This year’s Hall of Fame class will be announced Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. and this could be the year that former Orioles ace Mike Mussina sees a significant spike in support.
Mussina, who is in his third year of eligibility received 24.6 percent of vote in 2015, which was just slightly higher than the 20.3 percent he received in his first year of eligibility in 2014.
Neither of those numbers is close to the 75 percent needed by a vote of eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) to be elected to the Hall, but given the fact that this year’s first-year class doesn’t appear to be the deepest, Mussina could see his percentage soar in 2016.
Mussina, a homegrown product who starred for the Orioles from 1991 to 2000 before going to the rival New York Yankees through free agency, is third in club history in wins (147), second in strikeouts (1,535) and second in winning percentage (.645).
Mussina won 270 games in his career and owned a 3.68 ERA when pitching in a time when the game was dominated by offense, all while pitching in the American League East. Detractors would point out that Mussina never won a World Series ring and didn’t record a 20-win campaign until his 18th and final big league season.
But Mussina was the model of consistency, winning at least 17 games eight times in his career. He was a five-time All-Star (all five times coming with the Orioles) and seven-time Gold Glove winner. Despite never winning a Cy Young Award, he placed in the top six in the voting nine times.
And here’s an important statistic for the sabermetric sect. The only pitcher with a better career WAR than Mussina (82.7) who is not in the Hall of Fame is Roger Clemens. Mussina’s career WAR mark is better than Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Tom Glavine, Jim Palmer and John Smoltz.
The only “automatic” in this year’s class is Ken Griffey Jr., who could be a unanimous selection in his first year of eligibility. Closer Trevor Hoffman, who is second on baseball's career saves list, could also receive significant support in his first year of eligibility. But we only need to look to former Orioles closer Lee Smith, who is third on the all-time saves list and still attempting to get into the Hall in his 14th year of eligibility to see that closers haven’t been universally accepted by the voters.
So it appears that this year will be a big one for the holdover candidates from last year. Mike Piazza, who received 69.9 percent last season in his third year of eligibility, is the only holdover from last year who received more than 60 percent of the vote. Jeff Bagwell received 55.7 percent of the vote last year in his fifth year on the ballot and Tim Raines took 55 percent of the vote in 2015, his eighth year. Both could see their numbers jump this year to the point that they’re nearing the 75-percent mark.
That brings you to the next group of returning candidates, a group that includes Mussina, as well as former Oriole Curt Schilling and Edgar Martinez.
According to an unscientific gathering of Hall of Fame ballots by fan Ryan Thibodaux, Martinez and Mussina have received the biggest boosts this year.
Thibodaux has collected all the publicly known ballots, which as of Tuesday evening was approximately 38.7 percent of voters. That’s not a huge sample size, but it is enough to receive a glimpse of the voting trend.
(The list of qualified BBWAA members who filed Hall of Fame ballots is public, but it's not mandatory for those voters to divulge their votes. The Baltimore Sun’s policy prohibits its reporters from voting for the Hall of Fame, as well as the annual BBWAA awards, because of potential conflicts of interest.)
According to his data, Mussina’s total more than doubled this year, up to 52.3 percent. He received votes on 91 of the 174 known ballots. That would be the second-highest spike next to Martinez’s.
So while Mussina still has a long way to go before he reaches the 75 percent needed for election, this year could put him among a small group of legitimate Hall of Fame candidates going into the next few years.