2023 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot: Stark’s 5 things to watch — Scott Rolen, Carlos Beltrán, 3 risers

I could tell, just by all the layers of clothing I had to throw on Monday to bring in my Amazon delivery, that it wasn’t baseball season anymore. But at least it was the next best thing, by which I mean …

The first day of Hall of Fame voting season.

You won’t find anyone quite as magnetic as David Ortiz on the 2023 Hall ballot, which was announced Monday. You may not even find anyone who’s about to get elected. But there are some fascinating storylines to follow with the 28 names on the ballot. And here they come — in my Five Things to Watch on the 2023 Hall of Fame ballot.

1. It’s up to Scott Rolen to thwart a shutout

Scott Rolen won eight Gold Glove Awards in his career. (Duane Burleson / Associated Press)

Shutouts are awesome when, say, Max Scherzer throws them. Shutouts aren’t so awesome when the Hall of Fame voters throw them. So could that actually happen in this election? You don’t want to know the answer, but I’ll give it to you anyway:


The only first-year candidate who figures to get more than, like, 12 votes is Carlos Beltrán. But if you think he’s getting elected on the first ballot, I have a lovely condo on the rings of Saturn I’d like to sell you.

So as we size up the 14 returning players from the 2022 ballot, it’s clear there’s only one man (not counting the voters in the Contemporary Baseball Era committee) who can save us from an empty podium in Cooperstown next July. It’s all up to Scott Rolen, my friends. And won’t he be ecstatic when that news reaches him?

With Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling all expunged from this ballot, Rolen is the top returning vote-getter. He reeled in 63.2 percent of the 394 votes cast a year ago, leaving him only 47 votes short of becoming the first third baseman elected to the Hall since Chipper Jones in 2018. So what are the chances Rolen can find another 50 votes before the totals are announced in late January? Let’s sum them up.

History is on his side! In the beginning, Rolen might not have thundered onto the ballot like Mike Schmidt. But despite a slow start, he still blew through the 60 percent barrier in 2022, his fifth year on the ballot.

Did you know that in the history of the modern voting system, no player has ever done that and not gotten elected? In fact, over the last 15 years, almost everyone who reached 60 percent that fast (or faster) was voted in the next year.

Year Player Years to Election


Mike Mussina (63.5%)



Vladimir Guerrero (71.7%)



Trevor Hoffman (67.3%)



Mike Piazza (69.9%)



Craig Biggio (74.8%) 



Barry Larkin (62.1%)



Roberto Alomar (73.7%)


The ballot is now wide open! When Rolen first appeared on the ballot in 2018, the field was so deep, there were seven players up against him who have since gotten elected, plus Clemens, Bonds, Schilling and Fred McGriff (among others). That helps explain why Rolen received only 43 votes (10.2 percent) that first year.

Now, though, we’re living in an opposite universe. When Ortiz got elected earlier this year — and Bonds, Clemens and Schilling ran out the clock in their 10th and final years of eligibility on the writers’ ballot — it meant that the 1,055 ballot slots they occupied in 2022 are now officially vacant. You can even push that number to 1,128 if you count Sammy Sosa, who was also 10 and done.

So how much will that help someone like Rolen? Just look at what’s happened over the last three elections, as hundreds of ballot slots finally cleared following the election of a record 17 players in the previous five years.


• Rolen: Up 28 percentage points (35% to 63%)

• Todd Helton: Up 23 percentage points (29% to 52%)

• Andruw Jones: Up 22 percentage points (19% to 41%)

• Billy Wagner: Up 19 percentage points (32% to 51%)

On the other hand … We’ve reached the point where Rolen has already changed hundreds of minds. Is it possible those last 50 could be the toughest to change, especially for a player who clearly wasn’t perceived as a Hall of Fame lock when he retired?

Let’s start by considering those 200-plus voters who were checking the names of Ortiz, Bonds, Clemens and Schilling. How many were not voting for Rolen already — and might be tempted to now? We don’t know for sure because not all ballots are public. But one of my favorite Hall of Fame voting analysts, Jason Sardell, believes that number is less than a dozen.

And how many returning voters have no holdovers remaining from their 2022 ballots, meaning they also might be looking for someone to vote for? Again, that’s not certain. But according to Anthony Calamis, who works on Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame vote tracker, there were only 16 among those who made their ballots public.

But six of those 16 returned blank ballots. Do they seem inclined to jump on the Rolen bandwagon now? Doubtful.

So how likely is it that there are 50 more voters who are ready to push Rolen over the top? It will happen some year, but are we sure this is that year? If it’s not, it would lead to the writers pitching a second Hall of Fame shutout in the last three years … after they’d dished out only two in the previous 50 years.

2. How much will the voters punish Carlos Beltrán?

What impact will the 2017 Astros scandal have on Carlos Beltrán’s vote total? (Rob Tringali / SportsChrome / Getty Images)

I’m sure Carlos Beltrán wants to believe that all these years later, America has more important stuff to worry about than punishing the 2017 Astros for banging on trash-can lids.

Then again, I’m sure Beltrán also wants to believe that it never snows in Buffalo, that Elon Musk is the world’s most universally admired billionaire and that World Cup fans never drink refreshing amber beverages anyway.

But as someone who just spent time in Houston covering the World Series, I’ve got this bulletin for Beltrán: There’s a better chance of America forgetting to watch football on Thanksgiving than there is of America forgetting the dastardly deeds of the 2017 Astros.

So here’s the question, as Beltrán makes his debut on this ballot: Will voters punish Beltrán (and future Astros stars) the way they punished (and continue to punish) the stars in the good old performance-enhancing drugs galaxy?

My bet would be yes. Of course, we have no way of knowing until the votes roll in. But we do know this: Beltrán debuts on this ballot with a career total of 70.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference — exactly the same total as Rolen. And unless you’re one of the PED all-stars, 70 WAR has long been a sure indicator of Hall of Fame worthiness.

Over the last 20 elections, 16 position players who were 70-Win players (or better) have appeared on the Hall ballot. Here is how that’s worked out:

Elected by the writers — 12

Not elected and off the ballot — 2 (Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro)

Still on the ballot and likely to be elected — 1 (Rolen)

Still on the ballot and far from election — 1 (Alex Rodriguez)

So to find the last 70-Win position player with no PED headwinds who was not elected by the writers, you have to go all the way back to Alan Trammell (2002-16), who at least was later elected by one of the era committees.

And to find the last position player like that who was never elected by anyone, you have to go back even further, to Trammell’s double-play partner, Lou Whitaker, who got a mere 15 votes in his only turn on the writers’ ballot (2001) and wasn’t even included on the new Contemporary Era ballot to be considered next month.

But over the last two decades, none of the three 70-Win position players with PED ties even came close. In fact, none of them made it to 40 percent in their first election: 36.2 for Bonds, 34.3 for A-Rod, 11.0 for Palmeiro. So will Beltrán land in similar territory? Stay tuned!

3. Will Todd Helton, Billy Wagner and Andruw Jones make their move?

Todd Helton could top the 60 percent threshold on this ballot. (Brian Bahr / Allsport / Getty Images)

For the first time, Todd Helton (52.0 percent) and Billy Wagner (51.0) showed up on more than half the ballots cast last election. Andruw Jones (41.4) cleared 40 percent for the first time.

So who figures to benefit the most from all those ballot slots opening? I’d actually project that most, or all, of those three will see a bigger bump than Rolen.

Helton — He has now jumped from 16.5 percent in 2019 to 29.2, 44.9 and 52.0 over the last three election cycles. So the longtime Rockies first baseman had better start thinking about his induction speech because he’ll be giving one someday soon.

Now that Gil Hodges is in, every position player who made it to the 50 Percent Club within his first four elections eventually made it into the Hall. And remember Larry Walker, who seemed to pave the way for Helton by busting through the Coors Field Curse and into Cooperstown? He was still wallowing at only 10.2 percent in his fourth year on the ballot — and he didn’t reach 50 percent until his ninth year.

So Helton is way ahead of that pace. Is this the year he tops 60 percent? Excellent chance of that.

Wagner — No players on this ballot are harder to project than the closers. But Wagner has now tripled his vote total (from 16.7 to 51.0 percent) in the last three years. So all of a sudden, he’s within 96 votes of election, with three years left on the ballot.

A decade and a half ago, Goose Gossage signaled that he was closing in with a 30.5 percentage-point jump over three elections. Wagner has beaten that surge, with a 34.3 percentage-point leap (from 2019 to ’22). The difference is that Gossage started with a much higher floor, zooming from 40.7 to 71.2 percent (in ’04 to ’07).

But Wagner finds himself still needing to sway nearly a quarter of this electorate. In other words, this will be a big test of whether every voter who’s willing to change his/her mind has already done that.

Jones — The good news is, Jones has more than quintupled his vote over the last three elections. The bad news is, he was only at 7.5 percent when he made that move. So at 41.4 percent, he still needs to add more than 130 votes over the next five years.

But is that happening? It’s hard to find a similar scenario among players who spent their whole careers building a Hall of Fame case in center field.

Of the five center fielders elected by the writers in the last half-century, four of them cruised in on the first ballot (Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Kirby Puckett). So if we’re looking for comps, that leaves only Duke Snider, who didn’t make it until his 11th try, in a different era of voting.

Snider was at 41.0 percent in 1976, then picked up serious steam, going from 41 to 55 to 67 percent in two years. Is Jones about to follow that model? We’re about to find out.

4. Are Gary Sheffield and Jeff Kent out of time?

Gary Sheffield was a nine-time All-Star. (Mark Cunningham/ MLB Photos via Getty Images)

It’s Gary Sheffield’s ninth go-round on this ballot. It’s Jeff Kent’s 10th. So Sheffield has just two more shots at election by the writers. And this is Kent’s not-so-grand finale.

I voted for both of them in the last election. But you can hear their clock ticking — and you have to wonder if that’s the only noise they’ll be making as these votes roll in.

Sheffield — This man hit 509 home runs in his day. That used to mean it was time to alert the plaque chiselers in Cooperstown. Not in his case, thanks to pesky BALCO questions Sheffielld has never quite answered to these voters’ satisfaction.

So even though he’s cleared the 40 percent bar with two election cycles remaining, he practically needs to double his votes to get to 75 percent. And what does it tell us that he’s been stuck at exactly 40.6 percent for two elections in a row? It tells me that pretty much everyone who was open to voting for him has already done that.

It’s worth reminding you one more time that there are now massive empty spaces available on almost every ballot. So if Sheffield doesn’t make a Larry Walker-esque pole vault this year, I can guarantee I won’t be devoting even this much space to him in next year’s Five Things to Watch column.

Kent — No second baseman in history hit more home runs than Kent (351). And the last second baseman with a higher slugging percentage than Kent’s (.509) was Rogers Hornsby … who retired more than a century ago. So that’s why I vote for this guy — because I think he has a claim to historic greatness at his position. But it’s obvious most of my fellow voters don’t agree.

• Kent’s vote percentage in 2022: 32.7 percent

• Kent’s vote percentage in 2021: 32.4 percent

That’s the story of a player who is stuck in voting quicksand. So while many players tend to surge in their final year, it’s hard to envision there are enough new votes out there to rescue Kent’s consistently undersupported candidacy.

5. K-Rod and the first-timers: Blink and you’ll miss ’em

Francisco Rodríguez in 2002, his rookie season. (John Cordes / Icon Sportswire / Associated Press)

So here’s one more question for you: Who’s the second-best first-time player on this ballot, after Beltrán?

John Lackey, Jered Weaver and Bronson Arroyo won a bunch of games. Matt Cain pitched a no-hitter. R.A. Dickey knuckleballed his way to a Cy Young Award. Ubaldo Jiménez started an All-Star Game — but didn’t even make this ballot.

Jayson Werth, Carlos Ruiz and Joe Blanton won a World Series together in Philadelphia in 2008 — but only Werth is on this ballot. Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Napoli rode those duck boats in Boston in 2013 — and both made this ballot. J.J. Hardy won three Gold Gloves — and has a golden slot on the ballot.

I actually think the correct answer is Francisco Rodríguez, who made six All-Star teams, led the league in saves three times and may go down in history as the only reliever ever to save 60 games or more in any season (saving 62 in 2008). But here’s what you really need to know about the first-year class of 2023:

Outside of Beltrán (who will obviously clear the necessary 5 percent threshold), we’ll almost certainly never see them on any ballot ever again!

To find another ballot class with this little first-year depth, as measured by WAR, you have to go back almost four decades. Take a look.


2023 – Carlos Beltrán, 70.1
(Second-most: John Lackey, 37.3)

1986 – Willie McCovey, 64.5
(Second-most: Paul Blair, 37.7) 

(Source: Baseball Reference)

 It’s still an honor just to appear on this ballot. Always has been. Always will be. But isn’t it funny how odd these election cycles can be?

Debuting on next year’s ballot: Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer and Chase Utley, among others. Debuting the year after that: Ichiro, CC Sabathia, Dustin Pedroia and King Félix Hernández. The lowest WAR total among those six: 51.9 (by Pedroia).

But we’ll have plenty of time to talk about those guys in the 2024 and 2025 Five Things to Watch columns. First, it’s time to mull a question only this election can answer: When those guys reach the ballot, what are the odds Scott Rolen will still be keeping them company?

(Top photo of Scott Rolen in 2004: Albert Dickson /Sporting News via Getty Images)

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