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Baseball Hall of Fame: Looking Ahead at the 2023 Ballot

Baseball Hall of Fame: Looking Ahead at the 2022 Ballot

Will the BBWAA induct anyone to the Hall of Fame next cycle?

After 10 long years of arduous arguments, the BBWAA can finally move on. Three of the most controversial Hall of Fame candidates in history — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling — have exhausted their 10 years of eligibility on the ballot, paving the way for a new set of debates.

David Ortiz — perhaps shockingly, but rightfully — was elected on his first ballot, which signals that the group of nearly 400 writers charged with honoring baseball's best is embracing how the sport has evolved. Designated hitters, closers, and those who play their home games at Coors Field can still be worthy of enshrinement.

Of course, debates around PED use, suspected and admitted, will never truly go away. As Bonds, Clemens, and Sammy Sosa fall off the ballot, we're still in for nearly a decade more of debates around Alex Rodriguez, not to mention Manny Ramírez and Andy Pettitte. And the top newcomer on the ballot was squarely involved in the sport's biggest scandal since steroids.

One thing the 2022 ballot also underscored is how much morality matters to voters, beyond what happened on the field. Omar Vizquel had the largest drop-off in support (25.2 percent) in BBWAA voting history after his wife accused him of physical abuse in December 2020 and a former batboy sued him for sexual harassment this past August. And Schilling lost 12.5 percentage points after his support for the Jan. 6 insurrection and request to be removed from the ballot.

After electing a historic 22 players from 2014-20, the BBWAA has only sent one player to Cooperstown over the last two cycles. The upcoming class figures to be small once again, so perhaps the bigger question is how the voters will set up several of the fast risers to get elected a few years down the road.

Who are the notable additions to the 2023 ballot?

Two big names stick out on the list of newcomers — one with an iron-clad statistical case and another that is impressive if you squint and compare to recent inductees. And neither is likely to get inducted on their first try.

First up is Carlos Beltrán, who seemed to have locked up his Hall of Fame case after winning a World Series in 2017. A nine-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove Award winner, and former Rookie of the Year, Beltrán essentially matches the average of the 19 enshrined center fielders for career WAR (70.1 vs. 71.6) and seven-year peak (44.4 vs. 44.7).

But while Beltrán was previously known for his postseason heroics, he is more well known at this point for being a ringleader in the Astros' sign-stealing scandal. It's unclear how voters will handle known cheaters — plenty of Hall of Famers have cheated, but many consider using technology beyond the pale — although it seems likely that enough voters will leave him off their first ballot that he'll fall short of 75 percent next cycle before eventually making it in.

The more interesting case involves Francisco Rodríguez. There are only eight Hall of Famers who were primarily relievers, and three of them retired as the career saves leader. Rodríguez is fourth with 437 saves and will certainly have an uphill climb. Voters have not been very consistent on what makes a Hall of Fame reliever besides wearing that crown.

Mariano Rivera was unanimously inducted, and Trevor Hoffman made it on his third try, while Billy Wagner appears to have a good chance of making it. But several of the other great closers of the last decade have barely gotten consideration. This year, Joe Nathan (372 saves) and Jonathan Papelbon (368) both fell off the ballot after receiving a combined 22 votes — and both have better WAR numbers than K-Rod. Rodríguez will likely be lucky to stick on the ballot and have to hope that Wagner's eventual induction will give him a boost.

The rest of the newcomers don't really stand a chance, but this will provide a great reason to remember the careers of John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Cain, R.A. Dickey, and more.

Who is most likely to get inducted in 2023?

If anyone stands a chance to get inducted next year, it's going to be Scott Rolen. The third baseman has had a meteoric rise since debuting at 10.2 percent in 2018. He has made double-digit gains in the last three cycles to reach 63.2 percent in 2022, the highest among players returning to the ballot.

A seven-time All-Star, eight-time Gold Glove Award winner, Rookie of the Year, and World Series champion, Rolen is an advanced stats darling for his top-tier defense and high on-base percentage, even if his power (316 HR) fell short of other star third basemen. While never considered elite — he had just one top-10 MVP finish — he was consistently one of the great players of his generation.

A fourth straight season of double-digit gains would be almost unheard of, but it's likely that Rolen will be a candidate voters rally around to get someone into the Hall in 2023. With the 10th-most WAR ever among third basemen, Rolen is more than worthy. And it truly is a matter of if he'll get inducted on his sixth or seventh try.

Which returning players stand to see big improvements?

Although Rolen was the only returning player to make double-digit gains, there were several players who are on pace for induction in the next several years. Those would be Todd Helton (up from 44.9 to 52.0 percent), Billy Wagner (up from 46.4 to 51.0 percent), and Andruw Jones (up from 33.9 to 41.1 percent).

Helton's case continues to be buoyed by fellow Rockies slugger Larry Walker's induction in 2020, and he is well on his way to Cooperstown with just 23 more percentage points needed with six years to go. It should be noted that every player to reach 50 percent has eventually been enshrined — some through a Veterans Committee, such as 2022 inductee Gil Hodges — except Bonds, Clemens, and Vizquel.

Wagner had the smallest improvement of the group but also cracked the crucial 50 percent threshold. While he sits "just" sixth on the career saves list, he does have the highest strikeout rate (11.9 K/9) for any pitcher with at least 900 innings. But with only three more years left, he'll need to make bigger gains than he had on this ballot.

Jones continues to gain traction in his fifth year as the best defensive center fielder of his era (10 straight Gold Gloves) with incredible peak offensive abilities (342 homers before his age-30 season). How much his lack of longevity and his 2012 arrest for battery are holding back his candidacy remains a question.

The rest of the players seem stuck in neutral. Garry Sheffield (40.6, 8th), Jeff Kent (32.7, 9th), and Ramírez (28.9, 6th) are nearing the end of their eligibility, and none improved by even a percentage point. Their best hope for enshrinement is to get a few more votes and some sympathy from a Veterans Committee.

As for what to make of A-Rod, it seems unlikely that he'll make it unless a shocking number of voters wanted to give him a slap on the wrist for his first year on the ballot. More than a third of all voters didn't want to include Bonds and Clemens — who had far better numbers than his still legendary career — and they didn't even test positive or receive a suspension. Hall of Fame voting is very much a popularity contest, and Rodriguez's redemption tour has a long way to go.