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Who’s heading to the Hall in 2021?

November 17, 2020
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Hall of Fame season is in full swing once again.

The 2020 ballot has landed, with the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) preparing to cast their votes for the players who will join the immortals of the game with plaques hanging in Cooperstown.

We’ve seen an explosion of inclusivity on recent ballots, with the writers voting in 22 players over the past seven years (and 12 in the last three). This has eased the glut of qualified candidates considerably, though there remain a number of problematic names that still clog the list.

This year, however, may change the calculus considerably. It’s a year without a clear first-ballot candidate; this year’s newcomers are a collection of very-good-but-not-quite-great players. This means that, for the first time in recent memory, the ballot has opened up. This means that 2021 might be the year that sees an extended holdover or two make the leap.

Let’s start with the new folks. While none of these players are likely to make their way into the Hall, there are a couple that might get a modicum of support – enough to get them past the 5% threshold to stay on the ballot for another year. Perhaps the best cases among the newcomers – such as they are – belong to a pair of starting pitchers.

Tim Hudson was a key part of the Moneyball A’s teams of the early-00s, winning 92 games in six seasons in Oakland. He went on to pitch nine seasons for the Braves before closing things out with two seasons in San Francisco. Overall, he went 222-133 with a 3.49 ERA and 2,080 strikeouts in 482 games. He never won a Cy Young, though he received votes in four seasons, and was a four-time All-Star.

Mark Buehrle was a soft-tossing lefty who managed to make over 500 appearances over the course of 16 seasons – mostly with the White Sox – despite a fastball that topped out in the low-to-mid-80s. He was incredibly durable, pitching at least 200 innings in every full season he pitched except his last (where he missed the mark by four outs). His overall record was 214-160 (one of those wins being a perfect game), with an ERA of 3.81 and 1,870 strikeouts. He was a five-time All-Star and won four Gold Gloves.

The best new candidate among position players is probably Torii Hunter, but he’s another Hall of Very Good Candidate. His career offensive numbers - .277/.331/.461, with 2,452 hits, 1,296 runs scored, 1,391 RBI, 353 homers and 195 steals – are undeniably quite good, but not up to the level required for enshrinement in the Hall. His case is boosted somewhat by his notable defensive prowess in center field – nine Gold Gloves in all – but even with that factored in, he doesn’t quite get there.

Other newcomers – Aramis Ramirez, Barry Zito, Dan Haren – were good players who deserve their shot on the ballot, but the truth is that they may not even see a single vote.

This brings us to the holdovers. This might be the year that some of the players whose candidacies have been tainted in one way or another finally make the leap.

First among them is probably Curt Schilling. He has the numbers of a Hall of Famer, but there are those among the electorate who find his personal beliefs off-putting enough to avoid voting for him. However, we’ve seen steady creep upward in his vote totals – he hit 70% last year, so with a dearth of exciting new names, he’s probably going to reach the 75% mark in this, his second-to-last year on the ballot.

As for the other elephants in the room, it’s tough to say what’s going to happen to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Again, by the numbers alone, both would have been in years ago. But the shadow of steroids still looms over them both, and while they have seen some uptick in their vote totals the last couple of years, it has been very slow going. They, like Schilling, are both in their ninth of 10 years on the ballot, but with both sitting just a shade above 60% last year, it seems unlikely that either will be able to garner the additional support necessary to get there.

Then we have the rest. I’m guessing that a handful of guys are going to get significant bumps due to the absence of a no-brainer first-ballot guy or three sucking up all the oxygen. Specifically, I think that Omar Vizquel, whose 52.6% last year is the highest of anyone outside the previously mentioned holdover trio, may well get a big enough push to get him over the line and into the Hall. His is a very old-school case – the sabermetric crowd is less enthused about his candidacy – but I think there’s enough there that he makes it soon if not this time.

On the flip side, you have the sabermetric darling Scott Rolen. Even 10 years ago, Rolen might well be a lost cause due to the relatively unimpressive nature of his traditional counting stats. By advanced metrics, however, he’s one of the best third basemen of all time – a position generally underrepresented in Cooperstown. By WAR, for instance, he’s an easy yes. And while his candidacy started slow, his 35.3% last year – his third on the ballot – doubled the previous year’s total. He probably won’t get there this year, but he’s on the right track for sure.

(I’m also rooting for Rockies legend Todd Helton to get there, but at just shy of 30%, he’s going to need a few more years, I think.)

So who will be joining Derek Jeter and Larry Walker at the dual 2020/2021 Hall of Fame induction ceremony? If I had to guess, I’d say Schilling almost certainly, with a distinct possibility for Vizquel. I don’t think Bonds or Clemens make up the difference, while I expect guys like Rolen and Helton to have to wait a while longer yet.

Last modified on Tuesday, 17 November 2020 12:22

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