With last night’s Hall of Fame voting announcement behind us, let’s look ahead to 2020’s ballot, shall we?
This year’s vote — particularly the election of Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina, who had been on ballots for several years — certainly cleared out some of the multi-year backlog we’ve been experiencing. On the less uplifting end of things, Fred McGriff failed to gain induction in his 10th and final year on the ballot, receiving just under 40% of the vote. Whatever you think of that, it does clear up a slot on many ballots for other candidates.
Unlike Martinez from last year, none of the holdovers on the 2020 ballot are a lock for induction. The next three highest vote-getters after the inductees were Curt Schilling (60.9%), Roger Clemens (59.5%) and Barry Bonds (59.1%). While it’s quite possible the elimination of the backlog allows a lot of voters who were not including them before to include them next year, it’s also the case that a lot of voters would simply never vote for those guys no matter what, so there is a practical limit to the amount of support they may gain year-over-year, They will certainly be a focus of a lot of debate next Hall of Fame season, however.
Larry Walker likewise returns. He made a big leap between 2018 and 2019 — from 34.1% of the vote to 54.6% — but it’s hard to imagine that he’ll get the bump of another 21% that is required for election. It’s possible I suppose. Notably, 2020 will be his last year on the BBWAA ballot.
With no returning candidates a lock for induction, let’s look at the new names we’ll see:
Derek Jeter: OK, we know one guy who will make it for sure. The only thing to discuss about his candidacy next season is whether or not he’ll match his teammate Mariano Rivera’s unanimous selection. Which, ugh, that’ll be a tedious discussion given that whether someone is elected unanimously or with only 75% of the vote is irrelevant. There are no tiers or circles or levels of a pyramid in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Let’s not start imposing them, shall we? Jeter is a lock to go in, he deserves it and he’ll get there. Let’s talk about his excellent career instead of the weird habits of Hall of Fame voters.
Bobby Abreu: You know what? He was better than you might remember. He had speed and power. He notched 2,470 hits, 574 doubles, 288 home runs, 1,363 RBI, had 400 stolen bases, a 128 OPS+ and 60 career WAR. All of that said, he still falls a bit short of objective Hall of Fame standards and, more significantly when it comes to handicapping his chances, he is not a guy many if any voters has ever argued was a Hall of Famer. His case, to the extent he has one, will be a Larry Walker-style “hey, he was better than you think” sort of thing with a lot of advanced analytics deployed to show his all-around greatness. Except he, you know, was not as good as Larry Walker, so, yeah.
Jason Giambi: I imagine there was a couple of year stretch in the late 90s and early 2000s when people talked about him as a Hall of Famer. But then the PED stuff happened and then he fell off significantly and all of that went out the window. His case would be his 1999-2003 peak during which he won the MVP award, led some super interesting A’s teams and then made a huge, high-profile move to New York, but that peak was subsequently tainted in the eyes of most voters by PEDs. Where does that leave us? Expect his vote totals to look more like Sammy Sosa’s or, at best, Mark McGwire’s, and less like someone who is deeply embedded in the Hall of Fame conversation for multiple years. If I had to guess it’ll mirror McGwire’s because Giambi did gain a lot of nice guy/grizzled veteran points at the tail end of his career and was never considered persona non grata like Sosa has been.
Cliff Lee: At his best he was the best but, unfortunately, he did not emerge as a great pitcher until his late 20s and then injuries deprived him of a run of greatness past his mid-30s. He was a Hall of Fame level pitcher at his best, but he did not have enough production surrounding his best years to justify election.
After Lee there are a bunch of “oh man, has that guy been retired for five full seasons now?” dudes whose time on the Hall of Fame ballot will likely be short and which will likely be most notable for serving as the basis for “remember that guy?” columns as opposed to full-throated support. Guys like Eric Chavez, Paul Konerko, Josh Beckett, Rafael Furcal and Alfonso Soriano. Maybe one or two of them — Beckett and Konerko? — will get more than 5% of the vote to stay afloat for another year, but not much beyond that.
Which leaves us with (a) Derek Jeter, who will float on in his first year; (b) a pretty big and, I suspect, ugly conversation about Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens; and (c) a valiant but, I also suspect, vain final push for Larry Walker.
If I had to guess, Jeter stands alone on the stage in Cooperstown in July 2020.