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Checking in on the Most Interesting Astros on the Hall of Fame Ballot

Ex-Astros Billy Wagner and Carlos Beltrán are off to impressive starts in voting

Los Angeles Angels v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

We just passed the two-week mark until the 2024 Hall of Fame results are relieved; the evening of January 23rd will have the usual results show airing at 5 PM Central Time on MLB.com/the MLB Network.

Of course, for those who don’t want to go in blind, there are of course the yearly efforts of Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker team (available at tracker.fyi), where volunteers record and total writers’ ballots as they make them known. So far, they’ve amassed over 130, which works out to just over one-third of the expected total, and there are likely dozens more to come in our lead-up to the results.

I already released a longer, initial look last week at how those results were shaping up, but this week I wanted to do a more focused update looking at two prominent former Astros on this ballot, Billy Wagner and Carlos Beltrán. As it turns out, these two have some of the more interesting and nuanced cases, so if you want to know what to look for in the coming days, it might help to have more context.

Let’s start with where they both stood coming into this year. For those not in the know, the basics of the Hall election are: roughly 400 current and former members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) will vote in this year’s election. If 75% of them vote for a player, they’re in. If a player gets 5% of the vote, they get to stick around for the election next year; otherwise, they’re off the 2025 ballot. Voters are capped at voting for ten players in a year, and players are capped at ten attempts on the BBWAA ballot before they get dropped (at which point the Veterans Committee can take a look at them, but that’s a whole other can of worms).

Both Wagner and Beltrán are returning candidates from the 2023 ballots. Wagner, in his eighth election, reached a personal high mark with 68.1% of the vote, or just 27 votes shy of induction. He’ll have this year and (should he fall short) one more chance after that to pick those up. Beltrán, meanwhile, was in his first year on the ballot, and reached a respectable 46.5% of the vote.

Also I’ll mostly be covering their Hall of Fame votes and chances of election here rather than their cases, but I just want to note that I think both are deserving picks. I laid out the case for Wagner several years ago. I haven’t done anything that straightforward with Beltrán, but I also think his resume is much more overwhelming: a Gold Glove centerfielder with 435 homers, 565 doubles, 2725 hits, 312 steals (against only 49 time caught stealing!), a .279/.350/.486 batting line, a 119 OPS+… there’s a reason Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement has him as a 70-WAR player (a line that usually marks an obvious Hall selection). His struggles so far are pretty obviously backlash to his role in the 2017 sign stealing scandal.

So, how are things shaping up for them in 2024? We’ll start with Wagner, since he’s polling ahead of Beltrán right now. Right now, he’s in fourth place on the ballot, behind newcomers Adrián Beltré and Joe Mauer, plus returning runner-up Todd Helton. Back at the end of December, he crossed the 75% in the Ballot Tracker for the first time since he became a candidate. He’s held strong in the 60ish ballots revealed since then, even crossing the 80% mark for a stretch of time. However, he has seen a little bit of backsliding recently, dropping down to 78.7% just last night.

Despite that bad news, he is still above where he was at this time last year, which is a promising sign. And what’s more, he’s actually won over votes: the tracker has documented seven 2023 voters who were “no”s on him last year but have changed their vote. On the whole, he’s at a net change of +5 in flips (he’s also lost two “yes”es), but on a crowded ballot like this year’s, that’s actually not bad; in fact, it’s third among players on the ballot (put a pin in that thought for now).

If you go by the 27 votes he fell short last year, that means he’d only need to pick up 22 votes on the remaining 250 or so ballots. Except that there’s some extra good news here: Wagner has also gone 9-for-10 among new voters. That’s not as good as nine flips*, nor will we know exactly how much it helps until we learn how many voters there are this year, but it does mean that his path is a little less rough.

*If you’d like an example for why this is: consider a case of 2 votes, with 1 yes and 1 no. Adding a new yes vote just gets you to 2/3, while flipping the no would get you to 2/2.

It will be difficult for Wagner to pick up the 20-ish converted votes he still needs from pre-announcement ballots; a net +27 just from early reveals would be a challenge to hit in a year with an empty ballot, but this year’s ballot is much more crowded than that thanks to the additions of Beltré, Mauer, and Chase Utley (among others).

Thankfully, he doesn’t necessarily need to do that; just under half of Hall voters either wait until after the results to share their ballot, or never release it at all. The obvious downside there is that we won’t have any idea how those look until we already know the results. We generally know that they’ll be stingier than the voters who reveal their ballots early, and we generally know that those groups aren’t necessarily opposed to Wagner’s case; he reached 69.6% and 52.9% with late and private voters last year (compared to 72.3% with early public voters). If he can stay around 79% prior to the announcement, according to the calculator I built last year, he would only need to reach around 75% with late voters and 66% with private voters.

That might seem extreme, but if you want a final ace-in-the-hole for Wagner, it’s that he passed 60% of the vote last year. Hall voters are actually very susceptible to momentum arguments, especially the ones who keep their ballots secret. This is actually something I discovered last year while writing about Scott Rolen’s chances; hitting the 60% mark has, in recent memory, been an indicator of a big jump in private ballots, in a way that hitting, say, 50% isn’t. Sure enough, Rolen saw a big enough jump among late and (especially) private voters to get him over the line, following early returns that looked like they could go either way.

I’m curious to see if that finding holds up this year, on a crowded ballot where one other candidate (Helton) will also be counting on that 60% bump, but I think the precedent seems encouraging. And worst case scenario, if he misses this year, it just gives him a layup induction next year (but I’ll wait to get into that until we know it’s happening).

So what about Carlos Beltrán? As mentioned, he was pretty far off from induction last year at 46.5%. But it was also pretty clear that he was being dinged for character clause-related reasons, and there’s been a lot of difficulty in predicting how those cases play out. The most recent example for most people is obviously going to be players tied to steroids, but even those have had a variety of outcomes, with some players (like Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa) stalling out hard, while others (like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and perhaps most bafflingly, Gary Sheffield, who currently sits at 75.0% on his tenth and final ballot) continue climbing year after year.

Of course, there are actually a few non-steroid cases to refer to as well, which might be more instructive here. Gaylord Perry (inducted 1991) took three tries to get inducted largely due to his prominence as a spitballer. Fergie Jenkins (1991) took three tries as well, and I’ve seen some writers attribute that to his suspension for cocaine.* Juan Marichal (1983) was another one that took three attempts, apparently due to anger over him hitting John Roseboro in the head with a bat during a brawl (the two would later reconcile, and Roseboro’s support helped lead to Marichal’s election). The most recent case is Roberto Alomar (2011), who narrowly missed on his first attempt as writers cited him spitting on umpire John Hirschbeck as a reason to wait on voting for him. Alomar would make it on his second ballot, jumping from under 74% to a full 90% in one year (although despite the induction, as it turns out, he still wasn’t a great guy).

*I have no idea how that’s factored into the cases for players like Tim Raines, Paul Molitor, Dave Parker, or Keith Hernandez. The first two obviously made it in, although Raines took fifteen tries and Molitor got just 85% on his first vote despite his 3319 hits. Parker stuck around for a full fifteen years plus a few Veterans Committee ballots, while Hernandez fell off after nine tries. But I also haven’t seen a ton of evidence linking any of them to a cocaine backlash. It might also be relevant that Jenkins pre-dates most of them by several years, and got a brunt of the reaction as a result.

I saw some people speculating that Beltrán would get stuck in the same limbo that steroid players did after he failed to hit 50% last year (none of Perry, Jenkins, Marichal, or Alomar dropped that low), but that doesn’t seem to be the case so far. He’s in seventh place right now, but it’s a strong seventh, one that sees him trending at 64.7%.

Not only that, but he’s far and away leading the pack in converted voters. 18 former “no”s have changed their vote to yes, giving him a net change of +12, both of which give him a big lead on the next-best performer in those fields, Gary Sheffield (9 pickups and no losses, likely due to the bump candidates get on their final ballot). Even Beltrán’s lost voters have promising signs; three of the six dropped him because their ballots were at their ten-person limit, meaning they should be easy pick-ups next year, once Beltré, Sheffield, and some combination of Helton, Mauer, and Wagner are cleared out.

There’s a very real chance that Beltrán enters the 2025 ballot as the top returning candidate, and even his worst-case scenario at this point looks like “third place behind Wagner and Andruw Jones”. A 2025 Induction might be a big ask (although not totally out of the question), especially given that a few new candidates will likely be taking up some attention. But even then, it’s still just Beltrán’s third ballot, giving him plenty of time (and a few weaker classes) to build momentum. Even if he drops down into the 50%-60% range on the final results, I’d probably build my expectations going forward off of the non-steroid cases rather than the Bonds/Clemens purgatory.

That should cover the major details to keep in mind for these two over the next thirteen days. Right now, I’m positive on both cases, although there’s still a lot that we’ll learn as more ballots come out. And even if things go south for Wagner from this point, it still looks like the Astros will have some good news on the Cooperstown horizon.