MLB.com analyzes the candidates' chances to reach Cooperstown
By Andrew Simon
In July, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza ascended to the ranks of baseball legends when they were officially inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Soon, the Class of 2017 will join them in Cooperstown, N.Y. This year's ballot was mailed to eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Monday, and the results will be announced on Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. ET, live on MLB.com and MLB Network.
It's a ballot stocked with both worthy returners and intriguing newcomers, and it's one that is sure to inspire plenty of debate. Here is a preview of the 2017 Hall of Fame voting, with the candidates broken down into groups based on their chances of election. Holdovers are listed with their vote percentage from '16 (75 percent is required for election).
(For a look at how the candidates fared in an informal poll of MLB.com reporters, columnists and insiders that was taken after the 2016 induction, click here).
This should be the year
Jeff Bagwell (71.6 percent)
Tim Raines (69.8 percent)
This will be Raines' final season on the ballot, after the BBWAA shrunk the eligibility window from 15 years to 10 beginning with the 2015 election. Although the Veterans Committee remains as a fallback option down the line, that now-or-never dynamic should inspire a surge in support for a player who has been trending upward. The speedy outfielder went from 46.1 percent on a crowded 2014 ballot to 55.0 percent in '15 and then all the way to 69.8 percent in the last election.
Bagwell also saw his chances take a significant leap last time around. After four straight years of hovering between 54 and 60 percent, the former Astros first baseman made it all the way to 71.6 percent on his sixth try, putting him on the doorstep of Cooperstown.
Both cleared 75 percent in the MLB.com poll, and history is on their side as well. In the past 50 BBWAA elections, 19 players received at least 69 percent of the vote without reaching the 75-percent mark, not counting those in their final year on the ballot. All 19 are now in the Hall, and 17 of them were elected by the BBWAA the next year. That includes Piazza, who had received 69.9 percent of the vote in 2015 before getting over the hump.
Trevor Hoffman (67.3 percent)
With his 601 saves, Hoffman fared quite well in his first year on the ballot, garnering 67.3 percent of the vote. That's a great sign, though it doesn't guarantee election in 2017, considering the two holdover candidates ahead of him, plus the newcomers.
Over the past 50 years, five others received between 66 and 68.9 percent in their first year. Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Carlton Fisk all were elected the following year, while Gaylord Perry and Craig Biggio waited two years.
There is no Griffey this year -- a player who clearly will cruise into Cooperstown on his first try. Both Rodriguez and Guerrero have potential Hall of Fame resumes, but it seems unlikely that either will get in this year, especially with multiple worthy holdovers still around. That's more true for Guerrero, who received only 46.3 percent in the informal MLB.com poll, compared with 70.7 percent for Rodriguez.
Rodriguez certainly has an argument for induction, with 14 All-Star selections, 13 Gold Glove Awards, an MVP Award, and more than 300 home runs and 2,800 hits. But among catchers, only Johnny Bench got in his first year. The better comparisons for Rodriguez might be Fisk (second year), Piazza (fourth year) and Gary Carter (sixth year).
Guerrero, also with an MVP Award to his credit, was a feared and dangerous hitter who posted a career line of .318/.379/.553 (140 On-base Plus Slugging Plus) with 59.3 Wins Above Replacement. His chances are a bit hard to pin down, particularly given the evolving nature of the BBWAA electorate and the way it evaluates players. Consider four other outfielders with careers comparable to Guerrero's, each of whom also fell short of 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Willie Stargell (147 OPS+, 57.5 WAR) was a first-ballot pick, while Billy Williams (133 OPS+, 63.5 WAR) waited six years, Duke Snider (140 OPS+, 66.5 WAR) waited 11 and Larry Walker (141 OPS+, 72.6 WAR) has gained little traction in six years on the ballot so far.
Has the stats, but ...
One other first-year candidate is a potential Hall of Famer in terms of his numbers, but that comes with a big asterisk. While Ramirez hit 555 homers, drove in 1,831 runs, posted a 154 OPS+ and produced 69.2 WAR, he also was suspended twice for performance-enhancing drug use. At some point in the future, Ramirez might overcome that. But there is no evidence that will happen anytime soon, given that Barry Bonds has yet to reach 50 percent in his four years on the ballot, while players such as Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa have struggled even more. Ramirez got 36.6 percent of the vote in this summer's MLB.com poll.
Heading in the right direction
Curt Schilling (52.3 percent)
Roger Clemens (45.2 percent)
Bonds (44.3 percent) Edgar Martinez (43.4 percent)
Mike Mussina (43.0 percent)
Each of these players gained at least seven percentage points from 2015-16, finishing with between 43.0 and 53.2 percent of the vote. That bodes well, in the sense that just two players in the past 50 years -- Gil Hodges and Jack Morris -- have reached 50 percent without eventually being inducted by either the BBWAA or Veterans Committee (Lee Smith could soon become the third). None is a serious threat to make that leap in '17, and Martinez in particular (eighth year) is running out of time.
A long ways to go
Smith (34.1 percent)
Fred McGriff (20.9 percent)
Jeff Kent (16.6 percent)
Walker (15.5 percent)
Gary Sheffield (11.6 percent)
Billy Wagner (10.5 percent)
Sosa (7.0 percent)
This year is the last hurrah on the BBWAA ballot for Smith, who peaked in 2012 (50.6 percent) and received just 34.1 percent the last time around. Each of the other candidates got below 21 percent in the '16 voting, and the 10-year limit figures to make it difficult for them to make up so much ground in so little time.
The (other) new guys
None of these players received 5 percent or better in the informal poll of MLB.com staffers, and many figure to meet the same fate in the BBWAA voting, which would knock them off the ballot for 2018.
Each enjoyed a fine career in his own right, but the one with the best chance of staying on the ballot may be Posada, a five-time All-Star who won five Silver Slugger Awards as a catcher, helping the Yankees win four championships. Posada's longtime teammate Bernie Williams, a player with a similar sort of resume, got 9.6 percent of the vote in his first try, but then fell off the ballot the following year.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.