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Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and who else should make up Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2018?

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 23, 2018, 12:32 p.m.

Vladimir Guerrero, pictured in this Oct. 1, 2008 photo, posted big numbers during his playing career: 449 home runs and a .318 batting average. (Mark Avery / AP)
Vladimir Guerrero, pictured in this Oct. 1, 2008 photo, posted big numbers during his playing career: 449 home runs and a .318 batting average. (Mark Avery / AP)
By Dave Sheinin Washington Post

In the past 12 months, Vladimir Guerrero didn’t hit any more home runs, Trevor Hoffman didn’t earn any more saves and Edgar Martinez didn’t win any more batting titles. But when election results for the Baseball Hall of Fame are announced Wednesday at 3:15 p.m., all three holdover candidates are hoping to have gained enough support in the last year to make it to the stage in Cooperstown, New York, in July, when the Class of 2018 is inducted.

The annual Hall of Fame vote, conducted by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, is a complex, ever-shifting organism – subject to a byzantine election process, changing attitudes toward performance-enhancing drugs and the growing influence of analytics in measuring value. While two new candidates – Chipper Jones and Jim Thome – appear poised to sail into Cooperstown on their first ballots, some additional drama will occur further down the ballot, where a slew of holdover candidates who haven’t thrown a pitch or taken a cut in years are hoping this is the year they move from the “out” column to the “in.”

The rules: A player must be named on at least 75 percent of all submitted ballots to be elected, and voters can name no more than 10 players on their individual ballots. (The Washington Post does not permit its employees to vote.) A player must be named on at least five percent of ballots to remain on the ballot the following year, but there is a 10-year limit on eligibility, after which a player is removed from the ballot. (The Eras Committee, formerly known as the Veterans Committee, can still vote in players who have been dropped from the writers’ ballot, as it did this year with Jack Morris and Alan Trammell.)

If the writers elect five players this year – Jones, Thome, Guerrero, Martinez and Hoffman were all polling above 75 percent on Ryan Thibodaux’s “BBHOF Tracker” of publicly revealed ballots, as of Tuesday morning – it would constitute the largest class to go in via the writers’ vote since the original 1936 class of Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. It would also continue the rapid expansion of the Hall’s membership, as the writers have already elected 12 players in the last four years (2014-17), after electing just seven in the previous six years (2008-13).

But aside from who gets in and who doesn’t, there is plenty of additional down-ballot drama this year: Will PED-tainted superstars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens continue their steady climbs upward, and will that be enough to get them over the 75-percent threshold by their last chances in 2022? Will golden-gloved shortstop Omar Vizquel, in his first year on the ballot, get enough support to put him on a trajectory for future election? Will pitchers Mike Mussina, in his fifth year on the ballot, and Curt Schilling, in his sixth, get close enough that 2019 could be their year? And will first-ballot candidates Andruw Jones, Johnny Damon, Johan Santana and Scott Rolen get the five percent support required to stay on the ballot for another year?

As Wednesday’s announcement approaches, here is a closer look at the top 10 candidates on this year’s ballot:

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Chipper Jones

PRIMARY POSITION: Third base

YEAR ON BALLOT: First

BEST PREVIOUS FINISH: n/a

SEASONS: 1993-2012

TEAM(S): Braves

KEY STATS: 468 HRs, 2,726 hits, .930 OPS, eight-time all-star, 1999 NL MVP

THE CASE FOR: Jones, among the top handful of switch-hitters and third basemen in history, is the definition of a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He will join teammates Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, plus Manager Bobby Cox and GM John Schuerholz, as members of the 1991-2005 Braves mini-dynasty enshrined in Cooperstown, and the only question is whether he will threaten Ken Griffey Jr.’s 2016 record for highest percentage of “yes” votes in history, at 99.32 percent. (Answer: probably not.)

THE CASE AGAINST: It’s difficult to think of a solid argument against Jones. The only voter rationales that might fly are, 1) no player has ever earned election unanimously, so Jones shouldn’t either, or 2) Jones is such a lock, it’s better to pass him over and spread the maximum 10 “yes” votes among players who need it more.

PREDICTION: 95 percent

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Vladimir Guerrero

PRIMARY POSITION: Right field

YEAR ON BALLOT: Second

BEST PREVIOUS FINISH: 71.7 percent (2017)

SEASONS: 1996-2011

TEAM(S): Expos, Angels, Rangers, Orioles

KEY STATS: 449 HRs, .318 batting average, .931 OPS, nine-time all-star, 2004 AL MVP

THE CASE FOR: Guerrero was one of the most feared hitters of his generation; no eligible hitter with so high a batting average (in at least 7,000 plate appearances) has been denied election. But Guerrero also slugged, as evidenced by his eight 30-homer seasons, and his .553 slugging percentage – 25th all-time – is higher than that of HOF’ers Frank Robinson, Jeff Bagwell and Ken Griffey Jr., among others.

THE CASE AGAINST: Guerrero was fairly one-dimensional and added little value outside of what he did with his bat. He rarely walked (an average of 56 per 162 games), he once led the league in caught-stealing, and for all his prowess as a rocket-armed right fielder, he never won a Gold Glove. All of this is reflected in his lackluster 59.3 bWAR, lower than contemporaries such as Bobby Abreu (59.9) and Gary Sheffield (60.3).

PREDICTION: 89 percent

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Jim Thome

PRIMARY POSITION: First base

YEAR ON BALLOT: First

BEST PREVIOUS FINISH: n/a

SEASONS: 1991-2012

TEAM(S): Indians, Phillies, White Sox, Twins, Dodgers, Orioles

KEY STATS: 612 HRs, .956 OPS, five-time all-star, six 40-homer seasons, 1,747 walks

THE CASE FOR: He hit more homers than Frank Robinson, walked more often than Stan Musial, posted a higher OPS than Willie Mays and drove in more runs than Harmon Killebrew. Only three left-handed hitters have more homers: Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Ken Griffey Jr. And though he spent the bulk of his career in the so-called Steroids Era, he was never connected, even in whispers, to PEDs.

THE CASE AGAINST: It may be nitpicking, but Thome wasn’t universally recognized as an all-time great during his era; he never finished in the top three in MVP voting, never won a Gold Glove award and earned just one Silver Slugger award as the top hitter at his position. He also won just one home run title and led his league in OPS just once. Some voters could also ding him for the 818 games he spent as a designated hitter.

PREDICTION: 89 percent

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Trevor Hoffman

PRIMARY POSITION: Closer

YEAR ON BALLOT: Third

BEST PREVIOUS FINISH: 74.0 percent (2017)

SEASONS: 1993-2010

TEAM(S): Padres, Marlins, Brewers

KEY STATS: 601 saves, 2.87 ERA, seven-time all-star, two Cy Young runner-up finishes

THE CASE FOR: Hoffman briefly held the all-time record for saves, until contemporary Mariano Rivera surpassed him, and only Rivera has equaled his record of nine 40-save seasons. He was also remarkably durable and consistent, making at least 60 appearances in 10 of the 12 seasons during his peak years and posting a sub-3.00 ERA in 11 of those 12 seasons. He is, by almost any measure, one of the greatest closers of all-time.

THE CASE AGAINST: A straight-up one-inning relief pitcher whose trademark pitch was a change-up, Hoffman is an odd case even within the odd subset of candidates known as closers. Even leaving aside the questionable notion of the relative value of closers, Hoffman was not the dominant force of his contemporary Rivera and, because of the era he pitched in, accumulated far fewer innings than previous HOF closers such as Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage.

PREDICTION: 79 percent

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Edgar Martinez

PRIMARY POSITION: Designated hitter

YEAR ON BALLOT: Ninth

PREVIOUS BEST FINISH: 58.6 percent (2017)

SEASONS: 1987-2004

TEAM(S): Mariners

KEY STATS: 309 HRs, .418 OBP, .933 OPS, seven-time all-star, two batting titles

THE CASE FOR: Martinez was simply the dominant player at his position during his era. Even if we acknowledge the bar should be higher for DHs relative to position players, he clears it. He was an on-base machine whose career OBP ranks 21st all-time, and whose .479 mark in 1995 has been exceeded by only two players (Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas) in the past 60 years. During his peak from 1995-2000, he averaged 29 homers and 110 RBI per season and slashed a staggering .332/.449/.579.

THE CASE AGAINST: Even leaving aside the DH factor, Martinez is an imperfect candidate. He didn’t break in as an everyday player until he was 27, and that, coupled with his short peak, leaves him lacking in counting stats such as homers, hits and RBI. He also fares poorly in advanced metrics such as WAR, owing to the fact he was a full-time DH for some three-quarters of his career.

PREDICTION: 73 percent

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Mike Mussina

PRIMARY POSITION: Starting pitcher

YEAR ON BALLOT: Fifth

PREVIOUS BEST FINISH: 51.8 percent (2017)

SEASONS: 1991-2008

TEAM(S): Orioles, Yankees

KEY STATS: 270-153 record, 3.68 ERA, 2,813 strikeouts, nine top-six finishes in Cy Young voting

THE CASE FOR: As reflected in his steadily increasing vote totals, Mussina has benefited from the re-accounting of the analytics era, which recognizes that he spent his entire career in the toughest division (AL East) and the toughest era for pitchers. Despite that stacked deck, he notched at least 18 wins six times and topped 200 innings 11 times. But it is via advanced analytics that Mussina shines. His bWAR of 82.7 ranks 24th all-time, and of the 23 ahead of him, only Roger Clemens is not already in Cooperstown.

THE CASE AGAINST: Most observers would argue he wouldn’t make a five-man rotation of the best starters of his own era, as he would fall somewhere behind Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Only one player elected to Cooperstown as a pitcher, Red Ruffing, posted a higher career ERA than Mussina, and his lack of an ERA title, strikeout title or Cy Young Award indicates he was just a notch below Hall-worthiness.

PREDICTION: 66 percent

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Barry Bonds

PRIMARY POSITION: Left field

YEAR ON BALLOT: Sixth

PREVIOUS BEST FINISH: 53.8 percent (2017)

SEASONS: 1986-2007

TEAM(S): Pirates, Giants

KEY STATS: 762 home runs, 2,558 walks, 1.051 OPS, seven MVPs, 73 homers in 2001

THE CASE FOR: The fact the greatest player of the post-WWII era, if not all time, remains outside the gates of Cooperstown owes to a single factor: Bonds’s links to PEDs. And his steadily increasing vote totals indicate younger voters are less stringent in that regard. On pure numbers alone, his candidacy is breathtaking: the most homers, walks and MVP awards of any player in history. In his best stretch, from 2001-04, he practically broke the game itself, drawing so many walks (755 in 573 games) that he reached base at a higher clip (.559) than he made outs.

THE CASE AGAINST: His gaudy stats were almost certainly boosted by his alleged use of PEDs, particularly when you note his remarkable 2001-04 peak came in his late 30s, when players are typically in steep declines – or retirement. The “character clause” in the HOFs instructions for voters compels one to weigh a player’s integrity and character, and nothing indicates a lack of both as much as cheating by using PEDs.

PREDICTION: 66 percent

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Roger Clemens

PRIMARY POSITION: Starting pitcher

YEAR ON BALLOT: Sixth

PREVIOUS BEST FINISH: 54.1 percent (2017)

SEASONS: 1984-2007

TEAM(S): Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees, Astros

KEY STATS: 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, 3.12 ERA, seven Cy Young Awards, seven ERA titles

THE CASE FOR: Clemens is to pitchers what Bonds is to hitters – the most prolific of the post-WWII era, if not the greatest of all-time. No one since Walter Johnson has more WAR than Clemens’s 139.4. No one has more Cy Young Awards, and only two men, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson, have more strikeouts. Few have ever been so dominant for so long; he won his first ERA title in 1986 at the age of 24, and his last in 2005 at the age of 43.

THE CASE AGAINST: See: The Case Against Bonds. Like Bonds, Clemens is stained by evidence of PED use, and it is no coincidence their vote totals have stayed in lockstep since they first appeared on the ballot together in 2013. Their rising support indicates both have a chance to hit the 75 percent threshold before their time is up in 2022, but it is far from assured.

PREDICTION: 66 percent

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Curt Schilling

PRIMARY POSITIONS: Starting pitcher

YEAR ON BALLOT: Sixth

PREVIOUS BEST FINISH: 52.3 percent (2016)

SEASONS: 1988-2007

TEAM(S): Orioles, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Red Sox

KEY STATS: 216 wins, 3,116 strikeouts, three Cy Young runner-up finishes, three 300-strikeout seasons

THE CASE FOR: Schilling has Hall-of-Fame numbers, both traditional (his strikeouts total ranks 15th all-time) and advanced: his bWAR of 80.7 ranks just behind Bob Gibson and ahead of already-enshrined contemporaries Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. But Schilling’s postseason brilliance – an 11-2 record and 2.23 ERA – makes his an even more compelling candidacy. He was simply the premier postseason starting pitcher of his era.

THE CASE AGAINST: There is a strictly numbers-based argument against Schilling: his relatively pedestrian win total and ERA, and the lack of a Cy Young Award or ERA title on his resume. But Schilling has also alienated himself with many voters through his controversial statements on social media, which ultimately led to his firing from ESPN. Though Schilling has kept a lower profile this ballot cycle, that won’t be enough to get him into Cooperstown this time.

PREDICTION: 55 percent

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Larry Walker

PRIMARY POSITION: Right field

YEAR ON BALLOT: Eighth

PREVIOUS BEST FINISH: 22.9 percent (2012)

SEASONS: 1989-2005

TEAM(S): Expos, Rockies, Cardinals

KEY STATS: 383 HRs, .965 OPS, three batting titles, one home run title, 1997 NL MVP

THE CASE FOR: Though he was a five-tool player with 230 stolen bases and seven Gold Gloves, Walker was best-known as one of the premier hitters of his era. He had six seasons with an OPS of more than 1.000, and his .965 career mark ranks 16th all-time. Even in bWAR, which adjusts for the advantage he gained by playing so many games at Coors Field, he clocks in at 72.6, ahead of contemporaries Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin and HOF’ers such as Johnny Mize and Tony Gwynn.

THE CASE AGAINST: The effect of Coors Field, where Walker played nearly a third of his games, can’t be overstated. He simply wasn’t the same dominant offensive force in either Montreal or St. Louis. He was also hurt by an inability to stay healthy, as he made it through 150 or more games in only one of his 17 big league seasons. Nonetheless, his case has been taken up by the analytics crowd, giving him an outside shot of getting in by 2020, his last year on the writers’ ballot.

PREDICTION: 38 percent

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