<
>
Insider

The Hall of Fame 'battleground states'

If the early polling is correct, as many as four players will be honored today as part of the 2014 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Greg Maddux will be close to unanimous, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas are expected to blow past the required 75 percent, and Craig Biggio might squeak in. Jack Morris, it appears, will fall short, in his final year of eligibility.

But there also will be interesting data to be mined from the rest of the voting, like on any election day. Some of the more interesting precincts in the Hall of Fame voting worth watching today:

1. The results for Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell

By now we are all familiar with the stance of the voting blocs that either cast are willing to cast ballots for stars who are suspected of using PEDs -- I'm in that group -- and those who are not willing. These two groups are like the Democrats and the Republicans, with distinct perspectives.

We should think of Piazza and Bagwell, then, like the battleground states; they are like the Ohio and Florida of this entire discussion, the tipping point.

Both Piazza and Bagwell have overwhelming statistical credentials for the Hall of Fame -- Piazza with his 427 career homers and seven top-10 finishes in the MVP voting, while playing catcher, and Bagwell with 449 career homers, 1,517 runs and six top-10 finishes in the MVP voting.

But Bagwell polled just 59.6 percent last winter, in his third year on the ballot, and Piazza reached 57.8 percent. (Disclosure: I voted for both again this year).

It's evident that a large chunk of writers are withholding their votes from Piazza and Bagwell because they suspect the players used performance-enhancing drugs -- this in the face of no hard evidence, like Mark McGwire's admission or Rafael Palmeiro's suspension.

Bagwell's numbers have gradually climbed in each of his years on the ballot, from 41.7 percent in his first year to 56.0 percent in 2012 to his 59.6 last year. What this data seems to indicate is a steady shift, either in the perspective of the voters or, perhaps, in the voting body itself, as some writers stop casting ballots, replaced by younger voters.

If Piazza and Bagwell continue to gain ground in the future -- and I think there's almost no chance of that happening this year, based on the ballots we've seen -- it may be a sign that more and more voters have decided to stop guessing about who used PEDs and who didn't, and rather have decided to just vote for the best players. In other words: More and more voters may determine that the goal of maintaining a "clean" Hall of Fame is an unrealistic objective.

2. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa

They will be forever tied together in baseball history because of 1998's home run chase, and in later years, because of their appearance before a congressional committee on March 17, 2005, to address steroids -- and neither wanted to talk about the past. McGwire later admitted using PEDs, and Sosa was named in a New York Times report as being one of those who tested positive during the 2003 season.

McGwire's vote percentage has declined year by year, to a low of 16.9 percent last winter, and Sosa received only 12.5 percent of the vote last year, in his first appearance on the ballot. It appears very possible that because of the ballot logjam that has been written about extensively, McGwire, Sosa (and Rafael Palmeiro) will fall below the 5 percent threshold needed to remain on the ballot for next year.

3. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens

They are generally regarded by a lot of the members of their generation of players as the best hitter and the best pitcher of their times, but they were not close to election last year. Bonds, a seven-time MVP, got 36.2 percent, and Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, received 37.6 percent. Neither will be elected this year, but their year-to-year progress will be telling, one way or the other.

4. Collateral damage

A great concern of a lot of voters is that because of the constrictive Rule of 10 -- ballots can be cast for only 10 players, in this year's crowded field -- some players will get less than 5 percent not because they're unworthy of consideration, but because there was no room on the ballot. Fred McGriff could be a candidate for this ignominy, and others.

5. The polling for Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and Edgar Martinez

The sabermetric community has demonstrated that it has an important voice in the Hall of Fame discussion, and while we'll never know whether the group's loud arguments against Jack Morris ultimately have been decisive, they certainly didn't help.

Raines, Trammell and Martinez have the strong approval and support of the sabermetric community, and while none of the three players is expected to get close to election this year, the voting will show how much closer to election they have moved. History shows that there usually is a tipping point when momentum of support can push a player across the finish line. Goose Gossage received 33.3 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot, and eight years later, he was voted in.

Raines reached a high of 52.2 percent last year; Edgar Martinez has been bogged down in the range of 35-37 percent (35.9 last year); and Trammell has climbed over 30 percent the last couple of years.

• Larry Stone is among those who voted for Edgar Martinez.

• The '84 Tigers have been snubbed.

• Greg Maddux had a belief about changing speeds, writes Thomas Boswell.

Mike Mussina deserves more than an almost from the Hall of Fame, writes Tyler Kepner.

• There are a lot of folks pulling for Craig Biggio.

• Jayson Stark explained his ballot.

• John Tomase hates the Internet.

• For Tom Haudricourt -- as for so many writers -- 10 spots on the ballot was not enough.

Larry Walker's candidacy is hurt by a variety of factors, writes Patrick Saunders.

• For Morris, this is the last year of eligibility.

I don't think Morris is getting in today, but I think he will breeze in the first time he is considered by the Veterans Committee, in 2017. And it will be interesting to see what he says about his 15 years on the writers' ballots.

• Don Mattingly's extension is done, writes Ramona Shelburne. Mattingly finally was rewarded, writes Bill Plaschke.

• Masahiro Tanaka is a bulldog, says a teammate. The White Sox have surfaced in the bidding.

There is limited time for Tanaka to visit with potential suitors, because this must be resolved over the next couple of weeks. Given that dynamic, the fact that Tanaka visits any particular team should be taken seriously.

• The chatter about Bryce Harper's weight continues.

• Wrote here yesterday about how the Orioles have interest in Bronson Arroyo. Dan Connolly runs through the pitching options that remain on the board for Baltimore.

• The Blue Jays are still broken, writes Nick Cafardo. It would be a surprise if they don't make at least one major move before the start of spring training.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Pirates signed Robert Andino.

2. The Rangers hope to bring back Jeff Baker, writes Gerry Fraley.

3. The Royals signed Ramon Hernandez.

4. A path has been cleared for the Cardinals to buy their Triple-A affiliate.

5. The Jays reassigned their bullpen coach, Pat Hentgen, because of ongoing health problems with his family. Hentgen is very highly regarded.

Dings and dents

1. Wandy Rodriguez had a bullpen session.

AL Central

• It's been a winter of change for the Tigers, writes Lynn Henning.

• Paul Hoynes answers Indians-related questions here.

• Kelly Downs is happy to be back with the White Sox.

AL West

• Here's an update on the Astros' spending.

Other stuff

• The Dodgers announced their stadium renovations.

Andruw Jones is going back to Japan.

• Vanderbilt coach James Franklin could have a very interesting choice.

• Justin Havens of ESPN Stats & Information wrote about the rough starts to Hall of Fame careers:

For some, the path to the Hall of Fame starts from Day 1 -- Ted Williams hit .327/.436/.609 with 31 HR and 145 RBIs in his debut season, not unlike (potential) 2014 Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, who hit .330 in 60 games in his first season.

For others, it's not always immediately clear. In honor of the (likely) election of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine ... below are 10 examples of Hall of Famers who got off to dubious starts.

Greg Maddux

How it started: In his first two seasons, both with the Cubs, Maddux went a combined 8-18 with an unsightly 5.59 ERA. He allowed 225 hits and 85 walks in 186 2/3 IP.

What came next: Maddux would go 18-8, 3.18 ERA in his third season at age 22 -- good enough to make the All-Star team. He never looked back, as that 1988 season would mark the first year of 17 consecutive seasons with at least 15 wins.


Tom Glavine

How it started: Glavine went 9-21, 4.76 ERA in his first two seasons, with an untenable 104-96 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He led the league with 17 losses in 1988, his second year.

What came next: Glavine went 14-8, 3.68 ERA in 1989, drastically reducing his walks. By 1991, he'd post his first of three consecutive 20-win seasons.


Ty Cobb

How it started: At the ripe young age of 18, Cobb hit just .240 with a .288 OBP and two stolen bases in 41 games.

What came next: In 1906 at age 19, Cobb hit .316 in 98 games. He'd get to .350 with 119 RBIs and 53 SBs in 1907, and his slugging percentage increased each of his first seven seasons in the league, from .300 at age 18 to .621 at age 24.


Willie Mays

How it started: Mays showed potential, but ultimately hit a combined .266 in 155 games between 1951-52, his first two seasons. He would miss the 1953 season due to military service.

What came next: Mays returned from service in 1954 at age 23, and clearly he'd learned something. He lead the league with a .345 batting average, 1.078 OPS, while also contributing 41 homers and 110 RBIs, winning the NL MVP. He would finish inside the top six in the MVP vote in 12 of his next 13 seasons.


Bob Gibson

How it started: In his first two seasons, Gibson went just 6-11 with a 4.55 ERA, thanks to 87 walks in 162 1/3 IP, leading to an unseemly 1.61 WHIP.

What came next: In 1961 at the age of 25, Gibson posted a 3.24 ERA in 211 1/3 IP. He would make his first All-Star team in 1962 (also recording his first 200-strikeout season), and from 1962-72 would average 19 wins, 2.66 ERA and 228 strikeouts per season, winning two Cy Youngs and an MVP on the way.


Sandy Koufax

How it started: Koufax did not resemble a Hall of Famer -- or even a quality starter -- early on in his career. For his first six seasons -- 1955 to 1960 -- Koufax went a combined 36-40 with a 4.10 ERA and an unfathomable 5.3 walks per nine innings.

What came next: One of the greatest stretches of pitching we've ever seen. He went 18-13, 3.52 with a league-leading 269 strikeouts in 1961. From 1961-66, Koufax went 129-47 with a 2.19 ERA, recording at least 200 strikeouts in every season and 300 or more in three of them.


Gaylord Perry

How it started: In 1962-63 at the ages of 23-24, Perry went 4-7, 4.46 ERA in 119 IP. He started only 11 of his 44 appearances over that stretch, with a 1.52 WHIP. Over those two seasons, he was below replacement level (-1.2 WAR).

What came next: Perry started to slowly improve in 1964-65, making progressively more of his appearances as a starter, posting a 3.45 ERA in 402 innings. He'd take off for good in 1966, going 21-8 with a 2.99 ERA, his first 200-strikeout season.


Mike Schmidt

How it started: Schmidt's cup of coffee came in 1972 at age 22, and he didn't do much with it -- .206 BA and a homer in 13 games. It actually got worse in 1973, as he hit .196 with a .697 OPS in 132 games. Entering his age-24 season, his career line was .197/.324/.367.

What came next: Things clicked in 1974, as Schmidt hit 36 homers with 116 RBIs. He would hit between 36 and 38 homers in each season from 1974-77, and over a 14-season span from 1974-87, Schmidt would average 36 home runs and 104 RBIs per season.


Reggie Jackson

How it started: Sure, Jackson hit a combined 30 homers in 189 games between his first two seasons in 1967-68, but it came with a .237 BA, .308 OBP and a relatively paltry .734 OPS, while also striking out 217 times in 749 plate appearances.

What came next: Jackson cut down on his strikeouts and his power came through, and he had arguably his greatest season in 1969 as a 23-year-old, hitting 47 homers with 118 RBIs and a 1.018 OPS, all career bests.


Ryne Sandberg

How it started: Sandberg looked nothing like a Hall of Famer early on; through his first three seasons (accounting for a significant 1,392 plate appearances), he hit .265, with a .313 OBP and a combined 15 homers.

What came next: At the age of 24 in 1984, Sandberg began his Hall of Fame trajectory. He hit .314/.367/.520 with 19 homers and 32 steals, good for a career-best 8.5 WAR. Over the next nine seasons, Sandberg averaged 24 homers, 27 steals, with a 295/.357/.484 line.

And today will be better than yesterday.