Predicting Baseball's 2018 Hall of Fame Class

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJuly 28, 2017

Predicting Baseball's 2018 Hall of Fame Class

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    A trio of baseball's best from the recent past will enter the Hall of Fame on Sunday, joining the ranks of the all-time greats who are already enshrined in Cooperstown, New York.

    Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were announced as having been voted in back in January, with Rodriguez making it on the first ballot and Bagwell (seventh) and Raines (10th) also getting the necessary 75 percent of votes after a couple of close calls in the past.

    This weekend is about honoring that group, and rightfully so, but it's never too early to speculate who will join it in the Hall of Fame in 2018. Voting for that class is months away, but we know which players are on the ballot.

    Using past voting patterns and the resumes of first-time eligibles, we've predicted which players are most likely to get a congratulatory phone call a few months from now as part of the 2018 National Baseball Hall of Fame class.

Vladimir Guerrero

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Year on ballot: 2nd

    2017 vote percentage: 71.7%

    Career numbers: .318 BA, 2,590 H, 449 HR, 1,496 RBI

    Vladimir Guerrero's son, Vladimir Jr., put on a hitting clinic at the MLB All-Star Futures Game this month in Miami, showing off the same kind of free-swinging approach and happy-go-lucky mindset Dad exhibited throughout his 16-year career. The younger Guerrero is only 18, but if he continues to progress, we may someday be predicting his Hall of Fame induction.

    For now, though, let's stick to the elder Guerrero. He was close to getting in last year, with his percentage the highest for a first-year eligible who didn't get inducted since Roberto Alomar was on 73.7 percent of ballots in 2010. Alomar was then inducted in 2011. Other history is also in Guerrero's favor, as the last eight players to garner at least 70 percent of the vote—but not get in—ended up reaching the 75 percent threshold the following year. (Orlando Cepeda in 1994 was the last player to clear 70 percent but not be inducted the next year, but he reached the Hall of Fame in 1999 via the Veterans Committee.)

    All of Guerrero's career numbers make him worthy of induction, but if you need further evidence that he's deserving, consider one of his crowning achievements: the ability to hit a ball that bounced in front of the plate.

Trevor Hoffman

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Year on ballot: 3rd

    2017 vote percentage: 74.0%

    Career numbers: 61-75, 601 SV, 2.87 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

    The relief pitcher remains the most underrepresented position in the Hall of Fame, with only six inductees having recorded more than 100 saves. Dennis Eckersley has the most with 390 saves, but that's 211 fewer than Trevor Hoffman had in 18 seasons.

    Hoffman is second all time in saves, behind presumptive 2019 inductee Mariano Rivera, and he held the top spot on the career list from 2006 (when he passed Lee Smith) until 2011. He was five votes short on the last ballot, jumping from 67.3 percent in 2016, so it's only a formality that he gets in this time unless the 26 percent of voters who didn't pick him think one of the most dominant closers in baseball history isn't deserving.

    Bruce Sutter is the only Hall of Fame pitcher never to have made a start, spending his 12-year career exclusively as a reliever, and he didn't get in until his 13th showing on the ballot in 2006. Hoffman, whose 1,035 appearances all came out of the bullpen, walked two fewer batters than Sutter (307 to 307) in 47.1 more innings.

Chipper Jones

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Year on ballot: 1st

    2017 vote percentage: N/A

    Career numbers: .303 BA, 2,726 H, 468 HR, 1,623 RBI

    Being a Hall of Famer is a major accomplishment in its own right, but getting in on the first ballot is even more prestigious. Only 52 players are part of that exclusive club, though eight have come in the last four years (including three apiece in 2014 and 2015).

    Almost all of the first-ballot inductees blew the 75 percent of votes requirement out of the water, though Ivan Rodriguez squeaked in by appearing on 76 percent of ballots. Chipper Jones shouldn't have any problem getting at least that many votes, and his chances of appearing on more than 90 percent of ballots are pretty good.

    Jones, who spent his entire 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves, was one of the most beloved players of his era. Combine that with his incredibly consistent numbers, which included 10 seasons with a batting average of at least .300 and 10 years with at least 25 home runs, and he's a shoo-in.

Near Misses

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    In many years, the bigger story than who got into the Hall of Fame is who didn't. In the last vote, there were five players on at least 70 percent of ballots—the most since 1947—and just as much attention was paid to Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman as the three inductees.

    Who will be the close-but-no-cigar candidates this time around? Here are the most likely bridesmaids:

         

    Edgar Martinez (9th year of eligibility)

    The debate continues to rage in baseball circles about whether a designated hitter should be in the Hall of Fame. Edgar Martinez is the face of this conflict, and Hall of Fame voters have shown how they feel by keeping him out to this point.

    Martinez, arguably the best DH ever, was a .312 hitter who notched 2,247 hits, 309 home runs and 1,261 RBI. His .418 on-base percentage ranks 21st all time and is better than every active player's other than Cincinnati's Joey Votto's (.425). There's no question he was tremendous at the plate, but of the 2,055 games he played, he only started 560 in the field, and only 31 of those came during his final 10 seasons.

    He appeared on 58.6 percent of ballots this year, up from 43.4 percent in 2016 and 27.0 percent in 2015, so more and more voters of late have seemed willing to look past Martinez's lack of field play. But his time is running out—a player's 10th year on the ballot is his last shot before he moves to consideration by the Eras Committee (the renamed Veterans Committee).

             

    Scott Rolen (1st)

    If Chipper Jones hadn't retired the same year as Scott Rolen, then he'd have a great shot of getting in on the first ballot. Instead, voters are likely to compare his numbers to Jones', and despite having had a great 17-year career, the fellow third baseman doesn't stack up well.

    Rolen hit .281 with 316 home runs and won the 1997 National League Rookie of the Year Award with Philadelphia. The seven-time All-Star should appear on more than 50 percent of ballots, but he'll be hard-pressed to get near 75 percent on his first try.

          

    Jim Thome (1st)

    Did Jim Thome stick around a little too long and become a shell of his former self during those final seasons when getting into the 600-home run club seemed like his only motivation? It's fair to say "yes," but even if Thome had hung it up after he hit 25 homers with Minnesota in 2010 instead of bouncing between four teams in 2011-12, he'd still have a great legacy.

    That final stretch should, however, decrease his chances of being inducted on his first try. His 612 career homers and 1,747 walks, which both rank seventh all time, ensure he won't have to wait too long.

Long Shots

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    Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

    We broke this category into two subsets: first-time eligibles who have to face too many better candidates to warrant their inclusion in 2018 and those whose connection to performance-enhancing drugs (or penchant for saying the wrong things) has impacted their chances far more than their numbers.

           

    First-Timers

    Johnny Damon: The best thing Damon has going for him is that he spent the bulk of his career with high-profile clubs and won a World Series title with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. That, and he averaged 167 hits per season from 1996 to 2011. 

    Andruw Jones: At 40, he'll be one of the youngest first-year eligibles, but that's a double-edged sword. He made his big-league debut at 19 and won the first of his 10 consecutive Gold Gloves at 21, but once he turned 30, his production took a severe drop. His career average went from .267 through 2006 to .254.

    Omar Vizquel: His 2,877 hits are the most by any Venezuela-born player, and his 11 Gold Gloves (including one as a 39-year-old in 2006) make Vizquel one of the best two-way shortstops in history. He should make it eventually, but it could take a few years.

           

    The Bad-Reputation Gang

    Barry Bonds (6th year of eligibility): The single-season and career home runs leader was on a career-best 53.8 percent of ballots last year, up from 44.3 percent in 2016 and 36.2 percent in his first year of eligibility in 2013. He almost certainly won't make it in 2018, but how much—if at all—his percentage increases will speak volumes about whether voters' feelings regarding the PEDs era are further changing.

    Roger Clemens (6th): Clemens is the pitcher version of Bonds. He was on 54.1 percent of ballots last year, up from 45.2 in 2016—but slightly behind Bonds' uptick. Ranked third all time in strikeouts and ninth in wins, he's the only 300-game winner not in the Hall.

    Manny Ramirez (2nd): It's not the 555 home runs, 1,831 RBI and .996 OPS that are the most pertinent statistics when it comes to Martinez. Instead, it's three—the number of times he tested positive for PEDs. The last caused him to retire five games into the 2011 season. He was on 23.8 percent of ballots last year, 12th-most among eligible players.

    Curt Schilling (6th): Schilling's backward slide in balloting is a strong indication that many voters can forget PEDs use but that they're not OK with being thrown under the bus. Not long after Schilling said his support of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election, among other things, was hurting his chances of getting inducted, his vote tally dropped from 52.3 percent in 2016 to 45.0 percent.

    Sammy Sosa (6th): Sosa is only included on this list because of his attachment to the PEDs era—there's no way he's getting in. Not unless the 8.6 percent of voters who had him on their ballots last year—up from 7.0 percent in 2016—find a way to convince a whole heck of a lot more voters to join their cause.

           

    Statistics are provided by Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted. Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.