Wednesday’s Cooperstown results today, 2014 edition

It’s that time of the year again, the time when the baseball world looks to Cooperstown. This Wednesday, at 2 p.m. EST, the Hall of Fame will announce the results of its annual BBWAA election, and we’ll see who goes into Cooperstown.

This marks the seventh straight year I’ve tried to give you an advance warning of what will happen. Each January, I write this column predicting not only who will go into Cooperstown and who won’t, but I’m foolhardy enough to predict exact voting percentages for all major candidates.

I’ve had some success over the years. In the last six columns, I made 96 predictions on what level of support a candidate will receive. I’m proud to say that in 32 cases—exactly one-third of them—I was within one percent of a players actual support. And 79 times I’ve come without five percent of the real total. My average margin of error has been 3.5 percent.

Admittedly, I’ve missed some big ones. I said Craig Biggio would enter Cooperstown last year, and he didn’t. I made the same mistake with Roberto Alomar in his first year on the ballot (and he just missed with 74 percent). But no one bats 1.000.

This year’s ballot looks to be especially tricky, with a historically terrific crop of first-year candidates headlined by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent.

My system is based on 10 guidelines, and here they are.

1. Consistency

All other things being equal, assume guys will do about as well next year as they did last year. However, all other things aren’t equal, leading to the other rules.

2. Strength of ballot

During years in which there are a lot of strong candidates entering the ballot, the backlog candidates see their support collapse. For example, in 1999, Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk and Dale Murphy joined the ballot, and every single member of the backlog declined.

More recently, in 2013, the backlog also suffered when Biggio, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa joined the ballot. The 2013 backlog wasn’t as badly affected—four returning candidates actually saw their support increase—but the previous ballot set a record for fewest names per ballot (5.10), so there was plenty of space available.

Alternately, when there is a weak rookie crop, the backlog rises up. But that doesn’t really apply this year, as Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Mussina and Kent go on the ballot. Based on this guideline, we should expect most of the backlog to have a rough time of it this year.

3. Candidates per ballot

The previous guideline bleeds into this one. The Hall of Fame limits BBWAA members to voting for no more than 10 candidates per election. Technically speaking, the previous guideline shouldn’t be an issue. There is almost always enough space on a ballot to let new guys come in.

Remember how every single member of the backlog had his vote total go down from 1998 to 1999? Well, there were only 6.74 names per ballot in 1999. There was space available to let others rise up.

The 6.74 names/ballot in 1999 is the most the Hall has seen in the last 20 years. The BBWAA ballot hasn’t averaged seven names per ballot since 1986. It hasn’t topped eight names per ballot since 1983. It last averaged nine per ballot in 1955. Technically speaking, there is nothing stopping the BBWAA from letting the new guys come in while still keeping their older guys on the ballot.

Aye, but that’s the thing. Clearly, many BBWAA members are averse to filling up their ballots. It’s more a self-imposed limit than anything else. If you typically vote for three or four names per ballot, listing seven at once seems cheap. There is a reason why the BBWAA hasn’t averaged seven players per ballot since the Cold War.

Last year, the BBWAA had 6.60 names/ballot, one of its highest totals in decades. And, of course, no one was elected, so the retuning backlog is the highest in decades: 6.29 names per last year’s ballot on this year’s ballot. Combine that with the arrival of Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Mussina and Kent, and at the very least, it’s clear we’re going to have more names per ballot this year than any time in decades.

One of two things is going to happen this year. Either the backlog is going to be completely and utterly slaughtered, or the BBWAA members are going to have to get over their self-imposed limitation and start filling out their ballots en masse with a full complement of 10 names. In fact, even if the BBWAA starts voting like it’s 1955 all over again, many backloggers will still go down this year.

4. “Over the top” surge

Those last few points talk in general about what will happen to the ballot as a whole, and to backloggers specifically. But not every member of the backlog is affected the same way. Some guys are especially likely to see their vote total rise: guys at the top of the backlog.

For example, remember how I said that four backloggers in 2013 had their support go up last year despite the big rookie candidate crop? Well, three of those four were at the top of the backlog: Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines.

I studied this years ago and found that if a candidate’s support hits 50 percent or higher, more voters start joining the bandwagon. Candidates who already have the support of most writers pick up the most new supporters the next year. The higher his vote total, the things start moving in his direction. But candidates under 50 percent are more likely to just tread water or fall under.

Logically, this doesn’t make sense. If you have one guy at 52 percent and another at 25 percent, the latter should find it easier to pick up supporters because there are so many more possible converts out there. True, but the guys at the top of the ballot are the ones at the forefront of people’s minds.

Once most of the BBWAA supports a candidate, the other members start wondering what they’re missing. The question shifts from, “Why should I vote for this guy?” to, “Why not?” And the logs start rolling his way.

This year, there are five returning backloggers who received more than half the votes last time. That’s huge. The last time five candidates received between 50 and 75 percent of the vote was 1983. They were Harmon Killebrew, Luis Aparicio, Hoyt Wilhelm, Don Drysdale and Gil Hodges. All but Hodges wound up getting elected by the BBWAA, because people in that top 50 percent tend to keep rising, often up to 75 percent eventually.

The top five from last year—and their support from last year—are: Biggio (68.2 percent in 2013), Morris, (67.7), Bagwell (59.6), Piazza (57.8) and Raines (52.2). If anyone in the backlog is going to rise (or at least hold his own), it’s these guys.

5. Comparable candidates

What can really kill a backlogger is if a new candidate emerges who is similar to the backlogger but clearly superior. Or, even worse, if multiple similar candidates emerge. Heck, even if the new guys aren’t clearly superior, having some similar candidates can diffuse support away from the backlogger.

The all-time great example of this came in 1989. That year, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins and Jim Kaat joined a ballot that already featured Jim Bunning, Mickey Lolich and Luis Tiant. The upshot is that Bunning, Lolich and Tiant had their support crater.

This year’s crop of new candidates is extremely pitcher-heavy. Three of the top four ballot rookies are pitchers: Maddux, Glavine and Mussina. This doesn’t bode well for pitchers in the backlog: Morris, Schilling, Lee Smith and Clemens.

While Clemens is a special case (see the next guideline for more on him), a good case can be made that the three other backlog pitchers are clearly inferior to the three big rookie pitchers. On a crowded ballot, some guys will get crowded off.

6. Steroids

In 2007, Mark McGwire joined the ballot, and the BBWAA Hall of Fame voting process joined the steroid era. Votes about steroid guys are often less about what you think of him as a player and more about what a voter thinks of steroids.

For instance, last year Clemens and Bonds both received under 40 percent of the vote (38 percent for Clemens, 36 percent for Bonds). It’s safe to say that the remaining 60-plus percent of the voters just won’t support someone associated with steroids.

Looking at the older PED-associated candidates, clear trends have emerged. First, their support tends to be unusually stable. Second, when their support changes, it only goes down, not up. Those who won’t vote for them have remained resolved, while some supporters start to give up on them as either a lost cause or because there just isn’t enough room on the ballot, especially with a ton of steroid-associated candidates now on it.

For example, look at the support Mark McGwire has had since going on the ballot:

2007	23.50%
2008	23.60%
2009	21.90%
2010	23.70%
2011	19.80%
2012	19.50%
2013	16.90%

That is remarkably stable, especially in his first four years. Thus, we can assume that the steroid guys won’t see increases in their support this year. Here is what happened to them last year:

Clemens   37.6%
Bonds     36.2%
McGwire   16.9%
Sosa      12.5%
Palmeiro   8.8%

There have been some whisperings about PEDs with other candidates, but those five are the ones that many/most voters believe used PEDs.

Clemens and Bonds should remain pretty stable. They, along with Maddux, are all clearly and easily the best candidates purely in baseball terms, so if someone was willing to vote for them last time, they’ll still vote this time. The other trio should see a notable loss of support in this crowded ballot.

7. Last year on the ballot

Players in their last year on the ballot typically receive a bump, averaging around three percent. For example, remember how I noted that only four backloggers had their support go up last year? Well, three were experiencing the “over the top” surge, and the fourth was Murphy, who was in his last year on the ballot. In fact, Murphy had the biggest rise in support of anyone, going up 4.1 percent from 14.5 to 18.6.

This year, one man is in his final year on the ballot: Morris. He is a very weird candidate this year because so many factors affect him, and they pull him in different directions. He’s in the “over the top” surge territory, and he’s in his last year on the ballot. In most years, those things would often be enough to raise him from last year’s 67.7 percent to the Promised Land of 75 percent and a Hall of Fame plaque.

True, but Morris also is hurt by the strength of the ballot and comparable candidates. Last year, no one went up by more than 4.1 percent, and Morris needs to go up by nearly double that. Last year, Morris’ support rose by just one percent. Can he really do much better on a far more crowded ballot with four pitchers who have more career wins than him (and only one, Clemens, associated with steroids)?

I think Morris is going to the Veterans Committee. Those voters probably will put him in when they look at their more recent candidates in 2017.

8. Repoz’s BBWAA ballot tracking Gizmo at Baseball Think Factory

Each year, BTF website editor Repoz does a valuable service for those of us interesting in the Hall of Fame debate. He tracks every single BBWAA ballot made public (and even has some other voters privately let him know how they voted) and posts the ongoing tally. It’s called the HOF Ballot Collecting Gizmo, and it brings in tons of results.

Last year, Repoz set a personal best by tallying 194 votes (though many were made publicly available only the day of the Hall’s announcement itself).

It isn’t a scientific sampling, and the Gizmo does tend to have some bias. For example, Morris and Don Mattingly do better with the overall electorate than in Repoz’s sample. Raines does better in the Gizmo than in reality. But it does provide plenty of pointers.

The Gizmo does two things especially well. First, it lets us know how rookie candidates are doing. This is especially important for me because all of the other items on this list deal primarily with returning candidates. Second, the Gizmo gives us an idea how many names are being listed per ballot.

Normally, that second point isn’t too huge a deal. Normally, I can figure it out on my own. But the 2014 election is proving to be anything but normal. The results in the Gizmo are so far shocking and unprecedented to me.

As I write this, Repoz’s Gizmo contains 130 full ballots (over 20 percent of the total electorate), and they are averaging 9.26 candidates per ballot. Damn near the entire BBWAA is filling out ballots fully. Remember, the last time this body averaged over nine names per ballot, there were only 48 stars on the American flag. None of the current voters has taken part in an election that has averaged over nine names per ballot, but so far they are this year.

Okay, let’s back up for a second. How accurate has the Gizmo been in years past predicting this sort of thing? Well, the 2013 Gizmo averaged 6.59 names/ballot. The actual result was 6.60. Admittedly, the earlier returns from the Gizmo were higher: 6.73 from the ballot when the Gizmo was only half-full. In 2012, the Gizmo was actually low, with 4.70 names in its tally versus 5.10 in reality.

So it can be off, but it shouldn’t be too off. For now, I’m guessing the 2014 Gizmo is on the high side—because I can’t imagine it would be low. But I’ll guess we’ll have a little over nine names per ballot. I never would’ve guessed that otherwise, but there you go.

Actually, the question then emerges, why would the vote total go up so drastically this year? I have a few thoughts. First, last year Cooperstown was skunked, with no one elected. As an added bonus, the Veterans Committee elected in only people who’d been dead for decades, so no one really cared about any of the inductees.

And remember, five players received support from a majority of BBWAA writers. They think there are several deserving candidates—6.60 names/ballot is huge for the modern BBWAA—and the combination of all of these factors has caused may voters to break through any self-imposed limitations on how many candidates to vote for. Most voters are filling out complete ballots or leaving just one spot blank.

9. Beware five percent

If you fall below five percent, you fall off the ballot. People hovering just above five percent typically fall under it over time as just enough of their few backers give them up as a lost cause.

Rafael Palmeiro is our lowest returner in the backlog with 8.8 percent of the vote last time. Normally, that would plenty enough to ensure he returns for 2015 (a man isn’t likely to lose half of his voters in one year, after all). But this isn’t a normal year, not with this strong ballot.

10. Guidelines ain’t rules

These are all just trends. You can’t take any one of them too seriously. Predictions are more art than science, so I don’t have any clear mathematical formula for what comes below.

My predictions

Enough of that already. It’s now time for the main show, how I think guys will do on Wednesday. Here are my predictions for the 22 main candidates, as well as a little blurb at the end to cover all other candidates. For comparison’s sake, I’ll include last year’s vote total so you can see who I think will go up or down.

Candidate	2014	2013
Greg Maddux	99	
Tom Glavine	94	
Frank Thomas	85	
Craig Biggio	76	68
Mike Piazza	71	58
Jack Morris	70	68
Jeff Bagwell	62	60
Tim Raines	50	52
Roger Clemens	38	38
Barry Bonds	36	36
Curt Schilling	34	39
Lee Smith	34	48
Mike Mussina	29	
Alan Trammell	26	34
Edgar Martinez	23	36
Larry Walker	16	22
Fred McGriff	13	21
Jeff Kent	11	
Mark McGwire	11	17
Don Mattingly	10	13
Sammy Sosa	 7	12
Rafael Palmerio	 5	 9
Others	         4	

That’s 9.04 names/ballot.

No matter how crowded a ballot is, if everyone agrees who the best candidate is, he gets tons of support. Thus, in 1999—on that super-crowded ballot—both Ryan and Brett sailed in with some of the highest support percentages ever. (Ryan actually tied Tom Seaver for the all-time record with 98.8 percent). Maddux should sail in similarly this year.

The BBWAA normally doesn’t elect four guys in one election. In fact, it hasn’t done so in decades. But the writers also haven’t had nine names per ballot in decades. With so many strong backloggers over 50 percent and three hugely qualified rookie candidates, having four inductees is likely. Even five inductees are possible. That’s happened in BBWAA voting only once, in 1936, the very first year.

Biggio and Morris were practically tied last year, but the 2014 election looks better for Biggio. First, comparable candidates really hurt Morris more. Second, Repoz’s Gizmo currently has a huge split, about 20 points between the two. Third, as a rule of thumb, if one candidate takes 14 years to win two-thirds of the voters, while and another starts off with two-thirds, it’s going to be a lot easier for that second guy to win more voters. That’s also why I think Piazza will leapfrog Morris.

The voters are trying to fill out their ballots and trying to help guys at the top of the backlog while also making way for the new candidates, so someone has to pay the price. It won’t be Bonds or Clemens, because they are still overwhelmingly qualified for those willing to vote for PED guys.

But everyone below Bonds and Clemens should suffer. I’d love to see Edgar Martinez or Alan Trammell improve, but there just isn’t room on this ballot.

One guy above Bonds and Clemens last year should take a big fall this year, Smith. He’s always been an odd candidate. The Hall has never quite known how to handle relievers. Smith’s case was always based on being the all-time saves leader, but he no longer is.

He’s also been aided in recent years by a general lack of strong pitching candidates. That started to change last year with Schilling and Clemens debuting, and it really falls apart this year. Smith should take a serious hit.

Palmeiro might fall under five percent, but my hunch is he’ll manage to stay above.

There you go. Clip ’n save, and come back on Wednesday to find out just how dumb I am.

References & Resources
The Gizmo is huge. I also have a database with all previous Hall of Fame voting results.

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Comments

  1. Baltar said...

    I like to believe that Bonds and Clemens, at least, of the steroid candidates will eventually get in, perhaps because of younger, more liberal writers getting the vote or thru falling to the veterans committee.
    As far as I’m concerned, until they are in it there is no Hall of Fame.

  2. bucdaddy said...

    ESPN turns the NFL draft into a TV extravaganza spread over three days.

    The Hall of Fame’s new inductees are released at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday.

    I know, I know, ESPN is evil; still, I can’t be the only one who thinks that’s insane from a PR perspective, can I?

    No more insane than the rest of the HoF voting process, granted, but insane nonetheless. It’s like the HoF still thinks newspapers are the dominant medium of communication in 2014 or something.

  3. Joe said...

    I wonder if there is a faction of voters who said, “not on the first ballot” for Bonds and Clemens, but who will vote for them year 2.  I’d guess there would be, though empirical data may suggest otherwise.

  4. Chris J. said...

    Joe,

    I thought that w/ McGwire …. then he didn’t move an inch his second year.  So I don’t expect that with Bonds or Clemens.

  5. Fart said...

    Sound analysis.  Biggio is the big question mark.  His chances feel like 50/50 and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see the actual tally between 74-76 percent.

    But all you really need to know is this essential line: “Chris enjoys farting”

  6. Jerome said...

    No way does the average HOF voter fill out 9 spots. There’s all the morons who fill out an empty ballot, or just a few names. I think the average will be closer to 8. I read your argument, but I think it does not take into account the number of voters who will hand in ballots with only a few names out of protest. Howard Bryant of ESPN comes to mind. It only takes a few tiny or blank ballots to throw those numbers off and those types of guys don’t usually release their ballots online.

  7. David P Stokes said...

    Personally, I think Maddux will be the only guy to get voted in this year.  I hope I’m wrong, but to be honest, I think it’s more likely that even he doesn’t get in than there being 2 or more candidates who make it.

  8. Dr. Doom said...

    A few thoughts:

    I’m pleased at the idea of 4 HOFers.  I hope that happens.

    Wow!  8 candidates being named on 50% of the ballots or more?  That would be incredible.  Again, I hope that happens.

    9.04 sounds like a lot.  But Repoz is counting REALLY high numbers of votes, with MANY voters using all ten slots.  I think these predictions here are still a little bullish, since many of the “non-publishing” writers seem to be the ones who use fewer of their spaces.  But still, 8 or more names/ballot wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

    As 80 billion people have pointed out, it’s unfortunate that we live in a world in which Tom Glavine is viewed as three times the candidate of Mike Mussina or Curt Schilling.

  9. D Leaberry said...

    It is surprising that Jeff Kent does not receive more support.  He knocked in 100 runs six times in a row and eight of nine years in a row.  The year he missed he had 93 RBIs.  He hit 377 homers, 351 as a secondbaseman, the record for the position.  He had over 1500 RBIs.

  10. gabriel syme said...

    One other reason the average number of votes (so far) is so high is the calls from within the BBWAA to abolish the ten-vote limit. This signals to all the members that some of their colleagues believer there are more than ten worthy candidates. The discussion within the BBWAA legitimates filling out the ballot for some voters who would otherwise shy away from the limit. Finally, for some members of the BBWAA who don’t want to change the ten-vote rule, the best opposition is to make the current system work by filling up ballots and voting in candidates.

    The BBWAA is a small organisation, and we can tend to underestimate the effect internal discussions can have on member behaviour.

  11. bucdaddy said...

    I’m befuddled why they can’t just have the voters vote on all the candidates, one at a time, instead of throwing them all (the candidates) into a big pile and forcing them to compete for a limited set of votes. I guess you could argue that’s what they do now, but that would automatically do away with the 10-player limit and have the added benefit of giving, just to pick a player, Biggio the chance to be evaluated and voted on for his own merits, not for how he compares with and therefore must compete with everyone else on the ballot.

  12. S Siegel said...

    I thought Kent would be an eventual HOF ( maybe in four years).  But to start that low?

    I can only think of two things. 
    1) people assume he did it with steroids.  Which taints everyone especially those that played with Bonds  
    2) the media hated Kent and many teammates did not care for him, at least that’s the rumor.

  13. Larry said...

    Well, it looks like the backlog did get slaughtered. Only Biggio and Piazza gained votes from the backlog, while players like Lee Smith (lost 101 votes), Trammell (lost 72 votes), and Edgar Martinez (lost 60 votes) fell backwards significantly. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), Bonds and Clemens lost the least ground from last year (down 12 and 8 votes, respectively), while every other backlogger lost at least 25 votes.

  14. Bob said...

    Why does the hall vote count blank votes sent in by individuals who have their own agendas. The Hall needs to change the policy for voting…some of the greatest players in baseball history are omitted because of egos. Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Bonds, Clemens and Biggio belong in no questions asked. There are players in the hall who had bad character, cheated (spitball, took amphetamines,etc) but no one makes comments about any of this. Baseball allowed the steroid era but the players still had to have the skill to hit the ball, throw the ball and catch the ball.

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