In strong first-time class, Mariano Rivera seems like a slam dunk for Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame ballot is out, and the slam dunk among the ballot's first-time players is Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who had 652 career saves with one pitch, a cut fastball that was deadly.

Members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America will start their deliberations and their ballots are due Dec. 31. The Hall of Fame announcement is Jan. 22 and the induction ceremony is July 29 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Here is a look at the key first-timers on the ballot:

* Mariano Rivera - Closers have been difficult to judge in the past, but last season, the BBWAA elected Trevor Hoffman and his 601 career saves. Rivera could challenge Ken Griffey Jr.'s record for closest to a unanimous vote. Griffey received 99.32 percent in 2016. Rivera, a failed starter who was almost traded before he established himself, won five World Series with the Yankees. Rivera had a 0.70 ERA in the postseason, including 0.99 ERA in the World Series.

* Andy Pettitte - Pettitte's case is more complex than teammate Rivera, even though they each helped the Yankees win five World Series. Pettitte, a lefty, had 256 career victories with good showings in Cy Young voting: He had a sixth-place finish, was fifth twice, fourth once and second once, losing to Toronto's Pat Hentgen by six points in 1996. Pettitte was also listed in the Mitchell Report for taking performance-enhancing drugs, but later admitted his mistake. Should admitting the mistake give him voting points? And how does Pettitte's postseason record fit into the picture? He pitched in 44 games with 19 victories and a 3.81 ERA.

* Todd Helton - The Rockies first baseman has excellent numbers, but as usual, there is the obvious question: How should playing in the spaciousness and high elevation of Coors Field in Denver affect what voters think? He was a five-time All-Star, a strong defensive player and had six seasons of at least 30 home runs. He led the National League with a .372 average in 2000. He had 2,519 career hits, 369 of them home runs. As far as his Coors Field breakdown, Helton hit .345 with a .441 on-base percentage at home compared to .287/.386 in road games.

* Roy Halladay - The two-time Cy Young Award winner was killed in November 2017 in a plane accident in the Gulf of Mexico. He was one of the best starters of his time. In addition to winning the Cy Young twice, he received votes in five other seasons. His 67 complete games are the most for a starter from 1998 until the present. He led the league in complete games seven times and strikeout-to-walk ratio five times. Halladay threw a perfect game against the Marlins and a no-hitter in the postseason against the Reds. Prediction: Halladay will make it on the first ballot.

* Lance Berkman - Berkman played 15 seasons, mostly with the Astros, and his .943 OPS might be his strongest case for making the Hall of Fame, considering it is better than Hall of Famers Willie Mays (.941), Hank Aaron (.929) and Frank Robinson (926). Berkman helped St. Louis win the 2011 World Series. He was a dangerous blend of power (366 home runs) and average (.300). He was a six-time All-Star.

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