The 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame writers’ ballot might very well be the most fascinating and polarizing such referendum in the museum’s history. This week, ahead of the results being announced Jan. 25, The Post’s Ken Davidoff will break down the many issues and debates in play before revealing his ballot.
Round numbers and recognition used to get you into Cooperstown. Then came baseball’s analytical revolution.
Hence, when contemplating a 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame candidacy, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you hit any of the magic milestones. Or how high you placed in Most Valuable Player ballots, or even necessarily how many All-Star Games you made. The notion of “I know a Hall of Famer when I see one” continues to trend downward among the Baseball Writers Association of America’s voter base.
So while Bert Blyleven qualified for only two Midsummer Classics in 22 years and never finished higher than third place in Cy Young Award voting, he gained entry in his 14th (second to last) year of eligibility, crossing the 75-percent threshold in 2011 with 79.7 percent, by virtue of his 3,701 strikeouts (an old-school metric given new-school consideration). Tim Raines, a dynamo for much of the 1980s and then largely a role player through 2002, attained immortality with 86 percent in 2017, his last year on the writers’ ballot after the Hall dropped a player’s maximum time for consideration from 15 years to 10, thanks in part to no one stealing more bases (808) at a higher rate (84.696 percent). Larry Walker overcame the optics that came from playing more than half of his home games at Coors Field to collect 76.6 percent in 2020, his final shot, by virtue of a 141 OPS+, which neutralizes ballpark effects.
Statistical analysis also boosted the candidacies of Edgar Martinez (a 147 OPS+) and Mike Mussina (a 123 ERA+) into the end zone.
All is not lost for those who seemed like no-brainers, only for their careers to be reassessed negatively; Jack Morris, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell (a sabermetric darling) all found love from their Era Committees not long after their time on the writers’ ballot expired. Of course, the Today’s Game Era Committee found controversy of its own in 2018 when it chose Harold Baines, who never garnered as high as seven percent of the writers’ votes, alongside Smith.
On this 2022 writers’ ballot, here’s a look at beneficiaries and victims of the voting body’s evolution:
- Todd Helton. Whereas Walker spent roughly nine and a half of his 17-year career as a Rockie, Helton never played anywhere besides Coors in his 17 big-league seasons. He, too, can show that, via his 131 OPS+, he ranked among the elite after factoring for his home field’s perks. The first baseman enjoyed a 2000-04 peak of 37.5 WAR, topped by only two other players on this ballot, Barry Bonds (51.1) and Alex Rodriguez (43.5), who have their own problems. After tallying 16.5 percent as a first-year candidate in 2019, Helton looks like a good shot to cross 50 percent this time, as per the tallying of Ryan Thibodaux.
- Andruw Jones. The outfielder presents a case somewhat similar to Raines in that he enjoyed an elite start before transitioning into something far less. Whereas Raines’ longevity helped with some counting stats, though, Jones’ secondary selling point is his elite defense, as the metrics verify what we thought we were watching. Jones has elevated from 7.3 percent in 2018 to the high 40s at the moment.
- Scott Rolen. A master glovesman like Jones, the third baseman put up a 122 OPS+ as he excelled at the hot corner for nearly all of his career. He began with 10.2 percent in 2018 and is on track to gather over 60 percent of the votes this time.
KIll the nerds!
- Ryan Howard. The 2006 National League MVP and a two-time home run champ, Howard probably would have received more serious consideration 20 years ago with 382 homers accompanying such highlights. Now, however, in his first year on the ballot, Howard appears unlikely to obtain the five percent necessary to survive the cut. His 125 OPS+ at an offense-first position, combined with poor defense at that position, likely won’t get it done.
- Jeff Kent. The all-time leader in homers by a second baseman (377) clocked many very good seasons and only a few great ones (1998 and 2000 through 2002). Throw in underwhelming defense and that’s why he hasn’t reached as high as the halfway mark of 37.5 percent for election.
- Sammy Sosa. Yes, many suspicions loom over how he went deep 609 times. Yet there’s much more evidence that Barry Bonds used illegal performance-enhancing drugs and Bonds receives far more voter love than Sosa, who clearly will fall short in his 10th and last try on this ballot. That’s at least partly because Sammy’s defense was a liability and his .344 on-base percentage wasn’t outstanding for his era.
Works both ways
- Billy Wagner. Elite closers used to be slam-dunks for enshrinement. Then Smith, whose 478 saves rank third all-time, needed the Era Committee to save him, eliminating that precedent. However, Wagner has steadily climbed, from 10.5 percent in 2016 to 46.4 percent last year, because he compares quite favorably to 2018 inductee Trevor Hoffman.