As is becoming tradition, the BBWAA delivered mixed results on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. There are a lot of good things here, including three deserving new members of Cooperstown, but it’s also not hard to imagine how things could have gone even better.
Let’s start with the three big positives from the election: specifically, the three members of the Cooperstown Class of 2024. Adrian Beltre and Joe Mauer both made it on their first ballots, while Todd Helton finally broke through on his sixth attempt. As a quick update and refresher, we had 385 ballots submitted this year, meaning that to reach the 75% needed for induction, a candidate needed to get 289. I’m clarifying that because these figures will actually be important later.
Beltre was the no-doubter of the bunch. Early results from Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker had him constantly above 99%, and while he didn’t finish quite that high, his 95.1% is still going to rank as one of the top twenty results in the Hall’s history. I was kind of shocked the former Ranger had 2 “No” votes in the early tracking, so I’m even more surprised that 17 additional voters found a way to leave off a third baseman with 5 Gold Gloves, 3166 hits, and 477 home runs. Maybe some of them were just trying to make space for other players, since he was so far over the line? Perhaps that’s giving them too much credit, though. Either way, it’s largely just an academic difference at this point; Cooperstown is Cooperstown, and first ballot is first ballot.
The second plaque wound up going to Todd Helton, in something of a shock, with the first baseman finishing at 79.7%. The induction wasn’t the surprising part; Helton had been running comfortably above the 75% line in tracking (finishing at 82.6%), and in his fifth ballot last year, he only missed by 11 votes. And his stats pointed to his induction, with 2519 hits, 369 homers, and a .316/.414/.539 batting line (a 133 OPS+). No, the surprising part was that the longtime Rockie passed Mauer in the final results.
Joe Mauer spent basically the entire ballot tracking season running neck-and-neck or better with Helton, even finishing at 83.4% before the results. I had been saying for a while that I was concerned that late ballot reveals and especially private voters (i.e. ones who never share who they chose) would sink his candidacy, and while his pre-reveal margins were big enough that those concerns basically subsided, goodness did they end up making things close. The Twins backstop finished at 76.1%, clearing the bar for 75% by only 4 votes.
It was another deserving induction in my mind, and only the third time a catcher has made the Hall of Fame on their first ballot. His career was a little short, cut down by the usual injuries that whittle away at catchers, but was it ever a high peak: 2009 MVP, three-time batting champ (a record for the position), six-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove, five-time Silver Slugger, and a .306/.388/.439 career batting line (124 OPS+). The fact that Mauer saw such a drop off in the results is kind of a sign of the type of squeeze that hit this year’s overly-stuffed ballot.
Unfortunately, that effect was out in full force on the top runner-up, Billy Wagner. In his ninth and penultimate go-around, the former Astros closer landed at 73.8%, just five votes shy of the 289 that he needed. It’s not the closest miss in the Hall’s history (Craig Biggio missing by 2 votes in 2014 springs to mind), but it’s not far off from that, and it’s still just as frustrating. Wagner will get one more shot on next year’s ballot, and he’s almost certain to get the five votes he needs, but I doubt that’s going to make it any less anxiety-inducing for Wagner himself.
Adding on to all of this is how much of the issue is caused by the Hall of Fame shooting itself in the foot with stubbornness. For years, they were reaching out to different parties about ways to alleviate their crowding on the ballot, and routinely ignored all of them. They even outright rejected a proposal from the BBWAA themselves to expand the ballot from ten spots to twelve several years ago. Just glancing down the Ballot Tracker again, I can see a few voters who wanted to vote for Wagner but ran out of spots (listed in Column AE). I wouldn’t be shocked if that change by itself would have gotten him over the line.
From there, the drama in the results drops off. Gary Sheffield placed fifth at 63.9%, quite the drop-off from his 74.2% in the pre-reveal polling. That was the second-biggest fall among players on the ballot, although it was probably to be expected; in addition to being stingier with their votes, the late and private voters are traditionally much harsher on players with ties to PEDs. Sheffield will now age off the ballot, and in his ten years, he managed to rise almost to Barry Bonds/Roger Clemens-levels of support, which is kind of a feat in and of itself.
After that, we have Andruw Jones, who finally broke the 60% threshold in his seventh year. A 61.6% finish is only a moderate improvement over his 2023 results (58.1%), but forward progress in a ballot this crowded is still a big deal, and I have a feeling things will start to snowball from here for him.
Ballot sophomore Carlos Beltran posted the single largest improvement over his 2023 results, going from 45.5% to 57.1%. A 10-point leap in this environment is huge, and like Andruw, I have a feeling that his case will start to snowball next year, even if induction might take longer (more on that in a bit).
Continuing down the results, Alex Rodriguez (34.8%) and Manny Ramirez (32.5%) stalled out, with both candidates less than 1% lower than in 2023. Newcomer Chase Utley debuted with 28.8% of the vote, a decent number but also a little disappointing given that he was consistently tracking around 40%.
From there, we get to the players who were especially impacted by the ballot limits. Bobby Abreu (14.8%), Andy Pettitte (13.5%), Mark Buehrle (8.3%), Francisco Rodriguez (7.8%), and Omar Vizquel (17.7%) all lost somewhere between 0.5% and 4.0% each from 2023 (although Vizquel’s continued drop may also be attributed to his various misconduct). Shockingly, Jimmy Rollins (7.8%) and Torii Hunter (7.3%) actually rose a little, but less than 2% each. And David Wright reached 6.2%, meaning he’ll get at least one more election. Nobody else reached the 5% threshold necessary for that.
So, what does all of this mean going forward? As mentioned, the obvious thing is that Billy Wagner will very likely be going in next year. A five-ballot shortfall is a gimme, and on top of that, players usually see an extra bump in their tenth and final ballot. There are numerous other factors in his favor that make a 2025 call almost certain, but I feel like that’s not going to be much of a consolation for Wagner in the meantime.
Things beyond that will be fairly open at the top of the 2025 ballot, thanks to our three inductions this year plus Sheffield aging off. Which is good, because next year’s class of newcomers has quite a few intriguing names. Ichiro Suzuki will be taking Beltre’s role as “obvious first-ballot choice”, and CC Sabathia will presumably be getting a lot of support as well. I think he’s a deserving selection, but Hall voters have been struggling to handle starting pitchers for years now, so I don’t know that he’ll be a first ballot choice.
Beyond those two big names, there will be Felix Hernandez, who will be hoping that a high peak will be enough to keep him on the ballot for a few years. I think he at least deserves a second look, but that recent Hall history with starters makes me skeptical that he’ll get it. And Russell Martin and Brian McCann will definitely generate a lot of discussion; both are lacking in traditional numbers, but their framing stats are fantastic. Will voters care enough about that to give them a second look?
Even with all of those names, I think 2025 on the whole is technically a less crowded year than 2024. Ichiro makes a neat replacement for Beltre as mentioned, but I don’t know that Sabathia does as well as Mauer did, nor do I think that the combination of Martin, McCann, and Hernandez’s vote totals will measure up to the absence of both Helton and Sheffield.
And that is good news for the guys who will be coming back under Wagner. Andruw Jones and Carlos Beltran in particular are strong candidates to see a big jump next year. I don’t think either gets a big enough jump to join Ichiro and Wagner on the stage in 2025 (although I’ll reconsider that if they’re tracking super well on early ballots). But come 2026, when the biggest newcomers will be Cole Hamels* and Ryan Braun? That’s my prediction right now, at least one of them goes in, but maybe both (although that might depend on how CC Sabathia is trending at that point).
*Like with Felix, I think that Hamels at least deserves a deeper, second look as a candidate. But I am again skeptical that the voters will give it to him.
A-Rod and Manny are probably a little too controversial to benefit from this opening, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Chase Utley takes advantage of it as well. 28.8% is not a bad debut, and we have seen recent candidates rise to election from even lower than that (Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, and soon-to-be Billy Wagner among them).
His case is probably going to take some evangelizing from the advanced stat set, but with nine more years of ballot eligibility and a relatively light set of newcomers for the foreseeable future (2027 will only add the likely Buster Posey and the much less-likely Jon Lester), he certainly has an opening to start building momentum. And maybe people will get too sidetracked by the pitch framing debates, or maybe A-Rod/Manny discourse flares up and overwhelms all other discussion, but all of that totally crowding him out seems doubtful. I don’t know that Utley will make it in by 2027, but even if he’s only up to 50-60% by then, he’ll still have another six years to make it the rest of the way to 75%.
Whether any of that will translate to guys even further down the ballot, like Bobby Abreu or Mark Buehrle or Andy Pettitte, I can’t say. Their vote percentages are much worse, and they don’t quite have as long as Utley does, so I’ll say it’s unlikely. But like I said, voters are going to have more room to work with, so I also won’t call it impossible just yet.
But in the meantime, the next big Hall of Fame moment will be the ceremony in July, when Jim Leyland will join Adrian Beltre, Todd Helton, and Joe Mauer in getting their Cooperstown plaques, and Billy Wagner and Ichiro Suzuki can start counting down until the next ballot cycle takes over.