SAN DIEGO -- Trevor Hoffman is cautiously optimistic that his second time on the ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame is going to be the right time.
Hoffman missed election last year by a scant 34 votes when Mariners slugger Ken Griffey Jr. and Mets catcher Mike Piazza were elected by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Based on the tracking done so far by Ryan Thibodaux of 174 public BBWAA ballots, Hoffman is moving up, showing a net gain of 13 votes with at least 276 to be counted. Last year, 440 writers sent in ballots. Like any candidate, Hoffman must be named on 75 percent of them. Last year, he finished at 67.3 percent. Full disclosure: I voted for Hoffman on both occasions.
The results of the 73rd BBWAA Hall of Fame election will be revealed Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. ET live on MLB Network, and simulcast live on MLB.com beginning at 5 p.m. A press conference introducing any of the new inductees will be the next day.
"It's going to be nip and tuck, honestly," Hoffman recently told MLB.com. "I've been taking a look at the tracking of the ballots [Thibodaux] has been able to see, and it's going to be a couple of percentage points either way. It's going to be a little nerve-wracking, no doubt about it."
The fact that Hoffman needs to pick up only about 21 more votes among the remaining ballots is a good reason for him to be cautiously optimistic.
Thibodaux, who's @NotMrTibbs on Twitter, said in his experience the vote for closers actually increases by as much as 5 percent when the non-public ballots are tabulated.
That may be because the group of writers who choose to remain anonymous are older and put more of a premium on closers, saves and longevity. Younger writers seem to place less emphasis on those categories and a lot more on modern analytics. Beginning next year, the BBWAA has decided that all ballots will be released to the public.
Hoffman's WAR, for example, was 28.0, 316th all-time among pitchers. Mariano Rivera, generally considered to be the greatest closer ever, had a WAR of 56.6, 73rd all-time among pitchers, but first among pitchers who spent most of their careers closing.
Rivera had 652 saves and 42 more in the postseason, all of them for the Yankees, and he's the all-time leader in both categories. Hoffman is ranked second with 601 saves, 552 of them for the Padres.
Their names are on the trophies that honor the best reliever in each league during the regular season, Hoffman representing the National League, Rivera the American League.
"I saw a column where I had about 60 percent of the vote among younger writers," Hoffman said. "It wasn't a huge backing by them. So, I hope what [Thibodaux] is saying stands true."
In his 18-year career, Hoffman had 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.058 WHIP. His 2.87 ERA is fifth all-time among relievers behind Rivera (2.21), Billy Wagner (2.31), Ron Perranoski (2.79) and Bruce Sutter (2.83).
Wagner, like Hoffman, is in his second year on the ballot, but he's gained little traction. Sutter is the only pure reliever in the Hall of Fame, having been elected by the writers in '06. Hoffman, a converted shortstop, would be the second pitcher in the Hall to never make a start.
Even Rivera made 10 starts for the Yankees in his rookie year of 1995. He was then converted to a setup role behind closer John Wetteland, who was the World Series MVP in '96, saving all four wins for the Yankees against the Braves. When Wetteland left New York in free agency, Rivera became New York's closer.
There's no doubt that Rivera will be voted into the Hall his first time on the ballot in 2019.
Since 1992, the list of Hall-elected pitchers who spent all or part of their careers closing include Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Sutter, Rich "Goose" Gossage and John Smoltz. Eckersley and Smoltz, of course, were also dominant starters.
Hoffman said he's perplexed that on the current ballot, relievers Lee Smith and Wagner "aren't getting more love."
Smith, in his 15th and final year on the ballot, is tracking at 27.6 percent after finishing at 34.1 percent last year. Wagner is tracking at 12.1 percent, just above the 10.5 percent he finished at in '16.
Over 18 seasons, Smith had 478 saves, a former record Hoffman and then Rivera surpassed. Wagner had 422 saves in 16 seasons and his 2.31 ERA, 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.00 WHIP are all better than Hoffman. But the left-hander's WAR of 27.7 is slightly below the right-hander, who relied on a slider as his out pitch.
"I would have liked to have seen Lee, in his last year, get some kind of love," Hoffman said. "Unfortunately he was sandwiched in his career between the guys who closed with multiple innings like Rollie and Goose and the one-inning guys like Eck. And I don't understand the Billy stuff. You look at some of his production numbers and the guy was pretty dominant for a long time."
Meanwhile, it's just a waiting game for Hoffman. Last year, he played golf on the day the results were announced, returning to his home north of San Diego just in time to wait in vain. This year, he said he has no plans except to sit around with his family and hope to get that call from the Hall.
He said he'll do so without any fanfare.
"I'm not going for the full media thing with cameras around," he said. "If I don't get in, it's like putting up plastic in the clubhouse [anticipating winning a championship] and not getting it done and having the clubbies have to rip it all down. It's going to be so close. I'm just going to lay low at the house and see what happens."