After weeks of speculation and ballot reveals, this Tuesday finally marks the culmination of Hall of Fame season: at 5 PM Central Time (in a presentation broadcasted on MLB.com and the MLB Network), we will learn who will be added to the hallowed halls of Cooperstown at this summer’s induction ceremony.
Or, rather, who else will be added; we already know that longtime manager Jim Leyland will be there, after he was elected by the Veterans Committee back in December (not to mention broadcaster Joe Castiglione and writer Gerry Fraley, for the Ford C. Frick and BBWAA Career Excellence Awards, respectively). However, it’s looking like the BBWAA will be sending several players along as well. So, with under 24 hours to go, how are things shaping up?
Well, for anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker: just last night, we learned of our 200th ballot, meaning we already know how likely just over half of the electorate has voted (there were 389 votes for the 2023 election, but that total fluctuates year-to-year). Those are the numbers that I’ll be working with for this piece; however, please note depending on what time you’re reading this, these numbers may already be outdated compared to what’s in the Tracker, since so many writers wait to release their votes until the morning of. I’m largely going to be speaking about trends in the voting anyway, so it won’t matter too much for the analysis.
Right off the bat, there are two things about this evening’s announcement that I feel like I can say for certain. One is that multiple people will be getting the call this year, and the second is that ballot newcomer Adrian Beltre will be leading the pack. The 3000-hit third baseman sits at 99% right now, well above the 75% of the vote that a player needs to hit to secure a plaque.
I’m really not sure how anyone could object to his case, and I suppose I could look up the two “No” votes and interrogate their reasoning, but quite frankly, I only have so many hours in a day and they won’t make all that much of a difference. Here’s the all-time leaderboard in highest voting percentage if you’d like to follow along at home; we know Beltre isn’t going to be the second unanimous choice in Hall history (after Mariano Rivera back in 2019), but 99% would put him at fourth-best ever, if it holds.
Second place right now goes to another first-time candidate, Joe Mauer. The former MVP catcher and three-time batting champ is sitting at 83.5% right now, and I think he’s another very deserving choice. I was a little concerned that voters might hesitate on his selection; for the longest time, the only catcher to get elected on the first ballot was Johnny Bench way back in 1989 (he got 96.42% of the vote), and generally, the position was just undervalued by voters.
There are some signs of change, though. Iván Rodríguez finally became the second first-ballot catcher back in 2017 (albeit just barely, at 76.0% of the vote), and longtime snub Ted Simmons was finally inducted by the Veterans Committee back in 2020. Those, combined with Mauer’s early returns, make it look like the Minnesota hometown hero will become just the third first-ballot backstop. Technically, a very poor performance on the unrevealed ballots could do him in, but we don’t have any reason to suspect that just yet, so I’ll hold off on that hypothetical.
Right behind Mauer is our first returning candidate, Todd Helton. After finishing last year at 72.2%, just 11 votes shy of induction, Helton is currently at 82.0%. As a reference, through 200 ballots last year, the longtime Rockie was at 79.0%, so this is a definite step forward; if he holds on to a flat 3% increase, he’s in! But there are a couple of other encouraging signs for Helton, on top of that; he’s flipped more voters to his cause than he’s lost (a net change of +2 right now), he’s done well with new voters (13 out of 16), and as I found last year, finishing over 60% typically inspires voters who keep their ballot private to flock to a candidate.
However, I wanted to check on some other details, just to get a sense of historical precedence. Ryan Thibodaux has been tracking ballots for eleven years’ worth of elections*, and he does a pretty comprehensive job of breaking down how players did on ballots that were revealed both before and after the election. Almost every candidate drops from the final results, but the amounts they drop are not always equal. The highest a player has ever finished in a year where they fell short of induction was 76.4%, which Edgar Martínez did back in 2018 (he would fall to 70.4% that year, and get inducted the following year).
*There are also a few earlier years in the tracker compiled by other users, but those were a little different and less complete, so I’m not including them for now.
Coincidentally, that ballot cycle also brings us the inverse case: inductee Trevor Hoffman finished at 78.6% of the pre-results vote, the lowest a candidate has finished in an election where they still passed the 75% mark (in fact, Hoffman that year was one of the rare candidates who went up from there, finishing at 79.9%). That looks like a good sign for Mauer and Helton, but it also leaves us with about 2% of completely uncovered territory, from 76.4%-78.6%.
And wouldn’t you know it, our fourth candidate, Billy Wagner, falls smack dab in that no-man’s land; right now, the former Astros closer is polling at 78.0% of the vote. After finishing 2023 at 68.1%, Wagner’s fate will be in flux right up until the announcement. Jason Sardell, a leading forecaster in Hall of Fame polling, put him at an 18% chance of induction is his most recent results, although that’s roughly where Scott Rolenlanded last year at this point (Rolen, of course, made it in). Wagner is exactly 6% ahead of where he was last year through 200 votes, but adding 6% to his last result still leaves him less than 1% short of induction. He’s at a net change of +6 in flipped voters, plus he’s gone 14-for-16 with new voters, but that still puts him shy of the 27 votes he missed by last year.
This will probably be the thing to watch the closest throughout the day, for anyone who needs a distraction. There were more than a dozen ballots added to the tracker over the course of the announcement day last year, so we could potentially see Wagner pick up or drop a few points along the way to 5 PM.
But of course, the final verdict is going to heavily rely on all of the voters who don’t reveal prior to the announcement, a group that will likely add up to over two-fifths of voters. Some will share their ballots over the rest of the week, others will never show their work, but both groups are usually stingier than the ones who reveal their ballot in the lead-up to the announcement. The more of a buffer that Wagner can get now, the better.
If there are any consolations here, it’s these: Wagner also reached 60% last year, and like I said during the Helton section, that has historically boded well for players’ chances the following year. And relievers have historically done a little better with the late and secret voters; there’s a reason that I noted that Hoffman in 2018 was one of the few cases who went up from pre-release numbers. Maybe Wagner will see less of a bump due to his lower save totals, but maybe not. If he does miss out this time, Wagner will get one more year on the BBWAA ballot before aging off, but I’m sure that he’d rather not have to go through yet another year of this. I’m hoping he can pull it off this time around.
After them, there will still be some things to keep an eye on. Gary Sheffield is sitting right on the border, at 75.0%. As was noted earlier, that historically hasn’t been enough to get over the line (just since 2013, we’ve had four different players finish at 75.0% or better in the tracker but fall short in the final results), and you have to figure that a player with steroid ties isn’t going to be the one to change that. But I also never expected him to do this well in the first place, so who knows! I’m curious to see where he ultimately winds up, and if it will end up meaning anything once he starts hitting the Veterans Committee ballots.
There are a few other promising players who aren’t going to get in this time, but who will nonetheless be worth watching. Andruw Jones is up to 70.5%, and Carlos Beltrán is at 66%, both of which are improvements over their 2023 results. And Chase Utley is tracking at 40.0% in his first election. I’ll expand more on what those numbers could mean down the line once we have the full results, but for now, you should have everything you need to know heading into the final countdown.