The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2024 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.
Last week, we learned that for the first time since 2020, BBWAA voters elected multiple players to the Hall of Fame. In fact the trio of Adrián Beltré, Todd Helton, and Joe Mauer outnumbers the total number of players elected to the Hall over the last three cycles. For as underwhelming as those recent top-line results may have been, they concealed the steady gains made by a handful of down-ballot candidates, including last year’s lone honoree, Scott Rolen, as well as Helton, each of whom was elected in his sixth year of eligibility after debuting with a share of the vote that in past eras suggested they had no hope of election via the writers. With three returning candidates for 2025 having received over 50% of the vote, and with some impressive newcomers poised to join them, it’s time to look ahead to what the next five ballots have in store.
This is the 11th time I’ve broken out my crystal ball in such a manner, dating back to the wrap-up of my 2014 election coverage at SI.com. With this edition, I’ve now done this more times at FanGraphs than SI. That first edition was so long ago that candidates still had 15 years of eligibility instead of 10, and so I could afford to project Tim Raines for election in 2018, his 11th year of eligibility. The Hall’s unilateral decision to truncate candidacies to 10 years would come just months later, though thankfully voters accelerated their acceptance of Raines, who was elected in 2017.
This exercise has always been more art than science, requiring some amount of imagination and speculation. Changes to the election process over the past decade have rendered some of my research into the candidates and the history and mechanics of the voting less useful for prognostication purposes. The dynamics of Hall candidacies have certainly changed, as evidenced by Helton and Rolen. From 1966 to 2005, only three candidates recovered from debuts below 25% and eventually reached 75%, even with 15 years of eligibility: Duke Snider (17.0% in 1970, elected in ’81), Don Drysdale (21.0% in 1975, elected in ’84) and Billy Williams (23.4% in 1982, elected in ’87). With Helton’s election, we’ve now seen seven players elected despite such slow starts, including three from 2017-23. From the 15-year eligibility period came Bruce Sutter (23.9% in 1994, elected in 2006) and Bert Blyleven (17.5% in 1998, elected in 2011), and then once the eligibility window was shortened — less to clean up the ballots than to try moving the intractable debate over PED-related candidates out of the spotlight, and give voters less time to soften their attitudes — Raines (24.3% in 2008, elected in ’17), Mike Mussina (20.3% in 2014, elected in ’19), Larry Walker (20.3% in ’11, elected in ’20), Rolen (10.2% in 2018, the lowest debut share of any modern candidate elected by the writers) and now Helton (16.5% in 2019). This group could have company as soon as next year given that Billy Wagner (10.5% in 2016) missed election by just five votes.
Revising this annually is a necessity because I am routinely wrong, sometimes happily so, as in those instances where I’ve underestimated how quickly a given candidate might gain entry. Circa 2019, I estimated that David Ortiz would need until ’23 to gain entry, and didn’t foresee Rolen getting elected within five years. A year later, I projected Rolen to gain entry in 2025. In 2022 and ’23, I projected Mauer for ’25 election. On the other hand, in 2019 and ’20 I still believed — albeit with some caveats — that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling stood at least some chance of election before their window closed. Regardless of which direction it goes, every incorrect assumption has a ripple effect. The presence of a high-share holdover means less space for and less attention paid to the mid-ballot guys, so clearing one from the ballot can have ramifications that won’t be felt for a few years; likewise, a more rapid election than predicted can accelerate other candidates’ timelines.
For the sake of this exercise, I am assuming that the basic mechanics of these elections will remain in place: 10 votes per ballot, with a 5% minimum to avoid falling off, and 10 years of eligibility for new candidates. Note that each ballot’s year refers to the year of induction; that ballot is released in November of the previous year, with ballots due on December 31. To be eligible, a candidate must not have played in the majors for five full seasons, but his eligibility year will actually be six years after his last appearance.
Top newcomers: Ichiro Suzuki, CC Sabathia, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Félix Hernández, Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Zobrist, Russell Martin, Brian McCann,
Top holdovers: Wagner, Carlos Beltrán, Andruw Jones
Most likely to be elected: Suzuki, Sabathia, Wagner
As a subset of the already-annoying “first ballot” distinction, the debate surrounding electoral unanimity is silly. A Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer, and they don’t put a special ribbon or even a mention of getting 100% of the vote on the plaque. But if any upcoming candidate has a shot, it’s Ichiro, who racked up 3,089 hits stateside despite not debuting until age 27. Yes, he finished with just a 107 OPS+, 60 WAR, and 51.9 JAWS (17th among right fielders), but some of that is the result of his belated arrival. He spent a good chunk of his peak in Japan, but still won an MVP award and two batting titles while peeling off 10 straight All-Star/Gold Glove seasons and totaling 54.8 WAR, including 94 fielding runs, in that span. He would have been eligible for the 2024 ballot, but his season-opening two-game cameo in Japan in 2019 pushed his eligibility back a year.
What I think the nitpickers miss about Ichiro and the possibility of unanimity is an appeal that goes beyond the numbers. From Bill James onward, statheads have spent the past 40-some years downplaying the importance of batting average relative to other offensive stats, but writing The Cooperstown Casebook gave me a new appreciation for just how broadly respected and beloved the hit kings have been throughout the game’s history. Nobody gives the fans more opportunities to cheer or creates more action than a guy hitting well above .300, and nobody is an easier call for most voters, hence the outsized shares of players such as Derek Jeter (99.1% in 2020, currently second all-time) and Tony Gwynn (97.6% in 2007, seventh-highest at that point and still 10th) relative to the sluggers of their era.
That Ichiro served as such a groundbreaking international ambassador for baseball within that role further enhances his appeal. As RJ McDaniel wrote in 2019, “There are few players in the history of organized baseball who have brought this joy to more people — spanning continents, crossing decades — than Ichiro.” That’s the kind of impact that propelled Mariano Rivera and Jeter towards unanimity, and it will do the same for Suzuki.
Sabathia has a strong pair of traditional milestones — 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts — to go with his Cy Young award (plus five other top-five finishes in the voting), his championship ring from 2009, and fond memories of the way he put the Brewers on his back down the stretch in ’08 by making his last three starts on three days of rest, posting a 0.83 ERA while doing so. He’s a little light on S-JAWS, in that his 50.8 points ranks 55th all-time, six points below the standard, but that’s by far the highest ranking of any recent retiree; by comparison, Mark Buehrle and Andy Pettite, the current top pitchers on the ballot, rank 78th and 81st, respectively, 3.4 and 3.6 points lower than Sabathia. Between Sabathia’s standing and the second act of his career, which saw him confront his alcoholism and remake himself as a finesse pitcher after his mid-90s fastball had faded, his candidacy offers a compelling narrative that will attract voters, and it’s worth noting that there were a considerable number of “future Hall of Famer” tributes in his final season. At this time last year, I thought the presence of a holdover Mauer could contribute to pushing Sabathia back a year, but with him out of the way — and with the decrease in starting pitcher workloads and their standing in future Hall of Fame elections both popular topics of conversation — I now think there’s room for him in 2025.
Sabathia’s resilience stands out particularly when juxtaposed with Hernández, a six-time All-Star with a Cy Young award, two other runner-up finishes, and two ERA titles. Worked even harder than the Sabathia in his 20s, Hernández once appeared Cooperstown-bound, but he fell apart in his early 30s, and could not write a happier ending, finishing with modest totals of 169 wins, 2,524 strikeouts, and 2,729.2 innings. His 44.1 S-JAWS ranks 96th overall (one rung below Sandy Koufax, whose ranking falls a bit once I dial down the impact of those 300-inning seasons), and his adjusted peak of 38.5 WAR is tied for 63rd. His case isn’t as convincing as that of Johan Santana, a starter with an even shorter career and two Cy Youngs in about 700 fewer innings, with the 69th-highest S-JAWS. Having just cast a vote for Pettitte for the first time, I’m less inclined to dismiss Hernández than I was a year ago — and I sense that enough other voters may be thinking along those lines for him to stick around the ballot.
(For some thoughts about Hall-bound pitchers, I’ll again point to Patrick Dubuque’s excellent 2023 piece at Baseball Prospectus. “Much of the conversation around the Hall often boils down to whether a player is defined by their greatness in a single moment, or during a particular peak, or over a whole career,” wrote Dubuque. “And the problem is that based on current standards, pitchers have to achieve it for all three.”)
Moving to the other end of the battery, McCann and Martin are two of the era’s top pitch framers, and so long as a good portion of the baseball public insists that Yadier Molina is a Hall of Famer based on his own ability in that area, I’ll push the other two into the conversation as well, though they didn’t quite have Molina’s staying power. McCann caught for eight playoff-bound teams in his 15-year career and bashed 282 homers, but he wore down significantly after age 32, playing in just 245 games over his final three seasons. Martin caught for 10 playoff-bound teams and played a pivotal role in ending the double-decade playoff droughts of both the Pirates and Blue Jays. Both are far short of 2,000 hits, and are probably doomed as far as the writers’ ballots are concerned, but I’m going to make my point by including them nonetheless. This table, which incorporates the framing metrics of both FanGraphs (from 2008 onward) and Baseball Prospectus (for 1988-2007 using Max Marchi’s Retroframing methodology), shows how closely clustered they are with Mauer and Molina:
FanGraphs Framing-Inclusive JAWS for Catchers
FG Fram = FanGraphs framing runs for 2008 onward, now included in WAR. BP Fram = framing runs from 1988-2007 via Baseball Prospectus. WAR Adj = BP framing runs converted to FanGraphs WAR.
It’s also worth pointing out in this context that Martin had just 6,648 plate appearances in his career and McCann 6,850 to Molina’s 8,554 — the two eligibles here packed a lot of value into much shorter careers.
Kinsler, who retired with 1,999 hits (!), ranks a very respectable 20th in JAWS. He wasn’t the equal of Chase Utley at the plate (107 OPS+ to 117), on the bases, or in the field (87 DRS to 131, in more playing time), though, and given a shortish career, I don’t see him making electoral headway. Pedroia, who’s 19th in JAWS, might have a bit more traction in that conversation. He had fewer hits (1,805) to go with a 113 OPS+ and 99 DRS in his career, which was derailed by left knee woes stemming from a 2017 collision with Manny Machado; he played just nine games in 2018 and ’19, his age-34 and 35 seasons. On the other hand, he played a prominent role in two championships and won MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards. Through his age-33 season, his 52.3 WAR ranks 16th, five spots below Bobby Grich (60.1), three below Lou Whitaker (55.5), two below Utley (55.0) and one below Willie Randolph (53.7), which is to say that he might have come up short (sorry) of Cooperstown even if he hadn’t been injured. Jackie Robinson is the only BBWAA-elected second baseman with a lower WAR at that stage, and obviously, his was a special case.
On the shortstop side of the bag, Tulowitzki didn’t come close to sticking around long enough to have a real case for the Hall, accumulating “only” 1,391 hits but a near-standard peak score of 40.2 (he’s 3.0 points below, while Pedroia is 3.4 below and Kinsler 6.3 below). At best, that makes him Nomar Garciaparra Lite as far as the voters will be concerned. Zobrist, a superutility player with an emphasis on super, had just 1,566 hits but played a pivotal role on eight postseason teams, winning rings with both the Royals and Cubs; he was the World Series MVP for the latter. It won’t be enough for the voters, but it’s enough for a lifetime.
Amid this bumper crop of candidates, I see Wagner capturing the necessary five additional votes, joining the lineage of year-10 honorees and making for another trio. Jones and Beltrán, who return with the second- and third-highest shares of the vote (61.6% and 57.1%, respectively), should continue advancing toward 75%, but I don’t expect them to take the express lane, particularly with transgressions that at least some portion of the electorate may view as disqualifying, namely the former’s domestic violence arrest and the latter’s role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
The 2020 season left us short in many areas, including the retirement department. Perhaps it’s the case that few players wanted to end their careers following such a strange campaign. From this group, Braun owns the highest WAR (47.1) of any player who’s officially retired. Braun made six All-Star teams, won the NL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, and hit 352 homers, but he was caught violating MLB’s drug policy twice. The first time, an arbitrator overturned his suspension, that after Braun publicly smeared the sample collector — alleging anti-Semitism — in an unparalleled bit of ugliness within the annals of baseball’s efforts to fight PEDs. Countless players have denied knowledge of how illegal substances got into their bodies, and some (Rafael Palmeiro comes to mind) tried to cast blame elsewhere, but nobody else took a page from the Lance Armstrong playbook by trying to ruin the reputation of an innocent bystander in such a manner. The second time Braun was caught, via the Biogenesis investigation, he served a 65-game suspension. He’s nowhere near as strong a candidate as Ramirez, who will be in his final year, or Alex Rodriguez. By now it’s pretty clear that Hall-wise, anyone who was suspended isn’t getting to Cooperstown anytime soon.
In the wake of multiple comeback attempts that didn’t even reach the competitive stage due to the ongoing shoulder woes that had limited him to one game since 2019, Hamels finally announced his retirement last August. In his 15-year career, he made four All-Star teams, spun one complete-game no-hitter and did the heavy lifting of a combined one, and won a World Series while helping the Phillies to another pennant as well. His 48.3 S-JAWS is just an eyelash behind Santana, and he doesn’t have any Cy Youngs; meanwhile, his 163 wins are well short of the 200-plus for Buehrle, Pettitte, and the no-longer eligible Tim Hudson. In light of the ongoing dearth of starters that meet traditional mileposts, I think this is a candidacy worth getting on board for; we’ll see where this notion takes me regarding the ones leading up to it, Hernández included.
Encarnación, with 424 homers and some big postseason moments, might seem to have a case as the next designated hitter after Ortiz. His career didn’t really take flight until his late 20s, however, and his 35.5 WAR is about 20 fewer than Ortiz, plus he hit just .216/.324/.360 in the postseason overall. It’s not happening for him any more than it is for Choo, Gordon, or Markakis, who fell 622 hits short of 3,000, finally laying a perennial hypothetical question to rest.
With no newcomers likely to be elected, this could be the opening for Jones, in his ninth year, and perhaps even Beltrán, in his fourth, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he still winds up needing one more turn. I expect this is where Utley’s candidacy starts to pick up steam with something in the 40–50% ballpark.
Posey’s sudden retirement at age 34, after his strongest offensive performance in at least half a decade, left him with just 1,500 career hits, but his seven All-Star appearances, three championships, MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Gold Glove awards and 129 OPS+ make for a full enough resumé for Cooperstown. All that’s missing is watching him break down, and who really needs to see that? By JAWS, his 36.6 peak score is ninth all-time, nearly two full wins above the standard, and that’s without considering the impact of his elite pitch framing; he’s fifth in our version of the metric covering the 2009–21 span of his career and second in that of Baseball Prospectus. In both, he’s just ahead of Molina, who caught roughly twice as many innings (though only 44% more in the window covered by our metric). Even given the brevity of his career, I believe he’ll join Mauer, Ivan Rodriguez, and Johnny Bench on the ridiculously short list of catchers elected on their first ballot.
(Remember above where I said the first-ballot distinction is annoying? Some of that is because the BBWAA voters lost credibility in this area by not electing Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, and Piazza on the first go.)
Of the rest, the one who will generate significant discussion is Lester. With his 200 wins, three championship rings, and big-game reputation (9-7, 2.51 ERA in 154 postseason innings), his candidacy will get some attention, but his 43.4 WAR is about 15-17 WAR lower than the Buehrle/Hudson/Pettitte trio, and he’s 152nd in S-JAWS, 96 spots (and 12 points) below Sabathia, and just 12 spots above Jack Morris. Gardner, Seager, and Zimmerman each spent their careers with one franchise and deserve their spots in the hearts of fans, but none had the value, the accomplishments, or the staying power to make a dent in Hall voting.
If he doesn’t break through in 2026, I think this will be Beltrán’s year. Meanwhile, you may have noticed that I made no mention of the trajectory of Vizquel. Allegations of multiple incidents of domestic violence against his wife and sexual harassment of an autistic batboy led to him setting a modern record with a 25.2% drop on the 2022 ballot, from 49.1% to 23.9%. He’s lost a few points in each election since, this time while embarking upon a PR campaign that lacked any hint of introspection or accountability. His situation is without parallel in the annals of Hall of Fame voting, but it’s now abundantly clear he’ll remain a lower-tier candidate through his remaining eligibility, unable to regain the ground or the respect that he lost.
The back-to-back ballots lacking in obvious choices (aside from Posey) will open an opportunity for all kinds of holdovers who have hung around in the lower reaches to take steps forward. By this point, Utley should be above 50%, and some of the others who have generated less heat — Pettitte in his ninth year, Abreu in his eighth, Buehrle in his seventh, Jimmy Rollins in his sixth, maybe even Pedroia — could be at least positioning themselves in the 40% range and creating some appeal as an Era Committee candidate. Likewise for Hernández and Hamels, though they could even have enough time to hope for bigger things from the writers… eventually.
Though he spent more than nine years of his 10-year, $240 million deal disappointing in Anaheim, Pujols enjoyed a strong finish to his 22-year major league career, pushing his home run total to 703 (fourth all-time), his hit total to 3,384 (10th all-time, and the most by a player born outside the United States), and his career WAR back into triple digits (101.7) while making his 11th and final All-Star team during a victory-lap season in St. Louis. While it won’t erase all memories of his diminishing returns, going out on a high note should goose Pujols’ share of the vote into the high 90s.
The celebration may well help Molina get to 75% by riding his coattails. A 10-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner, he earned a reputation as one of the best at handling pitchers, both in terms of framing and game-calling. We have metrics to back up the first of those assertions, in that he’s third in our version of framing runs dating back to 2008 (151) and fourth in BP’s version that goes back to 1988. As for the second, we have a lot of anecdotes as well as a count showing that he was a part of 13 playoff teams, the starter on two World series winners and one more pennant winner, but we don’t have a real means of quantifying that value in runs. He’s just 22nd in JAWS among catchers, well below all but three Hall of Famers, but as with Martin, McCann, and Posey, I don’t think off-the-shelf JAWS is the right thing to use; as noted above, I have him fifth in my FanGraphs Framing-Inclusive JAWS. Combine that with the industry consensus of his future in Cooperstown and I think he’ll have enough momentum to get in.
An eight-time All-Star who collected 2,639 hits and 335 homers, Canó ranks seventh in JAWS among second basemen, but his Hall of Fame chances are as dead on arrival as those of Ramirez and Rodriguez given his two PED suspensions, an 80-gamer in 2018 and a full season in ’21. He’ll get enough support to stick around the ballot, though.
As a former Cy Young winner (and two-time runner-up) who made five All-Star teams, pitched for nine playoff teams, and helped the Red Sox win a championship in 2018, Price certainly packed a lot into his 14-year career. Elbow problems and the pandemic limited him to just one 30-start season past his age-30 campaign, however, leaving him with 157 wins, a 123 ERA+, 40.1 WAR, and the no. 180 ranking in S-JAWS. Even with some adjusted expectations for starters in the coming years, that’s too low to merit much consideration.
This will be Utley’s fifth year on the ballot. As noted in my post-election coverage, he received a higher share of the vote in his first year (28.8%) than Rolen and Helton combined — and both were elected in their sixth year. Both of those players grew their shares of the vote against the backdrop of some lean years for newcomers, whereas Utley’s tenure looks more crowded. I think he’ll be close by this point, but will be more likely to follow the path blazed by those two.
Like Pujols, Cabrera struggled for most of the period covered by his big contract (eight years and $248 million from 2016–2023), but even so, he became the seventh player to reach the dual milestones of 3,000 hits and 500 home runs after Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Palmeiro, Rodriguez, and Pujols — elite company. He’ll sail into Cooperstown easily.
Cruz spent 19 years in the majors with eight different teams, playing past his 43rd birthday. Along the way he made seven All-Star teams, played for seven squads that reached the postseason, and clubbed 464 home runs with his boomstick, topping 40 three times and leading the league once. For all of that, he totaled just 42.2 WAR while spending more than half of his games as a DH, and for as widely respected as he was throughout the game, his 2013 PED suspension will doom his chances here.
Unlike Pujols and Molina, the 41-year-old Wainwright chose to return for one more season, but it turned into an absolute slog due to age and injury. He finished with a 7.40 ERA and -2.0 WAR — and that was after winning his final two starts to reach an even 200 for his career. Given his four top-three finishes in the Cy Young voting and his role in helping the Cardinals to nine playoff appearances and two World Series, it might be a surprise that he ranks just 134th in S-JAWS at 40.6, comparable to Bartolo Colon and Brad Radke (both 40.8). He pitched just 2,668.1 innings, however, missing all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery, all but seven appearances in ’15 due to surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, and all but eight appearances in ’18 due to elbow inflammation. He banked four seasons of at least 6.0 WAR, but the other three seasons rounding out his peak score feature WAR totals of 4.0, 3.5, and 3.0 (including offense). Maybe he lingers on the ballot, but I don’t expect him to mount a real challenge.
This will be year six for Utley, and as I wrote above, I believe this will be his year, but that assumption rests on us having not seen the last of Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, and/or Joey Votto, all unsigned free agents at this writing. All of them appear to be planning to play, even if, in the cases of Kershaw (who’s recovering from shoulder surgery) and Votto, it means donning different uniforms for the first time. If any of them do retire, they’re likely to get elected here while probably bumping Utley back another year.
Kershaw and Greinke respectively rank 20th and 25th in JAWS already; both have well over 200 wins (210 for the former, 225 for the latter) and are closing in on 3,000 strikeouts, with Greinke needing just 21 and Kershaw 56. They’ll be first-ballot guys regardless of when they retire. Votto, a former MVP, six-time All-Star, and seven-time on-base percentage leader, has comparatively low counting stats for a first baseman (2,135 hits, 356 homers), and he’s been at replacement level or worse in three of the past four seasons. Even so, he’s 12th in JAWS, 2.2 points above the standard, and outdoing Helton both in JAWS (by 1.4 points) and seven-year peak (by 0.3 WAR). Like Greinke, he’s also a media favorite, so I think he’ll get in fairly quickly, perhaps on the first ballot.
Leaving Kershaw and company aside, that’s 10 players elected over the next five years, down one from last year but the same total I forecast in the wake of the 2021 and ’22 elections; that 2021 total included a qualified inclusion of Sheffield upon my projecting Ortiz to be a first ballot honoree for the first time. That’s still more than the eight players actually elected from 2019–23 and the seven from ’20–24, mainly because we’ve got some pretty solid first-year classes ahead save for ’26.
Beyond the numbers — and what would be surprising if not shocking revelations — the end of the candidacies of Sheffield this year and Pettitte in 2028 will close the door on the Wild West era of PED usage as far as the BBWAA is concerned. The remaining PED-linked candidates either currently on the ballot or scheduled to debut, namely Ramirez, Rodriguez, Braun and Canó, were all suspended at least once. If one counts the leaked results of the survey test and Braun’s arbitration turnover, all were connected to PEDs multiple times, removing the excuse that they merely made one-time mistakes. That won’t end every debate about their suitability, but it will make the writers’ jobs a little easier and could improve the tenor of the conversation around the ballot.
My track record in this is wobbly enough to know that I haven’t gotten everything correct. The fun (hopefully) will be in watching all of this unfold and depart from the script. We’ve had some pleasant surprises in recent years, with some first-ballot entries and holdover candidates rallying from sluggish early showings. I’m hopeful we’ll get a few more of the latter while also having the opportunity to celebrate the more obvious choices. After all, variety is the spice of life, in Cooperstown as elsewhere.