NEW YORK (AP) — Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz appear to be shoo-ins for election to the Hall of Fame in what is shaping up as the baseball writers' biggest class of inductees in 60 years.
When the Hall of Fame reveals the results Tuesday at 2 p.m. on the MLB Network, holdover Craig Biggio and perhaps Mike Piazza could join those three first-ballot pitchers who were utterly dominant in a hitters' era of artificially bulging statistics.
Here are some things to know about the balloting, conducted again in a period when who's elected is as intriguing as whose names were not checked by Baseball Writers' Association of America voters:
THE THREE ACES
Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz stand out among the 17 newcomers to the ballot.
The reed-thin, scraggly-haired Johnson is a five-time Cy Young Award winner — four in a row from 1999-2002 — with 303 wins and 4,875 strikeouts. The Big Unit came up big in the postseason, too, sharing MVP honors in the 2001 World Series with Arizona Diamondbacks teammate Curt Schilling.
Martinez's antics off the field were nearly as enthralling as an ever-elusive changeup that helped him to three Cy Youngs — two AL, one NL — and a 2.93 ERA in 18 years. He helped bring the Boston Red Sox their first World Series championship in 86 years.
Smoltz was a steady presence on the Atlanta Braves' staff for 20 seasons — including 14 straight division titles from 1991-2005 — winning the 1996 NL Cy Young. A career starter, Smoltz smoothly moved into the closer role for three full seasons and earned 154 saves. He should join former teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, last year's inductees along with Frank Thomas.
The induction ceremony in Cooperstown will take place July 26.
Not since 1955, when Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons and Dazzy Vance all gained entrance into the Hall, have four players received the necessary 75 percent of the vote from the BBWAA.
Five were elected at the same time on just one occasion, and that was the initial Hall class of 1936.
With the ballot jammed by big names from the Steroids Era, the BBWAA has recommended to the Hall's board of directors that it increase the number of players each voter can select from 10 to 12. That change could come as soon as 2016.
THE PED FACTOR
Suspected and admitted users of performance-enhancing drugs have been on the ballot since Mark McGwire was a first-timer in 2007. But the real debate over PEDs and players' credentials heated up when otherwise certain locks Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens became eligible three years ago. Both glamour stars severely tarnished by steroid use accusations received about 35 percent of the vote last year, a slight dip from their first ballots.
Piazza, who received 62.2 percent in his second year on the ballot, and Jeff Bagwell (54.3 percent) are two players who have fallen under suspicion of use but were never caught up in any investigation. Will one more year on the ballot help them get closer to the threshold? Perhaps an enhanced ballot of up to 12 votes per writer next year will give them the nudge they need if they fail this year.
Biggio, the Houston Astros second baseman-outfielder with 3,060 hits, fell two votes shy of election last year. Piazza, who has more homers than any other catcher in big league history, went up about 5 percent from the previous year. According to research by Baseball Think Factory, Biggio was up to 82.9 percent of the vote on 158 public ballots sourced by the website — that's about 27.7 percent of the vote, based on last year's totals. Piazza was at 76.6 percent late Monday afternoon.
Several others on the ballot of 34 candidates are hoping to get a better look. Tim Raines (46.1 percent last year), hit .294 with a .385 on-base percentage in a 23-year career for six teams. The prototypical leadoff hitter scored 1,571 runs and stole 808 bases. Career designated hitter Edgar Martinez received 35.9 percent, Curt Schilling got 29.2 and Mike Mussina 20.3 percent in 2014.
These players get only 10 years on the BBWAA ballot, recently reduced from 15 years maximum.
Next year's ballot should open up some after the election of this year's expected jumbo class and the amended voting rules. There is one sure thing in the 2016 group: Ken Griffey, Jr. He will be joined by Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner and Jim Edmonds as the chief newcomers.