Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

The results of the BBWAA vote for the 2024 Baseball Hall of Fame class were revealed on Tuesday night and Billy Wagner fell short in his ninth try on the ballot. He got 73.8% of the vote, which means he’s well within striking range heading to his 10th and final time on the ballot next winter. He was just five votes shy of induction this time around, but I’m here with some good news for the fireballing lefty (yes, I assume he can still throw the ball hard). 

Wagner’s chances of induction are very good. First off, simple logistics help Wagner. Adrián Beltré, Joe Mauer and Todd Helton were inducted this year while Gary Sheffield is also done due to failing to get to 75% in his 10th year. Ichiro Suzuki is a sure thing next year and CC Sabathia might be, but that’s only two compared to four strong candidates being removed from the ballot. That helps. 

Generally speaking, candidates have long seen a final-year bump. It doesn’t always happen, but it does more often than not. We saw it with Sheffield even as he came up short. Larry Walker jumped over 20 percentage points to get in on his last try. Wagner, though, is only 1.2 percentage points away and only needs to sway a handful of voters.  

History is on Wagner’s side too. Once a candidate gets this close, he usually always makes it, absent extreme circumstances. Since voting became an annual thing in 1966 (it alternated between BBWAA and veterans committee votes for several years prior to that), here are the players to get north of 70% with eligibility still remaining and then get voted into the Hall the next year. 

Player

Year

Vote %

Year on ballot

% the following year

Joe Medwick

1967

72.6

8th

84.8

Roy Campanella

1968

72.4

4th

79.4

Robin Roberts

1975

72.7

3rd

86.9

Duke Snider

1979

71.3

10th

86.5

Juan Marichal

1982

73.5

2nd

83.7

Harmon Killebrew

1983

71.9

3rd

83.1

Hoyt Wilhelm

1984

72

7th

83.8

Billy Williams

1986

74.1

5th

85.7

Gaylord Perry

1990

72.1

2nd

77.2

Don Sutton

1997

73.2

4th

81.6

Gary Carter

2002

72.7

5th

78

Goose Gossage

2007

71.2

8th

85.8

Jim Rice

2008

72.2

14th

76.4

Bert Blyleven

2010

74.2

13th

79.7

Roberto Alomar

2010

73.7

1st

90

Craig Biggio

2014

74.8

2nd

82.7

Jeff Bagwell

2016

71.6

6th

86.2

Trevor Hoffman

2017

74

2nd

79.9

Vladimir Guerrero

2017

71.7

1st

92.9

Edgar Martínez

2018

70.4

9th

85.4

Todd Helton

2023

72.2

5th

79.7

Take note that while there were some close calls, many weren’t. Rice was the only one who headed to his final year and still barely made the cut. The most recent player who went to his last-chance vote was Martínez and he flew in. Wagner’s fellow relievers on the list, Wilhelm, Gossage and Hoffman, made it comfortably. Take note of Helton’s comfortable boost to make it this year. There’s really a lot to like on this list for Billy Wagner.

Of course, it isn’t the full list of players to get between 70-75% with eligibility remaining. 

The list above leaves off two pitchers who didn’t make it to Cooperstown. Yes, only two players have ever landed between 70 and 75% with eligibility remaining and not made the Hall via the BBWAA vote. 

Jim Bunning got 70% in his 11th year on the ballot in 1987 (the 10 years on the ballot was a recent change, effective for the 2015 voting). The next year, he got 74.2% and was surely ready to pop the champagne the following year. Instead, he dipped to 63.3% and then 57.9% before rebounding to 63.7% in his final year, 1991. Still, he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1996.   

That leaves Curt Schilling as the only man to ever get to 70% of the BBWAA vote with eligibility left and not make it. He got exactly 70% of the vote in 2020, his eighth year on the ballot. He followed that up with 71.1% in 2021 and followed that up by sabotaging his case. He did a Facebook live video immediately after those results, talking negatively about baseball writers at large and “the media” in general, noting that he was going to request the Hall of Fame take him off the ballot. He did so with a letter that he said was “for their eyes only” and then posted the whole thing publicly. The Hall of Fame declined said request, after which Schilling asked the writers to not vote him. A good number obliged, as his vote percentage fell to 58.6 in his 10th and final year on the ballot. 

Twenty-three players have reached the 70% threshold while falling short of 75 with eligibility remaining on the ballot. Of those, 21 were voted in the following year. Bunning didn’t, but later got in anyway. Schilling torched his candidacy on purpose. This would be part of the “extreme circumstance” I mentioned earlier and it’s hard to see Wagner pulling anything remotely close to this. 

The bottom line is that while this was surely a disappointing reveal for Wagner and his supporters, the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of next year being a celebration of one of baseball’s greatest all-time closers. 

Again, history is on his side. So is Jeff Bagwell:

“As far as where I’m sitting,” the Astros Hall of Famer told MLB.com, “there’s nobody better or as dominant as Billy Wagner was.”

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