JinAZ explained why Barry Larkin should be elected into the Hall of Fame, but the "will" or "when" is a separate question. Larkin of course appears on the ballot for the first time this year and has 15 years to gain the requisite 75% of the BBWAA's eligible votes in order to avoid the "he'll have to buy a ticket to get in!" or "hall of very good" quips from sportswriters. An eligible voter has at least 10 years in the BBWAA, which unfortunately for Larkin leaves sabermetrically-inclined voters like Rob Neyer, Keith Law, and Will Carroll on the sidelines for now. Ballots are due on December 31, and the results will be published on January 6.
Judging the voting patterns of the electoriate and predicting elections is more art than science. Bill James and scores of others have demonstrated that the BBWAA does not treat the Hall of Fame like a meritocracy and (inconsistently) considers plenty of other factors, including team success, run scoring environment, popularity with the press, post-playing career, and most recently, "fear." Adding to the unpredictability is the relatively small number of candidates considered over a long period of time. At shortstop, the writers have only elected 10 shortstops into the Hall (the Veterans Committee has elected another 12). Most of the 10 were elected decades ago before most of today's voters became eligible, which makes it harder to judge the current electorate (only Cal Ripken, Robin Yount, and Ozzie Smith have been elected in the last 25 years). Additionally, a few of those 10 played a significant amount of time at other positions (Banks and Yount played only about half of their games at short, while Rabbit Maranville played about 20% of his games at second).
With all that said, I feel relatively confident that Larkin will be enshrined after waiting a few years because most writers and fans recognize that Larkin was a great player for a long stretch of time. The injuries and perhaps playing in a small market will hold Larkin back to some degree, but several measurements and other considerations point to eventual inlusion for Larkin:
- The 12 all-star games (would've been 13 but he was robbed in '92) is a great proxy for how well Larkin was perceived in his day. While there are flaws with the all-star selection process, there's no denying that a player picked to that many all-star teams was widely recognized as a great player for a long period of time. In fact, according to a Reds' PR intern (former intern now), no eligible player picked for at least 12 National League all-star teams has failed to make the HOF.
- Two of Bill James' HOF predictive tools charaterize Larkin as a strong but not an automatic candidate. Bill James' HOF Monitor awards points for in-season and career milestones (such as batting .300) while also counting AS game appearances and MVPs and awarding a positional adjustment. Larkin scores a 118. A 100 is considered a "good possibility " at the Hall while 130 is a "virtual cinch." Under the HOF Standards test (which is similar to the Monitor but takes out AS game appearances and MVP awards), Larkin scores a 47 compared to the average HOFer score of 50.
Larkin did not lead the league in any significant statistical categories and therefore does not have a "black ink" score. He also does not fare well under the "gray ink" standard, which gauges how often a player appeared in the top 10 league leaderboards. But I'm not sure how great a tool gray ink is if it penalizes more recent players for playing in a larger league. Seems to me that it's easier to appear in the top 10 when there are 8 rather than 16 teams in the league.
- Larkin also has a mildly compelling narrative as he played for his hometown team his whole career, winning a ring and an MVP along the way. I say "mildly" because two of the most recent shortstop inductees were given extra credit for intangibles (Ripken with The Streak; Ozzie with the highlights and backflips).
In sum, Larkin is a strong candidate for enshrinement. He is probably not, however, a "first ballot" Hall of Famer to enough voters to get him in this year. The lost time to injuries will stick out on his resume. He had only seven seasons of 140+ games, though he should get credit for playing most of the two strike years. Larkin also misses the mark on some key milestones. He was not quite a .300 hitter (career .295 with a .371 OBP). Nor did he reach 2,500 hits (finished with 2,340). He also falls just shy of 1,000 RBIs and 200 HRs. While he has terrific totals for a shortstop (10th in hits in a SS list that includes Banks and Yount; top 6 in doubles, stolen bases, and HRs), many voters do not properly adjust offensive expectations for position.
Another retired shortstop who also rates well in the all-time shortstop lists is Alan Trammell, and the lack of BBWAA support for him (17.4% of the vote last year) gives us some pause. But I think that there are enough crucial differences in their candidacies. For one, Larkin was a better player (815 vs. 767 in OPS, big SB advantage). More importantly he was perceived as such and played in twice as many AS games (though in fairness Trammell's career almost perfectly coincided with Ripken's). Secondly, Larkin is a much more visible candidate due to his on-camera job with the MLB Network. All those demonstrations on the proper way to tag a runner out at second or discussions about his playing career reinforces Larkin's stardom. Trammell, on the other hand, is known for managing the 2003 Tigers team that went 43-119.
My hope is that Larkin's candidacy will resemble Ryne Sandberg's more than Trammell's. Sandberg also played an up-the-middle position well (9 GGs at 2B) for a long period of time, and was recognized as a great player (10 AS games, 1 MVP). Offensively he's pretty similar to Larkin, with comparable OPS+, SB, and games. Sandberg reached 76% of the vote in 2005, his third year on the ballot. He scored 49% in his first year. I'm hoping that Larkin nets at least 40% and closer to half of the ballot this year. If that's the case, he should gain admittance around his third or fourth year.
I'm keeping a very unofficial tally to see where the electorate is headed on Larkin. Votes are not published but writers are free to reveal their ballots and reasoning. Several non-procrastinators have already turned their ballots in and published their findings. So far Larkin has four "yes" votes, three "no" votes, and one "maybe." Feel free to update my tally if you see a ballot that's not listed. Try to make sure that it is from an eligible voter - if you're unsure, check the Biz of Baseball's badge list for members inducted no later than 2000.
Some of the votes so far:
- Bill Madden of the NY Daily News votes Yes. Good to see Larkin get a vote from a non-Midwest writer. Madden also votes for Alomar, Dawson, Edgar Martinez, Jack Morris, and Bert Blyleven. Swap Raines for Morris and you'd have my ballot.
- Ed Price of MLB Fanhouse votes No. He argues that in Larkin's best 10-year stretch he was only 34th in OPS+, which is equivalent to Jay Buhner or Ray Lankford. Not only does this ignore baserunning and undervalues Larkin's OBP, but more importantly this completely ignores the positional context. Jay Buhner and Ray Lankford didn't play a gold glove shortstop. Strangely, Price seems to account for this earlier in the article in articulating his standard: "Was he a dominant player at his position in his era?"
So what's your prediction?