voters think it is. The rest see a tremendous defensive player — and strong teacher later in his career — who didn’t hit enough to make the Hall.
Humor us for a second, who was the better reliever?
Player A: 2.31 ERA, 33.2 percent strikeout rate and 1.00 WHIP
Player B: 2.87 ERA, 25.8 percent strikeout rate and 1.06 WHIP
You already know where this is going. Player A is Billy Wagner. Player B is Trevor Hoffman.
That comparison doesn’t tell the whole story, of course. Hoffman pitched close to 200 more innings, and there’s something to be said about consistency and longevity at a volatile position. The biggest difference, though, comes in saves, where Hoffman leads the way 601 to 422.
Is that enough to explain why Hoffman might get into Cooperstown this year while Wagner sits at 10.3 percent of the vote? Probably not.
The save stat has been maligned in recent years as relievers have become one-inning types. It’s often based on opportunity, and it’s so dependent on situation. You’re sweating when your favorite closer faces a one-run game against a great team. You’re far less concerned when they need to get just three outs to preserve a three-run game.
If you take out save totals, the difference between Wagner and Hoffman shrinks considerably.
That’s not so much a knock on Hoffman — who was the better player — it’s merely pointing out that there probably shouldn’t be such a wide gap in voting for both players.
MANNY RAMIREZ AND SAMMY SOSA
There’s an argument to be made that both players fit into this category. Ramirez is trending at just 24.1 percent of the vote, while Sosa sits at 11.8 percent. But there’s a reason Ramirez and Sosa are trending so low. You can probably guess what it is, and why they’ll be in a different section of our Hall of Fame breakdowns.
Coming Friday: The players who aren’t in Cooperstown just yet, but are inching closer to induction.
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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik