Monday, January 2, 2012
Barry Larkin deserves Hall of Fame nod
By David Schoenfield
There seems to be a widespread assumption that Barry Larkin will get elected this year to the Hall of Fame. After all, he is the highest-ranking player from last year's ballot who didn't get in, and without the addition of any strong new candidates this year, it ostensibly clears his path to Cooperstown. The Baseball Writers' Association hasn't failed to elect at least one player since 1996, so the conjecture is Larkin will jump from 62.1 percent to the necessary 75 percent.
I'm not so sure.
Here's a look at the past 12 players the BBWAA has elected other than those who made it in their first year of eligibility, with each player's year of election, how many years it took to reach 75 percent of the vote once they had reached 60 percent and their percentage increase in votes once they crossed the three-quarters threshold:
A couple of notes here. The "momentum" theory of voting certainly holds true. In the past 25 years, only four players who reached even 50 percent of the vote have failed to get voted in by the BBWAA. Jim Bunning, who reached 65.6 percent on his 10th year on the ballot but never made it; Orlando Cepeda, who didn't reach 50 percent until his 13th season and maxed out at 73.5 percent in his final year (Bunning and Cepeda both eventually made it via the Veterans Committee); plus current holdovers Larkin and Jack Morris.
While that's a positive sign for Larkin, as you can see from the above chart, not all the players made it immediately upon reaching 60 percent. The average percentage gain in election year for those 12 was 10.8 percent, so if Larkin receives that increase, he'll fall just short.
That could be problematic for him, because beginning next year the ballot starts getting crowded with strong candidates: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa in 2013; Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent in 2014; Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield in 2015; Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman in 2016. So while the momentum theory is true, it's also true that a candidate's vote total can fall or rise based on the caliber of competition on the ballot. It's certainly possible that if Larkin doesn't make it this year, his vote total may end up stagnating for several years.
Now, as for his qualifications ... Barry Larkin is easily qualified for Cooperstown, even by fairly tough Hall of Fame standards. He hit .295 and topped .300 nine times (among shortstops, only Luke Appling, Derek Jeter, Arky Vaughan and Honus Wagner had more .300 seasons). He was a 12-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, won the 1995 NL MVP Award and ripped out 2,340 hits. He did everything well -- hit for a little power, stole bases, drew some walks, ran the bases well and was a solid player. At his best, he was not only the top shortstop in the National League, but one of its best players -- according to Baseball-Reference wins above replacement, he ranks as one of the NL's top 10 position players in six seasons.
That's one of the strikes against Larkin -- there isn't one single skill that makes him stand out, like Ozzie Smith's glove, Cal Ripken's durability or Robin Yount's 3,000 hits. The other strike against him is he was injury-prone throughout his career and topped 140 games just seven times. Despite that, however, he did play 2,180 career games, which would place him 10th among the 19 current Hall of Fame shortstops. Larkin's B-R WAR of 68.9 wins places him seventh among Hall of Fame shortstops, and the only two who began their careers after World War II are Ripken and Yount (who spent the second half of his career as a center fielder). Even if you include Jeter and Alex Rodriguez (who will end up with more games at third base than shortstop), you're talking about Larkin as a top-10 all-time shortstop.
That's a Hall of Famer. And I think the voters will agree, with Larkin inching past 75 percent.