Sunday, January 8, 2023

BTRTN: Speaker Crisis Ends with a Bang and a Wimp… and Republicans Voters See the Mess They’ve Made Up Close

Like a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, Kevin McCarthy beamed when his party’s right wing ended their four-day hostage crisis and allowed him to become Speaker. Yes, the entire spectacle portends legislative dysfunction, danger, and disgrace… but  Republican voters needed to see just how dangerous their internecine war has become.

It was C-SPAN’s Superbowl, Grammys, and White Lotus rolled into one, a ratings bonanza for the network previously known only for the single, locked-down camera. The programming itself? A single episode repeated for four days until it was mercifully ended when the arsonists capitulated because they’d already milked it for all it was worth. 

When Kevin McCarthy failed to secure the nomination on the very first ballot, the news networks’ hype machines went into overdrive. We could be here for days! Weeks! Months!!! We were primed for a circus of deceit, hypocrisy, and character assassination, an endless cliffhanger -- Who Shot J.R. McCarthy?  A freak show of naked ambition  untethered to character, principle, or integrity… it’s Succession without the HBO subscription fee!

Or maybe it really was just an ordinary week in today’s Republican Party… finally broadcast so Republican voters could see up close the moral bankruptcy, weakness, and ferocious division in their party.

The cast – led by Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Kevin McCarthy, and including cameos by George Santos, and one off-camera former President -- had us believing the hype.  We watched the ever-cocky Gaetz, entranced by his own staggering capacity for self-aggrandizement. In quick cuts to Santos, we finally saw the pudgy, unprepossessing nerd who successfully hoodwinked portions of Queens and Long Island. Frequenting the podium, the forty-watt Boebert preened before C-SPAN’s unwavering eye as she undermined a proud institution for sport and spite. Offstage, a former President -- who has suddenly hit his iceberg and is sinking fast under the weight of his company’s conviction of tax fraud and looming accusations of his own criminality and seditious conspiracy -- seized the moment to stay relevant by making frequent calls into the chamber. That’s all we need: Donald Trump collecting still more “IOUs” from Kevin McCarthy as we barrel toward the 2024 election.

And now, the star of our mini-series... Kevin McCarthy. The man who sold his soul to too many people in pursuit of the glory of a title spent the week holding on for dear life, at risk of slipping at any moment from power player to punching bag to punchline. In the early hours of Saturday morning, McCarthy was elected… after having had to prostrate himself, grovel, endure humiliation, and make every concession possible while begging for a job that, as far as we could tell, no other Republican even wanted.

Perhaps it was the delicious swirl of schadenfreude that explains why so many were transfixed by the sight of paint drying culminating with McCarthy being rejected 14 times before prevailing. But don’t try to make us feel bad for watching by scolding us that the four-day hostage crisis was “bad for America.” Sure, I can understand why Joe Biden doesn’t want the United States to appear to be a confederacy of dunces, and we all knew that at some point, the House of Representatives must convene for the important business of debt ceilings, appropriations, and ignoring immigration reform.

But the truth is that what is happened this past week is good for America. Well, good for Republicans.

It is good for everyday Republican voters to stare at the monster they have created.

It is good for Republicans to witness their supposed party leader on his knees groveling before a rat pack of genuine rats.

It is good for Republicans to think about the fact that the two most dominant faces on camera for the week were a man who has been linked with sex-trafficking and an election-denying woman who tweets racially incendiary filth while sending out a Christmas card of her family toting assault rifles.

It is very good for Republicans to watch their own party turn the position of Speaker of the House into a toothless, empty, ceremonial throne -- all because no one had the guts to cut a real deal with Democrats and form a functioning coalition that would render Matt Gaetz once again only threatening to underage women.

It is good for Republicans to realize that it took 200 largely white male complicit wimps in cozy leather seats to turn Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert into media superstars.

It is a good time for all the Republicans in the United States to honestly ask themselves if they are proud to be associated with a party whose primary faces are weaklings, criminals, power addicts, bold-faced liars, and soulless enablers. 

As they say down at the corner store, if you broke it, you own it.

Over the past twenty years, the Republican Party has voted its way to its current incarnation – an unholy alliance forged among an extreme authoritarian right wing that wants to end democracy in America; a confederation of single-issue voters who like guns, hate abortion, fear immigrants, repress women, don’t want minorities to vote; and a sliver of immensely wealthy people who care only about enhancing their own fortunes. The last is a most peculiar group who somehow fail to understand – even when confronted with 100 years of stock market data -- that Republicans are actually very bad at that.

It is a party whose mixed bag of single-issue voters is supposedly unified by a desire to minimize the role and power of government. But it is being taken over by anarchists who have already moved on to the next step: destroying democracy and the institutions that enable it. It is a party that venerates a man who said “government is not the solution, government is the problem,” and has somehow managed to incorrectly conclude that the Gipper wanted government eliminated entirely.

It has become a party of electile dysfunction, riven asunder when the essential incompatibility of those many self-interests are revealed in the cold light of choosing a leader.

When wealthy, educated, “fiscally conservative” Republicans made their deal with the devil – embracing the Tea Party to secure enough votes to take the White House – these elite patricians did not anticipate that they would end up sharing Thanksgiving dinner with Big Lie/Little Brain racist Lauren Boebert. Right-wing Christians hell bent on repealing Roe v. Wade and then outlawing abortion altogether find themselves embracing Hershel Walker, a man who lost track of how many children he had fathered and urged (and paid for) abortions for his girlfriends. Angry, alienated middle-aged Southern white men who feel their livelihoods have been stolen by immigrants vote for a man who employed illegal immigrants, doesn’t pay taxes, and cozies up to foreign dictators. Establishment Republican politicians endorse a preposterously broad interpretation of the Second Amendment to secure the votes of gun extremists, only to witness the fruit of their compromise in horrendous scenes of mass slaughter of toddlers, young children, and teenagers in schools across America. The party of “law and order” orchestrates and executes a murderous attack the United States Capitol, threatening to hang the Vice President of United States… one of their own.

Ordinary Republican voters really ought to pause to consider that the hunger to hang Mike Pence – that is, to destroy an establishment Republican leader – is exactly what Boebert and Gaetz had in mind in Washington this week. Kevin McCarthy was being drawn, quartered, extruded, and humiliated by members of his own party. The only item missing was the actual noose.

There are no tears to be shed for Kevin McCarthy: he has been complicit – indeed, the primary enabler -- of his own misery. A weak and soulless man, vacant any moral compass or driving vision, McCarthy has made it transparent for years that the only organizing force in his life is the possession of a title and an office. In that quest, he surrendered most of the powers that make the Speaker’s effective, and shed every shred of personal dignity along the way.  The Gaetz and Boebert gang could smell it, and they toyed with it for as long as they possibly could, all there on national television. It was a personal branding and fundraising tour de force for Gaetz and Boebert, and McCarthy just let it happen.  

McCarthy has only himself to blame. He gave himself away for good after he initially lambasted Trump for his role in the January 6 Insurrection. But then he realized that Trump’s hold on the party was still strong, and he worried that his chances of becoming Speaker would be diminished unless he apologized.  Trump then proceeded to push his platform of election denial as the centerpiece of the mid-terms in 2022, resulting in weak candidates, weak messaging, and the failure to capture an expected “red wave” of House seats. With a wafer-thin Republican majority in the House, Kevin McCarthy had to kneel before the Freedom Caucus to get his dream job. By choosing to support Trump to preserve his chances at the Speaker’s role, he undermined his chances at attaining it… and then he secured the job by diminishing it. Nice work, Kevin.

Republican voters across America need to stare at this spectacle and understand exactly what they have done. They created this mess. They enabled the people who want to rip down our government, our structures, and our democracy.

It bears mentioning, in a final but nonetheless appalling side note, that Kevin McCarthy has not said a word about the newest member of his caucus, the epic liar from Queens, George Santos. Here’s a bet: if George Santos had opposed him for Speaker, McCarthy would have done everything in his power to prevent Santos from taking his seat in Congress. But because McCarthy needed every vote he could get, he chose to say nothing and do nothing about Santos.

How can we be the least bit surprised that McCarthy and the Republicans embraced George Santos? The Washington Post claims that Donald Trump made 30,573 false or misleading statements during his Presidency. Do you wonder where George Santos got the idea about how to succeed in the modern Republican Party?

George Santos, mind you, is not simply some amateur exaggerator, someone who, in his own words, merely did what everyone else does. “I’m not going to make excuses for this, but a lot of people overstate in their resumes, or twist a little bit. … I’m not saying I’m not guilty of that.” A little bit? Telling people that your mother died in the 9/11 attacks is not the same as claiming that you made varsity when you languished on the J.V. squad.  It is a faux invocation of excruciating human pain, a tragedy that – if true – would warrant deep sympathy and perhaps some consideration and added kindness for your suffering and for overcoming a searing emotional life experience. George Santos claiming that his mother died on 9/11 is a ham-fisted manipulation of an emotional hand-grenade to get a few extra votes.

Is anybody – anyone at all -- in the Republican Party feeling the least bit good about the putrid stew of blind ambition, insult, and mind-numbing repetition that went on in our nation’s capital this week?

You bet someone is! Lauren Boebert is rocking it! Just a few short weeks ago, Boebert was thanking her lucky stars, having squeaked out re-election by a mere 546 votes out of 326,000 cast. But now she gets to stand up on the floor of the United States House of Representatives and speak passionately about how government is broken, somehow missing the irony that she is the one swinging the wrecking ball. But she is compelling on one point: if you think Washington, D.C. is dysfunctional, do you really think that a vision-less empty suit like Kevin McCarthy is the guy to fix it?

So Lauren Boebert wanted this drama to go on as long as possible… and it did indeed end up with roughly the same number of episodes as “The White Lotus.” Hey, who doesn’t want to see Aubrey Plaza play Boebert in an Apple TV docudrama of McCarthy’s humiliation? Lauren Boebert would have been thrilled if the C-SPAN cameras rolled until, well, groundhog day.

Meanwhile, while sifting through classified documents in Mar-a-Lago, the architect of the modern Republican Party is now feeling the water begin to boil around him. The convictions of his company for tax crimes emboldened the Manhattan D.A. to press on and investigate a potentially more serious crime directly involving Donald Trump. The charges leveled by the Attorney General of New York could decimate Trump’s company. The criminal case involving election interference in Georgia seems very far along. And the two monster cases being handled at the Federal level by the Department of Justice – the Mar-a-Lago documents case, and the January 6 Insurrection – now have the full focus of a special prosecutor whose resting face looks like a hungry pit bull.

And yet Donald Trump runs for President. Heck, why not?

Hey, all you Republican voters out there, listen up! If you think Democrats were delighting in schadenfreude now, wait until Donald Trump begins to lose primary elections, and then starts to announce that they are rigged. Wait until Donald Trump starts saying that Ron DeSantis is not the legitimate nominee of the Party. Wait until Donald Trump’s zealots start chanting “stop the steal,” but the target of their accusation is not the Electoral College, but the Republican Party establishment.

No, the internecine bloodbath that we are witnessing in Washington today is just the warm-up act for when Donald Trump decides to turn a flamethrower to the party that will reject his attempt to win a third nomination. Just watch as he takes the 35% of the Republican Party that he owns and uses his hold over those voters to cripple the Republican candidates in the 2024 general election.

Order some more popcorn, Democrats. The producers who brought you this week’s White Republican Lotus mini-series have some even more amazing tales of self-destruction in the pipeline.

To those few sane, smart Republicans out there who are not able to accept that their party is no longer the same lovable mate they married decades ago, it is time to take off the blinders.

If you stick with it, you are enabling it. If you think you are not sending your money to Matt Gaetz, you might just want to tune into C-SPAN to see who is cashing the check.

Republican Party, heal thyself. That means the ordinary voters. The rank and file. You have two years to figure out how stop the madness in your party.

Heal thyself before Matt Gaetz decides that we shouldn’t raise the debt ceiling. Watch what happens to your precious stock market then.

Heal thyself before Lauren Boebert decides that it’s fine if Vladimir Putin wins in Ukraine. Watch what happens in a world where Putin is further emboldened... and our allies no longer trust the United States of America.

Heal thyself before Kevin McCarthy gets blown up as Speaker in his third week. Who’s going to be your speaker then? How about George Santos? I hear he’s already got that on his resume.

C-SPAN spent the last week showing us up close the faces of today’s Republican Party: Gaetz, McCarthy, Santos, and Boebert.

Hope you took a real close look, Republican voters. It is still your party.  You broke it. You own it.

 

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Tuesday, January 3, 2023

BTRTN: Will DeSantis Run?

Tom with the BTRTN December 2022 Month in Review.

December 2022

December, 2022 was the post-midterm interregnum when Washington crams in unfinished business and evolves into a New Order with the creation of the 118th Congress.  The final aftershocks of the 2022 midterms resounded in December with the AP call of California’s 13th House district, the last unresolved House election, after 23 days of ballot counting; Ralph Warnock’s convincing win over Herschel Walker in the Georgia Senate run-off; and the exposing of George Santos, the serial liar who flipped a crucial House swing district in Nassau County in New York’s Long Island on the basis of presenting voters with an utterly false life.  We haven’t seen a liar of the magnitude of George Santos since, well, the days of Donald Trump. 

Santos’ public fraud is so clear and so sweeping – he lied about his employment, his education, his religion, his real estate portfolio, the alleged fate of several alleged employees of his alleged business in 9/11, a fraud case in Brazil, even his mother’s death, and more including potential campaign finance fraud -- that booting him before he takes the oath (which he will do today) seems obvious.  Indeed, how will he possibly utter these words?  “I, George Santos (or Anthony Devolder, a name he sometimes uses), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”  Solemnly swear?  True faith?  Without purpose of evasion? So help me god, indeed.

The twin evils of Trumpism and polarization have long buried any shred of dignity that existed within the party of Lincoln, and the party of Hugh Scott, Barry Goldwater and John Rhodes.  They were the distinguished, solemn establishment trio who went to the White House on August 7, 1974 to tell President Richard Nixon that he had lost the support of Congress.  (Nixon resigned two days later.)  But the 21st century version of the Grand Old Party could never bring itself to do the same to Donald Trump, despite two impeachment opportunities, and now they cannot even eject Santos, a virtually unknown fabulist.  The simple truth is that wannabee-Speaker Kevin McCarthy needs every single vote he can get, and, with his silence on Santos, he crawls even deeper into the abyss, dragging this once proud party with him.

The Santos saga (or, if you prefer, the Devolder drama), was probably welcomed by Donald Trump, since it deflected attention from what has been quite possibly the worst start of a presidential campaign in history (or at least since Scott Walker, the erstwhile Wisconsin Wonder who managed a 70-day “first-to-worst” campaign in 2015).  December saw Trump being castigated one last time, with the defeat of Walker, for his midterm idiot-backing madness; ridiculed for launching a set of Trump digital trading cards (on sale for $99 each!); had his Trump Organization found guilty of tax fraud; lost his six-year battle to keep his taxes out of the public eye; and, oh yes, was referred for criminal prosecution by the January 6 committee on four different charges related to The Big Lie.  All this came after his ill-timed post-midterm-debacle launch announcement in November, when Trump blowback was white hot, and his high-profile dinner with two of the leading anti-Semites of our age, Nick Fuentes and Ye (nee Kanye West).  Perhaps the best part of Trump’s December, apart from the Santos deflection, was that another month went by without an indictment.  That streak just might end in January.

Trump remains the only announced candidate for president, and now we await the decisions of President Joe Biden and Trump’s main potential GOP challenger, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.  Biden has said he will make his intentions clear in early 2023 (likely no sooner than mid-February), but any thought that Biden might hang it up ended when it was revealed that Jill Biden supported a reelection run.  Biden himself had a fine month, with inflation now steadily receding, economists raising the odds that the U.S. might avoid a recession altogether, and Biden, Schumer and Pelosi conjuring more legislative magic with bi-partisan passage of a $1.7 omnibus spending bill.  (This got through because the GOP Senate was terrified of what might happen if they had to rely on the GOP-controlled House to pass one in the new session.)  With all that and the continued glow from the better-than-expected midterms (and the Warnock exclamation point), Biden saw a small but material increase in his approval rating, from 41% to 43%.  In these times, that qualifies as momentum. 

Which brings us to DeSantis and his decision.  It may surprise readers to consider that he might not run, because there is one terrifically good reason why he should – it appears to be his “time.” He is fresh off that stupendous 20-point reelection win in Florida, and he will certainly recall the lesson of Chris Christie, who demurred in 2012 when he was cooking on gas, only to see the flame burn out by 2016.  But there are at least two pretty darn good reasons why DeSantis might take a pass anyway, and they are named Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Assuming Biden runs (which as noted is almost a foregone conclusion), he will run, of course, as the incumbent, a huge advantage, and a pretty well-positioned one at that.  Biden has already built a solid track record of accomplishment both domestically and overseas; he may be riding a rising economic tide by 2024; and he’ll still have that decent, likable, centrist, high-integrity Middle American profile that got him elected in the first place.  That adds up to a pretty formidable position, assuming, of course, he handles the next two years well and maintains his reasonably vigorous level of health (neither a given).  From DeSantis’s perspective, running against an incumbent is a risk, and it is notable that the only ones who have been successful at it since FDR’s time are Jimmy Carter, who was running against an unelected president, and Ronald Reagan and Joe Biden, both of whom, at their ages, did not have time to wait.  Such is not the case with Ron DeSantis, who is a mere 44 years old, only four years older than Pete Buttigieg.

The other factor to consider also poses grave challenges to DeSantis -- the Trump factor.  While Trump is clearly wounded, that could very well be when he is most dangerous.  He still has a firm grip on at least 30% of the GOP, probably higher among those who will participate in the primaries, which will make him a formidable opponent.  Trump will doubtless denigrate DeSantis mercilessly during his campaign, contuning his propensity of making a mockery of Ronald Reagan’s famous Eleventh Commandment (“thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican”).  DeSantis will become Trump’s sworn enemy the day he throws his hat in the ring.  If DeSantis loses the nomination to Trump, he is political toast, and if he defeats him for the nomination, he will somehow have to win over the Trump faithful to have any chance of beating Biden.  He certainly cannot count on Trump’s support in the general election; indeed, he may face Trump’s full wrath and perhaps even an independent run.

No matter what happens in 2024 in a Trump-Biden repeat, the field will be clear in 2028.  No matter who wins, they will serve a second term and then be done.  If Biden wins, the Democrats will have served for eight years, and the country will be ready for a change.  Only George H.W. Bush defied that metronome-like swing when he won in 1988 after eight years of Republican rule under Reagan.  If Trump wins, he will be eternally grateful to DeSantis for supporting him, and probably anoint him in 2028.  (If Trump loses, he could conceivably run again in 2028, but that seems highly unlikely.)

DeSantis’s biggest risk in this wait-for-2028 scenario is that Trump may tap him for Vice President.  DeSantis would hardly want to lash himself, Pence-like, to Trump by accepting, but obviously, if he declined, it would elevate a competitor for 2028.  DeSantis may offer Trump a deal – I’ll back out in 2024 if you don’t offer me the VP slot, and take no sides in 2028. 

DeSantis may also be waiting to see what Biden does.  If Biden decides not to run, that shifts the calculus, in that one obstacle – running against an incumbent – will be removed. 

All in all, it is no laydown that DeSantis is running.  He is nothing if not astute in reading political terrain, and there is little doubt he is considering all of these factors as we head into decision season.  The odds on choice is that he will make a go of it, because, apart from political astuteness, DeSantis appears to have a healthy supply of hubris, and thus the lure of the moment will win out, with the sense that he can handle the obstacles as they arise.

Next up:  today’s vote on McCarthy’s speakership, with GOP dysfunction fully on display.  Stay tuned.


THE SCORECARD

As noted, Biden’s approval rating edged up to 43% in December, in the aftermath of the unexpected showing by the Democrats in the midterms.  His issue ratings were unchanged, except for some slight upward movement in “direction of the country.”  While the monthly movement was modest, + 2 points, and the absolute level now is still low at 29%, it is noteworthy that the measure has climbed +10 points since July.

The “Bidenometer,” our BTRTN aggregate record of economic performance, made another significant jump upwards from +41 to +47, as gas prices continued to fall and consumer confidence improved (more on the Bidenometer below).


 



BIDENOMETER

The Bidenometer is a BTRTN proprietary economic measure that was designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump Administration.

The Bidenometer measure is comprised of five indicative data points:  the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP.  The measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the inaugural to the present time.

The +47 for December, 2022 means that, on average, the five measures are 47% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +47, the economy is performing markedly better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left office.  Unemployment is much lower, consumer confidence is higher, the Dow is higher and the GDP is stronger.  On the flip side, gas prices have soared (as has overall inflation, of which gas prices are a primary component).

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery.  Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it.  Now we have seen it move upward from 0 to +47 under Biden.

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Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Bidenometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021, on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump left office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.

Monday, December 19, 2022

BTRTN: Our Annual Analytically-Based Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Predictions

Occasionally we take a break from politics and turn our attention to weightier matters, such as our annual prediction of who will be elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.  It is a Ruthian task, indeed. 

It’s that time of year again…the votes have begun to be tabulated for the Baseball Writers Association of American (BBWAA) Hall of Fame (HOF) ballot.  The BBWAA voting is underway now and the results will be announced on January 24, 2023.  Each year we at BTRTN analyze the ballot – in-depth, analytically -- to answer two questions: 

1)     Which nominees do we predict will be elected in this year’s voting, receiving at least 75% of the vote of the BBWAA?

2)     Who do we think amongst the nominees deserves to be in the HOF, based on our own analysis (and opinions)?  

The two lists are never identical.

For the first question – our prediction of who will be selected -- we use various statistical models (based on the candidates’ stats and, for those returning to the ballot, how they’ve done in prior years) to come up with an initial estimate of the percentage of the vote they will receive, and then overlay that with a dose of judgment.  For the second question – who should be in the HOF -- we have developed a methodology to compare nominees to their same-position predecessors to determine their “Hall-worthiness.”  (This year we’ve re-tooled that approach quite significantly, which we’ll explain a bit later.)

A few notes before we get into our answers.  First, we are aware that votes for the MLB HOF are again being publicly tabulated, as members of the BBWAA publicly announce them (some do, some don’t).  I have not looked at those tabulations.  The truth is, they are actually not very helpful in making predictions, because the writers who reveal their votes publicly tend to differ quite a bit from their more private counterparts, especially on the more controversial candidates.  So one can easily be misled by the public tally.  So we ignore the trackers ongoing tabulations entirely, and rely on our own analysis.

{Author Note:  This article was first published on December 19, 2022 and has not been revised, of course.}

Second, it is also worth noting that the performance-enhancing-drug (PED) is drawing to a close with respect to the ballot.  The two major poster children of the era, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, had a rather terrible 2022.  First, they were rejected for the 10th and final time on the BBWAA ballot in January (as was Sammy Sosa). Bonds and Clemens were then again rejected, resoundingly, by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee in December, just over a week ago.  Bravo to the BWAA and to the Committee! 

Let’s see what that PED-push-to-the-dumpster does to the candidacy of Alex Rodriguez, who was suspended for the 2014 season for violating MLB’s drug policy and collective bargaining agreement.  Rodriguez is back on the ballot after securing 34% of the vote in his first shot last year.  I suspect he will be on the ballot for quite some time to come, perhaps for the rest of his ballot eligibility.  

Our custom is to not consider the Hall-worthiness of the PEDsters, for reasons we have enumerated many times -- basically, they violated a clear rule of the game, established by Fay Vincent in 1991, a violation that materially affected the outcome of games and artificially inflated the users' statistics.  We have heard every counterargument under the sun, including those who cite baseball's lax enforcement of the prohibition in the era, and that the HOF is full of sinners, and we reject those arguments and others.  Our view is that the PED players are, ipso facto, all unworthy for consideration.

Unfortunately that general view also extends to the biggest new name on the ballot, Carlos Beltran.  Beltran was not involved with PEDs, but he was the only player named in the official report on how the Astros cheated their way to a World Series title in 2017 (and also cheated in parts of 2016 and 2018 as well).  Beltran was clearly a team leader and a ringleader in the cheating escapade, as he later admitted.  It is obvious that the cheating could easily have been decisive to the outcomes of many games.  So this is a longstanding and material offense, much like the use of PED's.  


HOW DID WE DO LAST YEAR?

We rather immodestly bill ourselves as “The Best MLB Hall of Fame Predictors” (we are quite likely the only ones left now that Bill Deane hung it up after over 30 years of predictions).  Last year was not  our best year, but we did reasonably well, as you can see by the chart below.

The main miss was that David Ortiz did much better than we expected in his first year on the ballot and was, of course, elected to the Hall of Fame, against our expectations.  We thought he might be punished for appearing on the Mitchell Committee’s list of players who failed a PED test.  Most of the PED-tainted players are more surly personalities – Bonds and Clemens head that list – but Big Papi has spent his years since that flap trying to spread sunshine in his own special way, and it surely helped (Jeff Kent, take note).

We did a good job predicting that Curt Schilling, Bonds and Clemens would all fall short in their last year on the ballot.  Most players, when they get as close of those three did in their penultimate ballot, push on through in Year 10, but we rightly figured their sullied reputations would put the brakes on that potential source of momentum.

We did quite well with the rest of the field, nailing a few and coming very close on most of the others.  We were right on with Scott Rolen’s 10-point jump to 63% and almost nailed Billy Wagner’s jump as well.  We did miss by quite a bit on Omar Vizquel’s fall from grace on various abuse charges, but did reasonably well in predicting where Alex Rodriguez would land in his debut.

One thing we did very well was predict total votes per ballot.  We said there would be 7.2 players selected on each ballot, and the final number was 7.1.  That is excellent, as this figure can vary considerably given the strength or weakness of the field.  Not long ago it was common for each voter to make over eight selections on average, though in 2021 it was down to 6.2.  (The writers are not allowed to name more than ten.)

Overall, we were off by an average of 3.8 percentage points per nominee, exactly the same as in 2021, about the same as in 2020 (3.7) and not quite as good as in 2019, when we had our best showing at 3.3.  (We’ve been doing this since 2015.)  Anything under three would be spectacular, anything over five is pretty bad. 

Here are last year’s results:



 

 

 

 






















WHO WILL BE ELECTED?  THIS YEAR’S PREDICTIONS

On to this year!  And here is our most important prediction:  BTRTN predicts that the BBWAA will elect Scott Rolen to the MLB Hall of Fame.  Rolen will be the only candidate to reach the 75% threshold for election, and he will make that with some room to spare.

While some of the stench of last year’s ballot has been removed with the ousters of many PEDs (Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Ortiz) and other reviled characters (Schilling and A.J. Pierzynski, who was once named the “most hated players” in a survey of MLB players, who failed to clear the 5% threshold in his ballot debut), that hardly means we have a squeaky clean ballot.  We still have some PEDsters (Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and Andy Pettitte), serial abuser Omar Vizquel, and the clean but despised Jeff Kent.  And, as we have already discussed, the big newbie on the this year's ballot, Carlos Beltran, is tainted as well as a ringleader in the 2016-2018 Astros cheating scandal.  Sigh.

The first chart below shows the complete voting history (in percentages) of all the returning players. 










With the departure of a number of large vote-getters and the arrival of only the controversial Beltran, this is a good year to be a repeater on the ballot.  There is a great deal of vote capacity to be spread around, and it is obvious where it will likely go – to those at the top of the chart, who also happen to be among the “cleanest” names on the ballot.  Expect great upward movement from the first four names – Rolen, Todd Helton,  Billy Wagner and Andruw Jones – in particular.  They all have been on an upswing that continued last year, and, after this year’s jump will all be in field goal range of Cooperstown immortaility.

The next six returnees, however -- Sheffield, Rodriguez, Kent, Ramirez, Vizquel and Pettitte -- are all controversial in various ways.  Their progress over time, while evident, has been slower and, importantly, was non-existent last year.  Vizquel actually took a steep tumble.  In the prior year, more abuse revelations occurred during the balloting, and obviously affected his tally somewhat in 2021.  But the full force of the repugnance took hold in 2022 and he dropped like a stone.

Kent, who’s only “sin” is to be surly, is likely to see an upsurge given that this is his last year on the ballot.   But to jump from 33% all the way to 75% will be a stretch, and so his fate will ultimately be left to a future veteran’s committee.

Apart from Rodriguez, Jimmy Rollins was the only first-balloter last year to survive, and this will be a make-or-break year for him.  If he maintains or exceeds his first-year total, he may be in for a long and perhaps successful run.  You only have to look at the trajectory of Rolen, Wagner and Jones to see where a decent showing could take him long term.  But others, like Mark Buerhrle and Torii Hunter, dipped in their second year, barely surviving a third try this year.

This will be a crucial year for Beltran, as well, of course.  It is a brutal call to offer a prediction of where he may land, given his rather unique backstory.

So, what’s the answer?  Here’s the summary chart of this year’s ballot, including our predictions.  

We have also included in this chart our views on which candidates belong in the HOF.  For the explanations of those ratings, read on.

One thing to note…despite the increased “vote capacity” and the general increases we foresee for many returning players, we do think the “votes per ballot” will drop below six this year.


























WHO SHOULD BE IN THE HALL OF FAME?

The second question we ask annually is this:  putting aside what the writers think, who on the ballot do we think is “Hall-worthy”? 

We believe Scott Rolen, who as noted we predict will be elected, is completely worthy of being in the HOF.  We also think that four other players on the ballot should be in the HOF, though we don't think they will be elected this year:  Billy WagnerJeff KentAndruw Jones and Francisco Rodriguez.

To arrive at our conclusions, we use the following analytic methodology.  We compare each player to Hall of Famers and “just misses” (among those whose careers started after 1950) at his position across a number of key statistics, both traditional (hits, homers, RBI’s and batting average) and non-traditional (OPS+ and WAR).  To get a sense of how they were valued “in their time, “ we also look at their number of All Star selections and times appearing in the Top 10 in the MVP balloting (for pitchers, we use an identical methodology but, of course, with various pitcher stats instead).  We show the average statistics for these comparison groups, by position.  So we will compare, say, Todd Helton, to first baseman who are in these four groups:

·        The “top half” of all post-1950 HOF first basemen (using a ranking based on WAR)

·        The “average” of all post-1950 HOF first basemen

·        The “lower half” all post-1950 HOF first basemen

·        The “next ten,” the ten post-1950 first basemen who have the highest WARs among those who are not in the HOF. 

The last two groups define the so-called “borderline” candidates.  Our general feeling is that to be worthy of the HOF, a candidate should be at least as good and probably materially better, on balance, than the last two groups.  Thus, they have to be better than borderline candidates, most of whom are either not in the HOF (the “next ten”) or include at least a few players who should never have been enshrined in the first place, and reside in the “lower half."  (We are not rigid, and you will see, we make exceptions – you will be interested in the discussion of third basemen.)   We also take into account, as a bit of a tie-breaker, a player’s postseason performance.

The big change we made this year was eliminating, for comparison purposes, all players whose careers began before 1950.  The statistics before 1950 have various issues and, with a solid base of players in the last 70 years to draw from, we thought it was time to make the change.  Pre-1950 stats are compromised primarily segregation, full stop.  But other problems include the “Dead Ball Era,” the explosive hitters’ era in the 1930s, the way-above-proportion representation of the 1930’s in the Hall of Fame, the degradation of play in the World War II years, and more.  (We make a few exceptions to keep the comparison groups large enough, including a few players such as Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, whose careers began in the late 1940’s).

Again, we do not include the PED players or Beltran in this analysis.  We stipulate that on the basis of their stats alone, they would make it.

Catcher

Rather remarkably, there are no catchers on the ballot this year.

First Base 

Todd Helton is an exceptionally difficult case, one of the hardest on the ballot.  You have to take into account the “Coors Field” high altitude effect that inflates any Rockies’ stats.  His OPS+ is down with the borderlines, and, if you break this stat down further, Helton’s home/road OPS splits are 1.048/.855.  The .855 is not Hall-worthy for a first baseman.  But his WAR of 61 is excellent, right in line with the average for HOF first baseman, and WAR is a park adjusted figure.  And yet, his power stats are low, as are his All-Star and MVP votes.  We went to the postseason stats to see if they would help him but, alas, he went 11-66 with no homers and a mere four RBI across 66 games.  This is a real toughie, but our view is that if it is this hard, then we should probably pass.  So…we give Helton a very difficult thumbs down.

Mike Napoli, on the other hand, is an easy thumbs down.  He was principally a first baseman in his career, but he also caught a fair number of games, and DH’d.  But however way you cut it, this is one of those first-ballot candidates, and every year there are too many of them, who, while fine players, really should not be on the ballot at all.







Second Base 

Jeff Kent is the all-time leading home run hitter among second baseman, and is third in RBIs behind Rogers Hornsby and Napoleon Lajoie.  He is simply one of the greatest power-hitting second basemen ever and the best in modern times.  His power numbers dwarf the best of the HOF second basemen, and his OPS, hits and batting average are all right with them.  His WAR is well above the borderline groups.  If he had been a little nicer to sportswriters over the years, he might be doing better in the voting to date.  But he is unquestionably a Hall of Famer.  (By the way, for you Helton fans smarting over our snub, Kent’s home/away OPS splits are .853/.857 – in other words, Kent has a higher OPS than Helton on the road, while playing a middle infield position.)  A total thumbs up.






Shortstop 

Omar Vizquel did well in the balloting in his first three years, establishing a voting track record (37%/43%/53%) that seemed well on the way to enshrinement.  But after a series of abuse charge (separate incidents involving sexual harassment and domestic violence), Vizquel plummeted to 24% last year, and it seems unlikely that he will be able to recover.  But, regardless, we have never considered Vizquel to be HOF-worthy.  The only offensive stat he really has going for him, in comparison to the peers, are his 2,877 hits (which he compiled over 24 seasons).  But there is no getting around his OPS of only 82, which settles the matter on the offensive side.  He was an excellent defender, with 11 Gold Gloves, and 129 “runs saved” in his career.  But he was no Ozzie Smith or Mark Belanger, who had 239 and 241, respectively (and even Craig Counsell had 127.)  He made only three All-Star teams in those 24 years and was never a Top Ten finisher in the MVP balloting.  Thumbs down.

Jimmy Rollins stats are largely better than those of the non-HOF borderline group, but they are generally below the bottom half HOF group, in particular his OPS (which is below the league average for his career) and his WAR.  He only managed three All Star selections, though he did win an MVP in 2007.  But the view here is thumbs down.

J.J. Hardy and Jhonny (no typo) Peralta had better careers than I thought, but virtually all of their stats are below the borderlines.  Thumbs down.








Third Base 

Scott Rolen’s case for the Hall of Fame is less about Rolen and more about the position.  For reasons I cannot quite determine, third base is simply underrepresented in the HOF.  And so the “comparison” analysis is not really relevant (though I’ve included the numbers below).

Regardless of position, if you have a Career WAR of 70 or more, you are a lock for the HOF:  57 out of 60 among our post-1950 group of hitters who achieved the mark are in the Hall of Fame.  (The three excluded are Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich and Dead Ball era shortstop Bill Dahlen.)  Scott Rolen has a WAR of 70.  Case closed.

You also have an excellent shot if you are in the 60-69 WAR range – unless you are a third basemen.  Among that group, 30 out of 38 non-third baseman are in the HOF.  But third basemen are 0 for 4 (they are Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, Ken Boyer and Sal Bando).  This pattern also extends to the 50-59 WAR group, where the other positions are 38 for 66, and the third basemen are 0 for 2 (Ron Cey and Toby Harrah).  Put the entire 50-70 WAR group together in a chart and it looks like this:



 





We thought some progress was being made when Ron Santo was finally elected by one of the veteran’s committees in 2012, but the pattern reverted to form when Ken Boyer was shut out last year.  (Tony Oliva was elected!  Compare their stats someday, and while you do, remember Boyer played a glove position – and was superb defensively by any metric -- and Oliva, a left fielder, did not).

HOF third basemen (in our post-1950 comparison group) have an average WAR of 86, which is higher – much higher – than every other position (outfielders are next with 77).   You are talking about a group of some of the greatest players in the game:  Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Chipper Jones, Brooks Robinson, Wade Boggs and Eddie Mathews.  That’s the entire group, and no position has fewer.

So Scott Rolen is not necessarily better than the “bottom half” of this group, but that is comprised of Brooks Robinson and Ron Santo, and I say if you hang with them, you are a Hall of Famer.  Especially if you have a WAR over 70!  Rolen is a clear thumbs up. 






Outfield

Andruw Jones is an interesting case, with those 434 homers and a 63 WAR that also reflects his outstanding defensive skills.  He had 253 "runs saved" for his career, an astounding number exceeded only by Brooks Robinson.  That is truly impressive.  His relatively low 111 OPS+ is the big knock, but we think the power, defense and WAR – plus five All-Star selections and two Top Ten MVP vote totals -- add up to a thumbs up.

Bobby Abreu is a better candidate than you might think, and another difficult case.  His power stats are above average for a HOF outfielder, but his OPS+ and WAR are borderline.  His stats are almost completely aligned with the bottom half of HOF outfielders, which gave me pause.  I started looking at the other factors, and here his case gets weaker.  He only made two All Star games in his career (though he did put on quite a display in the Home Run Derby in one of those years) and never once was a Top 10 MVP vote getter, so it’s hard to make a case that he was recognized as one of the very best players of his generation.  And he played in 20 postseason games and put up just one homer and nine RBI.  With some hesitance, we gave Abreu a thumbs down.

Torii Hunter, like Andruw Jones, has a similar “great field, solid hitter” profile, but the comparison for HOF purposes does not quite hold.  Hunter was a slightly better hitter than Jones, on balance, but light years away from Jones defensively.  He did win nine Gold Gloves, but unlike Jones, who won 10, modern defensive stats don’t quite back up Hunter’s reputation as they do for Jones.  As noted, those stats reveal Jones to be one of the transcendent defensive players of all time, but try as I might, I could not find Hunter among the Top 250 in Total Zone Runs.  He had fantastic defensive years early in his career but did not match that in later years (and won Gold Gloves off that reputation).  And that ultimately shows up in his WAR, which, at 51, is well below Jones, Abreu and the borderline groups.  All in all, another reasonably tough call, but we give Hunter a thumbs down.

It pains me a bit to see Jacoby Ellsbury, Jayson Werth and Andre Ethier on the ballot.  Fine players all, but none even managed to get to 1,500 hits, which every HOF batter except a few catchers has achieved – it’s basically a price of admission to be considered, and they don’t make it.  Every other statistical marker falls short, too.









Starting Pitchers 

We recognize that the sands are shifting for the criteria to evaluate starting pitches for the Hall of Fame.  Long gone are the days of complete games and 20-game winners, and Justin Verlander may be the last pitcher to seriously threaten to crack the 300-win club (he stands at 244 and won 18 games for the champion Astros last year and just signed a two-year deal with the Mets).  Indeed, Clayton Kershaw (197 wins) and Adam Wainwright (195) may become the last members of the 200-win club next year.  David Price is next on the list at 157, then Johnny Cueto at 143; each are 36 and neither has won as many as 10 games in a season for years, since Price won 18 in 2018 and Cueto won 18 in 2016).  Gerrit Cole, who is 32 and has 130 wins, may have a shot, but he had a fine year last year for a very good team and still managed only 13 wins.  Does he have 6 more of those left in him?

So our comparisons will have to change in light of this, and thus we will deemphasize wins, won/loss percentage and innings pitched in our little chart, and put more focus on ERA+ and WAR, as well as All Star Games and Cy Young Award winners.  If anything, given that starters are now expected to go only five or six innings, ERA+ for starters might be expected to rise. 

Mark Buehrle is certainly one of the better pitchers of the modern era, a member of the now-more-respected 200+ win club.  He hangs reasonably well with the borderline group, which essentially means he is a borderline candidate, nothing more.  But if we are going to accept his low win total, he have to see more elevation in his ERA+, and it is not there.  His All Star recognition is also a bit low, though he won a Cy Young.  He did nothing special in the postseason, despite multiple opportunities.   I find myself being tough on the borderliners, and simply can’t find enough to get excited about him.  So we say thumbs down to Buerhrle.

The other five starting pitchers are all on the ballot for the first time and none of them --  John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Matt Cain, Bronson Arroyo and R.A. Dickey – are worthy of HOF consideration, as a cursory look at the chart with confirm.  At least they all made at least one All Star team and Dickey won a Cy Young in a wondrous year.  Lackey was a durable pitcher and started 23 postseason games, generally outperforming his regular season performance.  We recite these accomplishments because we will not have an opportunity to do so again in this forum.









Relief Pitchers 

There are only 31 relievers who have saved 300 or more games in their careers, including three who are active (Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, who are both approaching 400, and Aroldis Chapman).  Of the 28 retirees, only 8 are in the HOF.  We use 300 saves as a standard – essentially a price of entry to be considered for the HOF -- because 7 of the 8 HOF relievers have achieved that mark.  Only Hoyt Wilhelm had fewer, and he toiled in an era when the term “closer” was not even in use; indeed, the save was not even an official stat (it became one in 1969, very late in Wilhelm’s 21-year career).  But nonetheless Wilhelm compiled a 50 WAR, a figure that has been exceeded among relievers only by the incomparable Mariano Rivera.

The role of closer has also evolved, from a rubber armed, multi-inning stud to a specialist who toils only in the ninth inning.  Yankee HOF closers Rich Gossage, who averaged 1.8 innings per appearance in his career, and Rivera, who averaged 1.2, embody this transition. The closer role may evolve further in the coming years, as managers have started to questions the logic of saving their best reliever for the ninth inning when, say, the heart of the order is due up in the eighth.  So defining what it takes for a reliever to make the HOF is a moving target, and not an easy one.  But we press on with a range of statistics to try to capture the overall sense of what is HOF-worthy.

Billy Wagner’s statistics are amazing, and voters are now finally catching on, as Wagner has advanced in his eight years on the ballot from 11% to 51%.  But time is running out for the BBWAA to finish the deed, and Wagner still has a ways to go in the voting.  The stats are there:  he has well over 400 saves and a 1.00 WHIP that is – incredibly – equal to Mariano Rivera’s (and better than Trevor Hoffman’s 1.06).  His stats compare favorably to the average of the eight relievers in the HOF.  Wagner is a thumbs up – he is simply one of the greatest relievers of all time.

Francisco Rodriguez is not that far behind Wagner, but he is not his equal by any stretch.  He too recorded over 400 saves – more than Wagner, in fact – but his WHIP and his WAR are lower.  But his stats, including his All Star selections and top 10 appearances in the Cy Young voting, hold up well against the average HOF reliever group, and so, without too much effort, I give him a thumbs up.

Huston Street had a fine record but generally below the borderline groups, and so we give him the thumbs down.







That’s it!  We’ll be back after Tuesday, January 24, 2023, when the selections will be announced and see how we did!  Comments welcome, of course.