It's that time again. The BBWAA mailed the 2016 Hall of Fame Ballots yesterday. The big story, as is has been the last several years, is how crowded the ballot is once again. Four inductees last year, including Biggio on his third try, helped the backlog, but with Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner and Jim Edmonds joining the ballot, there remains 17 or more candidates who at least deserve consideration. The BBWAA still is limited to voting for 10, because humans have 5 fingers on each hand, and therefore use a base 10 counting system.
The other big news is the size of the electorate will shrink. Last year, the Hall of Fame mailed 600 ballots, and ended up with 549 returned. Based on new rules, outlined here, nearly 20% of the electorate has been deemed ineligible. The Hall estimated that under the new rules, 475 ballots will be mailed. If you assume the majority of the newly ineligible voters did not reveal their ballots publicly in previous years, this could be huge for Bagwell. Public voters supported Bagwell at a 60% clip. Private ballots were at 48%. If you assume the marginally less crowded ballot will also cause an uptick in raw vote totals for Bagwell, this could result in a huge increase in percentage, setting up for a possible 2017 election. If he can jump to 65-67% this year, it will almost guarantee his eventual election.
Bagwell is not the only candidate with Astros ties on the ballot. Billy Wagner is the next biggest name. He likely has no shot at election, particularly on this ballot. He lacks the shiny save totals that fellow first timer Trevor Hoffman has, although he matches or exceeds him in nearly all other categories. I would put him in the top 5 relievers ever. It's guys like Wagner who are the biggest victims of the stuffed ballot. We likely need to have a debate about what makes a Hall of Fame reliever, and whether Wagner qualifies. But I'm afraid there will not be enough people who can find room on the ballot this year to engage in that debate long term. I'll say this: He is every bit the candidate that Bruce Sutter was, and then some. Then again, Sutter would not sniff the Hall of Fame if he debuted on this ballot, either.
Other notable Astros on the ballot for the first time are Brad Ausmus and Mike Hampton, who provide meaning to the phrase "it's an honor to be nominated." I do not imagine they will appear on the ballot next year.