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A Case for Barry

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With the regular season over, we're starting to see an uptick in discussion of Barry Larkin's case for the Hall of Fame (like this one by the Reds), as this is his first year of eligibility.  I've written about this a bit before, but now that we have access to Rally's WAR data for 1871-2008 (and soon 2009 after Retrosheet updates), I thought I'd take a look at Larkin's case for the Hall of Fame using those data.

Below the jump are career stat breakdowns for Larkin plus the 10 shortstops elected into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.  There are another 12 elected by the Veterans' committee, but a) their standards tend to be lower than those of the BBWAA (yes, despite Jim Rice), and b) we're working with the BBWAA process right now so we'll stick to those players.  I'm also omitting active players who will likely go to the Hall (Jeter, ARod), as well as retired players who may be deserving but are not in yet (e.g. Alan Trammell).

Click below to see the table and graph!

Name Debut Seasons PA WAR WAR/700PA BtRuns wOBA FldRuns Fld/700PA PosAdj
Aparicio, Luis 1956 18 10993 49.9 3.2 -112 0.323 149 9 164
Appling, Luke 1930 20 10169 69.3 4.8 218 0.36 41 3 145
Banks, Ernie 1953 19 10254 64.4 4.4 235 0.361 54 9 -9
Boudreau, Lou 1938 15 6859 56 5.7 161 0.362 118 12 99
Cronin, Joe 1926 20 8672 62.5 5 233 0.366 28 2 117
Larkin, Barry 1986 19 8931 68.9 5.4 280 0.371 27 2 114
Maranville, Rabbit 1912 23 10956 38.2 2.4 -219 0.312 130 8 158
Ripken, Cal 1981 21 12746 89.9 4.9 161 0.35 181 10 143
Smith, Ozzie 1978 19 10501 64.6 4.3 -47 0.33 239 16 147
Wagner, Honus 1897 21 11518 134.5 8.2 744 0.409 85 5 104
Yount, Robin 1974 20 12022 76.9 4.5 344 0.368 -47 -3 81

Glossary: WAR = Wins Above Replacement, a measure of total career value; WAR/700PA is WAR converted into a rate statistic, or WAR per full player season; BtRuns = batted runs above average, including all offensive events including detailed baserunning; wOBA = weight on-base average, a rate stat based on BtRuns, uses the same scale as OBP; FldRuns = Fielding runs saved above average, based on TotalZone or JAARF; Fld/700PA = FldRuns converted to a rate stat; PosAdj = position adjustment accounting for fielding quality differences among positions.

The table is sortable if you click in the header.  In fact, click on "WAR/700PA."  This is wins above replacement, expressed as a rate stat (700 PA is ~1 full player season).  Among these shortstops (again, Larkin + HoF'ers), Barry ranks 3rd.  Obviously, Honus Wagner was ridiculus.  But Larkin nests with Lou Boudreau in the second tier, which is followed by a close grouping of Joe Cronin, Cal Ripken, and Luke Appling as a third tier.  You see similar outstanding rates when you look at wOBA, an all-encompassing offensive rate stat (already adjusted for era), in which Larkin ranks 2nd in this very select group.  When healthy, Barry was as good as they come offensively (Wagners excluded).

The knocks on Larkin, however, mostly have to do with playing time, not rate stats: Larkin ranks ahead of only Joe Cronin and Lou Boudreau in PA's, and struggled with injuries periodically throughout his career.  So from that perpsective, it may be that counting stats, rather than rate stats, are the best way to judge Larkin's career.  Let's start by clicking on WAR.  Despite his limited playing time, Larkin ranks 5th in total value above replacement.  That's ahead of Ozzie Smith and ahead of Ernie Banks.  In other words, his total career accumulated value is above replacement level is better than the average Hall of Fame shortstop! 

Really, no matter how you slice it, Larkin matches up favorably to these Hall of Famers by his career numbers.  Don't like Replacement as a baseline when judging your Hall of Famers?  Larkin ranks third in total accumulated runs above average (not shown--but just sum up BtRuns, FldRuns, and PosAdj), behind only Wagner and Ripken.  Don't trust the fielding metrics used in WAR and only want to look at offense?  Larkin ranks third in BtRuns above average.  The only way in which Larkin does not match up as well is his fielding numbers, which are above-average but not as brilliant as most of the other shortstops listed here (equal to Cronin, ahead of Yount and Banks once you account for position).  The net effect of his production, though, as measured by WAR, is still enough to rank him as an above-average hall of fame shortstop.

What about season-by-season performance?  Here is a WAR graph showing Larkin, plus the two guys above and below him among our elite sample of players (Young, Appling, Ozzie, and Mr. Cub):


Yount was clearly better.  Good, consistent career, with a fantastic peak (his 1982 season was other-worldly given the run environment at the time).  Banks is an interesting case in that he had a fantabulous peak but was essentially league average or worse outside of his 6-7 best seasons.

But I think the Appling-Smith-Larkin comp is pretty interesting.  Appling had a slightly better peak, while Larkin had better longevity.  Larkin was generally superior (marginally) to Smith across the board.  I'm guessing that most people don't know much about Appling--I certainly didn't--but he was elected by a sizable margin (84%).  And you won't find many people who will argue that Ozzie Smith doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.  Larkin matches up extremely well to those players, which represent something like the average Hall of Fame shortstop.

The final thing to take away from that figure is where Larkin fits with respect to the HoF zone.  The top of that zone is the average Hall of Famer's career line on a WAR graph like the one above.  The bottom of that zone is roughly the 20th percentile of HoF'ers, sometimes referred to as the "replacement hall of fame" line.  Larkin is comfortably within--and sometimes over--the top of that zone every year of his career.  This confirms what the Appling & Smith comparisons tell us--he had comparable careers to those guys, who are fairly average Hall of Fame players (i.e. they were superb players).

Overall, I think the data are clear: Larkin should be in the Hall of Fame.  By rate stats, he's clearly deserving.  By counting stats, at least in terms of total value, he's clearly deserving.  I hope the baseball writers get this one right.