The end of another calendar year marks the deadline for all eligible voters to submit their ballots for the upcoming 2023 Hall of Fame event. With controversial figures Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens no longer eligible, select analysts from The Athletes Hub will answer questions surrounding this year’s intriguing line-up which includes returning superstars Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez as well as many other notable names hoping to register improved results or gain election on their first attempt.
As a reminder of the basic rules of election:
- Voters are able to vote for a maximum of 10 players
- Eligible candidates need 75% for election (without rounding up)
- To remain on the Hall of Fame ballot, a candidate needs at least 5% of the votes
Will Carlos Beltrán be a first-time entry Hall of Fame candidate?
Matt Partridge: History shows that, on average, only one in seven first-time entrants get elected but Carlos Beltrán stands-out as the most likely player from this year’s crop to succeed. His on-field prowess over a 20-year MLB career is hard to argue against.
A true multi-tool player, he announced his arrival with an American League Rookie of the Year accolade in 1999, scooping three Gold Glove Awards, two Silver Slugger Awards, and no less than nine All-Star selections en route to a career .279 batting average, culminating in a World Series win in 2017 whilst playing for the Houston Astros. The stats don’t lie and only four other players throughout history can boast a career line of 2,500 hits, 400 home runs, and 300 stolen bases.
The trouble facing Beltrán, much like Bonds, Schilling, et al, is the lingering controversy of off-field antics, and he will likely forever be tainted as one of the leaders identified by MLB in the sign-stealing scandal of the 2017 World Series victory by the Astros. However, it could be argued that this scandal was more “organizational” and less individualized, as with the obvious personal gain taken from steroid abuse. The sign-stealing had minimal impact on his own personal stat lines and I believe there is a strong case for this being overlooked and Beltrán being enshrined.
Jake Crumpler: Hall of Fame voters have not been kind to recent first-time entrants, but among this year’s light crop of first-timers, Beltrán clearly has the strongest case to be elected on his first ballot. Outside of his many awards and achievements, the former outfielder boasts an impressive resume as one of the best switch-hitters in Major League history. His era and ballpark adjusted career wRC+ of 118 is tied for 43rd among batters with at least 10,000 plate appearances since integration in 1947, but it becomes even more impressive when you adjust for his handedness and position. Not only is he one of only two switch-hitting outfielders ever to come to the plate at least 10,000 times since integration, but he also owns a career wRC+ higher than all but Chipper Jones, Eddie Murray, and Tim Raines (all Hall-of-Famers) among switch hitters that meet that criteria.
In terms of WAR, Beltrán stands out as the eighth-best center fielder of all time with 70.1 bWAR, putting him in between Joe DiMaggio and Kenny Lofton among his peers. He is just shy of the average WAR (71.9) of the 19 center fielders previously enshrined. Baseball Reference’s JAWS metric (Jay Jaffe’s metric that measures a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness based on career and seven-year peak WAR) suggests that Beltrán is the ninth-most Hall-worthy center fielder ever (behind Duke Snider).
Based on these advanced metrics, it would seem that not only is Beltrán one of the best switch-hitters ever, but he is also a top-10 center fielder all time regardless of handedness. Whether or not the voters take into account the Houston Astros cheating scandal will be the biggest topic of discussion. I think they end up keeping him from becoming a first ballot Hall-of-Famer as a quasi-punishment for his involvement with the 2017 Astros, but based on his resume, he is a clear first ballot candidate.
Davis Byrd: If I had to step out on a limb I would say that he doesn’t. Based purely on his performance from his career statistics and accolades he would be one of the best cases on the ballot this year. Beltrán was a nine-time All-Star, won Rookie of the Year in ’99, brought home three Gold Glove Awards and two Silver Slugger Awards. Beltrán is one of the strongest names on an otherwise weak ballot and under any other normal circumstances he would most likely be a sure thing to make it in.
Beltrán is going to struggle, however, to garner enough votes to get in at the first time of asking due to the lingering feelings surrounding the Houston Astros’ 2017 World Series win, which happens to be Beltrán’s only title in that regard. If you’re new to this whole controversy, Beltrán is widely considered to have been the veteran mastermind reportedly behind the elaborate sign stealing scandal that still more or less clouds the Astros organization even five years later. This legitimacy question mark is sort of a stain on his otherwise Hall of Fame resume. Jake mentioned it earlier that according to JAWS he’s the ninth-most Hall of Fame-worthy center fielder ever ahead of some Hall members like Andre Dawson and Richie Ashburn.
According to the ballot tracker as of January 6th from Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs on Twitter), Beltrán is sitting right at 56.3%. He needs to climb nearly 20 full percentage points to get that elusive threshold and I think those ill feelings regarding 2017 keep him out for now.
Will returning entries Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez get past the post in this year’s ballot?
Matt Partridge: It is without question that these two names would even feature on a second year ballot list if they were judged on their ball-playing resume alone. Undoubtedly, the link to steroid abuse looms large for three-time AL MVP A-Rod and Manny with his career .996 OPS. Whilst Rodriguez seems the more likely to be elected this year, after a reasonable 34.3% vote on his first showing in 2022, both must be wincing with trepidation seeing seven-time MVP Barry Bonds peak at 66% in his final year of eligibility and miss out on enshrinement. Ramirez is clearly running out of time, securing only 28.9% on his seventh visit, but it is clear that both players stand-out as ‘big names’ in a slightly underwhelming field, so let’s say that A-Rod and his current prime-time media image will soar above 50% this time around and get surprisingly close.
Jake Crumpler: Both players are more than deserving based on their on-field achievements, but considering their tainted pasts, it’s difficult to envision either player making a massive jump in vote totals in 2023. Last year, Rodriguez (34.3% of the vote) and Ramirez (28.9%) wouldn’t have gotten into the Hall of Fame even if they combined their respective shares of Hall votes. With Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens setting the precedent for how suspected and confirmed steroid users with incredible resumes will be treated, there is almost no chance that either of these guys reach the 75% threshold before their time on the ballot expires.
Davis Byrd: No. It feels as though a lot of the voters have drawn the line in the sand in regards to the “steroid guys” with Bonds’ and Clemens’ omissions last year. It isn’t going to happen this year for either of these two, and in regards to Manny Ramirez, isn’t likely to happen at all. He’s running out of time to be elected and was suspended on two separate occasions for violating the league’s drug policy.
Who is the most underrated candidate of the first time entrants for 2023?
Matt Partridge: Other than Beltrán, no name leaps off the page to me as a first-time calibre entrant, but when you dig a little deeper and begin to consider factors such as longevity, clutch, reliability, and regular performances on the center-stage, my vote would go to John Lackey.
Pitching 15 seasons in the Major Leagues, claiming a sub-4.00 career ERA, and winning World Series rings with the Los Angeles Angels (2002 – his rookie year), Boston Red Sox (2013), and Chicago Cubs (2016), Lackey deserves serious recognition for his renowned competitiveness and response to adverse situations. This was exemplified in a 2008 microcosm during the month of July when he gave up six runs on 15 hits in a loss against the Texas Rangers, then, just a couple of weeks later, took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Red Sox.
Undeterred by a string of arm and shoulder issues, not least the setback of Tommy John surgery in November 2011, he battled to further success, pitching the Red Sox to victory in the pivotal game six matchup against the St Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series. After further impressive performances during 2014 and 2015, this time as a Cardinal, Lackey then signed for the division rival Chicago Cubs in 2016 and put together a 13th consecutive double-digit win total that helped propel the Cubs to end their 108-year championship drought and secure a third World Series ring for Lackey. Let’s hope these feats don’t go unnoticed by the voters.
Jake Crumpler: As much as I’d love to pump up Matt Cain’s case as a lifetime Giants fan, I can’t help but vouch for Francisco Rodríguez. The Hall of Fame situation for relievers is unique, as not only are few relievers elected, but they are also difficult to evaluate. Relievers are such a unique case that Jay Jaffe had to create a new JAWS metric called “R-JAWS” (reliever JAWS) just for relievers to offset the starting pitching WAR from some of the relief candidates. As of now, only eight players considered to be relievers have been enshrined, three of which have been elected since 2018.
Rodríguez makes his case for enshrinement by holding the record for the most saves (62) in a single season and by racking up the fourth-most saves of all-time. All three players ahead of him (Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith) have already been enshrined. In terms of accolades, his three top-five Cy Young Award finishes ties him for sixth-most among relievers that started fewer than 40 games in their careers. Additionally, his six All-Star game selections ties him for 10th-most in that same group.
The right-hander also stands out in the WAR department, having racked up the 14th-most bWAR (24.2) among relievers that started fewer than 100 games in their careers. When it comes to R-JAWS, his case becomes even more clear. His score of 21.1 not only places him 12th among all relievers, but it also puts him slightly ahead of Hall-of-Famer Lee Smith. With such a long list of accolades and the advanced metrics to back up his case, there’s a pretty good shot that K-Rod gets in at some point during his tenure on the ballot.
Davis Byrd: No name jumps off the page past Beltrán immediately and none of the first timers will be elected this year. There is an interesting case to be made for Francisco Rodríguez however. Jake listed the statistical portion of the argument for K-Rod but I want to explain the logistics of his case a bit more. The goal for K-Rod for this year is to hit the threshold to stay on the ballot for this year and just survive. Relievers are a tricky case and there are mixed opinions about their validity for the Hall of Fame. I’m personally in the camp that they are undervalued in relation to the Hall of Fame and need to be treated differently than other players.
The “tl:dr” of the argument for K-Rod is that his odds go up exponentially if fellow candidate Billy Wagner gets in. Wagner and K-Rod both share the similarities of their careers being defined by their peak more than their longevity. K-Rod finished his career with 437 saves to Wagner’s 422. Wagner finished 703 games, K-Rod had 677. K-Rod’s career ERA was 2.86 and his WHIP was 1.15. Wagner’s career ERA was 2.31 and his WHIP was 1.00. If you care about postseason stats, K-Rod was historically much better in the playoffs, and he holds the single season saves record with 62.
As per that tracker I mentioned earlier, Wagner has garnered 71.1% of the votes, while K-Rod is sat at 7.8%. If Wagner manages to get in, which looks likely at this point in time, K-Rod gets that much closer to having his plaque in Cooperstown.
Which returning player is most likely to be enshrined in 2023?
Matt Partridge: Scott Rolen continues to be the most likely returning candidate to secure the required 75% from this year’s crop. Although only receiving 10.2% in his first year (2018, the year fellow 3rd baseman Chipper Jones stormed into the HOF with 97.2% on his first attempt), Rolen has seen his stock steadily climb as he hit 63.2% in 2022. His bWAR of 70.1 sits equal to Beltrán and behind only A-Rod in this year’s list of candidates and the controversies surrounding these two players have been already discussed. Rolen was a superlative fielder, securing eight Gold Glove Awards (behind only Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt in the category of third basemen) and was none too shabby with the bat either, with a .281 career batting average and many stand-out performances from his 17-year career. His peak year was 2004 when he hit career-highs in average (.314), homers (34), and RBI (124), and he also hit an impressive .421 in the 2006 World Series win over the Detroit Tigers en route to claiming his only championship ring. His reliability during his peak seasons with the Phillies and Cardinals from 1997-2004 (hitting 25 home runs during 7=seven seasons and driving in over 100 runs during five) should be sufficient to get him over the line. That he has not yet qualified may be due to his injury struggles, notably with his shoulder, which curtailed his final years as a ballplayer and may be lingering in the minds of the voters.
Jake Crumpler: Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, and Billy Wagner all have a pretty good shot at getting in, with the first two being on track to do so in 2023. I’m going to use this section to make the case for Andruw Jones who has garnered 69.5% of the votes on public ballots as of January 2nd.
There are multiple angles from which to analyze the career of Jones. The first, and most obvious, label of excellence was his abilities in the field. Jones was one of the best fielders of his generation and can easily be considered a top-three defensive center fielder of all time. Not only are his 10 Gold Glove Awards tied for the 10th-most of all time, but they’re also tied for the third-most among outfielders and tied for the second-most ever by a center fielder, trailing only Willie Mays. Amazingly, those 10 Gold Glove Awards came in consecutive years, making him one of just 11 players to capture at least 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards. Since advanced fielding metrics began being recorded in 2002, Jones is the all-time leader in UZR/150 (the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games) by a wide margin, and by then he had already won four Gold Glove Awards. However, his exploits go beyond his glove.
The five-time All-Star was an exceptional slugger, bashing more than 30 homers in seven different seasons, while garnering one Silver Slugger Award for his insane 2005 campaign. During that season, in which he finished as the runner-up in NL MVP Award balloting, Jones crushed 51 dingers and drove in 128 runs, resulting in career-highs in wRC+ (134) and fWAR (7.9). He finished his career with 434 homers, and if not for an early retirement after his age-35 campaign, would have surpassed the 500 home run threshold.
Combining his efforts at the dish and in the grass paints a picture of a Hall-of-Famer. His career bWAR of 62.7 is the 14th-most recorded by a center fielder and his JAWS score of 54.6 places him as the 11th-most deserving of enshrinement at his position. The only players ahead of him that have yet to be elected are the perennially underrated Kenny Lofton, the first-year eligible Carlos Beltrán, and the active Mike Trout. Where Jones stands out the most is his WAR7, otherwise known as the sum of the seven best WAR seasons for a player. This is essential to Jones’ case because of his late-career drop off due to injuries, and it reveals the otherworldly excellence of his peak. His WAR7 of 46.4 is not only the ninth-highest of all time by a center fielder, but is also above the average of the 19 Hall of Fame centerfielders and trails only one non-Hall-of-Famer (Trout).
The only knock against Jones is his production post age-30, leaving the case for his lack of longevity to be made. With such an incredible peak alongside the fielding prowess that makes him one of the best outfield gloves of all time, Jones has more than enough on his resume to be considered a future member of the Hall. After a 41.4% showing in 2022, a clearer ballot (no Ortiz, Bonds, Clemens, or Schilling) could pave the way for Jones being elected as part of the 2023 class.
Davis Byrd: This would normally be the time I would wax poetic on the grave injustice it is that Billy Wagner isn’t in the Hall already, but I’m going to go a different route this time and say Todd Helton. If you care to hear any of those rants, you can watch myself and Jake Crumpler on the podcast we do every Wednesday at 9 PM EST entitled “Free Baseball” on this site’s accompanying Twitter account. Enough waffling on that point though.
Helton has a major case to make it in this year. I keep going back to the known ballots and Hall of Fame tracker done by Ryan Thibodaux and others. Helton currently has a similar percentage of votes through January 6th as Scott Rolen (81.3%), who is seen as close to a sure thing, with 78.9%. Todd Helton is chronically disrespected in regard to his offensive numbers due to him being a career member of the Colorado Rockies and thus playing his home games for his career in Coors Field. Let’s talk and buck that narrative now, shall we? Todd Helton played for 17 years in the majors. Only six of those seasons were without a humidor in Coors Field.
Helton’s 132 wRC+ which is a park adjusted stat that measures a hitter’s run-producing ability is on par with Hall-of-Famers Rickey Henderson, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Billy Williams, and Tony Gwynn and better than Hall-of-Famers like Ken Griffey Jr., Carl Yastrzemski, and Orlando Cepeda. Helton won one batting title in his career, won three Gold Glove Awards, four Silver Slugger Awards, was a five-time All Star. He had two consecutive seasons compiling over 400 total bases, the last of which in 2001. Three other players accomplished this that year, with Luis Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds in that company. Unlike that group, Helton has never been implicated with steroids. He also drew over 100 walks in a season on five separate occasions. In addition to that he did damage away from Coors with a career .855 road OPS which is greater than Tony Gwynn’s career OPS. Helton was arguably robbed of the NL MVP award in 2000 when he finished fifth despite leading the league in WAR with 8.9, hits with 216, RBI with 147, and led the league in AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS. Just for good measure, he drew 103 walks that year as well.
Helton’s more than Hall of Fame-worthy, according to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric for Hall of Fame worthiness. Helton is 15th on the list for first basemen, everyone ahead of him not named Rafael Palmeiro is in the Hall or will be one day (i.e. Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto). He is also ahead of Hall-of-Famers like Harmon Killebrew, Hank Greenberg, George Sisler, and last year’s lone inductee David Ortiz. Todd Helton is more than worthy of being in that company, he just had the misfortune of being loyal to a franchise that was terrible for much of his tenure there.
Which player makes the biggest jump in votes?
Matt Partridge: I think that Andy Petitte will see the biggest jump in votes in this year’s ballot. In 2022, his fourth year in the mix, he received only 10.7%. However, in the past few seasons, we have seen the likes of Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, Curt Schilling, and Roger Clemens drop off the ballot, which, in terms of starting pitching, were big names to climb above (regardless of the controversies linked to the latter pair). So this year should see a sizeable jump for the 256-game winner and five-time World Champion whose name is synonymous with the Yankee legacy from 1996 to 2003. Counting against him will be his so-so career ERA of 3.85, those attributing the large amount of wins to the supporting cast around him, and his link to using PEDs during his career. To summarize, I do think he’ll top 20% this time around as voters will see his name and link it positively to part of a noteworthy period of baseball history. Through each of his 18 seasons, he turned in a winning record and his postseason exploits include a 19-11 record and 183 strikeouts in 44 appearances. He’ll see a big boost in 2023.
Jake Crumpler: My gut tells me that Gary Sheffield will take the largest leap from 2022 to 2023. A player’s case can grow exponentially from year to year as ballots clear up, voters look harder at resumes, and that dreaded 10th year arrises. Last year, the right-handed hitter garnered 40.6% of the vote, and so far this year, is tracking at 68% – a more than 25% increase year-over-year. As the nine-time All-Star enters his second-to-last year on the ballot, voters are beginning to look more favorably at the prospect of Sheffield as a member of the Hall of Fame.
His case is pretty clear. He hit more than 500 homers in his career, walked more than he struck out, finished with a 141 wRC+ (tied with Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, and Alex Rodriguez for the 10th-highest among players with at least 10,000 plate appearances since integration in 1947), and claimed accolades such as five Silver Slugger Awards, three top-three MVP Award finishes, and the 1992 batting title. From a more advanced perspective, his case takes a hit because of his setbacks in the field. He racked up the 18th-most bWAR (60.5) by a right fielder and rates out as the 24th-most Hall-worthy right fielder by JAWS. Nonetheless, his offensive metrics greatly outweigh his inability to catch baseballs.
The blemishes that likely clouded voters’ decisions in the past were the aforementioned deficiencies in the field and links to the BALCO performance-enhancing drugs scandal. He should be able to overcome any knocks against his defensive skills, but if voters are unable to overlook his possible usage of steroids, he may fall short like many of his contemporaries. Even so, his case is stellar enough to hike up his vote totals closer to the 75% threshold as he nears the end of his time on the ballot.
Davis Byrd: I think this honor will belong to one Andruw Jones. As of the most recent update to the ballot tracker I’ve mentioned, Jones was trending upwards this year as the second biggest riser amongst the pack of potential inductees with a net 21 votes gained just behind Todd Helton. Jones last year finished the voting process with 41.4% of votes.
Jones has a very clear Hall of Fame resume. Just like with the argument for Helton, the JAWS metric favors Jones’ candidacy very heavily. According to JAWS, Jones is the 11th-most Hall of Fame-worthy center fielder ever, just behind egregious hall of fame snub Kenny Lofton…but I digress. Jones won 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards at one of the most premier defensive positions. He was the premium defender in center for the peak of his career. He finished as an MVP runner up in 2005, hit 434 home runs in his career, and compiled 67 fWAR.
There are a couple of stumbling blocks for Jones’ candidacy. The main reason detractors list is his career after he turned 30. Jones began his MLB career very young. His career dramatically fell off after the age of 30, but by that time he had already accumulated 60 fWAR for his career. This argument that his later seasons should detract from his earlier career accomplishments is asinine. A big issue with this line of thinking is that it would mean he would be a Hall-of-Famer if he just retired at 30, which makes no sense. Many consider Jones more of a glove first guy while not having the offensive numbers to fit the bill. Even if that’s the case there are hitters plenty worse than him in the hall. Look at someone like Ozzie Smith. Jones’ 111 OPS+ is much better than Smith’s 87. Jones is far superior in the extra-base hit category to Smith with 853 compared to Smith’s 499 in almost 400 fewer games than Smith. The other detractor to Jones’ candidacy was the domestic violence incident which goes directly against the so-called “Character Clause” for Hall of Fame eligibility. While incidents like this have harmed other candidates (i.e. Omar Vizquel), they don’t seem to have hurt Jones nearly as much.