Hall of Fame lessons: Who’s in, who’s out and why

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Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez are the newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Here are the nine results you need to know from the 2017 voting of the Baseball Writers Association of America:

1. The baseball writers are voting more players into the Hall.

The BBWAA has elected 12 players in the past four years, a record four-year flow into Cooperstown since the inaugural class of 1936. The trend will continue next year, when the Hall is likely to welcome a record fifth straight class of multiple Hall of Fame electees. The 2018 group is likely to include first-ballot candidates Chipper Jones and Jim Thome and holdover candidates Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero.

2. The baseball writers are softening on steroids.

Ivan Rodriguez was elected in his first try on the ballot, becoming the first player elected after a detailed public accusation of steroid use. That accusation came from a former Texas Rangers teammate, Jose Canseco, who in his book Juiced detailed a drug regimen used by Rodriguez; the longtime catcher has denied those allegations.

The change is happening due to several factors, including: the purge last year of writers who had not been actively covering baseball for 10 years; the election last year of Mike Piazza, who himself had dealt with unsubstantiated whispers about PED use; the election last month of commissioner Bud Selig, who presided over the Steroid Era; the elapse of time; and mostly because more writers who never covered the Steroid Era are joining the voting ranks. Of 14 first-time voters whose ballots were public before Wednesday, 13 of them voted for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

3. The Hall chances of Bonds and Clemens are improved, but still murky.

Bonds gained 9.5% to 53.8% support while Clemens gained 8.9% to 54.1%. Those are nice gains, but not enough to suggest their election is inevitable. They still need 46% of “no” votes to swing to “yes” votes. (That’s a thumbnail assessment. The actual voting bloc is fluid because of writers who are subtracted or added to the voting rolls.)

Bonds and Clemens have five more years on the ballot. Their candidacy best rests with writers who never covered them: first-time voters added over that period. The trends are on their side.

4. Edgar Martinez is the next Tim Raines.

Martinez jumped 15 percentage points to 58.6% in his eighth year, with two years remaining. Raines stood at 55% in his eighth year, jumped to 69.8% last year in his ninth year and gained election easily this year with 86%. His candidacy has gained momentum that will likely usher him into the Hall in 2019.

5. Starting pitchers are undervalued.

Mike Mussina has more American League wins since the adoption of the DH than any pitcher except Clemens, and more strikeouts in the league in that time than anybody but Clemens and Nolan Ryan. And yet here are his vote percentages: 20.3, 24.6, 43.0 and 51.8. He’s trending in the right direction, but voters have been slow to recognize his greatness in such a hitter-friendly era. This does not bode well for Roy Halladay, one of the best pitchers of his generation who goes on the ballot in 2019.

Curt Schilling was the biggest loser on the ballot, dropping 7.3% to 45% in his fifth year, a drop that can only be explained by voters holding against him his controversial and classless comments on social media. Hall of Fame voting is often about momentum and identified “favorites,” and Schilling lost all of that, making his eventual election by the writers more unlikely.

6. Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero will have to wait another year.

Hoffman missed election by five votes. He will get in next time around. Likewise, Guerrero debuted at 71.7% and should pick up the needed votes in 2018. Guerrero should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer with his .318 batting average and 449 home runs. Jimmie Foxx is the only other righthanded hitter in baseball history with such a high average and so many home runs.

7. Lee Smith did not get in on his 15th and final try.

Smith was the last player afforded 15 tries at the Hall. (The term was cut to 10 years during his time on the ballot.) He finished at 34.2% after topping out at 50.6% in 2012. He joins Jack Morris (67.7%) and Gil Hodges (63.4%) as the only players to top 50% without getting in and who are no longer on a writers’ ballot.

8. Larry Walker, Fred McGriff and Jeff Kent are not getting into the Hall of Fame.

Walker (stuck between 10.2 and 22.9% for seven years), McGriff (between 11.7 and 23.9 for eight years) and Kent (between 14 and 16.7% for four years) never have gained even one-fourth of the vote and never have gained momentum. Also, Manny Ramirez debuted at 24% and because of his two failed PED tests should be another slugger who lingers 10 years on the ballot without getting in.

9. More changes are coming next year.

All ballots will be made public next year for the first time, which should encourage more “groupthink,” even stronger “momentum” tides and eventually the first unanimous Hall of Famer, likely Mariano Rivera in 2019 or Derek Jeter in 2020.

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