How do you get to Cooperstown?


This is a really fantastic data visualization showing the voting trajectories for the 1,000-plus players and managers who’ve received votes on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. The concept is deceptively simple. It charts the number of votes that a player received each year, showing how each individual’s vote total changed from year to year.

The voting process is simple. Players who’ve played at least ten seasons in the major leagues appear on the ballot after they’ve been retired for five years. If they’re selected on at least 75 percent of the ballots, they’re inducted. If they get less than five percent of the votes, they’re removed from future consideration.  Anywhere in between, and there name carries over to the next year.  A player has fifteen years of eligibility, and if he doesn;t garner enough votes for induction by then, he is dropped.

Bert Blyleven HOF vote trajectory

Bert Blyleven’s HOF vote trajectory

So here, at left, is the trajectory for pitcher Bert Blyleven.  He first appeared on the ballot in 1998, and support was tepid.  He received 18 percent of the votes that year, then dropped to 14 percent in 1999.

But support began to grow, slowly at first, and then with increasing urgency as Blyleven’s candidacy approach the fifteen year deadline.  He fell just short in 2010 (74.2%) before crossing the finish line with t9.7% in 2011.

The majority of the players on the graph start and finish at either extreme. Tom Seaver appeared on the ballot for the first time in 1992, garnering 98.8% of the vote to earn a palce in the Baseball Hall of Fame. That same year, Dave Kingman also made his debut on the ballot. He was named on just three of the 430 ballots, roughly one percent of the vote, and that was the end of his candidacy.

gil hodges

Gil Hodges’ HOF voting trajectory

The interactive helps to show what is a truism: that the players in the middle move up at a predictable pace.  And as others have noted, once a player crosses the 40 percent  threshold, it’s a virtual certainty that he will evenetually get in.  Only seven of the 151 players who reached that mark failed to get into the Hall of Fame, and only one who received 50 percent on a ballot failed to make it — Gil Hodges.  Tom Tango wrote about Hodges’ case recently.

Hodges started his first year at 24%, and then after the Mets won the World Series with Hodges as manager, he jumped to 48% of the vote, and then 57% after his death, and peaked at 63% in his last year.

So, this current balloting process basically is setup to ensure that a situation like Hodges (recently retired but very good player, who becomes manager and wins improbable World Series, and dies suddenly thereafter) does not lead to a Hall of Fame.  Other than this rare occurrence, if you get 50%, you are in, eventually.

The interactive is very engaging.  It was put together by Carlos Scheidegger and Kenny Shirley using some open data sources, and they did a fantastic job of documenting how they built it. Like all great interactives, it’s elegance comes from applying robust tools to an otherwise flat data set to help shed new light and give new perspective.