Hall of Fame Class 2017: Breaking Down Each Candidate's Case and Chances

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2017

Hall of Fame Class 2017: Breaking Down Each Candidate's Case and Chances

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    The deadline for voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to submit their 2017 Hall of Fame ballots was Dec. 31. In the interest of keeping us all in suspense, however, the results won't be announced until Jan. 18.

    In the meantime, here's a final look at this year's candidates, their HOF cases and the chances they'll punch a ticket to Cooperstown.

    We have some data to go on. First, there are past vote totals for players who have been on the ballot before. Second, and even more revealingly, there's the count of public ballots compiled by the indefatigable Ryan Thibodaux.

    This year's class is a fascinating one, populated by a number of borderline cases sure to spark debate, two titans of the steroid era who are gaining momentum and one worthy but long-spurned leadoff man on the verge of breaking through.

    Note that we're only discussing players who have a statistical shot at reaching the 75 percent threshold needed for induction based on the public count. Here's a list of some notable names who've been eliminated for this year, though all appear likely to get the 5 percent necessary to stay on the ballot with the exception of Lee Smith, who is in his final year of eligibility:

    • Jeff Kent, INF
    • Fred McGriff, 1B
    • Jorge Posada, C
    • Manny Ramirez, OF
    • Gary Sheffield, OF
    • Lee Smith, RHP
    • Sammy Sosa, OF
    • Billy Wagner, LHP
    • Larry Walker, OF

    Feel free to cast your votes in the comments and proceed when ready.

Jeff Bagwell, 1B

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    His Case

    An NL Rookie of the Year winner in 1991 and NL MVP and Gold Glove winner in 1994, Jeff Bagwell finished his career with 449 home runs, a .948 OPS and 79.6 WAR, the second-highest total among position players on this year's ballot behind only Barry Bonds.

    Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe called him "one of the best all-around first basemen since World War II." That's a fair assessment.

     

    His Chances

    Excellent. Bagwell is in his seventh year of eligibility and came tantalizingly close last year, as he garnered 71.6 percent. As of this writing, he's at 92.1 percent on the public-ballot tally.

    Bagwell never admitted to and was not suspended for steroid use, though he did acknowledge using at-the-time legal enhancers, including androstenedione. That's apparently been enough to keep him out until now, but his wait appears to be over.

Barry Bonds, LF

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    His Case

    The all-time single-season and career home run king, Bonds won seven MVP awards and eight Gold Gloves.

    We could keep going, but what's the need? On stats and accolades alone, HOF cases don't get more open-and-shut than this.

     

    His Chances

    Improving dramatically. In his fourth year of eligibility, Bonds got 44.3 percent of the vote. Currently, he's tracking at 70.1 percent in the public count in his fifth year.

    Even if that number dips in the final analysis, it'll represent a dramatic uptick. What gives?

    One factor could be the induction of former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who oversaw the steroid era and was enshrined in early December by the 16-person Today's Game Era committee.

    "As I continued to think about this and go back and forth, the thing that sealed my vote was when Bud Selig was voted in," BBWAA voting member Tom D'Angelo said, per Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan.

    Bonds, of course, was never suspended for performance-enhancing drug use, and he's never confessed or apologized. He is, nonetheless, the PED poster boy.

    He's also the greatest hitter of his generation. While he may have to wait a bit longer, he's on a collision course with Cooperstown.

Roger Clemens, RHP

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    His Case

    As with Bonds, we'll keep this short and sweet. Roger Clemens won seven Cy Young awards and an American League MVP. He ranks third on the all-time strikeout list (4,672) and ninth all-time with 354 wins.

    By the numbers, he's one of the greatest to ever grab a rosin bag.

     

    His Chances

    Improving dramatically. Clemens is tracking at 69.5 percent on the public-vote counter after getting 45.2 percent of the total vote last year.

    The Selig effect and a general softening on steroids are clearly at play here, as more and more voters wake up to the capricious, futile hypocrisy of playing PED detective.

    Like Bonds, Clemens was (cough) probably a steroid user. Also like Bonds, he's on track for the Hall in the near future. It'll be a PR headache for MLB, but it's happening.

Vladimir Guerrero, RF

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    His Case

    Vladimir Guerrero made nine All-Star teams. He hit 449 career home runs and posted a .931 OPS. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times and won the award in 2004.

    His stats don't scream first-ballot lock, but he was a consistently great hitter over the course of his 16-year career.

     

    His Chances

    Close call. Guerrero is in his first year on the ballot and tracking at 76.2 percent on the public-vote count. If that holds, he'll squeak in.

    What could hurt Guerrero is the first-ballot mystique. Some voters seem to hold it as a sacred honor to be bestowed upon only the greatest of the great. If it takes Bagwell seven years, why should Guerrero sail through on his first try?

    Even if he misses the cut this time, though, Vlad looks like a shoo-in for eventual enshrinement.

Trevor Hoffman, RHP

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    His Case

    The Hall isn't a friendly place for closersjust ask Lee Smith.

    Trevor Hoffman, though, is a closer among closers. The right-hander ranks second all-time with 601 career saves and joins Mariano Rivera as the only members of the 600-save club.

    He made seven All-Star teams and twice finished second in Cy Young balloting. This is one reliever with a shutdown HOF resume.

     

    His Chances

    Close call. Hoffman got 67.3 percent last year, in his first year of eligibility, and he's at 72.6 percent on the public vote count.

    He's hovering, in other words, and will get in eventually. Perhaps voters want to wait until 2019, when Rivera is up for consideration, so they can induct two great closers for the price of one.

Edgar Martinez, DH

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    His Case

    A lifetime .312 hitter, Martinez was a seven-time All-Star and two-time batting champion who finished with 2,247 hits and a .933 career OPS.

    If you ignore what position he played, or didn't play, that's a HOF-worthy body of work.

     

    His Chances

    Close call. Martinez's candidacy hinges on voters' willingness to let in a designated hitter. It's rare, but it has happened, as Sports Illustrated's Jaffe outlined:

    Not until 2014 was the first player ever to spend a majority of his career as a DH inducted into the Hall of Fame: Frank Thomas, who made 57% of his plate appearances in that capacity. Thomas's election came a full decade after Paul Molitor became the Hall's first player to spend the plurality of his career (44%) as a DH after bouncing all around the infield. By comparison, Martinez took 72% of his plate appearances as a DH.

    Martinez got 43.4 percent of the vote last year. He's now in his eighth year and sitting at 68.9 percent in the public-vote count.

    He's on an upward trajectory and could get a bump in two years when he enters his final year of eligibility. For now, it looks like a near-miss for arguably the greatest DH of all time.

Mike Mussina, RHP

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    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    His Case

    Mike Mussina won 270 games, made five All-Star teams and won seven Gold Gloves in his 18-year career.

    He also ranks 17th all-time in career WAR among pitchers with a mark of 82.2, by FanGraphs' measure.

    "Simply put," CBS Sports' Dayn Perry opined, "Mussina, when it comes to overall career value, is well clear of any sensible cutoff for Hall worthiness."

     

    His Chances

    Probably not this year. Mussina made the biggest voting jump of any player on the ballot last year, bumping up 18.4 percent. But he still only got 43 percent total and is at 61.6 percent on the public count.

    This is only his fourth year of eligibility, so if the numbers keep tracking upward, his time may come.

Tim Raines, LF

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    Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    His Case

    Tim Raines ranks fifth all-time with 808 stolen bases. He's got 2,605 hits.

    He owns a .294/.385/.425 career slash line, which compares favorably to Rickey Henderson's career line of .279/.401/.419.

    Henderson was the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, and his career overlapped and overshadowed Raines. But Rock's HOF credentials are solid.

     

    His Chances

    Excellent. After getting 69.8 percent last year, Raines is at 91.5 percent on the public count in his 10th and final go-round.

    After years of overlooking him and possibly punishing him for his sometimes prickly attitude and for persistent allegations of cocaine use, BBWAA voters seem ready to let Raines through at the eleventh hour. It's about damn time.

Ivan Rodriguez, C

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    PAUL BUCK/Getty Images

    His Case

    Ivan Rodriguez ranks among the top 10 catchers all-time in home runs, batting average and RBI and made 14 All-Star teams.

    Add an incredible 13 Gold Gloves and an MVP award, and you've got one of the best backstops of all time by the numbers.

     

    His Chances

    Excellent, with a caveat.

    Whenever we say "by the numbers," you can assume PED talk will follow. Rodriguez never outright admitted to steroid use, but he came close. When asked if his name would appear on a list of players who tested positive for steroids in 2003, Rodriguez replied, "Only God knows," according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).

    If voters made Mike Piazza wait four years to get in based on little more than innuendo, would they really put Rodriguez through on the first ballot?

    They might. Pudge is at 84.1 percent on the public count, which gives him a 9 percent cushion as the final votes are tallied.

Curt Schilling, RHP

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    His Case

    Curt Schilling made six All-Star appearances and had four top-four Cy Young Award finishes while winning 216 regular-season games.

    He forged his legend in the playoffs, though, where he went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 career starts, won three rings and was named co-MVP of the 2001 Fall Classic.

     

    His Chances

    Not great. Schilling got 52.3 percent of the vote last year. This year—his fifth on the ballot—he's at 53.7 percent in the public tally.

    Schilling's HOF case isn't airtight. You can argue he shouldn't get in before Mussina.

    The right-hander, however, has suggested there's a political motive.

    "If I had said, 'Lynch Trump,' I'd be getting in with about 90 percent of the vote," Schilling, who leans to the right and has stirred controversy on social media, told TMZ Sports.

    Whether or not his politics have played a role, Schilling almost certainly won't get in this year and is no sure bet down the road.

       

    All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.