The Baseball Hall of Fame recently announced that four former players will gain entry to Cooperstown’s main attraction. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio all earned the honor in 2015, with the induction ceremony to be held in late July. Earning election to the Hall of Fame is something that all ballplayers dream of, yet so few are able to garner the 75 percent of the vote that is necessary for election.
There are a number of Hall of Fame candidates who fell just short this year, and there are also a great deal of players who will be becoming eligible in the coming years. Determining who is most likely to be elected over the next five years is difficult, especially considering the changing attitudes of an electorate that includes over 500 baseball writers. Some heavily value the traditional counting stats, while others have come around to the use of sabermetrics. Some of the voters are very transparent about their ballots, while others keep their ballots – and their methods – a secret.
What follows are ten players who are most likely to be able to add the title “Hall of Famer” to their impressive resumes, not necessarily those who are most deserving of election. A variety of factors were considered in determining these ten players, including not just each player’s career accomplishments, but also how they have fared in previous Hall of Fame ballots. It is also important to consider how many years of eligibility remain for each player. Someone like Edgar Martinez only has four years of eligibility left, and with just 27 percent of the votes in 2015, seems unlikely to get elected despite being deserving of more careful consideration.
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10 Jeff Kent
Kent is currently eligible for the Hall of Fame, but only received 14 percent of the ballot in his second year of eligibility, and he actually lost ground from his first year, when he received 15.2 percent of the vote. It is going to take a while for him to move up the ballot and receive his 75 percent, but he is a player that is very likely to be elected eventually. He is the best offensive second baseman of all-time, and while he was not known for his defense, he was able to handle the position well enough to start there into his age-40 season. Offense is where he shined, slashing .290/.356/.500 over a 17-year career in which he hit 377 homers – the most ever for a second baseman – and drove in 1,518 runs. He also accumulated a 56.4 WAR according to FanGraphs, ranking 18th of all-time and falling between Jackie Robinson and Billy Herman, both Hall of Famers.
9 Derek Jeter
Having just retired, Jeter is not eligible for the Hall of Fame until 2020, but he is a virtual lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Jeter appeared in 14 All-Star games during his 20-year career, earned the Silver Slugger Award five times, won five Gold Gloves and finished in the top-10 of MVP voting on eight separate occasions. The New York Yankees icon has a lifetime slash of .310/.377/.440 and has accumulated 3,465 hits, which is good for sixth all-time. According to FanGraphs, Jeter’s career WAR is 73.5, ranking him sixth of all time among shortstops. Jeter, of course, will not be most remembered for his statistical prowess, as Captain Clutch also delivered plenty of outstanding postseason moments while leading the Yankees to five World Series championships.
8 Curt Schilling
Schilling is an interesting candidate, especially since the baseball writers have, historically speaking, been less willing to vote in pitchers with less than 300 wins over their careers. Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz fell well short of the mark (219 and 213, respectively, though it should be noted that Smoltz also recorded 154 saves as a closer), which indicates a greater willingness among the electorate to look past the win-loss records of potential candidates. A six-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young runner-up (twice to Randy Johnson), Schilling shined in the postseason while leading the Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox (twice) to World Series titles, winning the World Series MVP in 2001. In the postseason, Schilling was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 120 strikeouts. On his career, Schilling struck out over 3,116 batters while posting a 3.46 ERA and going 216-146. He appeared on 39.2 percent of the ballots this year, and should gain entry to the Hall sooner rather than later.
7 Mariano Rivera
The BBWAA has not been kind to specialists, as DHs and closers have had a hard time on the ballot. Lee Smith, once the all-time saves leader, only received 30.2 percent of the ballot this year and it seems unlikely that he will reach 75 percent in his final two years of eligibility. Rivera has the prestige of being the all-time saves leader and the most feared reliever in baseball for almost two decades. The 13-time All Star finished in the top ten of Cy Young voting on six different occasions and can claim 42 postseason saves in addition to his 652 regular-season saves. Rivera is not eligible until 2019, but it’s hard to imagine that he will have to wait very long until being voted into Cooperstown.
6 Jeff Bagwell
In his fifth year on the ballot, Bagwell has been gaining traction with the voters after initially dealing with the taint of the so-called “Steroid Era.” Voters routinely dismissed Bagwell as a candidate, but not because they deemed his accomplishments not worthy of the Hall, but because of suspicion that he may have used steroids during his career. While Bagwell has admitted to using Andro (the same stuff found in Mark McGwire’s locker in 1998), he admitted to using it well before it was banned by baseball. At the time, Andro was available to anyone and was certainly not illegal; a trip to the local GNC would suffice for procuring Andro. As for his Hall of Fame case, it seems that most writers realized the inherent silliness in not voting for Bagwell when he never failed a drug test, was not named in the Mitchell Report and was not otherwise linked to steroid use. In his 15-year career with the Houston Astros, Bagwell slashed .297/.408/.540 while hitting 30 homers and driving in 100 runs in eight different seasons. He finished in the top-ten of the MVP voting six times, winning the MVP in 1994.
5 Chipper Jones
The offensive face of an Atlanta Braves franchise that featured three future Hall-of-Fame pitchers in Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, the eight-time All-Star is very likely to be a first-ballot entry once he is eligible in 2018. Productive throughout a 19-year career spent entirely with the Braves, the 1999 MVP slashed .303/.401/.529 while hitting 468 home runs and driving in 1,623 RBI. He’s a Hall of Famer by the traditional metrics, and the advanced metrics love him as well, as he accumulated 84.8 career WAR according to Fangraphs, which is good for fifth all-time and better than both Brooks Robinson and George Brett.
4 Ivan Rodriguez
Rodriguez presents another interesting case for the voters, as the PED question is certain to be raised in 2017 when “Pudge” first becomes eligible. So far it appears that the BBWAA has shown an inclination to keep out only those with strong, verifiable links to PEDs, like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. Rumors do not appear to be enough, and that is all that exists with Rodriguez, though you could argue that the rumors are strong enough to significantly suppress his vote totals. He never tested positive, however, and he was not named in the Mitchell Report, but Jose Canseco did mention him by name in his book as a steroid user. Many of Canseco’s claims have been verified, so perhaps that’s enough to keep him out. By 2017, however, it seems likely that the writers will soften their stance on PEDs to the point where one of the undisputed all-time best catchers – one who earned an MVP Award and slashed .296/.334/.464 over a 21-year career -- will be able to gain admission.
3 Tim Raines
Raines is a favorite of sabermetricians and has benefited from the same type of grassroots campaign that ultimately helped Bert Blyleven get elected. One of the best leadoff men ever, Raines’ case has been hurt by the fact that he was largely overshadowed by Rickey Henderson during his playing days. Raines stole 808 bases in his 23-year career, slashing .294/.385/.425 while accumulating a 66.4 career WAR, ranking 14th all-time among left fielders and four places ahead of Willie Stargell, according to FanGraphs. The seven-time All Star led the league in steals in four consecutive seasons and won a batting title in 1986 with the Expos. He appeared on 55 percent of the ballots this year, and the fact that he now only has two years of eligibility left may cause the BBWAA to take a much closer look before he falls off the list.
2 Ken Griffey, Jr.
Ken Griffey, Jr.’s eligibility begins in 2016, and there should be little doubt that he earns entry to the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot. A thirteen-time All Star and an MVP Award winner, Griffey, Jr. slashed .284/.370/.538 over his 22-year career while hitting 630 home runs and driving in 1,836 runs. He was also a dynamic, highlight-reel center fielder who earned 10 consecutive Gold Gloves to go with his seven Silver Slugger awards. While he was hampered by injuries later on in his career, there is simply no way that Junior is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer a year from now.
1 Mike Piazza
The same rumors that have delayed Bagwell’s election to the Hall have dogged Piazza in his first three years of eligibility. But it appears that the tide has turned, and the fact that there is no clear evidence of Piazza’s steroid use – unless you consider “bacne” clear evidence, as Murray Chass has said – has helped the slugging catcher to appear on 69.9 percent of the ballot in 2015, just a shade over five percentage points shy of election. There is no doubt that Piazza is the greatest offensive catcher to play the game, but it is the steroid rumors that have kept him from election thus far. It looks like next year is the year for Piazza, who slashed .308/.377/.545 over a 16-year career that saw him tally 427 home runs and 1,335 RBI. It’s about time for a player who was named to 12 All-Star teams, won 10 Silver Sluggers and ranked in the top 10 in the MVP voting seven different times.
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