Ranking the Hall Ballot: Results Edition

There was a fantastic response to the “Rank the Hall of Fame Ballot” challenge that I issued yesterday. More than 3,300 people filled out a bracket -- and I guess people are still doing it. I cut it off at 3,318. The results, I think, are pretty interesting.

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So, here’s the idea that Tom Tango and Bill James -- and, sure, many other people -- have come up with for Hall of Fame voting. They think that BBWAA members should vote for the Hall of Fame the same way that we vote for MVP and Cy Young and so on. That is to say, we don’t just check off who we think should be the actual winner of the awards. Instead, we rank our choices -- 1 through 10 for the MVP, 1 through 3 for Cy Young and so on.

Many people -- and now I’m among them -- now think this is how we should vote for the Hall of Fame too.

There’s a lot to talk about with this kind of voting system -- for instance, once you’ve voted that way, how do you choose who actually goes into the Hall of Fame? Tango thinks the two highest vote getters in the balloting should be elected into the Hall of Fame every year. I will talk a bit about the idea of putting two players into the Hall of Fame every year in the next Hall of Fame post. It’s interesting and I think would be embraced by some people and utterly dismissed by others -- I’m of the former -- but today we’re focusing more on the idea of ranking the ballot.

Right now, BBWAA members simply check off up to 10 names on the ballot. The voters, of course, do not have to choose 10 players, that’s just the maximum. They can choose zero if they like. I think most voters in years past have not come anywhere near the 10-player quota. That might change with the crazy 2014 ballot, which is overloaded with seven players with 75-plus career wins above replacement.

But the point here is that a vote for Lee Smith is worth EXACTLY THE SAME as a vote for Greg Maddux. A vote for Fred McGriff is worth EXACTLY THE SAME as a vote for Frank Thomas.

There are at least a couple of problems with this:

Problem 1. The current voting doesn’t accurately or comprehensively reflect the voters’ intentions. We all know that one vote is NOT like another. People do not vote for Greg Maddux the same way as they vote for Lee Smith. Maddux is a slam-dunk, no-doubt, don’t-even-need-a-second-glance Hall of Famer. And Lee Smith, well, you might think he’s above your Hall of Fame line, but it’s much closer, much trickier. If voters were only allowed vote for just one or two or three players, they would not choose Lee Smith. But with 10 spots, hey, you might throw him on there.

Those are decidedly different kinds of votes. If you were starving and parched in the desert and were given 10 wishes, sure, your 10th wish might be world peace or to own the Seattle Mariners or a lifetime supply of Flex Seal in case you decide to take your screen door out on the water. But you will probably go for water and food first.

Problem 2: As Bill James points out, the way the voting goes now gives a certain veto power to a relatively small minority who might have special-interest reasons for voting the way they vote. I can’t think of any super-obvious real life examples of this going on right now in the news, but how about a baseball example.

Let’s say 27% of the voters will not vote for Mike Piazza because they believe he used steroids and they think that no player who used steroids should go into the Hall of Fame. We can argue about the logic of keeping out anyone who uses steroids and the fairness of accusing a player who has never been publicly charged with steroid use. But this is part of the point -- let’s say 27% of the people don’t want to argue. They’re not voting for him.

Well, as the voting goes now, that 27% minority can prevent him from being voted into the Hall of Fame even if the other 73% feels VERY STRONGLY that Piazza should be a Hall of Famer. That doesn’t seem fair to me. The voting should be a reflection of the entire voting body’s opinions. If, say, 60% of the people think Mike Piazza is one of the three best players on the ballot, that should help counter the minority stand.

So, let’s see how it works in real life. I’m counting 3,318 ballots here.

Here are the percentage results:

  1. Greg Maddux, 98.5%

  2. Frank Thomas, 86.7%

  3. Jeff Bagwell, 79.5%

  4. Mike Piazza, 77.6%

  5. Barry Bonds, 74.6%

  6. Tim Raines, 72.6%

  7. Roger Clemens, 72.6%

  8. Tom Glavine, 72.2%

  9. Craig Biggio, 68.4%

  10. Curt Schilling, 41.1%

  1. Alan Trammell, 35.2%

  2. Edgar Martinez, 33.2%

  3. Mike Mussina, 24.9%

  4. Mark McGwire, 24.6%

  5. Larry Walker, 23.1%

  6. Sammy Sosa, 10.6%

  7. Jeff Kent, 8.5%

  8. Jack Morris, 8.1%

  9. Fred McGriff, 6.3%

  10. Rafael Palmeiro, 6.2%

  11. Lee Smith, 5.1%

OK, before we get into this, let’s once again point out the obvious: This is an obscenely loaded ballot. It’s an INSANE ballot. A 300-game winner finished eighth. A 3,000-hit guy finished ninth. A 270-game winner with the 24th highest WAR ever for pitchers finished 13th. A 600-home run man finished 16th. A 3,000-hit, 500-homer guy finished 20th. The all-time home run leader AND perhaps the greatest pitcher in baseball history did not get the 75% that would be necessary for election.

It’s a madness ballot, and I have no idea how it will shake out when the BBWAA actually votes.

Maddux obviously topped everyone with 98.5% -- brilliant reader Av wrote in with a reason why someone might not vote for Maddux that actually makes some sense. He wondered if someone might not vote for Maddux because the limit is 10, and maybe the BBAWAA member has 12 or 13 or more people he believes deserves the vote. The BBWAA person might pass on Maddux knowing full well that he will get elected anyway and use that vote for Tim Raines or Edgar Martinez or someone else who might be worthy. I don’t go along with it entirely -- I think it kind of cuts against the spirit of the Hall of Fame vote -- but I can see the argument.

Frank Thomas was next and I have to admit that it sort of surprises me that there seems to be some doubt about Thomas getting elected first ballot. Thomas seems to me to be a clear lock, not only for his obvious Hall of Fame numbers (.301/.419/.555 with 521 homers and more than 4,000 times on base) but also because he was actually relatively outspoken about steroid use while he was playing. I mean, he wasn’t exactly Norma Rae, but he did advocate for drug testing and he did make some public statements against it at a time when few players did. I’m not entirely sure what the knock against him is. He was a poor defender, and he couldn’t run, but for a stretch of 10 or so years he hit like Jimmie Foxx. Like I say, I don’t see why he wouldn’t get the vote.

Bagwell and Piazza are the other two who cleared 75% -- Bagwell was born on the same day as Thomas and was a better all-around player. Piazza is almost certainly the best hitting catcher ever.

Then, we get to the heart of out lineup. Barry Bonds at 74.6% would NOT get elected to the Hall -- they do not round up at the Hall of Fame. You must hit 75% to get elected. Then, after Tim Raines, you have Roger Clemens who finished 80 votes shy of 75%. It doesn’t make much sense to me that Clemens got 68 fewer votes than Bonds, but he did; he even got one fewer vote than Raines.

After Glavine and Biggio the numbers fall off completely, I guess I’m more of a Curt Schilling advocate than most. I keep coming back to the fact that Schilling has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball history. That’s a meaningful statistic for a pitcher, I think. He has other Hall of Fame benchmarks -- 3,000 strikeouts, an almost .600 winning percentage, an almost unparalleled postseason record. Anyway, people generally don’t seem too excited about his candidacy, at least not against this historic class of players.

OK, so that’s the old way of doing business: Four players in, Bonds and Clemens out, etc.

Now, let’s look at it the way Tango and James would like to see it, that is with players getting 10 points for being ranked first, nine points for being ranked second, eight points for third and so on down the line. As you will see, it’s a very different list after the top guy.

  1. Greg Maddux, 29,707

  2. Barry Bonds, 21,7783

  3. Roger Clemens, 18,381

  4. Frank Thomas, 17,503

  5. Mike Piazza, 14,137

  6. Jeff Bagwell, 13,798

  7. Tom Glavine, 11,761

  8. Tim Raines, 11,191

  9. Craig Biggio, 10,345

  10. Curt Schilling, 5,314

  1. Edgar Martinez, 3,987

  2. Alan Trammell, 3,817

  3. Mark McGwire, 3,015

  4. Mike Mussina, 2,831

  5. Larry Walker, 2,545

  6. Sammy Sosa, 1,171

  7. Jack Morris, 1,145

  8. Jeff Kent, 959

  9. Lee Smith, 815

  10. Rafael Palmeiro, 715

  11. Fred McGriff, 695

Well, suddenly things have changed. When we went by the percentages, 25.4 percent of people did not vote for Barry Bonds at all. But it turns out the 74.6% that DID vote for him voted enthusiastically. More than half of the 2,477 people who voted for Bonds (1,360 people if you are scoring at home) put him in the top slot. They think he’s the MOST DESERVING candidate on the board. Put it this way:

Most first-rank votes:

  1. Greg Maddux, 1,695

  2. Barry Bonds, 1,360

  3. Roger Clemens, 65

  4. Frank Thomas, 35

  5. Tim Raines, 26

It’s seems clear to me from this vote that the overpowering sentiment is that Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame, warts and backne and all. But it’s much cloudier in raw percentages because a touch over a quarter of the vote believe Bonds does not belong. When do we let a quarter of the population overpower the strong feelings of everyone else?*

*Rhetorical question.

When you total the votes this way, Clemens too is a slam dunk Hall of Famer. While he didn’t get many first place votes, he got more than 800 second place votes and more than 1,000 third place votes -- more than three quarters of his vote total landed him in the Top 3. That was way, way more than Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza, all who finished ahead of him in raw percentage. In fact, Clemens got more Top 3 votes than those three players COMBINED.

So, basically, 60 percent of the people voted Clemens AHEAD of Thomas, Bagwell and Piazza.

It’s also clear from this that with so many good players on the ballot, there really isn’t much enthusiasm for almost anyone after Craig Biggio.

More to come on all this but for now, I’ll give you a few fun little stats from the poll:

-- Every single player got at least one first place vote. Fred McGriff got one (followed by Edgar Martinez and Jack Morris), Rafael Palmeiro got one (followed by Curt Schilling and Mike Piazza -- Maddux was ninth on the ballot) and Jack Morris got two (Maddux was third and ninth in those two).

-- More than 80% of the voters ranked the full compliment of 10 players. Nine people voted for only one player. Maddux was the sole survivor on five of those ballots, Bonds got two, Raines got one and, kind of surprising, Curt Schilling got one. I wonder if Curt voted.

-- The most 10th place votes, by a pretty good margin, went to Alan Trammell. This makes a lot of sense to me. Trammell is sort of viewed as the ultimate borderline candidate. Some feel strongly about his candidacy (I’m one of those) and others feel like he was not even good enough to DISCUSS for the Hall of Fame. I think a lot of people wanted to include Trammell but couldn’t, in good conscience, put him higher than 10th on this loaded ballot.

-- Obviously, if people are reading this blog we are not dealing with a huge Jack Morris for the Hall crowd. Still, it’s striking how little support he received here. He got just 8% of the vote and his votes were concentrated from middle-to-bottom of the ranking. Tango’s theory about Morris is that he’s become a Hall candidate precisely BECAUSE the current system makes every vote exactly equal. It’s no big deal now to vote for Morris -- heck, you have 10 slots. But if you put Morris ahead of Maddux and Clemens, Glavine and Schilling and Mussina, well, you might have some explaining to do.

Going to do some more crunching of these numbers and will get back, but for now I think this offers some fun conversation.