Lindbergh: Why John Smoltz is on the verge of cutting the line to Cooperstown

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at on December 30, 2014:

This should be a difficult time to debut on baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot. Because the Hall’s induction rate hasn’t kept pace with the growth of the player pool, the slate is stuffed: Superstars dogged by steroid suspicions vie for votes with well-respected recent retirees and fixtures with strong pockets of support. Even writers who mark the maximum 10 names — which many aren’t willing to do — can’t come close to including every statistically qualified candidate.

All of which makes John Smoltz’s splashy polling performance surprising. Smoltz, the longtime Atlanta Brave whose career concluded in 2009, is the third-best pitcher appearing on the ballot for the first time this winter, behind inner-circle immortals Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson. WAR-wise, he also trails two pitchers making repeat appearances, not counting the scandal-tainted Roger Clemens: Both Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, who are in their second and third years of eligibility, respectively, have superior regular-season stats. Schilling, who came close to gaining 40 percent of voter support in 2012, dipped below 30 percent last December; Mussina barely topped 20 percent in his inaugural attempt at induction in 2013. Until completed ballots began to trickle onto the Internet, it seemed reasonable to assume that Smoltz would also spend some time in Cooperstown purgatory.

Instead, Smoltz now looks like a lock for first-ballot success. With the voting deadline looming tomorrow and the verdict arriving a week from today, 99 ballots have been disclosed and collected — about 17 percent of the pool, judging by last year’s electorate.

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Originally published: December 30, 2014. Last Updated: December 30, 2014.