Is Ivan Rodriguez going to make the Hall of Fame when the results are announced today? In my opinion, it’s close to a toss-up.
Does the man they called Pudge deserve to be enshrined, though? Most would agree he does, whether it’s because he’s the all-time games played leader at catcher, the all-time hits leader among catchers or because of some combination of his traditional stats (311 HR, 2844 H, .296 AVG, 13 Gold Gloves, 14 All-Star appearances) and sabermetric stats (+68.9 career fWAR). Will he be? Who knows! At least, this year, that is. If he doesn’t go in this year he’ll almost certainly be close enough to make his enshrinement in 2018 a mere formality.
What are his chances for this year, though, since that’s what’s important right now?
I’ve been following how Rodriguez has been doing via Ryan Thibodaux’s amazing BBHOF Tracker (check out his twitter handle @NotMrTibbs if you have yet to do so). A few dozen ballots in, I realized that Rodriguez was tracking extremely well with voters who checked off fellow superstar catcher Mike Piazza’s name last year. From that point on, I decided to follow along as Ryan tracked ballots and see if I could get an accurate bearing on whether Rodriguez would join the ranks of first-ballot Hall-of-Famers.
Over at the Tracker, there’s a row labeled “Estimated Net Gain Needed” for returning candidates. I wanted to see how many Piazza voters Pudge could afford to lose, so I used the same assumptions to calculated Pudge’s allowable net loss that were used there:
Total voters: 435
Returning voters: 415
New voters: 20
I used Piazza’s percentage for the returning voters (83%) and new voters (8/10 on new voters in 2016, 80%) to calculate Piazza’s expected votes if he were put back on the ballot — or, essentially, how I expected Pudge would do if he exactly cloned Piazza. All the math worked out to -33.45, meaning Rodriguez could afford to lose 33 Piazza voters, but 34 would presumably put him just under the assumed 327 votes needed (327/435 is just over 75%).
How has I-Rod actually fared, though?
Through 247 ballots tallied in the Tracker, 208 voters have voted for whom information is known about their 2016 voting. 180 of them voted for Piazza last year, whilst 28 withheld a vote. Of the 180, Pudge has picked up 157 of them. He’s also picked up a stunning nine of the 28 who didn’t vote for Piazza last year, which is significantly better than how I’d expected he’d do there, and is partially what’s kept him afloat.
All in all, with about 57% of the approximate vote total counted, Pudge has 158 votes from these 200 returning voters, 14 fewer than what Piazza had. That net -14 is about 40% of his allowable net loss. What does all that mean for his chances, though?
To answer that, I delved a little deeper into the numbers, breaking down how Pudge has done based on size of ballot combined with if they voted for Piazza.
I also utilized the information at the bottom of Thibodaux’s Tracker to see who we knew for sure did not vote in 2016 and how that affected the percentage of Piazza’s voters who were available to vote for Pudge.
So far, there have been 12 confirmed, eligible 2016 Hall-of-Fame voters who did not cast a 2017 ballot, 11 of whom did vote last year. Of those 11, 10 had public ballots last year and Piazza went 8/10 on them, a touch below his overall 83% mark. There are actually nine voters who have publicly revealed their ballots this year who didn’t vote last year, too — Jeff Blair, Steve Dilbeck, Lynn Henning, Kevin Modesti, Jim Reeves, John Romano, Gary Shelton, Willie Smith and Clark Spencer. Those nine went 7/9 on Pudge, essentially cancelling out the lost Piazza voters.
The projected net-loss-allowed figure also used an 80% assumption for Pudge and new voters, but Pudge has actually fared a little better, going 13/14. If six more first-time voters cast ballots and Pudge was named on five of them, he would go 19/20 on new ballots, gaining a much-needed three-vote cushion. At that point, he’d essentially be able to lose as many as 35 of Piazza’s voters.
There are two key ways to look at how Pudge will do on the remaining ballots. Most players do worse when private ballots are tallied; they tend to skew more anti-PED and put fewer names on their ballots. Last year, Mike Piazza finished the pre-results portion of ballot-tracking at 86.3% and fell 3.3% from pre-results to the final tally.
According to Thibodaux’s tally, Piazza got 102 of the 129 fully private, untracked votes last year, or 79.1%. He got 81 of the 100 public ballots released after the announcement, meaning he got 79.9% of all votes not released at the time of the announcement.
Going back a bit, Pudge has gotten 166 votes on the public returnees, whereas Piazza had 180. If that ratio were to hold on the remaining ballots, taking Piazza’s post-results percentage and multiplying it by 92.2%, the percentage of Piazza voters Pudge has gotten, would leave Pudge around 73.8% on private ballots. Thibodaux’s estimates say Pudge needs to get 130 of the remaining 187 ballots, which translates to 69.52%. All in all, much of this is good news for Pudge. Bagwell dropped about 6% from pre-results to final last year, but Bagwell hadn’t done quite as good against Piazza voters and had more certainty among his private voters. Pudge is on his first try; people can estimate how he’ll do all they want, but most voters seem to consider him a clearly superior candidate to Bagwell, despite the fact that Bags was likely the better player.
Rodriguez, I don’t believe, drops quite as much as Bagwell did. Does he drop as little as Piazza, though? Who knows! And that’s exactly the issue. One projection system I’ve seen (authored by Nathaniel Rakich, @baseballot) estimated Pudge’s public/private differential will be an 8.5% drop-off. From where he is right now, he can more than afford that differential and still survive and be elected.
One last thing I’ve looked at is how small-Hall voters who had Piazza have voted on Pudge. Last year, pre-announcement, there were 11 voters who voted at max five players and selected Piazza. Eight of these selected Rodriguez this year, which isn’t fantastic, but is still very good. Additionally, two others who had five-or-fewer ballots and didn’t vote for Piazza chose to vote for Rodriguez. Some have been afraid that Rodriguez’s chances would be ruined by small-Hall ballots, but I’d counter that this research has made me feel the exact opposite. At announcement-time last year, Piazza had votes on 11 ballots of five-or-fewer names. Right now, Piazza currently has votes on 10 of last year’s five-or-fewer voters.
It’s going to be close. It could go either way. However, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Pudge’s first-ballot chances when the results are announced at 6 p.m. ET.
Note: While writing this, another previously private voter released his ballot and voted for Pudge despite not voting for Piazza last year, meaning Pudge is now -13 at the 57% mark.
Anthony Calamis is a member of the four-person ballot-tracking team led by Ryan Thibodaux. He is from New York.