COOPERSTOWN — When National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum President Tim Mead goes on the MLB Network on Tuesday, Jan. 21, to announce the remainder of the 2020 induction class, one thing is for certain: former New York Yankee captain Derek Jeter is going to be a first-ballot inductee.
Jeter will join a class that includes catcher Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller, the former union leader who died in 2012; Miller and Simmons were voted in by the Modern Era Committee in December. However, what else will happen, if anything, with the 2020 induction is still a mystery, according to the early ballots turned in by the voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Every year one baseball and statistics guru, Ryan Thibodaux, keeps track of every publicly revealed ballot, and runs a spreadsheet to show how the candidates for induction are doing, and what their chances are of achieving the 75% of the votes needed for induction. Thibodaux posts his results, ballot by ballot, on his Hall of Fame tracker, which he promotes on his Twitter account, @NotMrTibbs.
This year, Thibodaux estimates there will be 412 voters, meaning 309 votes would be needed for induction. As of noon Wednesday, Jan. 1, he had tallied 112 public ballots, and also received three anonymous ballots, for a total of about 27.9% of the ballots. And while the numbers make it clear Jeter will be inducted in 2020, they also make it clear that there will be a lot questions about what else Mead will say in a few weeks.
Will Larry Walker make the Hall in his final year on the BBWAA ballot? Walker played 17 MLB seasons, going from Montreal to Colorado to St. Louis, playing mostly in right field. He was a 5-time All Star, 7-time Gold Glove Award winner, 3-time Silver Slugger Award winner, 3-time MLB batting champion and also led the National League in home runs in 1997. He had a career batting average of .313, with 2,160 hits, 383 home runs and 1,311 RBIs. His candidacy has been trending upward sharply the past few years, and he was selected on 54.6% of ballots in 2019.
This year he is up sharply again, gaining 17 votes from returning voters, and he is at 86.1% on the Hall of Fame Tracker. Because late voters tend to omit borderline and controversial candidates, a mid-80s percentage early in the voting period is not a guarantee of making the 75 percent threshold late.
However, Thibodaux has been Tweeting this year about the idea that votes gained from returning voters is a key number to follow early, and plus-17 is a good number. In addition, all five of the first-time voters who have revealed their ballots have voted for Walker. In other words, Walker in not a lock, but he should be considered a slight favorite to be inducted this year.
Will Jeter match his New York teammate, Mariano Rivera, and become the second player to be inducted with 100% of the vote? As of Monday, Jeter had been named on all 115 ballots, so he still has the chance to match Rivera. Unlike with Rivera last year — when one voter said publicly he would not vote for Rivera, then changed his mind — there hasn’t even been a whiff of someone not voting for Jeter. Of course, a late, not-publicly-announced ballot could deny Jeter a perfect score, but anything less than 98% or 99% is unlikely, and 100% looks possible.
Will any of the controversial candidates — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Curt Shilling — be inducted this year? As of Monday, all three had the numbers for induction, but they would all likely suffer from the late vote decline, as they have in years past. Bonds and Clemens were at 76.5% Monday and Schilling was at 79.1%; last year they got 59.1%, 59.5% and 61.9% of the vote, after a similar early pace. And none of them are doing particularly well with new votes; Bonds is at net zero with voters who did not select him last year. Clemens is -1 with that same group. Both picked up all five votes from new voters. Schilling is doing slightly better with voters who did not select him last year; he is plus five, but only four of the new voters selected him.
All three are in their eighth year on the ballot, and all three have statistics and accomplishments that make them Hall of Fame worthy. However, Bonds and Clemens are two of the players most tainted by the steroid era, and seem to be on a plateau. Schilling’s controversies are about his post-baseball life, and his vote totals seem to be diverging slightly from Bonds and Clemens. If any of the three get inducted by the BBWAA, Schilling in 2021 or 2022 seems like a more likely bet, but the early numbers make him look questionable for 2020.
Beyond those five players, there is a big gap in vote totals, but Todd Helton (plus 20), Andruw Jones (plus 20), Billy Wagner (plus 21), Gary Sheffield (plus 29) and Scott Rolen (plus 30) have all made huge leaps from percentages in the teens last year to the 30s and 40s this year. Omar Vizquel (plus 10) is also trending upward as well, and has close to 50% of the vote so far this year.
The induction will be held at 1:30 p.m., Sunday, July 26, at the Clark Sports Center in the town of Middlefield.