• Josh Talevski

Previewing the 2021 MLB Hall of Fame Ballot


Image Via Bleacher Report

The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voting result is fast approaching. With many of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America releasing their votes ahead of the Jan. 26 announcement date, it’s time to take a look at the leading vote-getters, players losing traction and those looking to make a push on one of the least crowded ballots in the past few years.


The 2021 class is headlined by outfielder Barry Bonds, starting pitchers Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling and newcomers such as Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson and Torii Hunter. As always, players will need 75 percent of votes to earn election into the Hall of Fame.


CONTROVERSIAL CANDIDATES


Schilling (70.0% vote total in 2020), Clemens (61.0%) and Bonds (60.7%) were some of the most outspoken and polarizing players during the 1990s and 2000s, and a few of the closest players who have been unable to garner enough votes for induction in the last few years. Due to the lack of star power on this year’s ballot, it would be easy to assume that the vote totals would rise for all three of these former major-leaguers, especially as this is each individual’s ninth year on the ballot.


Bonds is the only player in MLB history to claim seven Most Valuable Player Awards; Clemens is the only pitcher to win seven Cy Young Awards. Both are also in the top 10 in all-time career Wins Above Replacement (WAR). While it seems more likely this year that this duo could receive the necessary number of votes, odds are that Bonds and Clemens' cases are still hindered due to their history with steroid abuse.


Schilling amassed 216 wins, a 3.46 ERA, is one of 18 players to record 3000 career strikeouts and was runner-up in Cy Young Award voting three times. Schilling is also 26th all-time in career pitching WAR (79.5), which is higher than 47 inducted starting pitchers. Although Schilling’s win total is low compared to many Hall of Fame inductees, he was long regarded as one of the most dominant pitchers during his 20-year career and arguably the best postseason starter in history. Despite Schilling’s rocky relations with the media over the years, this could finally be the year his numbers earn him a spot in Cooperstown.


HOPEFUL VETERANS


Many veterans on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot will try to make a push for Cooperstown. The most likely candidates to see a positive spike in voting would be Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, and Billy Wagner. Omar Vizquel and Jeff Kent may also see an uptick in votes, but it’s less probable they take as great a leap.


The rise of advanced analytics, such as WAR and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), are two key player measurements that have bolstered the cases of Rolen and Jones especially. Rolen may see his vote total more than double as it did last season thanks to a career WAR of 70.9, which is 10th all-time among third baseman according to Baseball-Reference. Additionally, Rolen racked up eight Gold Glove awards, made seven All-Star teams and hit 316 home runs, which puts him in the top 15 among all third baseman. On the other hand, Jones’ career batting average, on-base percentage and post-2007 batting numbers overshadow his 10 Gold Gloves and 434 home runs.


Helton, a lifetime Colorado Rockie, will have to endure the debate of whether Coors Field aided his offensive numbers during his career, leading to more home runs and a higher batting average than he would have had in a different home ballpark. Helton’s career WAR of 61.8 is higher than inducted first basemen Orlando Cepeda, Harmon Killebrew and George Sisler. Additionally, Helton was also a three-time Gold Glove first baseman, four-time Silver Slugger Award winner and five-time All-Star. However, it remains to be seen whether ballpark-adjusted number projections will help or hurt his candidacy.


Wagner, who is sixth all-time in career saves and has the second-most by a left-handed pitcher, deserves more recognition from voters who have only inducted a total of eight relievers into the Hall of Fame. Some of Wagner’s career accolades include having the second-lowest ERA among all relievers and leading all relievers in strikeouts per nine innings, batting average against, and WHIP. Wagner was clearly one of baseball’s finest at holding runners and getting big outs. Unfortunately for Wagner, he only threw 903 innings in his major league career, whereas no Hall of Fame relief pitcher threw less than 1,042. Wagner’s case also suffers due to his saves numbers (422) when compared to inducted relievers Trevor Hoffman (601) and Mariano Rivera (652).


FIRST BALLOT PLAYERS


It’s odd to leave the newcomers to the very end, but this year’s rookie class feels short of a surefire Hall of Famer. With that being said, Buehrle, Hudson, and Hunter are the names that have attracted the most attention so far, but it is not a guarantee that all three earn the five percent necessary to make it on the 2022 ballot.


Buehrle’s career, which consists of 214 wins, 3.81 ERA and 3000-plus innings pitched across 16 seasons, shows his excellence and endurance, however, he is more remembered for his no-hitter in 2007 and perfect game in 2009 than he is for being one of baseball’s most dominant starters.


Hudson, who finished with a lifetime 3.49 ERA and was in the top five in Cy Young Award voting three times, trumps Buehrle in wins (222 to 214) and strikeouts (2080 to 1870), but his career WAR of 57.9 still comes up short compared to Buehrle’s 59.1. I think given a few deeper statistics both of these players will stay on next year’s ballot, however, both are far from Hall of Famers, at least at this current moment.


Torii Hunter was one of the more consistent highlight-reel defenders during the 2000s. Of course, his nine Gold Gloves and home run robbery of Bonds in the 2002 All-Star Game aren’t enough to enshrine him in Cooperstown. Hunter batted a lifetime .277 with 2,452 hits, 153 home runs and a WAR of 50.7. Hunter’s defensive greatness boosts his Hall of Fame chances for sure, but Hunter was just an above-average hitter and was never considered one of the game’s best. Many of Hunter’s numbers fall short of one of his contemporaries, the previously mentioned Andruw Jones, meaning it’s going to take a boost in voting for Jones in order for Hunter to gain momentum among voters in the future.


MY PERSONAL BALLOT


Disclaimer: I do not give any votes to players who were aided by performance-enhancing drugs or other substances. With that being said I’d give my votes to Schilling, Wagner, Helton, Rolen, Kent, Jones, Buehrle, and Hudson. While I usually try to give a vote to the maximum 10 players, eight players will have to suffice this year. While I am not sure that Jones, Buehrle, and Hudson are truly Hall of Fame-caliber players, I do think that in the future the Hall of Fame voters will have to adjust what they look for in determining which players belong in Cooperstown, and these three deserve to get a deeper look.


2021 VOTING PREDICTIONS


It’s getting increasingly difficult to decide which players deserve to join the ranks of baseball immortality, but for this year, only Schilling gets the Hall of Fame call despite the upwards trend in votes for Bonds, Clemens and others.


Feel free to voice your opinions @ftsmlb on Twitter or let me know @JoshTalevski if you think I left somebody out!