If you vote for 10 names on this Hall of Fame ballot, you're doing it wrong

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John Tomase
·4 min read
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Tomase: There's no defending voting for 10 Hall of Famers this year originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

At the risk of denigrating the accomplishments of this year's nominees, it's hard to recall a weaker Hall of Fame ballot.

Of course Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens deserve enshrinement, depending on your tolerance for their truthfulness before Congress, but their case stopped being argued on its merits a long time ago.

I'll always consider Curt Schilling a slam-dunk choice for his postseason exploits alone, but I can see why others disagree, and frankly, in light of the comically toxic disinformation that spews from his feeds in a Deepwater Horizon-style geyser, I don't mind seeing him twist in the wind, because I am incredibly petty.

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The fourth and final name on my ballot, Gary Sheffield, receives even less support, but I happen to believe he's one of the 30 greatest hitters ever, and if we won't reward that just because he plodded across the outfield like a hastily recommissioned Soviet Era tank, then what are we doing?

So we can quibble about this candidate or that, but here's what I can't countenance: examining this ballot and deciding that eight, nine, even 10 names belong in Cooperstown.

It is time to stage a BBWAA-wide intervention.

Over the last seven years, a record 22 players have earned enshrinement from the writers, finally breaking the PED backlog that basically coincided with the arrivals of Bonds and Clemens.

The 2021 ballot includes 25 names and if you pick 10 of them, that means you believe 40 percent of the qualifiers deserve immortality. That's not exactly an Ivy League acceptance rate, and we're supposed to be honoring the absolute best of the best. So what's going on?

Chalk it up to a pair of developments ruining our lives in different ways -- social media and the statistical revolution.

The former speaks for itself. Loudly. And not always with real people supplying the words.

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Though the One True Ballot police have thankfully lowered their weapons since the overheated heyday of 2014, there's still an element of the voting populace that would rather satisfy Twitter banshees than defend leaving someone else's favorite player off their ballot. Easier to just check the maximum and then back away slowly with hands raised. "I would've voted for your guy, but the limit is 10. Can I go now? I have a wife and family."

I believe it was the great Ray Ratto who boiled this conflict down to, "I want a vote / you can't have one." The armchair experts -- whose theoretical ballots look suspiciously homogenous, by the way -- believe that their choices are The Way with the fervency of a Mandalorian. And if you disagree, it's to be expected, because that what happens when you entrust the vote to a group cursed with such breathtaking collective ignorance.

So where do they derive their preternatural confidence? Statistics, of course. The rise of analysts like Jay Jaffe of Fangraphs has given voters new ways to consider the ballot. Jaffe's case for Sheffield, for instance, helped clarify my own stance on his candidacy. (As an aside, I'm just not holding defensive metrics against someone who played the majority of his career before that data was even tracked accurately).

The larger point that's missed when considering his work, and others like it, is that it's not presented as definitive. Jaffe makes a case. His JAWS metric provides context for how a candidate's peak seasons compare to the average Hall of Famer's.

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It's not meant to be absolutist, but it's often interpreted that way. When the Hall of Fame becomes an actuarial exercise of sorting career WAR and JAWS in descending order, and go bleep yourself if you even consider subjective measures like MVP votes or All-Star games or postseason dominance or hell, how watching Sheffield swing his bat like a cornered antihero made you feel, then we've lost our way in a style befitting today's broken game, where a Cy Young winner can get lifted in Game 6 of a World Series shutout after only two hits and 73 pitches, because that's what the numbers say.

The numbers also say that Bobby Abreu is a Hall of Famer. They say the same thing about Todd Helton and Andruw Jones and Scott Rolen and Billy Wagner.

They were all very good players. Rolen probably borders on great. But I'll again ask: what are we doing? Are we granting every above-average player immortality? Or are we holding the Hall of Fame to a higher standard than enshrining four out of every 10 nominees?

I know where I fall, which is why I'm comfortable submitting a ballot with four names total. Feel free to @ me. I will definitely ignore you.