Wednesday, January 8, 2014


First, understand that we in no way mean to impugn the efforts or the intellect of historian and baseball writer Chris Jaffe, whose long-standing work on the Hall of Fame, its history, and the interpretation of voting patterns is of the highest quality.

We are surprised, however--just a little bit--that he is so surprised to see what will certainly be a significant uptick in average votes per ballot on the BBWAA's 2014 ballot. (That figure has been close to nine per ballot, or 90% of maximum, for most of the tracking period underway since right before Christmas, when Darren Viola, aka Repoz, at Baseball Think Factory, began to publicly monitor voting announcements from eligible electors. Last year, that average was around 6.5 votes per ballot.)

Chris (and others) have professed to be "stunned" by the uptick. A good bit of this stems, we believe, from a pervasive negative expectation that has locked itself into place over the past four years of voting results, in large part due to the ongoing "moral crusade" that a relatively small but vocal plurality of the baseball writers have been on regarding steroid usage.

That expectation very likely produced predictive scenarios in which candidates such as Tom Glavine (currently receiving upwards of 95% of the reported vote) and Frank Thomas (currently receiving upwards of 90%) would be denied admission to Cooperstown on at least their first (2014) appearance on the ballot. Even an eminent and well-respected baseball historian such as Bill Deane made public predictions that such would be the case.

We know now that this is not going to be the case. And if we'd been able to pull out of that pervasive negative expectation, it's likely that we could have predicted this massive uptick--as we did back in 2011 in these pages, when we presented a somewhat overly optimistic scenario of the voting results for much of the 2010 decade.

We're not trying to refashion our own mouthpiece for the purposes of tooting our own horn, however. We're just pointing out how easy it is to fall into the trap (paging Admiral Ackbar...) of negative projection.

What we should have seen in the otherwise reviled 2013 voting results was a set of conditions that would produce a massive uptick. Consider: no players elected, but ten of them gathering at least 35% of the vote.

There has never been anything like that type of backlog in the history of the Hall of Fame voting. The closest analogue we can find in past elections is in 1971, a year in which no one was elected and seven players had at least 35% of the vote. It took two years to create a voting peak (8.4 votes per ballot), but seven players were elected in the three years following the stalemated 1971 ballot.

With three exceptionally strong candidates in Greg Maddux, Glavine, and Thomas (along with Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent), and an established group of ten candidates with at least 35% of the vote, something had to give. Voters could not ignore the first three, and enough were entrenched with other candidates that such a massive uptick was not only not surprising, but virtually inevitable.

The BBWAA has not elected four players to the Hall of Fame
in a single season since 1955. Craig Biggio looks to be "on the
cusp" in's hoping that he clears the bar to join Maddux,
Glavine, and Thomas (above.)
We prefer to think that Chris Jaffe was influenced by the negative expectations of those in the sabermetric community who've contributed to a pervasively combative atmosphere concerning the Hall of Fame, an atmosphere that was put into play by Bill James's magnificently grouchy Politics of Glory, a book that has cast a long and uniquely invidious shadow. Its tone has crept into the mindset of the numbers field like those increasingly resistant weeds that defy all efforts at eradication. At worst, it turns those who purport to wield reason into their own version of a lynch mob.

Chris is by no means part of such a mentality, but it's easy to be influenced--and it may be a key component in his level of surprise at the 2014 voting results. As a well-trained historian, he's likely to assimilate what we've just seen and improve his already useful predictive methods. What's clear now is that things are never so fixed as they might seem, and that the landscape surrounding the ongoing issues that have clouded the Hall of Fame is shifting a good bit more than what the nay-sayers believe to be the case.

In fact, there is every reason to believe that the problems will resolve themselves over the course of  few more years. Should the problems have existed in the first place? Of course not. But so much in life is bound up in such situations--problems that could have been avoided--that it seems childish to insist that this particular problem is so inexcusable. Possibly, after the 2014 results, it will be possible for both sides in this surreal skirmish to sit back and take a very-much-needed deep breath.


[EDIT: Chris Jaffe has posted a retrospective prediction of the total votes per ballot which was not influenced by the ongoing public revelation of voting results. The average for that initial projection was 7.7 votes per ballot. Much of the gap between the two estimates is due to the underestimation of the votes being cast for the new candidates--about half of the difference, in fact. This is more confirmation of an influence from the negative expectations, as well as the hstorian's tendency to discount the likelihood of a truly extreme departure from statistical norms.]

[POST-EDIT: The official results are now in. As we'd surmised, the non-public portion of the BBWAA voters did not equal the ballot surge that had been seen in the publicly-revealed voting. The overall average of players/ballot wound up at right around 8.3--which means that even the non-disclosing voters cast nearly eight votes per ballot. We still should have seen this coming, of course.

Craig Biggio becomes the latest figure of sympathy in the often cruel world of privileged voting: he was one vote and one blank ballot shy of induction, winding up with the agonizing percentage of 74.8. While we're sure that Biggio will be elected in 2015, his circumstances point out the glaring need for one vital correction needed in the Hall of Fame voting process: that ballots returned as blanks should not be counted in the totals.

Even in the "age of steroids," the idea that a blank ballot is possible is beyond unacceptability. It is a kind of self-indulgent nihilism that should not be condoned by the BBWAA. It is one thing in a democracy to not vote at all due to apathy or protest, but it is nothing more than mean-spirited and meaningless contempt to submit a blank ballot in a context such as this one. The first voter of 2014 to not cast his ballot for Greg Maddux has been subjected to a great deal of scorn since that decision was announced; the person who submitted the blank ballot is infinitely more odious. He or she not only deservers to not have the ballot count in the tally--he or she deserves to be publicly kicked out of the BBWAA.]