For most of the last decade, a logjam of viable candidates clogged the annual Baseball Hall of Fame ballot given to qualifying members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
The jam has been cleared, partly because writers elected 22 players from 2014 to 2020 after going 0-for-2013.
Also contributing to a loosened ballot is that there are no automatic selections among first-time candidates on the 2021 ballot released Monday.
Baseball-Reference.com charted candidates’ numbers, and the WAR leader among first-timers is former White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle (214-160, 3.81 ERA, 59.1 bWAR). He’s followed by pitcher Tim Hudson (222-133, 3.49 ERA, 57.9). The only other new entry to crack 50 WAR was center fielder Torii Hunter (.277, 353 home runs, 1,391 RBI, 50.7).
Further down the list is former Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez (.283, 386 homers, 1,417 RBI, 32.4).
None exceed the average Hall bWAR for their positions: 73.3 for starting pitchers, 71.3 for center fielders and 68.4 for third basemen.
Buehrle is close enough to be in a long-term discussion, but voters don’t flock to starters with as few as 214 victories. Writers have elected 20 starters whose careers started with the 1961 expansion or later. Eighteen won more games than Buehrle.
The exceptions are John Smoltz (213-155), who was a reliever in 242 of his 708 games, and Roy Halladay (203-105), who was elected with the Class of 2019 after he died in a plane crash in November 2017.
A player who’s light on career value can be a viable candidate if his peak value is high enough. Sandy Koufax is the prime example, with 97 of his 165 victories and 35.4 of his 53.1 bWAR in his last four seasons.
Buehrle doesn’t have that kind of run. His best seven years totaled 35.8 WAR, compared with a Hall average of 50.0. JAWS — Jaffe WAR Score — averages career bWAR with seven-year WAR, so it balances peak value with career value. Buehrle’s 47.4 JAWS trails the 61.6 Hall average for his position.
Along with other newcomers, Buehrle faces an uphill fight toward enshrinement. Expect voters to turn to leaders off the 2020 ballot.
The top unelected finisher with 70% of the vote for 2020 was Curt Schilling (216-146, 3.46 ERA). His 79.5 bWAR and 64.1 JAWS are above Hall averages, and he’s the most likely candidate to top 75% for election this year.
Back for their ninth of a maximum 10 ballot turns are outfielder Barry Bonds (fourth all-time with 162.8 bWAR) and pitcher Roger Clemens (eighth with 139.2). PED allegations, not performance, are keeping them out of the Hall. Clemens got 61% of the vote and Bonds 60.7% last year.
Also on his ninth ballot is former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, whose 609 homers rank ninth all-time but who received only 13.9% of the vote last year.
Shortstop Omar Vizquel (52.6% of the vote) and third baseman Scott Rolen (35.3%) made headway last year. Metrics like Rolen, who is above the third-base averages of 70.1 bWAR and 56.9 JAWS.
Vizquel (45.6, 36.2) is well below shortstop averages of 67.5 bWAR and 55.3 JAWS, despite a 29.5 defensive WAR. That dWAR ranks ninth on a list topped by shortstops Ozzie Smith (44.2) and Mark Belanger (39.5), with old-time Cub Joe Tinker fifth (34.3) and former Sox star Luis Aparicio sixth (31.8).