HomeTrending MLB NewsBeltré, Helton, and Mauer Make it a Trio for Cooperstown

Beltré, Helton, and Mauer Make it a Trio for Cooperstown

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Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2024 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Add a few more chairs to the dais. For the first time since 2020, BBWAA voters have elected multiple players to the Hall of Fame — three, in fact. Not only was Adrián Beltré elected as expected, with a hefty 95.1% of the vote, but fellow first-year candidate Joe Mauer and holdover Todd Helton cleared the 75% bar as well, making this the largest class since 2019 and the sixth of this millennium with more than two candidates elected. Though it appeared possible that Billy Wagner could join them, producing the fourth quartet of the past decade and the seventh class of more than three since the institution’s inception in 1936, he missed by just five votes.

While Beltré’s election was a foregone conclusion given that he received 216 out of 218 votes from among those published in Ryan Thibodaux’s indispensable Ballot Tracker prior to the announcement, the outcomes for Mauer (83.5% in the Tracker), Helton (82.6%) and Wagner (78.4%) all carried varying degrees of suspense up to the point when Hall president Josh Rawich announced the results on Tuesday evening. Mauer’s high share of votes from among the “small Hall” ballots appeared to make his election a strong likelihood, but neither Helton nor Wagner had generated the volume of flipped votes — from no to yes — from among those public ballots that would have reduced their amount of uncertainty. In a pre-election forecast delivered Tuesday afternoon on MLB Now, Jason Sardell — whose probabilistic model has been the industry’s most accurate for the past several cycles — projected Mauer with a 99.9% chance of election, Helton with “about a 90% chance” (up from 71% Monday night), and Wagner with “about a one-in-four chance” (up from 18% Monday night).

Beltré and Mauer, who received 76.1% of the actual vote, are the first pair of first-year candidates to be elected on the same ballot since Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay in 2019. Helton, who fell just 11 votes short of election last year while receiving 72.2%, received 79.7% of the actual vote, making it with 18 votes to spare. Wagner, who received 68.1% last year, climbed to 73.8% this year; he has one more year of eligibility remaining, and appears likely to join Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, and Larry Walker in the annals of recent candidates elected in their 10th and final year of eligibility.

Not joining that list, alas, is Gary Sheffield, who made the second-largest jump of the cycle by climbing from 55% last year to 63.9% this year, his final one on the writers’ ballot. Two other candidates topped 50%, a strong indication of future election, namely Andruw Jones (61.6% in his seventh year of eligibility) and Carlos Beltrán (57.1% in his second year).

The trio of honorees is a welcome change from the recent past. Last year, voters elected only Scott Rolen, and barely at that, with just 76.2%. The year before that, David Ortiz flew solo, and in 2021, nobody got in at all via the writers’ ballot. Driven by a strong crop of first-time candidates — including not only Beltré and Mauer but also Chase Utley, who’s 12th in JAWS among second basemen but received a sluggish 28.8% in his debut, and David Wright, who retained his eligibility by receiving 6.2% — this election had more in common with those from 2014-20, when the writers elected 22 players over a seven-year span.

What follows here are a few quick take-home points from the electoral results. I’ll have a candidate-by-candidate breakdown in my next installment.

Adrián’s Ascent

Whether it was the third baseman’s combination of 3,166 hits and 477 homers, or his number two ranking in fielding runs and number four ranking in JAWS, Beltré had qualifications that appealed to both old-school and new-school voters alike. While his four All-Star Game selections and five Gold Gloves felt a bit light for a typical Hall of Famer, those low totals reflect the way that perceptions of him changed over time. During the first 12 years of his 21-year major league career, spent in pitcher-friendly parks in Los Angeles and Seattle, Beltré never made an All-Star team, won only two Gold Gloves, and had just one obvious standout season, an incredible 48-homer, 9.6-WAR walk year in 2004. Once he moved to more hitter-friendly environments in Boston and Texas while maturing as a hitter, the breadth of his skill set was more greatly appreciated. And whether it was video clips of his diving stops, his towering home runs, or his antics with his teammates, social media played a role during the latter stretch, helping him become one of the game’s most respected and even beloved players.

All of that combined to elevate Beltré to the point where even a single voter leaving him off a published ballot was cause for an outcry on social media. He didn’t fare as well on the unpublished ballots (89.8%), but his share of the vote was still the second highest from among the 14 players born outside of the United States who were elected via the regular BBWAA process. That count does not include Roberto Clemente, who was honored via a special election in the wake of his untimely death in 1972, but it does include others from Puerto Rico, an unincorporated U.S. territory:

Highest BBWAA Voting Percentages
Among Players Born Outside the United States

RkNameBirthplaceYearVotes% of Ballots
1Mariano RiveraPanama, PAN2019425100.0%
2Adrián BeltréSanto Domingo, DOM202436695.1%
3Vladimir GuerreroNizao, DOM201839292.9%
4Pedro MartinezManoguayabo, DOM201550091.1%
5Rod CarewGatun, PAN199140190.5%
6Roberto AlomarPonce, PRI201152390.0%
7Luis AparicioMaracaibo, VEN198434184.6%
8Juan MarichalLaguna Verde, DOM198331383.7%
9Bert BlylevenZeist, NLD201146379.7%
10David OrtizSanto Domingo, DOM202230777.9%
11Tony PerezCamaguey, CUB200038577.2%
12Larry WalkerMaple Ridge, BC202030476.6%
13Ivan RodriguezManati, PRI201733676.0%
14Fergie JenkinsChatham, ON199133475.4%

SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Beltré, the first native of the Dominican Republic to reach 3,000 hits, is the fifth from the tiny country to be elected to the Hall, after Marichal, Martinez, Guerrero and Ortiz. If his lofty placement on this list seems odd, it’s hardly inappropriate given that for a period from 2018–22, he had the highest hit total of any player born outside the U.S., until Albert Pujols surpassed him. Next year, Ichiro Suzuki, whom Beltré supplanted on the foreign-born hit list, could eclipse him in these rankings.

It’s Catching, Finally

When it comes to evaluating the position that may be the most important on the diamond and is certainly the most physically demanding, BBWAA voters have dropped the ball again and again. Prior to this year, they had elected just two catchers in their first year of eligibility, an embarrassing track record even if one doesn’t get too wrapped up in the “first ballot” distinction. Between their constraints on playing time and their susceptibility to injury, catchers’ offensive stats tend to be suppressed, which puts them at significant disadvantages when they’re compared to other position players. The comparatively recent introduction of pitch framing metrics helps to close some of the gaps when it comes to value, but it also limits the scope of historical comparisons.

Here’s a look at the rude treatment these catchers have received from the writers:

BBWAA Voters Not Catching On

JAWS RkNameCareer WARPeak WARJAWSHHROPS+BallotsYrs Atfer
1Johnny Bench75.147.261.2204838912616
2Gary Carter70.148.459.32092324115611
3Ivan Rodriguez68.739.854.3284431110616
4Carlton Fisk68.437.553.0235637611727
5Mike Piazza59.543.151.3212742714349
6Yogi Berra59.538.048.7215035812527
7Joe Mauer55.239.047.1212314312416
8Bill Dickey56.335.445.919692021279*8
9Mickey Cochrane49.736.643.216521191296*10
10Gabby Hartnett55.430.643.0191223612611*14
17Roy Campanella42.035.038.51422232125512

SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

* includes ballots prior to 1955, before the five-year wait rule was in effect. Years with multiple ballots (i.e., with run-off or nominating stage) only counted once. Prior to 1966, balloting was sometimes conducted annually, biennially, or triennially.

Berra, a three-time MVP, 10-time champion, and 18-time All-Star, needed to wait an extra year for election, as did Fisk, an 11-time All-Star who held the record for games caught until Rodriguez came along. Piazza, a 12-time All-Star who stands as the best-hitting catcher in AL/NL history, needed four years, though PED allegations played a role in that delay. Dickey, an 11-time All-Star and eight-time champion, received votes in nine elections (not counting runoffs), though to be fair, that tally began before the five-year waiting period was established; he was elected in what would have been his third year of eligibility by modern rules. Cochrane, a two-time MVP whose career ended in 1937, the year after the first Hall election, wasn’t elected until a decade later. Campanella, another three-time MVP, needed five ballots, not including runoffs.

As to why Mauer broke through despite his having to move out from behind the plate for his final five years due to concussions and their aftereffects, he had a uniquely impressive resumé. Not only did he win an MVP award and three Gold Gloves while making six All-Star teams, he won three of the eight batting titles ever claimed by a catcher (Ernie Lombardi is the only other repeat winner), two of the four on-base titles (Cochrane had the other two), and the only slash-stat Triple Crown. Despite catching only 921 games, his seven-year peak score — all from his years as a catcher — ranks fifth at the position behind only Carter, Bench, Piazza, and Rodriguez. Add to that the easy hook of his being the number one draft pick who made good in his hometown, and who had an exceptionally wholesome reputation (he endorsed milk!), and you can understand why he might stand out in a field that has its share of PED users, sign stealers, and domestic abusers.

Like the election of Edgar Martinez while Ortiz’s candidacy loomed, Mauer may have benefited from something of a reverse coattail effect. Buster Posey, who won’t be eligible until the 2027 ballot, had an even shorter career than Mauer, with over 2,000 fewer plate appearances and just 1,500 career hits. Yet he packed so much into that career — seven All-Star appearances, three championships, a Gold Glove, MVP and Rookie of the Year awards — before retiring to spend time with his family, a decision in which the effects of multiple concussions likely loomed large. Explicitly or implicitly, some voters tabbed Mauer with an eye towards supporting Posey down the road.

Big Comebacks, Continued

A five-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, and slash-stat Triple Crown winner, Helton was an exceptional hitter who served as the face of the Rockies franchise. He put up very big — and yes, Coors-inflated — numbers in the first half of his career, but his overall production still measures up once we adjust for his park and league scoring environment. He no doubt benefited from the 2020 election of Walker, his teammate in Colorado from 1997–2004. Injuries caused him to fade away, as he had just one good season out of his last four, but his peak score ranks 10th among first basemen, nearly five wins above the standard, and he’s about nine to 15 points above the recently elected Gil Hodges, Fred McGriff, and Ortiz in JAWS.

For as inevitable as Helton’s election seemed given last year’s showing, it was anything but a foregone conclusion when he received just 16.5% in 2019, his first year of eligibility. At that point in time, no candidate debuting with a share that low had ever been elected by the writers. Last year, Rolen became the first:

Lowest First-Year Voting Percentages
of BBWAA-Elected Players

PlayerYear%Year ElectedYoB
Scott Rolen201810.2%20236
Todd Helton201916.5%20246
Duke Snider197017.0%198011
Bert Blyleven199817.5%201114
Larry Walker201120.31%202010
Mike Mussina201420.32%20196

For players who debuted on ballot in 1966 or later.

Wagner (10.5% in 2016) very nearly joined that list as well. Which brings us to the next topic…

Close Calls, For Better or Worse

The holder of the all-time records for strikeout rate and opponent batting average, albeit at just a 900-inning threshold, Wagner has made an incredible climb from his humble origins, both in real life — growing up in poverty, and learning to throw with his left arm because of repeated fractures of his right — and on Hall ballots. As I noted heading into this cycle, of the 30 candidates receiving between 65% and 70% of the vote since 1966 and still having eligibility remaining, 14 were elected the next year, and 21 within two years.

Wagner’s share of the vote in his early years on the ballot was suppressed by the presence of a slew of other strong candidates, including relievers Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. The latter, who held the all-time saves record from 2006–11 until Rivera toppled his mark, debuted on the ballot in the same year as Wagner but with the easy hook of that record far outpolled him, with 67.3%. The next year, he missed election by just five votes, while Rodriguez made it by just four votes, as noted becoming the first catcher after Bench to be elected on the first ballot. Sound familiar?

Players Within 5 Votes of Election Since 1966

PlayerYearVotes%Margin
Billy Wagner202428473.8%-5
Trevor Hoffman201732774.0%-5
Bert Blyleven201040074.2%-5
Billy Williams198631574.1%-4
Jim Bunning198831774.2%-4
Nellie Fox198529574.7%-2
Craig Biggio201442774.8%-2
Fergie Jenkins199133475.4%1
Ralph Kiner197527375.4%1
Early Wynn197230176.0%3
Ivan Rodriguez201733676.0%4
Joe Mauer202429376.1%4
Ryne Sandberg200539376.2%5
Catfish Hunter198731576.3%5
Scott Rolen202329776.3%5

All of those near-miss players eventually got in, though Bunning and Fox did so via the Veterans Committee. Hang in there, Billy Wags, your day is coming!

A Small but Generous Electorate

A total of 385 ballots were cast during this cycle, five fewer than last year and 196 fewer than in 2011, when a record 581 ballots were cast. This was the lowest total of ballots received since 1983, when just 374 ballots were cast. Amid an election cycle that spanned layoffs at Yahoo Sports, Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times and more, it’s no secret that tough times in media are a factor in shrinking the electorate. So is the Hall of Fame’s 2015 decision to sunset honorary voters once they’re 10 years removed from active coverage. It’s all a reminder that it’s a privilege to participate in the process, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and for however off base you may think a given voter’s ballot is, their presence within the electorate is hard-earned.

Thanks to the influx of strong new candidates, voters rebounded from last year’s stinginess to average an even seven names per ballot, with nearly a quarter using all 10 slots:

Recent BBWAA Ballot Trends

YearVotesVotes Per BallotAll 10ElectedBlank
20125735.10N/A19
20135696.6022%05
20145718.3950%31
20155498.4251%41
20164407.9541.6%2N/A
20174428.1745.2%32
20184228.4650.0%41
20194258.0142.8%40
20203976.6120.5%2N/A
20214015.8714.5%014
20223947.1133.8%16
20233895.8613.9%18
20243857.0024.4%30

SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

“All 10” and blank ballot figures via BBWAA. Yellow shading = modern record (since 1966).

Nobody sent in a blank ballot, which is the first time that’s happened since either 2019 (when Rivera was elected unanimously) or ’20 (when Jeter was left off of one ballot); the BBWAA did not report the total of blanks in the latter year or in 2016, when Ken Griffey Jr. fell just three votes short of unanimity. Blanks do count in the denominator of the vote total and thus require three “yes” votes apiece to offset.

Slow Movement

Whereas last year six candidates gained at least 10 percentage points thanks in large part to Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa falling off the ballot after 2022, this year just one candidate posted a gain that high, namely Beltrán, whose first-year share was tamped down by his central involvement in the Astros’ 2017 electronic sign stealing scandal. Three other candidates gained between five and 10 points, while seven of the remaining nine holdovers lost ground. In all, 24 of the 26 candidates received at least one vote, and 14 of those will return for the 2025 cycle:

2024 BBWAA Hall of Fame Voting Results

SOURCE: BBWAA.com

* ineligible for future consideration on BBWAA ballots.

There’s plenty more to be said about this year’s results. I’ll have a look at every candidate’s performance in my next installment.

source

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