Why Trevor Hoffman Didn’t Get In (And What Happens Next)

Trevor Hoffman got 74 percent of the vote for the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, which put him one percentage point—or five measly votes—away from getting the Cooperstown call.

Even though I wrote that I wouldn’t have voted for Hoffman if I had a ballot of my own, I can certainly understand the argument that he’s a Hall-of-Fame level player, and I can further understand the disappointment for a city of sports fans looking for something to cling to.

Hoffman didn’t get in because he came up five votes short, obviously, and also because he’s something of a borderline candidate (also potentially because of a Boston bias). Nobody really knows how to handle relievers, and Hoffman—much as it pains me to admit—isn’t close to the Mariano Rivera level of relief pitcher dominance. Nobody is, really. So he hovers on the Hall periphery, gaining more support from the old-school voters than from the younger ones, more support from the west coast than from the east coast.

The other reason he didn’t get in, though, has little to do with the merits of his case or the demographics of the voter group. Hoffman didn’t get in because the BBWAA/Hall of Fame has a silly little rule that limits the writers to voting for at most 10 players. On Wednesday at Baseball Prospectus, I wrote about why that rule should be abolished, with a further tweak to limit HoF classes to five or under. I also wrote this, before the final results were made public:

This year, based on [Ryan] Thibodaux’s tracking, it’s possible that Ivan Rodriguez, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero all get snubbed by just a few votes, subsequently jamming the ballot further next year. Of the 119 10-player ballots made public this year as of this writing, 12 of them didn’t include Pudge, 25 didn’t include Vlad, and a whopping 31 didn’t include Hoffman. So, in theory, Hoffman’s missing 31 potential votes thanks to the 10-player rule. Even though all those voters certainly wouldn’t have included Hoffman on their ballot if given the chance, if even a third of them did Hoffman’s percentage would jump from 73.6 to 78.2.

Thibodaux’s tracker now has 140 10-player ballots, and by my count, 34 of them didn’t include Hoffman. Four of those writers explicitly said they would have included Hoffman if not for the 10-player rule. So, if just one of the remaining 30 would have done the same, Hoffman would be headed to a sleepy town in upstate New York come July, and that’s without even considering the private ballots.

Instead, Hoffman will have to wait at least another year, and the already crowded ballot will become further jammed. Including next year’s newcomers, here’s a list, in no particular order, that includes borderline-to-legitimate Hall candidates for the 2018 ballot:

  1. Barry Bonds
  2. Roger Clemens
  3. Trevor Hoffman
  4. Billy Wagner
  5. Mike Mussina
  6. Larry Walker
  7. Gary Sheffield
  8. Curt Schilling
  9. Sammy Sosa
  10. Edgar Martinez
  11. Manny Ramirez
  12. Jeff Kent
  13. Fred McGriff
  14. Vladimir Guerrero
  15. Chipper Jones
  16. Omar Vizquel
  17. Andruw Jones
  18. Scott Rolen
  19. Johan Santana
  20. Jim Thome

Whew. Just really quickly, back-of-the-envelope, it appears that something like 15 or 16 of those players are Hall worthy, and the other four or five deserve a close look.

What we know about past voting tells us that Hoffman should be safe. He’s at 74 percent in his second year on the ballot, so he should sail through next year. But that’s one crowded ballot, and it’s possible that a number of Hoffman voters could drop his support—at least for a year or two—to vote for a newcomer like Vizquel (who’ll get old-school love) or Thome, or to change their minds on holdovers like Mussina or McGriff or Martinez, particularly with the latter two entering their ninth year on the ballot. It’s also possible, as the demographic of the voter group continues to trend younger, that Hoffman will lose further support as new voters enter and old ones are phased out.

Hoffman will probably get in next year and he’ll almost certainly get in at some point, but the Hall’s 10-player rule plus a ridiculously clogged ballot have already delayed things further than anticipated—and it could get worse.

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  • Double_Up

    Thing is, more baseball writers are lazy/out of touch, so they’ll be sheeple and vote based on as little info as possible, in other words WAR (you see that all the time now) and more writers will not care about cheaters, unless they cheat in the “wrong” way, as if that makes any sense.

    • I obviously don’t feel that using WAR in a responsible way, as a tool to help sort out big groups of players is lazy/out of touch. I’d argue it’s closer to the opposite of voting on as little info as possible, though I agree that it certainly shouldn’t be the only thing studied at by any means, especially when it has various known flaws/shortcomings.

  • ballybunion

    There was speculation even before Hoffman was eligible, that he’d have to wait until AFTER Mariano gets in. With just next year before Mariano is eligible, it’s possible the writers who downplay the importance of closers will continue until Mariano is on the ballot, and then the tune will change.

    Conversely, letting Hoffman in next year would help the writers transition their biases and leave Mariano alone on the stage in 2019. I can see it going either way, but I can’t say I’m happy with the writers’ hypocracy (and yes, I spelled it that way deliberately.) It’s too bad the HOF is independent of MLB, and is resisting making the major changes to voting that are necessary.

    • Pat

      Hoffman missed by five votes. He’s going in next year. Rivera will be interesting, in terms of who he shares the stage with. I think Martinez will be close, but not sure if he makes it with the ballot so full. Mussina might be there if they clear four guys next year, which I think they will. Some people think Halladay will do well, and he probably will, but I don’t see him getting anywhere near 75% in his first year. Mariano might very well have the stage to himself.

      • FWIW, I still think Hoffman will be borderline to get in next year. I’d put it at, I don’t know, like 50 percent right now. Just for the reasons I mentioned–the ballot doesn’t really become less clogged, and some Hoffman voters might switch to other guys.

      • Pat

        I get where you’re coming from, but it’s extraordinarily unlikely. Yes, still a crowded ballot, but no more so than this one. One of the mathematically inclined guys at BBTF calculates three ballot spots opening up. With only Jones and Thome serious threats to pull significant votes, there’s no reason to believe Hoffman will lose many voters. He was still a net gainer this year, and only needs to pick up five (although this will vary depending on the number participating next year). It would be pretty strange for a guy that close to lose that many votes.

        Biggio just recently showed the path Hoffman is likely on. Debuted high 60’s, check. Moved up to fractionally below 75 the next year when three went in, check. Then was the fourth guy going in the next year, year three, check and double check! 🙂

      • I think Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, and Omar Vizquel will get some level of pretty significant support, particularly Rolen. And Vizquel is a threat to take away some of Hoffman’s old-school voter support. Not saying he won’t get in, but I’ll be interested to see how the ballots shake out next year.

      • Pat

        Gotcha. Your take on Vizquel makes sense I just don’t see it happening to a guy who is already on the brink of election. If Hoffman were at a much lower percentage, then I could see Vizquel siphoning some of his votes. We have very different takes on Rolen and A Jones. I think both will scuffle and likely not break even 20%, but if you’re right then it’s possible Trevor will struggle to pick up even those few votes.