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Examining the Hall of Fame non-vote for Roy Halladay

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44 writers left Halladay off their ballots—so what kind of ballots were these?

MLB: MLB: Baseball Hall of Fame-Induction Ceremony Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, Roy Halladay was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 85.4% of the vote, having been named on 363 of 425 ballots submitted by qualified members of the BBWAA. That of course also means that 62 voters left him off their ballots.

Historically, enough writers have made being a first ballot Hall of Famer a distinction reserved for inner circle players (Yogi freaking Berra was made to wait a year, Joe DiMaggio also waited until his second year eligible under different circumstances). We’ve seen players fall short of 75% in year one and then sail in with over 90% in the next year (Roberto Alomar in 2011, Vlad the Elder in 2018).

So 85% was a very strong result, especially since Halladay had a shorter career and fell short of various counting totals that have been traditionally applied. That said, it was lower than what some may have expected based on the ballots tracked by Ryan Thibodaux. By the time the results were announced, he had 232 ballots logged (55% of the total). Halladay was named on 215, or over 92% (and was as high as 94% a few days beforehand).

That means he was named on “only” 148 of the remaining 193 ballots, or 76.6%. By these voters only, he would have barely met the 75% threshold, whereas he was a slam dunk amongst the pre-results voters. Big public/private vote gaps like this are not at all unique to Halladay. As one example, Pedro Martinez (whose career arc shares similarities to Halladay) four years ago was named on 98% of public ballots but just 80% of non-public ballots.

Results day is not the end of ballots being revealed though, more ballots trickled in after the announcement. Two weeks afterwards, the BBWAA posts online the ballot from voters who indicate a willingness to have it released. That was yesterday, and in total there have been another 124 public ballots. Halladay was on 97 of these, or just 78%.

That leaves just 68 unknown ballots, or 16%, which is much lower than in previous years when 25-30% would be kept private. These will likely never be known, but we know mathematically that Halladay was on 50 of them (73.5%) and left off 18 of them.

That leaves 44 public ballots that Halladay was left off. Out of curiousity, I looked through them and noticed some interesting patterns and results. This isn’t about shaming individual voters, it’s about discussing high level trends.

10-Vote Ballots

Seven voters filled out all their spots, so they’re pretty big Hall voters, but left off Halladay. Three explicitly said they would have voted for Halladay with more spots, or in the future, so it’s fair to say for most of these voters it wasn’t an issue of not being qualified, but ballot management. There were six votes for each of Schilling and Mussina, as well as votes for Oswalt and Pettitte. The latter two should be strategic, since it’s hard to see either as having had better careers than Doc.

Nonetheless, Halladay did really well overall by 10-ballot voters. There were 168, he was on 161 or 96%. Halladay was left off 10 ballots that had eight or nine names, where clearly there was space. There were 89 such ballots, so Halladay was snubbed by 11% of bigger Hall voters who definitely had a spot for him.

Small Hall Voters

On the opposite end we have the small Hall voters. 17 voters voted for three or fewer players, meaning two or fewer other than Rivera who was unanimous. Halladay was named on only seven of these, or 41%. If anything, I’m surprised it’s that high among this very selective group given that Halladay was well short on the traditional counting milestones. I’m still a little baffled that all these small Hall guys went for a one inning reliever, but Rivera was a singular enough figure I can’t complain too much.

Medium Ballots

Halladay did surprisingly well on ballots between three and seven names. There were 73 such ballots, and he was only left off 16 for a 78% support level. A lot of those 16 are pretty idiosyncratic where there’s not much rhyme or reason to who is selected and who is left off.

Mussina and Schilling

Of the 44 without Halladay, 28 voted for Mike Mussina and 14 for Curt Schilling. Mussina didn’t have Halladay’s peak, but he lasted significantly longer as a high level pitcher, so I can understand voters who prefer that. Overall, Halladay got about 9% more of the vote, so there were far more who voted Halladay and left off Mussina than vice versa. At the end of the day, having either or these two but not Halladay can be reasonably and logically defended.

Vizquel

Omar Vizquel was named on 25 of these Halladay-less ballots, or 57%. These are basically your old-school voters who value the traditional counting stats that Vizquel piled up and Halladay did not. And whatever, Vizquel had a great career. I just don’t see anyway you can vote for Vizquel and not Halladay. Especially the voters who had Vizquel as one of three or four names on their ballot.

Kent and McGriff

Jeff Kent (11 votes, 25%) and McGriff (nine votes, 20%) were both pretty popular on ballots without Halladay, especially among votes with more names filled out. Personally, I think both are a little short of the historical standard for induction, but neither would be an egregious choice by a future Veteran’s Committee. That said, I really can’t see looking at either of them and saying Hall of Famer while not saying the same to Halladay.

Wagner

Finally, this is the name that surprised me the most, and really made me write this. Seven voters — or 16% of the total — looked at Roy Halladay and said “pass”, but said “yes” to Billy Wagner. Now, this isn’t to bash Wagner. He’s one of the best closers ever, with a career 54 ERA- that is second only to Rivera. But he only pitched 900 innings.

To the extent there is one, the knock on Halladay’s resume is that as good as he was, he had a pretty short career. But even if we strip Halladay’s career back to just 2001-11, he threw (exactly) 2,300 innings. That’s more than two and half times Wagner. Granted, he wasn’t quite as good as Wagner, with a 67 ERA- in that period — of course, he also had to turn a lineup over three of four times as opposed to facing three or four batters going full throttle.

I’m not sold on Billy Wagner in the Hall of Fame, but I can appreciate those who do. But I cannot fathom how 2,300 brilliant innings as the best starter on the planet is not enough, but 900 innings is.