Baseball Hall of Fame: Seven things to know about 2021 ballot, which includes weak group of newcomers

The ballot for the 2021 BBWAA Hall of Fame class was revealed on Monday and, hey, we in the baseball world don’t have much else to talk about right now, so it’s pretty good timing. As a reminder on the process, each year the BBWAA votes on a Hall of Fame class from a set of former players who qualify to be on the ballot. Those players have either been placed on the ballot by the Hall of Fame (chosen from a group of players with a minimum of 10 years in the majors) or are holdovers from years’ past.

The holdovers had to have received at least five percent in the previous vote. A player can only remain on the ballot for 10 years. If he’s not voted in for those 10 years, he’ll fall off the ballot. Those who don’t get at least five percent of the vote also fall off. Those who get at least 75 percent of the vote get into the Hall of Fame. Voters can only select a maximum of 10 players and there is no minimum (yes, ballots can be sent back blank).

Here are some storylines to watch this winter as we discuss the Hall of Fame leading to the announcement in mid-January.

A final note: I’m not going to dive deep on cases for or against any of the legitimate candidates here. We have weeks for that. This will simply be an analysis of the ballot and the storylines that come with it.

1. Weak class of newcomers

This is all relative to it being the Hall of Fame, because we have a decent-sized list of first-timers on the ballot who had very good and long careers. If there was a such thing as a “Hall of the Very Good” we’d have a crowded class. Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Aramis Ramirez, Torii Hunter, Shane Victorino, Dan Haren and Barry Zito are among the best players to join the ballot. As noted, that’s a strong list of players who were greatly productive for a long time. They are not, however, Hall of Fame-caliber players. My expectation is that no newcomers survive the five-percent rule, meaning they are all likely one-and-dones on the Hall of Fame ballot. If any do hang around with at least five percent of the vote, the guess is Buehrle, Hudson and Hunter have the best shot. It’s hard to see a road to any of them ever getting in, though. And that’s OK! Being a Hall of Famer should be incredibly difficult.

2. Crowded ballot no more

For years, many of us lamented the crowded Hall of Fame ballot. It is crowded no more. After the empty 2013 class, we have seen BBWAA Hall classes of 3, 4, 2, 3, 4, 4 and 2 on the last seven voting cycles. Small Hall people might be losing their minds in seeing an average of more than three per year from the BBWAA, but every single player voted in was worthy by the previously established Hall of Fame standards. The new veterans committees are still swinging away (and missing at times), but the BBWAA is doing good work.

That means the maximum of 10 player votes isn’t really that big a problem anymore. For example, there are exactly 10 players I would vote for. Some would be against the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa due to their PED connections and others might not like my selections of Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, Billy Wagner, et al for different reasons. The point is, the maximum shouldn’t really constrain people anymore. Reasonable people can disagree on players, but we’re a lot closer to a true binary (yes or no) ballot than we were five years ago. It’ll still be awfully tough to get to 75 percent, but with the ballot backlog having been cleared out, the process is much more fair for players like Jeff Kent and Andruw Jones now.

3. Is it Schilling’s year?

My guess is this is it for Curt Schilling, in a good way for him. His vote percentages the last four years …

2017: 45
2018: 51.2
2019: 60.9
2020: 70

With the ballot crowding cleared and the weak class of newcomers, the best bet is Schilling gets the added boost he needs and is enshrined into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this summer.

This is Schilling’s ninth year on the ballot, so if he doesn’t make it there will be one more chance, but the trajectory here suggests he’ll make it this time. Rightfully so, as I’ve made his on-field case before.