Way-too-early 2024 ('25, '26 and '27) Hall of Fame ballot preview

by Daryn Albert - This year's HOF election results got you down? Don't worry, there are plenty of exciting names coming soon.

Way-too-early 2024 ('25, '26 and '27) Hall of Fame preview Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports 7:00 AM ET Bradford Doolittle Close Bradford Doolittle ESPN Staff Writer Sports reporter, Kansas City Star, 2002-09 Writer, Baseball, Baseball Prospectus Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus Member, Baseball Writers Association of America Member, Professional Basketball Writers Association David Schoenfield Close David Schoenfield ESPN Senior Writer Covers MLB for ESPN.com Former deputy editor of Page 2 Been with ESPN.com since 1995 The 2023 Hall of Fame ballot results have been announced and ... Scott Rolen is in! He was the one candidate who received the necessary 75% to earn enshrinement in Cooperstown. So, if you were planning a trip to upstate New York to see Rolen give a speech this summer, you're in luck. And we've got even more good news: There are plenty of exciting candidates headed to the ballot in upcoming years. To see just how stacked upcoming Cooperstown classes are, we asked ESPN MLB experts Bradford Doolittle and David Schoenfield to highlight the biggest first-ballot stars and final-year candidates, and also make predictions for who will get in over the next four Hall of Fame classes. 2024 Ballot Scott Rovak/USA TODAY Sports After falling just short of getting elected this year, Todd Helton and Billy Wagner will return to the ballot with a chance of next year finally being their year. Joining them on the 2024 ballot will be a mix of strong first-year candidates and holdovers hoping for a big jump in the voting. New to the ballot: Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, David Wright, Bartolo Colon, Matt Holliday, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes. This is a stacked group of first-year players, some with an actual shot of getting in and others who more fall into the category of recent MLB fan favorites than potential Hall of Famers. Whether you're looking at traditional numbers or advanced metrics, Beltre is a no-brainer first-ballot Hall of Famer. His career was a slow but steady burn as he never won an MVP Award and led the league in just a smattering of statistical categories but the numbers just kept piling up -- 3,166 hits, 477 homers, 93.5 bWAR. Only Brooks Robinson finished with more career defensive WAR among third basemen. Editor's Picks Who's headed to Cooperstown? The five types of Hall of Fame candidates on this year's ballot 5d David Schoenfield 2 Related The intrigue comes after Beltre. Mauer and Utley have the next-best cases. Beginning with Utley, it's interesting to note that he finished with the same career JAWS score as Rolen. In other words, he had Hall numbers by the metrics (and with more peak value than Rolen) but it might take a year or two for voters to get a grasp of the former second baseman's resume. As for Mauer, you really have to dig deep to come up with a reason not to vote for him. According to JAWS, he's the seventh-best catcher on the career leaderboard, smack between Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey. You can quibble with that rating if you want but you have to quibble pretty hard to drop him below Hall worthiness even as we begin the process of redefining what Hall catchers look like. (A topic for another time.) But there are a bunch of first-timers with fascinating cases -- David Wright, for one. And Bartolo Colon, who is interesting as we enter a period where we will need to recalibrate the idea of what a starter needs to do to get into the Hall of Fame. -- Doolittle It's now or never for ... Gary Sheffield Sheffield's case suffers from a few issues: He moved around from team to team, so there is no one franchise to claim and rep his cause; he admitted to using the BALCO designer steroid "The cream" during the 2002 season, although he claimed he didn't know what it was when he took it; his defense metrics are so awful that his bWAR is a borderline 60.5, so the analytics crowd isn't generally behind him -- even though he was a better hitter than Ken Griffey Jr. Yes, better than Griffey (he produced an estimated 561 runs above average in his career compared to 440 for Griffey). I don't think he gets in though and I have no idea if a veterans committee will view him like they did Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. -- Schoenfield Way-too-early 2024 ballot predictions Doolittle: I think it'll be a crowded class with four new inductees: Helton, Wagner, Beltre and Mauer. I'll guess that Utley needs one more go-around, and Sheffield will come up just short, perhaps right there with Carlos Beltran and Andruw Jones. Schoenfield: Beltre is a slam dunk and Helton should get in after getting so close. I'll go with Wagner as well, giving me a three-man class. I think Mauer's split career as a catcher/first baseman will hurt him on the first ballot, and I'm nowhere near as optimistic about Utley as Brad. The analytics voters will love him but the traditional-stat voters -- and there are still a significant bloc of them -- will turn their noses at his lack of 2,000 hits, .275 career average and other so-so counting stats. 2025 Ballot Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images New to the ballot: Ichiro Suzuki, CC Sabathia, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Troy Tulowitzki, Felix Hernandez Mariners fans will certainly be invested in this ballot as Ichiro and King Felix both appear for the first time. Now, in one sense, Ichiro is a little overrated despite finishing with 3,089 career hits. His career bWAR of 60.0 would be one of the lowest of the past 25 years for a BBWAA-elected position. He didn't hit for much power or draw many walks and his 107 OPS+ would be the lowest of any Hall of Fame outfielder since integration in 1947 (Lou Brock is at 109). His arm was excellent, but exaggerated in true strength after the infamous Terrence Long throw. Of course ... that misses the big picture, including that he had seven prime seasons in Japan before coming to the majors. It misses that he was a one-of-a-kind phenomenon, an artist in a world of sluggers. He led the league in hits seven times, including the all-time single-season record of 262. He was an exceptional baserunner and he almost never made a mistake in the field. He was Ichiro! -- and I wouldn't be surprised if he matches Mariano Rivera with unanimous support. Sign up for free fantasy baseball The 2023 fantasy baseball season is here! Get the gang back together, or start a brand new tradition. Join or start a league for free >> As much as I'd love to tout the case for Felix, his 49.9 bWAR and 169 wins are a little short, although maybe voters will factor in that he was one of the unluckiest pitchers of all time in terms of run support, playing for mostly lousy Mariners teams during his 15 seasons. But what a run he had from 2009 to 2015, when he had 2.83 ERA and averaged 228 innings and 5.4 WAR while winning a Cy Young Award and twice finishing second. Sabathia has the stronger case with 251 wins 61.8 bWAR and should draw significant support as a first-timer. Pedroia and Tulo fall into the "What if" category; both were on Hall of Fame paths until injuries wrecked their careers. Kinsler had one of the more underrated careers of the past two decades with 54.1 bWAR (and the same OPS+ as Ichiro), but may struggle to stay on the ballot. -- Schoenfield It's now or never for ... Billy Wagner Let's assume I'm wrong about Wagner getting in on the 2024 ballot. One point that Bill James constantly makes about relief pitchers in a historical context is how much the standards change over time because the job itself has been constantly redefined through history. My go-to metric for relievers these days is win probability added, a statement that would have made no sense to Hall voters even 20 years ago. Still, we are well into an era when relief pitchers have been a vital part of the sport, not just a bunch of guys who weren't good enough to be starters. Wagner was squarely fixed in this era. I don't want to see an avalanche of relievers get in, which could happen if we use Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers as our standard. But Wagner is above the line I'd draw, right there with Trevor Hoffman, who so many saw as a no-brainer and whose career was roughly contemporaneous with Wagner's. I don't know where the line on relievers is eventually going to settle or if it will ever settle at all. I just think at this point we have enough historical context that Wagner is a safe bet and won't be an excuse to weaken the standards for a hall reliever. If Wagner doesn't get in on the 2024 ballot, I'm certain he will on his last try. -- Doolittle Way-too-early 2025 ballot predictions Doolittle: I've already put Wagner in, but I still see another large-ish class: Beltran, Utley, Jones and Ichiro. Good times. But we are thinning the ballot for future candidates. Schoenfield: I'll go with Ichiro and Mauer. 2026 Ballot Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports New to the ballot: Cole Hamels (Unless he makes a comeback ), Ryan Braun, Alex Gordon, Shin-Soo Choo, Edwin Encarnacion There's some franchise-specific Hall of Famers here. Ryan Braun, for example, is a Brewers Hall of Famer. Alex Gordon is a Royals Hall of Famer. It's hard to see any of these first-timers ending up in Cooperstown though. Who will be next to 3K hits, 500 HRs? Breaking down the next generation of stars to reach baseball's most iconic offensive milestones when sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols retire. Future milestone watch ยป Hamels has the best case of this group but when you look at the current level of support for Mark Buehrle, who is basically a value match for the fellow lefty Hamels, he's not getting in on the first ballot. Even on this ballot he would stand behind CC Sabathia. -- Doolittle It's now or never for ... Manny Ramirez Dude could hit. From 1995 to 2008, he averaged .317/.414/.599 with 36 home runs and 119 RBIs. One of my favorite stats: In 1999, he drove in 165 runs in 147 games. Alas. -- Schoenfield Way-too-early 2026 ballot predictions: Doolittle: Will hearts have softened toward Alex Rodriguez by 2026? Or perhaps the votership will have had enough attrition that the PED-associated players are looked at through a new lens? I'm guessing no, at least not enough to get to 75%. And if A-Rod isn't getting in, neither is Manny. That drops it down to Sabathia, Bobby Abreu, maybe Hamels, given who I've already put in. Maybe Wright has built up some momentum by this point, or Colon. But after two big classes by my forecast, I'm guessing we could get another whitewash in 2026. Schoenfield: I think this is when the ice breaks for Carlos Beltran in his fourth year on the ballot. And let's go with Andruw Jones. Two center fielders, which would match the number of Hall of Fame center fielders from the past 50 years (just Kirby Puckett and Ken Griffey Jr.). 2027 Ballot Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports New to the ballot: Buster Posey , Jon Lester , Ryan Zimmerman , Kyle Seager Posey will inevitably get compared to Mauer, so if Mauer gets in, that will help Posey. On the other hand, there are significant differences between the two. Mauer leads in bWAR, 55.2 to 44.8. Mauer topped 2,000 hits while Posey finished with just 1,500, which would be the fewest for any non-Negro Leagues Hall of Famer in the post-integration era except for Ralph Kiner. The three World Series will help, but Posey's short career will make for a heated debate. There's no denying his six-year run from 2012 to 2017 as the best catcher in the game, but he would be a rather unique selection. -- Schoenfield It's now or never for ... Todd Helton (if not already in), Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel Well, I've already put in Helton and Jones. So that leaves Vizquel. Now, I personally don't see Vizquel as a Hall of Famer. However, I have some hope that maybe the cases for him and other candidates whose glove is their best argument can be clarified at some point, if not in time for Vizquel, at least for such players in the future and for era committees tasked with reevaluating those left out. Top 100 MLB players of all time Who is the greatest baseball player ever? We ranked the 100 best to ever take the diamond. This hope might be pie-in-the-sky but current defensive metrics become solid to the point of being more or less undebatable is something I've always wished for in baseball. We aren't there yet and may never get there. But it's my hope anyway. How would this affect players whose careers preceded this defensive super-metric? Well, if we can accurately measure defense with a high degree of certainty in the present, especially when it comes to dividing the credit between pitcher and fielder, then we will have some solid baselines through which we might enhance our analysis of past players by applying some of this knowledge we have obtained to the historical record. For instance, right now Jones' defense, or at least the true value of it, has been a matter of intense debate. But if we are able to pin such debates down into a realm of fact, then the cases for a lot of players, like Vizquel, can become less speculative. -- Doolittle Way-too-early 2027 ballot predictions: Doolittle: How far along are we in determining a new standard for Hall of Fame pitchers? Will that be undermined by the looming candidacies of surefire Hall of Famers Justin Verlander , Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw ? Assuming some fresh perspective has been obtained, here is where I could see Sabathia getting in and perhaps Hamels as well, joining Posey. Schoenfield: I'll go with Sabathia ... and how about a late push for Andy Pettitte, who would be on his ninth ballot? Sabathia had 251 wins, a 3.74 ERA and 61.8 bWAR and Pettitte is right there with 256 wins, a 3.85 ERA and 60.7 bWAR.