We are less than a week from learning the results of the 2023 Hall of Fame election; the official announcement is next Tuesday at 6 PM Eastern Time. Voters have continued revealing their ballots, and the Ballot Tracker team has continued tabulating the early releases, so where do we stand now, since the last time I talked about this just over two weeks ago?
Well… mostly in the same place. The candidates are basically still in the same order.Their vote percentages are generally close to where they were. And at the top, even when there is minor fluctuation, it’s stable; Scott Rolen and Todd Helton are basically +10% and +22% over where they were in 2022, moving up and down at basically the same times.
So basically, we don’t have that much more information than we did two weeks ago. Ballot reveals have kind of slowed down, and likely won’t pick up again until right before the announcement. At the moment, it’s difficult to imagine Rolen and Helton not finishing pre-release around 80%, which has historically been a good indicator for election. Except that both of them (Rolen in particular) are especially vulnerable to the whims of the remaining unknown ballots, which is why most projections have them teetering right around that 75% cutoff point for induction.
See, for those of you who didn’t read my last breakdown, one of the ways that we can look at the Hall of Fame voting nowadays is by when we learn of their ballots. Of the 400 or so voters in the BBWAA pool each year, a little over half will reveal who they voted for at any point prior to the results. Another 30% will reveal who they voted for, but not before the official results are revealed, and the remaining just-under-20% will never say. Generally, that’s also the order for how stingy each group of voters is; players will see their overall percentage of yeses decrease from early voters to late voters to private voters.
And it’s also what’s making predicting these two so hard; they’re incredibly dependent on late and especially private voters. The late public voters are a little less of an issue; it’s not unreasonable to expect them to generally follow along with the early ones. Helton has had the two finish close together in his four years on the ballot (last year was the biggest gap, with him performing 7.1% better with early voters).
Rolen, meanwhile, hasn’t seen the two groups finish that close, but they are usually at least correlated. In fact, a small sample size disclaimer applies, but his late vote gains each year look like his early vote gains from the year prior (so he’ll gain 10 percent in early voting from Year 1 to Year 2, then 10 percent in late voting from Year 2 to Year 3). By that logic, he should see just over a 10% gain among late voters this year.
The private votes don’t generally line up that well, in either case. Neither player has ever gone down among private voters, but both of them have also seen their year-to-year percentages increase anywhere from less than 2% to over 21%. If we’re trying to forecast a full fifth of the vote, that’s a wide window to use, considering we have basically no other information to go off of.
Just to help myself visualize what each player is facing, I ended up building an easy calculator, built around combining the different percentages among these groups. We’re assuming that each subset remains at the same percentage of the whole that they were at for simplicity’s sake, but of course that can change slightly if a few private voters abstain or if a number of new voters swell the early ballot rates. I just wanted a quick way to see what the situation looked like.
For example, if Scott can manage a 10% increase in each of the three subsets, he lands at 73.10%. Even if you want to bump up his late-public vote to match his early-public rate, he still doesn’t quite make it (74.27%). If you raise his early voter rate to 82.2%, right around the highest that he’s tracked at? That’s still only a 74.79% result.
Basically, if you want to see Rolen in Cooperstown this year, he has to come close to 50% among private voters. If you give him good public numbers among both early and late voters, he can make it in while only hitting about 48% on private ballots, but that’s probably as low as he can go. Like I said last time, it’s really rare to see this size of split among private and public voters, but there is still hope. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, Rolen has improved as much as 21% among unrevealed votes; that type of improvement would get him to about 55% and certainly put him over the line.
Granted, if our less outgoing voters have something against Rolen’s candidacy specifically, it’ll be an issue to rise that much, but as of right now, I don’t see a reason to jump to that conclusion. Maybe if he stagnates there for another year, but let’s wait for that to happen before we consider that a possibility, let alone state it as a fact. Especially given that we have another confounding variable in the form of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Curt Schilling all leaving the ballot and presumably freeing up a lot of space for votes.
One other thing that I wanted to consider was momentum; it actually matters in Hall voting, as some number of voters will be persuaded as their colleagues start voting for a player en masse. It’s a big part of how some candidates will build to 75% over a number of years, really. I looked at some of those players in recent memory, then highlighted the years where the eventual-inductee hit 50% and 60% overall to see if that led to larger gains later.
My list here was non-first ballot inductees, so Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Mike Piazza, and Craig Biggio. Obviously, Rolen looks more like some of these players than others, but we already don’t have a large data set to go off of, so I kept all of them.
There are a lot of asterisks here that make it difficult to draw any hard and fast conclusions. For instance, the 2013 ballot (and the few after it) were crowded in a way that made it harder to pick up votes, which is fundamentally just not going to be an issue this year. And the pool of total voters has shrunk over that time, as the BBWAA cleaned its rank of inactive writers. Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker was only started in 2013, so I wasn’t always able to separate out late revealed ballots; seasons prior to that just had private and public votes, with no need to differentiate between pre- and post-announcement votes. Raines, Walker, and Martinez all faced additional haste in their cases, being that it took them the full ten times to be elected (Rolen is currently only on attempt six).
With all of that said… There were some things I noticed. Most prominently, not every candidate saw a ton of private voters convert to their cause after they passed the 50% mark (the situation Rolen found himself in last year). Some of them did, but not all. However, hitting the 60% mark pretty frequently preceded a big jump among private ballots. This has especially held true the further away from the 2013-15 extreme logjam you get. Martinez, Bagwell, and Raines each flipped over 20% (as did Walker, who only passed 60% on his final ballot), Mussina gained ~14%, and even Guerrero went up nearly 17.5% despite starting at an already-overwhelming 71.1 %.
It will also be interesting to see how Helton plays out in comparison; sure, he only hit the 50% mark overall last year, rather than the 60% one. But that doesn’t necessarily rule out the chance of a jump among the group, either; we are dealing with a small and inconsistent data set after all, plus there’s all that freed-up ballot space. Another X-factor here is that Helton is already posting one of the biggest single-year increases since ballot tracking began, sitting at +28 net votes; if that carries through to late voters, there’s even a chance he passes Rolen, given that he finished about 7 points better than the third baseman with private voters last year.
Of course, it might also indicate that he’s just already flipped the easiest pick-ups among late and secret ballots, and he’ll struggle this year (before picking up more votes next year after he inevitably cruises past 60% overall on this ballot). Plus, we don’t know for sure that the early vote will correlate to the other two groups; I think they’ll all increase a decent amount, but we definitely can’t count on historic gains with both of them. Either way, his case looks a lot more standard than Rolen’s given his more even distribution, and his chances of making it in this year aren’t out the window yet (not even getting into that he has five more tries after 2023). And if he does pull off that 22% increase among all of them? It gets him over 74% overall, just a smidge short for next year.
Billy Wagner might also prove an interesting case. He also only hit the 50% mark last season, but he has a number of things in his favor: the aforementioned emptier ballot; the fact that he’s also flipping a lot of former-nos (he’s just behind Helton, at +26) and is already trending over 70% on early voting; the fact that he actually did better with post-announcement votes than early voters last year; the fact that closers have traditionally done pretty well among private voters… I don’t think this is his year, but I think it’s basically guaranteed he passes the 60% overall mark this year, with an outside chance at passing 70%. And while he has fewer chances left after 2023 than Helton, picking up 10% of the vote in 2 years while everyone ahead of you gets voted in is not a bad place for a Hall of Fame candidate to be.
After them are Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield, and while their cases are interesting, this article has run pretty long and I can’t imagine either of them passing the top three, so we’ll put their discussion on hold until we have results next week. Sixth place Carlos Beltrán is probably the more interesting one, given that he’s a unique case on his first ballot and we have even more unknowns. A 56.3% rate among early voters is not a bad place to be, but we’ll see if late and private voters are harsher or more lenient towards him, and by how much. Either way, even in a worst-case scenario, it’ll be hard for him to drop below 40% overall, and that’s not a bad place to be your first time around.
For as slow as the last few weeks have been, things should pick up again before Tuesday. As we get closer to the big day, ballot drops should resume, so we might get a lot of new information leading up to the big moment of truth. I can’t guarantee that I’ll have the time to write something else before then, but hopefully, I’ve laid out enough of the possibilities that you’ll be able to follow along yourself as more news comes in.