MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Early returns show Hall of Fame hopefuls on the rise

Early returns show Hall of Fame hopefuls on the rise

Just 51 of the 121 men voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America gained entry on their first ballot appearance. The rest had their careers and statistics analyzed, scrutinized and sometimes politicized for anywhere from two to 15 voting periods, and the process by which players' candidacies evolve along with analytics and opinions is a fascinating one.

The results of the 73rd BBWAA Hall of Fame election will be revealed on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET live on MLB Network and simulcast live on MLB.com beginning at 5 p.m. ET. But thanks to the work of a fan named Ryan Thibodaux, whose accounting of publicly available ballots at his Hall of Fame Tracker site has become a must-click link for candidates and fans alike, we get a sneak preview of how voting might shake out.

As of this writing, Thibodaux has compiled 195 public and anonymous ballots, or 44.8 percent of the estimated 435 votes cast. Obviously, with so many ballots unrevealed, the currently available results and the actual results can differ quite a bit (percentages tend to go down in the final tallies), but this polling gives us a reasonable window into what final voting might look like.

It's a stock watch, of sorts, and these are the eight men who have seen the greatest gains in 2017.

*Remember that players need to appear on 75 percent of ballots to be inducted and note that, to make this as fair a comparison as possible, the percentages listed below a player's name are from the publicly available ballots. A player's actual vote percentages are cited within the text where appropriate.

Edgar Martinez (eighth year on ballot)
2016 percentage on public ballots: 47.1
2017: 66.3
Difference: 19.2

Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez and future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera called Edgar the toughest hitter they faced. Perhaps those endorsements have helped Edgar make a pretty remarkable rise as he nears the end of his eligibility (players are now capped at 10 years total).

In Martinez's first three years on the ballot, he finished north of 30 percent. Then, in 2014-15, when first-ballot entrants Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Pedro crowded the ballot, Edgar dipped to 25.2. But last year, he made a dramatic leap, and the public ballots seem to indicate another big surge this year. It won't be enough to get Martinez entry yet, but his chances of induction are suddenly looking a lot stronger than they did two years ago.

Barry Bonds (fifth year)
2016: 45.5
2017: 64.6
Difference: 19.1

Roger Clemens (fifth year)
2016: 45.8
2017: 64.1
Difference: 18.3

We're pairing Bonds and Clemens here for obvious reasons. They are inevitably tied together by the stain of steroid suspicion that has sullied their otherwise obvious Hall cases. There has been plenty of public discourse about their increased Hall support, with some voters citing Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig's election via the Today's Era Committee as reason to change their minds. For others, it comes down to an evolution of thought that comes with the kind of context only time can create. Whatever the reason, the jump makes it seem much more likely that Bonds and Clemens get in.

Interestingly, Clemens has gotten slightly more support than Bonds each of the four years they've been on the ballot, but, in these results, it's the other way around.

MLB Now on Bonds, Clemens

Tim Raines (10th and final year)
2016: 74.2
2017: 91.3
Difference: 17.1

As evidence of the aforementioned discrepancy between the public and final tallies, Raines fell just a tick short of the 75-percent threshold in publicly released ballots last year but was at 69.8 percent in voting. This year, in his last appearance before the BBWAA jury, Raines looks like a lock. He is the classic case of a player forced to do his time, having totals rise and fall according to the depth of a particular field.

But time has allowed numbers like Wins Above Replacement, which didn't even exist when Raines was playing, to become more commonplace in the public consciousness, aiding Raines' case, and plenty of online campaigning has supported this surge.

Jeff Bagwell (seventh year)
2016: 75.8
2017: 90.8
Difference: 15

Bagwell is this year's other lock, and he got to this point a little quicker than Raines did. But Bagwell's candidacy was hurt in its early years by the cloud of steroid suspicion without a shred of hard evidence. That's the same kind of suspicion that Mike Piazza faced, and Piazza's entry a year ago quite likely tipped the scales in Bagwell's favor. He fell 15 votes shy a year ago, and as we see from the public ballot gains, there's no reason to believe he won't make up that ground.

Bagwell anticipating HOF answer

Mike Mussina (fourth year)
2016: 48.4
2017: 60.5
Difference: 12.1

Like Martinez, Mussina seems to be benefiting from the cleaning of the books that accompanied the induction of seven players total over the course of 2014-15. His first year on the ballot doubled as the first and only years for Maddux and Glavine, and his career simply didn't have that kind of acclaim attached to it. But context-driven stats like ERA+ help us better understand just how good Mussina, who pitched his entire career in the American League East during a time when offensive numbers exploded, really was. The more those stats have been bandied about, the more love Mussina has received. Last year, he saw a big jump -- from 24.6 percent to 43 percent -- in the final ballot, and it looks like he's rising again in '17, and perhaps he's slowly closing in on enshrinement.

Larry Walker (seventh year)
2016: 15.8
2017: 24.1
Difference: 8.3

As you can see, Walker, whose numbers were inflated by Coors Field but was also pretty doggone good on the road, too, has a long way to go and little time left. It doesn't look like the BBWAA process is going to smile upon him.

But he does have some upward mobility here. Last year, Walker's percentage on the public ballots (15.8) was almost identical to his percentage on the final ballot (15.5), so the 24.1 figure might not be far off.

Ringolsby on Walker's HOF hopes

Trevor Hoffman (second year)
2016: 66.5
2017: 72.8
Difference: 6.3

Before you look at the this year's figure and assume Hoffman will fall just short again this year, he actually fared a little bit better in the final tally (67.3) than he did in the real tally (66.5) last year. Some voters are simply hard-liners when it comes to closers (only five players who spent the majority of their careers as relievers are in the Hall), and that could explain why Hoffman's perceived gains in his second year in this process are modest ones, relative to the others on this list.

But Hoffman finished just 34 votes shy in his first year, and he'll probably inch closer in '17. Even if he doesn't cross the line this year, there's reason to believe Hoffman will, as usual, close it out.

MLB Tonight: Hoffman a HOFer?

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.