Griffey, Hoffman among first-timers; results set for Jan. 6
By AJ Cassavell
Hall of Fame ballots were due Monday, and, as always, there are quite a few issues that need to be resolved.
Ultimately, the only question that really matters is: "Who is a Hall of Famer?" If at least 75 percent of voters put a check next to a candidate's name, that player will be inducted. Simple enough, right?
Well, not exactly. We've learned to look deeper when it comes to Hall voting. Trends matter. Players who make the biggest moves one year tend to set themselves up for future induction.
With that in mind, here are 10 important questions on this year's Hall of Fame ballot. (Note: We won't learn the answers until results are released on Jan. 6.)
How high can Ken Griffey Jr. go?
There's no conceivable way Griffey will miss out on the Hall of Fame in 2016. But it's worth wondering just how high he'll climb in the voting. Griffey likely won't reach the record 98.84 percent that Tom Seaver achieved in 1992, because, well, no one ever comes close to being unanimous anymore. But Griffey, who has yet to be omitted from any ballot that has been made public, should receive more than 95 percent of the vote, which would put him in an exclusive club with just 14 other players in history.
Is this Mike Piazza's year?
In the past half-century, 17 players have returned to the ballot a year after receiving at least 70 percent of the vote. Only Jim Bunning didn't make it on his next try. Piazza currently sits at 69.9 percent, entering his fourth year on the ballot. With four players having earned induction last year, Piazza could very well see a surge in voting that lifts him above the 75-percent threshold. (Even if he doesn't, trends tell us he's due for induction sometime soon.)
Will we see movement -- in either direction -- on Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds?
The percentages for Clemens and Bonds have hardly moved at all. They've each sat in the mid-30s for every one of their three years on the ballot. It's not normal to see players remain so stagnant. But, then again, the cases of Clemens and Bonds -- which have been shaped largely by questions about performance-enhancing drug use -- aren't normal. It's worth wondering whether we'll finally see some change in the average voter's perception of the pair. On one hand, voters may soften their stances against PEDs. But on the other hand, some voters may simply omit Clemens and Bonds to make room for other deserving candidates, knowing the pair is unlikely to gain induction this year.
What happens now that the 2014-15 logjam is over?
Seven players were voted into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in 2014 and '15 -- the highest total for consecutive years since 1954-55. During that time, writers complained of a logjam on the ballot, created by the 10-candidate maximum. This time around, there clearly aren't as many first-ballot Hall of Famers. And the receding logjam could benefit a few of those players who finished 11th or 12th in the minds of voters. If that's the case, who benefits the most? Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez are obvious candidates.
Can Raines and Jeff Bagwell position themselves for 2017 induction?
Raines (55 percent last year) and Bagwell (55.7 percent) are probably long shots for induction in 2016. Joe Cronin in 1956 was the last player to be inducted one year after receiving a lower percentage of the vote than Bagwell and Raines. And since then, only Ralph Kiner has been voted into the Hall a year after receiving less than 60 percent of the vote. But this is still a critical year for the pair -- especially Raines, whose final shot on the ballot is 2017. If they can boost their totals this year -- perhaps as the result of the '14-15 bubble having burst -- they could set themselves up to be elected in 2017.
How might the devaluing of saves and closers hurt Trevor Hoffman?
In some circles, Hoffman is a lock for the Hall of Fame. In others, he doesn't even belong in the conversation. There isn't a more polarizing new candidate this year than Hoffman, who racked up a then-record 601 career saves but has since seen a part of the baseball world devalue the closer role. The Hall of Fame doesn't include players on the ballot until five years after they've retired -- largely so we can try to gain some context on what their careers really meant. Hoffman could be the type of player who sees his candidacy hurt by that bylaw.
Will Alan Trammell and Mark McGwire get a boost in their final shot at BBWAA election?
The final votes have been cast for Trammell and McGwire, and it's almost a certainty that neither will be elected. Trammell received just 25.1 percent of the vote a year ago, while McGwire got just 10. Still, it's worth wondering whether either of them will make a jump in their final shot at enshrinement. In the case of Trammell especially, a boost in his final vote could be a prelude to enshrinement via the Veterans Committee. Ron Santo, Bill Mazeroski and Orlando Cepeda -- all of whom were recently inducted via the committee -- saw a jump in their vote totals in their final years on the ballot.
Is this the year Mussina starts climbing?
The early returns say yes. According to BBHOFtracker.com, which tracks ballots that have already been unveiled to the public, no player has received more votes from people who didn't vote for him in 2015 than Mussina. As we mentioned earlier, Mussina was likely left off several ballots in his first two seasons because voters who felt he was worthy simply didn't have enough space on their ballots. It's been assumed that Mussina would someday make a serious run at induction. But his vote totals of 20.3 and 24.6 were somewhat discouraging. Still, in the past 50 years, nine players have been elected after receiving a first-year percentage lower than 30 -- and Raines could make it 10. If Mussina is going to mount a charge, this year could mark the start.
Can Sammy Sosa, Nomar Garciaparra and Jim Edmonds remain on the ballot?
Hall of Fame voting stipulates that a candidate must receive at least 5 percent of the votes to remain on the ballot the following year. That would appear to put the candidacies of Sosa (6.6 percent last year) and Garciaparra (5.5) in serious jeopardy. Bernie Williams, Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez are all recent examples of players who hit the 5-percent threshold one year, only to see their vote totals drop below the mark the following year. Meanwhile, Edmonds makes his debut, and -- while it's unlikely he'll ever make a serious push at 75 percent -- it will be interesting to see how voters view his candidacy, and whether he sticks around for a few years.
Who will be the newest one-vote wonder?
One of the more lighthearted moments in each year's election cycle comes when we get news of the unexpected players who received votes. Count Aaron Sele, Jacque Jones and Brad Radke among those in that exclusive club. Last year alone, Tom Gordon, Aaron Boone and Darin Erstad all got recognized. So which players could surprise us with their inclusion? David Eckstein, Mike Hampton, Mike Sweeney and Brad Ausmus are all candidates this time around.
AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.