With no sure things, next year's Hall of Fame ballot could be unpredictable

Mark TownsendYahoo Sports Contributor
Yahoo Sports

The 2020 Hall of Fame class is set after the Baseball Writers Association of America elected Derek Jeter and Larry Walker. They will join Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons, who were elected by the veterans committee in December.

For the new Hall of Famers, the celebration is on. For those whose candidacy will begin or continue on next year’s ballot, it’s time to look ahead. That’s also what we’re here to do.

Our first glance tells us there are a wide range of possibilities in 2021. That’s in part because the next crop of first-time eligible candidates is remarkably underwhelming. There’s not a slam dunk like Mariano Rivera and Jeter have been the last two years. In fact, there’s not a new candidate that appears likely to reach the 75 percent required for election now or in the future.

It’s also because there’s a group of returning candidates that haven’t been fully embraced by the voters. Curt Schilling had his strongest showing yet in 2020 at 70 percent. Will he finally make the big leap? Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are inching closer to 75 percent, but with only two years remaining on the ballot can they make up the necessary ground?

What about the next tier of candidates? Will the thin crop boost Omar Vizquel or Scott Rolen? Or will it result in no players being elected by the BBWAA for the first time since 2013?

All of those options are on the table, which makes this a ballot that’s impossible to predict. That alone is reason for intrigue. So, too, is the possibility that a class with Schilling and either Bonds or Clemens could represent a turning point for the Hall of Fame.

For now, here’s a closer look at the candidates — and their outlooks — beginning with the newcomers:

The best newcomers

Will Mark Buehrle get Hall of Fame support from the BBWAA? (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Will Mark Buehrle get Hall of Fame support from the BBWAA? (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Mark Buehrle: You won’t find a more consistent pitcher. Buehrle pitched at least 200 innings in 14 straight years, which set an American League record. His accolades include five All-Star selections and four Gold Glove Awards. He posted 214 career wins, won a World Series with the Chicago White Sox in 2005, and, oh yeah, he pitched a perfect game. That’s a lot of really good on Buehrle’s résumé. There’s some great, too. But it doesn’t feel like enough.

Tim Hudson: Like Buehrle, Hudson has a strong résumé. He was a four-time All-Star over 17 seasons with the Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants. He was a 20-game winner in 2000 and a 222-game winner for his career. No, wins don’t mean a lot, but they help illustrate Hudson’s excellence over a long stretch. Though he never won a Cy Young Award, Hudson finished in the top-five three times, with one runner-up finish. All very good. But again, it doesn’t feel like enough.

Torii Hunter: The long-time Minnesota Twins center fielder is the best all-around position player among the newcomers. Hunter won nine Gold Glove Awards, which trails only Willie Mays (12), Ken Griffey Jr. (10) and Andruw Jones (10) at that position. He also earned five All-Star selection and two Silver Slugger Awards while hitting at least 20 homers in 11 different seasons. If Andruw Jones can’t get close though, Hunter won’t either.

Controversial trio

The trio of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling will always be connected because of the controversy surrounding each individually. On the field, it’s impossible to argue against any of the three being Hall of Fame worthy. PED allegations aside, Bonds and Clemens were generational talents who performed at an elite level from day one. Schilling’s politically-driven rhetoric creates an entirely different dilemma that has turned off many voters. But his production on the hill matches up favorably with many hurlers who are already in Cooperstown.

Based on this year’s results, Schilling is in the best position to be elected. He reached 70 percent for the first time on the ballot. Clemens (61) and Bonds (60.7) are still a ways off. But it’s worth noting here that Walker made a 22 percent jump to be elected this year.

As noted, the light class could work in their favor, as could the increasing urgency as they approach their ninth of 10 possible years on the ballot. But voter stubbornness can’t be discounted, either.

Other notable holdovers

Manny Ramirez is still optimistic about this Hall of Fame chances. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Manny Ramirez is still optimistic about this Hall of Fame chances. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Manny Ramirez: As an admitted PED user, Ramirez says he has no regrets. He’s also expressed optimism that his 555 career home runs, 12 All-Star selections, nine Silver Sluggers, and World Series MVP for Boston in 2004, will ultimately be enough to sway voters. His percentage jumped from 21.3 to 28.3 this year. That’s not an overwhelmingly positive indication he’ll eventually be right, but at least he’s moving in the right direction.

Sammy Sosa: The longtime Chicago Cubs outfielder is another candidate who is surrounded by controversy. His alleged ties to PEDs have kept his percentages low. He barely stayed on the ballot last year — his seventh — with 8.5 percent. That only rose to 13.9 percent this year. He was also caught with cork in his bat, which may or may not have been an innocent mistake. His counting stats — 609 homers and 2,408 hits — hold up. But he’ll need a monumental jump in the 2021 voting to have a realistic chance.

Omar Vizquel: If none of the aforementioned players are elected, Vizquel might be the biggest beneficiary. The defensive-minded shortstop started strong on the ballots and continued gaining ground this year, finishing with 52.3 percent. The 11-time Gold Glove winner has been frequently compared to Ozzie Smith. That could get him some extra attention on next year’s ballot.

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