Looking ahead to the 2021 Hall of Fame ballot

It’s been less than 24 hours since the National Baseball Hall of Fame welcomed two new members, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to look ahead to January 2021.

Next year’s class promises intrigue – both because of who’s poised to go in and the lack of impact first-time candidates coming onto the ballot.

Here’s a very early look at what the 2021 Hall of Fame ballot might look like and who could be enshrined.

On the doorstep

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Player Pos. Year on ballot 2020 Total (+/-)
Curt Schilling SP 9th 70.0% (+9.1%)

It sure looks as though Curt Schilling will lead the 2021 class. Schilling, who crossed the 70% mark Tuesday, continues to be mired in controversy for his off-field comments, but it’s clear that he’s gained back whatever votes he lost a few years ago. He’s going in.

Getting a (minor) bump

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Player Pos. Year on ballot 2020 Total (+/-)
Roger Clemens SP 9th 61.0% (+1.5%)
Barry Bonds LF 9th 60.7% (+1.6%)

For the first time in a good while, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have reason to hope. While they’re still sitting in the 59-63% range, both crossed the 60% mark for the first time – a huge milestone, considering only Gil Hodges has failed to gain election – via any means, including committees – after crossing that threshold on the writers’ ballot.

However, as The Athletic’s Joe Posnanski points out, those two were the only returnees to receive fewer votes than they did in 2019 despite their percentages improving. Where they’ll make those votes up isn’t really clear, so fans in the Bay Area and New England shouldn’t be booking those hotel rooms just yet.

Trying again

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Player Pos. Year on ballot 2020 Total (+/-)
Omar Vizquel SS 4th 52.6% (+9.8%)
Scott Rolen 3B 4th 35.3% (+18.1%)
Billy Wagner RP 6th 31.7% (+15%)
Gary Sheffield RF 7th 30.5% (+16.9%)
Todd Helton 1B 3rd 29.2% (+12.7%)
Manny Ramirez LF 4th 28.2% (+5.4%)
Jeff Kent 2B 8th 27.5% (+9.4%)
Andruw Jones CF 4th 19.4% (+11.9%)
Sammy Sosa RF 9th 13.9% (+5.4%)
Andy Pettitte SP 3rd 11.3% (+1.4%)
Bobby Abreu RF 2nd 5.5% (-)

Returning candidates will be all the rage next year, and 2021’s wide-open ballot will do wonders for many of Tuesday’s big jumpers. Omar Vizquel will be the biggest beneficiary and should continue his forward momentum. Billy Wagner, Scott Rolen, and Gary Sheffield, who enjoyed the largest jumps of the day outside of Larry Walker, are also poised for additional gains.

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Not every returning candidate was so lucky on Tuesday. Although their percentages went up, the likes of PED-linked stars Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa, former MVP Jeff Kent, and longtime Yankees star Andy Pettitte saw their chances largely evaporate. Even if they earn a couple more votes due to the thin ballot next year, they’re unlikely to gain any real traction.

Finally, Abreu is the only first-time candidate in 2020 who gets another shot, and he deserved that at a minimum. However, his low total in his first go-around – he survived by a single vote – doesn’t bode well for his long-term outlook.

Notable 1st-timers

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Player Pos. Years in MLB JAWS WAR
Mark Buehrle SP 16 47.5 59.2
Tim Hudson SP 17 48.2 58.1
Torii Hunter OF 19 40.4 50.1
Aramis Ramirez 3B 18 31.0 32.6
Barry Zito SP 15 31.3 31.9

Writers haven’t seen a list of first-time candidates this thin since 2012 when Bernie Williams was the only one to avoid being five-percented.

The five most notable first-timers listed enjoyed wonderful careers. Zito earned a Cy Young, Ramirez won a Hank Aaron Award, Hunter owns nine Gold Gloves in the outfield, Hudson saw great individual success on multiple playoff teams, and Buehrle is regarded as one of the premier workhorses of his era and is an all-time great defender at his position.

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As great as they were, none stand much of a chance at induction. Hudson might be the only first-time candidate with a hope of surviving to 2022.

What this means is that the 2021 induction weekend is shaping up to be a celebration of returning candidates who have waited a long time; either that or the voters will splinter themselves among the controversial candidates and cause this century’s second shutout (though this is highly unlikely).

One and done

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These players logged the required 10 years of major-league service time and are therefore eligible, but not guaranteed, to appear on next year’s ballot.

The players listed below likely wouldn’t receive a single vote, let alone reach five percent. But that shouldn’t be viewed as an insult. Making the ballot is a prestigious honor that these men should cherish while being proud of what they accomplished on the diamond.

Position players: Michael Cuddyer, Corey Hart, Adam LaRoche, Alex Rios, Skip Schumaker, Grady Sizemore, Nick Swisher, Dan Uggla, Shane Victorino

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Pitchers: Jeremy Affeldt, Grant Balfour, A.J. Burnett, Kevin Gregg, Aaron Harang, LaTroy Hawkins, Dan Haren, Jason Marquis, Rafael Soriano, C.J. Wilson