My, oh my, how the tides have turned. When Omar Vizquel was first about to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, I was skeptical. Very much so.
He entered the ballot the same year as former teammate Jim Thome. I predicted Thome would get in on his second ballot year; he easily got in on the first with 89.8 percent of the vote. At the same time, I wrote that I expected Vizquel’s candidacy to go down to the wire of his 10-year eligibility.
In reality though, without the rosy-shaded bias of Cleveland fans nudging me along, I was more pessimistic than that. Many players with as prolific or more of resumes had flamed quite early on the ballot (cough, Kenny Lofton, cough). There was no clear guarantee Vizquel would stay about the necessary 5 percent reception every year for that long. Vizquel’s offense looks incredibly weak in the ‘90s era (this stat from @MLBRandomStats is bonkers); defensive stats are wide-ranging enough where it’s hard for that to make up total ground in Hall of Fame stature. Or so I thought.
Now, after the Today’s Game election of Harold Baines (?!) and Lee Smith, plus yet another four names on the normal ballot (Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, Mike Mussina), Vizquel looks like an eventual Hall of Famer, undoubtedly. It’ll happen. It’s just a matter of when not if. He received 42.8 percent of the most recent vote, up from 37.0 in his first year. With that continued trajectory, eight more available ballot years, and the recent massive year-over-year gains of other recently elected candidates, it’ll happen at some point. The only intrigue is when exactly.
Jay Jaffe, the preeminent Baseball Hall of Fame analyst (who finally gets his own legitimate vote in 2021), did his annual five-year “Closing The Floodgates” forecast of voting results last week. While he admitted his forecast success rate has definitely been hit-or-miss, and he’s vastly underestimated the recent surge of votes per ballot, he tried to adjust and factor that into his outlook for 2020-24. For context, here are some stats on the holdovers and recent honorees:
Derek Jeter is a sure-fire first-balloter next season. Larry Walker should likely continue his impressive recent surge of support into Cooperstown in his final year of eligibility, as well. Then, 2021 is a fairly weak new ballot — aka there will be lots of growth for the existing holdovers — before Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz join the fold in 2022.
In 2023, Carlos Beltran is the top new entrant, meaning there will again be a lot of growth for holdovers. The 2024 ballot brings in a really strong slate afterward, with Ichiro Suzuki, Adrian Beltre, and Joe Mauer first appearing on the ballot. Where does Omar eventually slide in? Jaffe predicts 2025-or-later, as he’s approaching his final few years of normal ballot candidacy.
I think Jaffe is being a bit too cautious. He predicts only 10 Hall of Famers (Jeter, Walker, Schilling, Bonds, Clemens, Ortiz, Beltran, Beltre, Suzuki, Mauer) in this method over the next five years compared to 16 in the most recent five years. Yes, Vizquel will have to continue to compete for votes with that ragtag lot of unlikeables (Schilling, Bonds, Clemens, plus the likes of Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa) and other many-time All-Stars (Kent, Rolen, Wagner, Helton, Sheffield, Pettitte). But I’m expecting more votes to keep rolling in per voter, and Vizquel’s likeability to help him keep climbing.
I’ll go on the record with saying 2023 as the most likely year. Note: Schilling, Clemens, and Bonds all have their final year of eligibility in 2022. This means that those names will have to be off the list by the time 2023 arrives and there will be far more vote opportunities – and thus more growing support – for the cleaner names still to come.
Where I mainly deviate from Jaffe is that I think 2021 may be the big year for the proverbial syringe ceiling. With a weak incoming class, it makes sense for more than just Schilling to make the Hall of Fame. It’s somewhat oddly ironic how Jaffe, the leading only researcher of Hall of Fame voting history, will make history with a wild voting class that year.
Then, for 2022 and on down, it’s then very easy to forecast continuing support for Omar Vizquel and his Hall of Fame day to arrive sooner than later. It’s still a little hard for me to believe. But it all has changed now and it all appears so darn likely.
To end, here are some various links from around the internet that I’ve read recently: