2015 Hall-of-Fame Quick Take: Half-Empty, Half-Full; the Hall of Screwed; & Ridiculously Predicting the Next Three Years

(1) The Hall is Half-Empty. I suppose last year's voting was sillier; not only did a majority of voters think Jack Morris deserves the Hall, but over three times as many thought so than voted for Mike Mussina or Curt Schilling. The similar nonsense this year is over three times as many thinking John Smoltz deserving as thinking Mussina was, given that Mussina was far more clearly Hall-worthy, whether your metric is wins (even if Smoltz remained a starter in his four years as a reliever, he wouldn't have Mussina's 270 wins), career WAR (Mussina's 82.7 is well above Hall-caliber and nearly 25% better than Smoltz's kinda-Hall-caliber 66.5), or elite years (Mussina had a league-wide top-5 WAR seven times, including a #1; Smoltz had three, with no #1s). Two Smoltzy thought experiments: (1) If Smoltz pitched instead for the Royals or Twins, and lacked the World Series aura and the Maddux/Glavine reflected glow, is there a shot in hell he'd be a first-ballot winner, or wouldn't he be a weaker Bert Blyleven case, earning election only after many years of languishing and hand-wringing? (2) Lots of Smoltz voters stressed that he had 200 wins and 150 saves, as if his four years of being too brittle for starting pitching added rather than subtracted value, and as if any solid starter couldn't rack up 150 saves in four years – so, shouldn't C.C. Sabathia ask to finish out his contract as the Yankees' closer, in the hopes of supplementing his 200 wins with the 150 saves that apparently combine to make you a Hall of Famer?

Yet with 12-16 strong candidates (depending on your steroid views and some borderliners), the very worst of the ballots this year were those saying yes to only 3-6 candidates: Marty Noble's three included none of the dozen-ish holdovers, only the three new folks (Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz) – with a repetition of Noble's 100% unsupported suspicion that Craig Biggio juiced too; Juan Vene's six included Lee Smith, Carlos Delgado, and Fred McGriff; and there were more like both of those – an only-the-elite 3, or a 5-7 with wasted spots.

(2) The Hall is Half-Full. But the backlog is getting winnowed, and the next few years' ballots are roomier. After the disastrous nobody-elected 2013, we've seen 7 elected in two years – the most since 1954-55, with 2015 the first class of four in 60 years. Next year's first-year class is the weakest in years: Ken Griffey is not only a lock, but also the only one likely cracking 50%; Jim Edmonds deserves some consideration but will be lucky to reach 20%; Trevor Hoffman may get solid support too, but that's about it. The class after that is similarly weak: Ivan Rodriguez should be a lock but lacks the overwhelming numbers to be a "first-ballot" electee, and voters don't grade on a curve like they should for catchers, who simply can't rack up 15+ elite years (even Gary Carter took six years, spending his first three in the 30-40%s); Vladimir Guerrero is borderline; and Manny Ramirez seems destined for the 'roider-exclusion fate of Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmiero, and Sammy Sosa. So, for the next two years, voters recognizing the clear worthiness of those mired in the backlog won't run out of room; they can vote for everyone they think deserving – or nearly everyone, if they include the entire 'roid gang.

(3) The Hall of Screwed: Mussina, Raines, Trammell. So who's gotten most screwed by the mix of backlog and stupid? You could say it's guys just missing, like Mike Piazza at 69.9% – but he'll be fine; guys around 70% always end up elected, like how Biggio rose 8% a year (64.2% to 74.8% to 82.7%). Or you could say it's arguably worthy guys stuck in the 10s, like Larry Walker (11.8), Gary Sheffield (11.7), and Mark McGwire (10.0) – but with that little support, it's hard to blame the backlog or the stupid caucus of Marty Noble & co.; there's just a broad consensus that they don't make the cut. So my three-most-screwed list includes two former Yankees – undercutting the idea that Yankees get overrated.

-- Tim Raines (55.0%) got about the same as Bagwell (55.7), and a majority is enough to give solid odds of eventual election – but next year is Bagwell's 6th of 10 eligibility years, while it's Raines's 9th. To reach 75%, Raines needs to outpace Biggio's +8%/yr support growth; it may happen, but he'll need an immediate and heavy groundswell in both of the next two years. Run-On-Sentence Raines Case: If there's a dime's difference between Tony Gwynn (68.8 WAR, 41.1 in his 7-year peak), it's Raines's dime (69.1/42.2); even focusing on Gwynn’s 3000 hits, Raines’s 3935 times on base – hits plus walks – narrowly edge Gwynn’s (3931), and in addition to times on base, Raines wins on extra-base factors, most notably HR (170 to 135) and SB (808 to 319, with a stellar 85% success rate) – so I see zero case for Gwynn to get 98% while Raines languishes with barely half that.

-- Mussina (24.6%) is in only year two, but barely rose (from 20.3%), so even as the backlog abates, he's behind a lot of folks in line: Piazza, Bagwell, and Raines, who are far ahead of him; Edgar Martinez, who's also a tad ahead; Schilling, who's very similar but with a higher peak and amazingly strong postseason record; and the All-Time Roiders (Bonds and Clemens), who seem destined for worst-case scenario limbo – never getting in, but soaking up a sizeable number of scarce voting spots. I'm still hopeful that Mussina has enough years for rising support growth to get him there. Fitting for a guy who earned a Stanford economics degree in 3 and a third years, Mussina likely emerges as the sabrmetric cause celebre that Bert Blyleven was – especially as less-informed voters get replaced by on-average more-informed newer voters. Before Mussina's ten years end, for example, the BBWAA electorate will come to include Jay Jaffe, Ben Lindbergh, Christina Kahrl, Rob Neyer, Keith Law, and others likely to vote for Mussina at a nearly 100% clip. The Mussina Case in 4 Words, Sort Of: See my long post.

-- Alan Trammell (25.1%) is just totally screwed. He suffers Mussina's lack of support, but on the other hand, he suffers Raines's lack of time. He rose from last year's 20.1%, but the clock has run down. Next year is his last, so literally two-thirds of his "no" voters would have to change their minds in one year, and I don't think anything like that massive, immediate turnaround ever has happened. Very Short Trammel Case: what Gwynn is to the very slightly superior Raines, Barry Larkin (70.2 WAR, 43.1 in 7-year peak) is to the very slightly superior Trammell (70.4/44.6) – yet Trammell somehow keeps getting only a quarter of Larkin's vote.

(4) Ridiculously Predicting the Next Few Years. As I tell my law students when they ask me to predict upcoming Supreme Court decisions, predictions never end well: if you're wrong you look stupid; if you're right, big deal, everything that happens looks obvious in retrospect. So, here goes: (a) Griffey and Piazza in January 2016; (b) Raines and Bagwell in January 2017 (the weak ballot should let them enjoy two years of major growth in their support); (c) Schilling in either 2017 or 2018, because he needs to gain lots, but he is gaining, and after this year he'll be the best starter on the ballot for the next three years; (d) Mussina may be the only other holdover whose support grows enough to help him make it eventually. This makes me sad for E.Martinez, Trammell, and Walker, and will make others sad for Sheffield and McGwire. But if the next few years go as I think/hope, we'll be out of this morass of 16 plausibly deserving guys cannibalizing each other's votes. Or on a more positive note: most of the deserving folks we're hand-wringing about will, ultimately, get the honor they deserve.