Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, and the whims of the voting process

Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

These two Hall of Fame candidates might have even more in common than their similar records let on.

Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine. I just can't get the comparison out of my head. One might get voted into the Hall of Fame this year, and the other just might fall off the ballot. It's maddening.

The one probably being voted in is, of course, Tom Glavine. With 305 wins, two Cy Young Awards, one World Series ring, and a spot alongside Greg Maddux and John Smoltz in one of the most storied rotations in history, Glavine's Hall of Fame case is airtight.

Mussina's case might be a little tougher, but he did earn 270 wins and nearly 3,000 strikeouts in four fewer years than Glavine. In fact, Mussina would need to walk 700 more batters and allow 1,500 more baserunners in only 900 additional innings (while striking out zero batters!) to have the same career line as Glavine. Mike Mussina is an easy Hall of Famer, for me.

But this isn't an article comparing the Hall of Fame cases of Moose and Glavine. Instead, I want to point out a rather disconcerting parallel between their two careers; a parallel involving an imperfect voting process that helped mark the ascent of Glavine and which might help mark the fall of Mussina.

The first Cy Young Award of Tom Glavine's career came in 1991, when he took the award quite handily during the Braves' first "miracle" run to the World Series. His second award, in 1998, was a bit less clear-cut. That year, Glavine posted a 20-6 record with a 2.47 ERA and 157 strikeouts. Meanwhile, the World Series-bound San Diego Padres had Kevin Brown (18-7, 2.38, 257 Ks) and Trevor Hoffman (53 saves, 1.48 ERA) posting out-of-this-world numbers. When voting time came around, Glavine's 20-win season was good for 11 first place votes. But hold on! Hoffman actually received 13 first-place votes! (Brown earned the remaining eight first-place votes.) So how did Glavine win the award that year?

While it's not quite accurate to call this a "fluke", Glavine's win was certainly a product of the voting process. All of Major League Baseball's postseason awards use a weighted voting system that gives players more points for first-place votes than for second, and more for second-place votes than third, and so on. In years with a clear frontrunner, these extra points don't come in to play. In other years, however, they can make all the difference. Glavine beat out Hoffman in 1998 by outscoring the closer thanks to a larger number of second-place votes.

Essentially, the 21 ballots that did not feature Glavine in the No. 1 slot either listed the three contenders as Hoffman-Glavine-Brown or Brown-Glavine-Hoffman (or left Hoffman off entirely). With that overwhelming support in the No. 2 spot, and the split support between Hoffman and Brown in the top spot, Glavine grabbed his second career Cy Young Award. Without this particular scoring system, Glavine never wins that second award and suddenly his Hall of Fame case weakens.

Flash forward to this year, when Mike Mussina finds himself on the most crowded Hall of Fame ballot maybe in history. Thanks to an archaic voting process that arbitrarily limits voters to no more than ten players, Mussina has a non-zero chance of falling off the ballot entirely. It's hard enough for voters to agree on who belongs in the Hall of Fame to begin with when there are only a few viable candidates to choose from; the 2013 ballot increases the difficulty by essentially making voters rank their choices into a top ten. You think getting 75 percent of voters to agree on Craig Biggio in one ballot is hard? Try getting even 5 percent to agree on the 10th-best candidate. Alan Trammell or Jeff Kent? Lee Smith or Don Mattingly? Fred McGriff or Edgar Martinez? Mike Mussina or Curt Schilling?

With so many great players to choose from, and with so many competing interests amongst the voters (choosing between new and old, deserving and not, clean and dirty), there are many ways a well-conceived ballot can be cast that still leaves Mussina off. Take a look at these two actual Hall of Fame ballots, both of which include their maximum allotted votes:

Fred Klein's ballot: Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Edgar Martinez, Jack Morris, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith, Frakn Thomas, and Alan Trammell.

Lynn Henning's ballot: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Frank Thomas, and Alan Trammell.

Jack Morris and Lee Smith make it in the first ballot. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens make it in the second. It's hard to get much different than those two pairs, but that's the kind of ballots being cast this year. And yet neither voted for Mike Mussina.

If Mussina does fall off the ballot, it won't be because he's undeserving of future consideration. It will be because of an antiquated and poorly planned voting process that just flat doesn't work with a crowded ballot like the one we have this year (and will have for the foreseeable future). Where Tom Glavine's Hall of Fame case was strengthened by an imperfect voting process only fifteen years ago, Mike Mussina's case is threatened.

It would be a fun little parallel, if it weren't so depressing.

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