Because one can never get too much of a head start.
As Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas exit the ballot as Hall of Fame inductees, a new and nearly as intriguing class of first timers will arrive in 11 months:
Randy Johnson: 5 Cy Youngs, 2nd all-time in strikeouts, 303 wins
Pedro Martinez: 3 Cy Youngs, 5-time ERA champ, 13th all-time in strikeouts
John Smoltz: 1 Cy Young, 213 wins, 154 saves, 16th all-time in strikeouts
Gary Sheffield: 509 HR, career .292/.393/.514 line, 26th all-time in RBI, 38th in runs
Carlos Delgado: 473 HR, career .280/.383/.546 line, led AL in OPS in 2003, was 2nd in 2000
Brian Giles: 287 HR, 1 of 30 players in MLB history with .400 OBP and 7,500 plate appearances
Nomar Garciaparra: .313/.361/.521 career line, 2 batting titles, 6 times in Top 10 in AL in WAR
They and a handful of lesser talents will join the following holdovers:
Craig Biggio – 74.8% in 2013
Mike Piazza – 62.5%
Jeff Bagwell – 54.3%
Tim Raines – 46.1%
Roger Clemens – 35.4%
Barry Bonds – 34.7%
Lee Smith – 29.9%
Curt Schilling – 29.2%
Edgar Martinez – 25.2%
Alan Trammell – 20.8%
Mike Mussina – 20.3%
Jeff Kent – 15.2%
Fred McGriff – 11.7%
Mark McGwire – 11.0%
Larry Walker – 10.2%
Don Mattingly – 8.2%
Sammy Sosa – 7.2%
Gone along with the inductees are Jack Morris, whose eligibility expired with his 15th time on the ballot, and Rafael Palmeiro, who failed to receive the necessary 5% this year. Mattingly will be in his final year of eligibility next year.
With the BBWAA voters putting more players on their ballots than ever before — and perhaps lifting the 10-man limit per ballot next year — I think it’s safe to say we’ll have three Hall of Famers again next year: Johnson, Pedro and Biggio. Certainly the fact that Biggio was so close this year, falling just two votes shy, will get him sympathy points next time around from anyone looking at him as a borderline candidate. Johnson is nearly as much of a no-brainer as Maddux was, and while some will punish Martinez for his shortish career, the dominance will likely outweigh that and get him 85-90 percent of the vote anyway.
The newcomer I’m most curious about is Smoltz. Baseball-reference has his most similar player as Schilling, who was stuck at 29 percent this year on his second ballot.
Smoltz: 213-155, 3.33 ERA, 3,084 Ks in 3,473 IP – 125 ERA+
Schilling: 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 3,116 Ks in 3,261 IP – 127 ERA+
Both add to their cases with exceptional postseason performances:
Smoltz: 15-4, 2.67 ERA, 199 K in 209 IP (1 ring)
Schilling: 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 120 K in 133 1/3 IP (3 rings)
I expect that we’ll see voters elevate Smoltz because of the 3 1/2 years he spent as a closer (and a very good one). I don’t buy it. Take those years out of Smoltz’s career line, leaving him with a bit higher of an ERA and a bit lower of an ERA+, and it just illustrates how Schilling was the clearly superior pitcher as a starter.
I do think both belong in the Hall of Fame, but I’d say Schilling belongs there first. However, I have the feeling that Smoltz will debut over 50% and get there before Schilling. Though, actually, that will help Schilling in the long run, since so many will argue that there’s no good reason to vote for Smoltz and not Schilling.
None of the other newcomers have any chance of being elected by the BBWAA. Sheffield certainly has better numbers than some Hall of Famers, but he also has some steroid taint. Plus, there’s no defensive value there, and it’s not as if anyone who had to cover him his whole career is going to go digging for reasons to vote for him. He’ll be lucky to get 10 percent of the vote.
Delgado’s hip problems robbed him of at least two or three years at the end, not to mention a spot in the 500-homer club. He went from finishing ninth in the NL MVP balloting at age 36 in 2008 to getting 112 more at-bats as a major leaguer. I’m guessing he’ll fall a bit short of the five percent necessary to stick around on the ballot.
Giles was certainly an outstanding player for a few years, but not for long enough to hit any milestones. Plus, I think many look at him and younger brother Marcus as likely steroid users. He’ll be a one-and-done.
Garciaparra is the player the Mattingly holdouts like to think Mattingly was. Both had six excellent years and nothing else to really add to their cases, but while Mattingly came in at 32.9 bWAR in his six seasons, Garciaparra was at 40.6, clearing 6.0 and finishing in the top 10 in the AL each of those years. That said, if you’re only going to be good for six years, I think you have to be the best player in the league during that span to be HOF worthy. Garciaparra wasn’t quite that. He’ll fall off the ballot in the first year as well.
So, really, there’s only one borderline player joining the ballot next year in Smoltz. And he’s essentially taking Morris’s spot. That’d seem to be good news for the holdovers, most of whom slipped on this year’s crowded ballot. Piazza won’t get in next year, but he could hit 70 percent, with Bagwell and Raines making similar percentage jumps.
Here’s my guess at how it will all go down:
Randy Johnson – 96%
Pedro Martinez – 88%
Craig Biggio – 80%
Mike Piazza – 69%
Jeff Bagwell – 64%
Tim Raines – 55%
John Smoltz – 52%
Curt Schilling – 39%
Roger Clemens – 38%
Barry Bonds – 37%
Mike Mussina – 31%
Lee Smith – 28%
Edgar Martinez – 28%
Alan Trammell – 27%
Jeff Kent – 16%
Fred McGriff – 13%
Don Mattingly – 11%
Larry Walker – 11%
Mark McGwire – 10%
Gary Sheffield – 8%
Sammy Sosa – 6%
Carlos Delgado – 4%
Nomar Garciaparra – 3%
Brian Giles – 1%