For the last six years or so, the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has featured a messy and unsolvable backlog. Thanks to a combination of a PED-mania that left certain players lingering hopelessly on the ballot, as well as the coincidence of many all-time greats retiring in the late 2000s, each ballot since 2013 has featured a glut of qualified candidates, making life difficult on BBWAA writers forced to narrow their lists to 10.
But thanks to a string of BBWAA inductees — 16 in the past five seasons, including four who were announced Wednesday — an end to the backlog might not be far away.
To quantify how loaded recent ballots have been, we can look at how many players on each have produced at least 58 career WAR, per Baseball-Reference. (Before you freak out, we’re using WAR not because it’s the ultimate arbiter of Hall worthiness but just because it’s an easy way to objectively sort players for argument’s sake. These figures obviously won’t represent each individual’s judgement on how many qualified players a ballot featured, but they will give us a rough estimate.)
2013 — 14 players with 58+ WAR
2014 — 17 players with 58+ WAR
2015 — 17 players with 58+ WAR
2016 — 15 players with 58+ WAR
2017 — 13 players with 58+ WAR
2018 — 14 players with 58+ WAR
As you can see, every ballot since the infamous shutout of 2013 has featured more great players than there are spots on a writer’s ballot, and that’s before getting to popular candidates such as Jack Morris, Trevor Hoffman, Fred McGriff, Omar Vizquel and others who fall short of our (admittedly arbitrary) 58-WAR threshold.
This pattern will likely continue next year, as new inductees Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vlad Guerrero and Hoffman will be replaced on the ballot by Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte and Todd Helton.
But after that? Things should lighten up considerably. Rivera and Halladay are expected to be first-ballot inductees, and Edgar Martinez will either join them (the likely outcome) or fall off the ballot following what will be his last year of BBWAA eligibility. There’s a chance Mike Mussina could sneak into the 2019 class as well.
If all goes as expected next year, the 2020 ballot, which will welcome Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, could feature as few as 12 players with 58 WAR, and several of those guys (Pettitte, Helton, Abreu) are fringe candidates at best. That could be the first year in a while that most writers don’t feel pressure to use up all 10 spaces on their ballot.
Then in 2021, with Mussina and Jeter likely in and Larry Walker off the ballot one way or another, things will really clear up. The best players to enter the ballot that year, Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle, are unlikely to gain much traction. With apologies for getting so far ahead of ourselves, here’s what that ballot will likely look like:
- Barry Bonds
- Roger Clemens
- Curt Schilling
- Manny Ramirez
- Scott Rolen
- Andruw Jones
- Gary Sheffield
- Sammy Sosa
- Jeff Kent
- Todd Helton
- Omar Vizquel
- Andy Pettitte
- Tim Hudson
- Mark Buehrle
- Billy Wagner
That’s a lot of names (and it’s quite possible some will have either dropped off or gotten in by then), but how many are likely to get more than 40 percent of the vote? Four? Five? Maaaaybe six if things break right?
The point is, it’s not so difficult to look at that list and narrow your choices to 10 or fewer. Despite being fairly generous with my hypothetical Hall votes, I think I’d support only eight of that group. You might support six or nine or even 11 — but probably not 14. And that means if you’re a fan frustrated by the clunkiness of the Hall process in recent years, you finally have something to look forward to. The congested ballot isn’t inevitable, and it won’t last much longer.
Some strong Hall candidates have already been lost to the ballot backlog, and that’s truly too bad. But the Hall has survived the worst of the logjam, and just a few years from now the process will be back to working smoothly — well, smoothly by Hall of Fame standards, at least.