The 5 Most Intriguing Candidates on 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

Jordan Cohn
January 16, 2020 - 9:11 am
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The 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame vote marked a few significant moments in baseball history. Roy Halladay’s untimely death made his induction all the more emotional, as his wife Brandy gave a moving speech in his honor. Edgar Martinez’s induction marked the first time that a prominent DH received the nod (alongside Harold Baines). And Mariano Rivera became the first unanimous entrant ever, bringing massive crowds to Cooperstown for the subsequent ceremony in August. Over 50,000 fans flooded the small village of Cooperstown, the second largest total only to the 2007 ceremony in which Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken were honored.

But 2020 has the potential to bring a crowd that could shatter previous records, with several of baseball history’s most beloved and/or controversial figures appearing on the ballot. Who will get in and who will not is heavily debated among the baseball community, and a few especially polarizing candidates could completely rewrite history with their induction into the Hall of Fame.

All figures and statistics from Baseball Reference and the Hall of Fame Tracker, courtesy of Ryan Thibodaux.

Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter is expected to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Photo credit (Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Lock

Derek Jeter

The only real debate about Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame candidacy is whether or not the vote will be unanimous. It certainly seems to be leaning in that direction, and his induction will be a large reason as to why the loyal (and local) New York natives will flock to Cooperstown for his ceremony. It’s with good reason, too, that The Captain will be remembered alongside baseball’s greatest.

Jeter’s resume is extremely impressive without the newly emphasized analytical slant with which many players are evaluated. He’s the only player since 1930 with 3,400 hits, 300 steals and a .300 average, and the only players before that cutoff to achieve these numbers are Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Tris Speaker: not bad company!

Analytically, his case is weakened slightly. His offensive numbers need not be explained any further, but to reinforce his potency from the plate, it’s worth mentioning that his offensive bWAR of 96.3 puts him behind only 19 other players in baseball history. His defensive WAR, however, sits at -8.3, making his total WAR lower than players like Lou Whitaker and Larry Walker (more on him below).

A WAR that high would certainly indicate a strong argument for Hall of Fame status, but wouldn’t seem to point to a unanimous vote. But Jeter’s presence throughout the Steroid Era as the leader of the most important team in baseball combined with teammate Mariano Rivera’s unanimous vote means that he should receive the same adoration from the BBWAA, as well.

So far, so good for Mr. November: he has been voted in by all 140-plus ballots that have been released so far.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker is in his final year on the Hall of Fame ballot. Photo credit (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Other Likely Entrants

None.

I really don’t think you can frame any of the other names that appear on the ballot as “likely” in their chances of being inducted. But who of the remaining players have the highest chance of being eternally recognized for their contributions to the game?

Larry Walker

In recent years, players in the final year of eligibility have received a generous boost in support. There’s a reason that they were included on the ballot and maintained a level of support for so long, and knowing that they become ineligible the following year has often helped their cases.

Edgar Martinez, after receiving less than a 50% share of the vote for seven years, saw his share of votes go up to 70% in his penultimate year on the ballot, followed by a convincing 85.4% in the final year, enough to get him in by a significant margin. Tim Raines, similarly, saw a 16% boost in votes in his last year as a candidate, which pushed him over the top and allowed his entry into the class of 2017.

Walker seems to be trending along a comparable -- but perhaps slightly less-promising -- path, collecting a 54% positive vote last year. So far, he’s at 85.1% in the publicly-released ballots. Every first-time voter has given him the nod so far, and he has received high praise from many baseball writers. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan called him “truly one of the greatest all-around players in baseball history,” and the stats back up this statement:

His 1997 season saw him put up absolutely ridiculous numbers and marks one of two times in baseball history that a player has collected 200 hits, 40 home runs, 30 steals and a 1.000 OPS in a single season. His 1.172 OPS that year is in the top 40 single-season figures of all time, sitting right between names such as, oh, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

With solid road stats to negate the Coors Field argument, seven Gold Glove Awards and a clean record in a notoriously dirty era of baseball, Walker may still just barely eke out a 75% vote based on his current status.

Curt Schilling
Curt Schilling is one of the most accomplished postseason pitchers ever. Photo credit (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Curt Schilling

From my article on SportsRadio 94 WIP earlier this year:

"He’s one of 17 members in the esteemed 3,000 strikeout club. He’s got three World Series rings and took home the Series MVP award in 2001. His postseason dominance manifested itself in an 11-2 record in 19 appearances, with his ERA sitting at just 2.23. He’s one of 26 pitchers with a career WAR of 80 or higher, and every other pitcher (excluding Clemens) has a plaque in Cooperstown. And of this year’s eligible candidates, his WAR is third-highest over players like Derek Jeter and Manny Ramirez.

So why is Schilling not in the Hall yet? One possibility is that he never won the Cy Young Award, but as a three-time runner up, this shouldn’t be a major issue. Perhaps his win total doesn’t do it for the writers, but while he trailed pitchers like Tom Glavine, he had more Ks and a better ERA, WHIP, and FIP than his Braves counterpart. And if Mussina’s case relied heavily on analytical figures like Adjusted ERA+, Schilling should have no trouble. He’s tied with HoFers Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver at No. 50 overall in that statistic, and is the only non-HoF pitcher (excluding Roger Clemens) in the top-25 for adjusted pitching wins, which analyzes the pitcher’s contribution to his team’s success ignoring all other factors."

It’s the off-field issues that may have had (and continue to have) the largest impact on his case to enter Cooperstown. His activity on Twitter has been highly criticized by fans and baseball writers alike.

But his on-field performance may be enough to get him through, and he has already gained nine tallies from voters who had previously left him off their final ballots. Currently sitting at 79.9%, it remains to be seen how the private ballots will alter the final percentage (though last year they had a negative effect on his overall numbers), but he’ll certainly be close.

Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds has more home runs than any player in MLB history. Photo credit (Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Unlikely Entrants (this year)

Barry Bonds

Derek Jeter’s induction is monumental. And still, it would pale in comparison to the reactions, media coverage and complete overhaul of baseball history if Barry Bonds were to be voted into the Hall.

This is Bonds’ eighth year on the ballot. He finished with a 59% vote last year, meaning he needs around 70 votes to be overturned from last year’s ballots if he wants a chance to get in. Most voters that stand against PED-connected players ever being enshrined have remained steadfast in their opinions over the years. However, there has been a fairly steady incline in his voting history, as his 2013 figure of 36% has slowly crept up to its current stance. But can a 15% swing in votes really occur in this year alone?

The preliminary data from Thibodaux shows that Bonds has received a 76.2% vote so far from public and anonymous ballots. Promising, right?

...not really. The figure is very deceiving, as most of the ballots that have already been released voted the same way for Bonds last year. There have only been two gained votes from last year’s voters so far, and one “yes” vote was overturned into a “no.” So while Bonds is off to a good start, the private ballots that dragged down his percentage last year may have the same effect when it’s all said and done.

Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens is in his final years on the Hall of Fame ballot. Photo credit (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Roger Clemens

The same exact scenario is playing out with Clemens’ Hall of Fame case. Like Bonds, The Rocket is in his eighth year of candidacy, received 59% of the vote last season, and is hovering around the 75% mark needed for entry based on the public ballots. He has already lost two votes from public ballots this year, meaning the private ballots will drag him down a significant amount: last year, the pre-results had Clemens at around 70%, but the ballots that were revealed later brought him down 11 percentage points.

With the outlook for Bonds and Clemens looking similarly bleak (a percentage in the low sixties), 2020 is unlikely to be the year that Cooperstown opens its golden gates to those with steroid allegations. Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez are some of the prominent candidates that will be affected by this trend currently.

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