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Friday, January 23, 2009

Is Barry Larkin a Hall of Famer? A look at Retrosheet-era shortstops

I did a quick little study based on an e-mail conversation this week, so I decided to post it. What follows is a look at all Retrosheet-Era Hall of Fame shortstops, plus the best of the others that came to mind.

Methods in brief, should you care: I used batted wins from b-ref, converted them to WAR (+2 wins/season), added an innings-based position adjustments for each position played (based on modern day position adjustments, which may not be appropriate...), and then added TotalZone fielding estimates for each of these players. Non-retired players had their 2008 bUZR totals added to their TotalZone values, as I only have TotalZone data through 2007. There is no adjustment for level of competition, even though this has certainly increased over the years.

Here they are, sorted by total value in wins above replacement (elected HoFers with a +):

WAR Hitting
Fielding PosAdj Total Value
Alex Rodriguez 77.4 -1.9 6.8 82.4
Cal Ripken+ 56.1 6.2 11.5 73.8
Robin Yount+ 56.3 -2.3 8.1 62.1
Barry Larkin 45.0 3.5 9.1 57.6
Ernie Banks+* 55.1 5.4 -5.7 54.8
Alan Trammell 39.0 5.1 9.6 53.7
Derek Jeter 49.8 -9.2 8.9 49.5
Ozzie Smith+ 17.3 16.7 11.3 45.3
Miguel Tejada 31.1 0.5 7.7 39.2
Luis Aparicio+ 4.9 14.3 11.7 30.9
Omar Vizquel 9.6 6.7 11.7 28.0
Mark Belanger -5.6 23.8 8.0 26.2
Davey Concepcion 13.4 3.0 9.6 26.0
* Note: I'm missing 2.5 seasons of Banks' fielding at shortstop because it precedes Retrosheet. Judging from his other seasons there (he's rated well early in his career), you would probably be safe adding an extra win to his fielding totals. The negative position adjustment on him is due to the fact that he spent the latter half of his career at 1B.

Ripken was better than Larkin, but no one would argue otherwise. And Yount probably was too, though he was really only a shortstop during the first half of his career (his negative fielding numbers are from his CF days). Same for Rodriguez. But you can make a legitimate claim, I think, that Larkin is the third best retired shortstop from the Retrosheet Era (at worst, he's tied with Banks in value, and probably has a slight edge), and 4th best overall. Among pure shortstops, we're talking #2 or 3 depending on how far of a lead ARod got before he switched to 3B.

Aparicio seems like an outlier (why him and not Belanger?), but Larkin's lead over Ozzie is striking. To me, 4th-best is clearly good enough for the Hall, given that we're talking about more than 50 years at the most challenging defensive position aside from pitcher & catcher. Doesn't hurt that he did win an MVP, helped redefine his position, was a great guy, etc.

While Larkin was better, Trammell and Jeter also would seem to have pretty legitimate arguments for HoF consideration. Tejada, not so much, especially if he continues to tail off. And the steroids thing won't help matters with the voters.

Concepcion, unfortunately, doesn't come out very well in this analysis. But his fielding hasn't looked as good as I'd expect according to several of these kinds of statistics. I don't know if that means we tend to overvalue his defense as Reds fans, or that TotalZone is just missing on him for some reason. Tango did a WOWY study including Concepcion a while back, and I think he found that he was a better fielding shortstop than these numbers would indicate. Yet even with Belanger numbers, he's only "just" Ozzie Smith's equal. Very borderline if there's a case there at all...

Thanks to Slyde for prompting the issue, and for suggesting several players I'd overlooked. Thanks also to B-ref and Rally for the data.