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This is the 3rd post in a series on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot.  My first post on Jeff Bagwell covered the criteria I am using for analyzing HOF players.  The second post covered Bert Blyleven.

The next players I’d have on our ballot are three middle infielders:  Alan Trammell, Barry Larkin, and Roberto Alomar.

Alan Trammell

WAR Totals:  106.9 Peak-Adjusted WAR – 66.9 career WAR + 1 MVP seasons (+10) and 6 All-Star seasons (+30)

Stats:  20 seasons, 3,215 Times on Base (2,314 hits, 850 BB), 1,231 Runs, 185 HR, 1,003 RBI, 236 SB, .285 AVG / .352 OBP / .415 SLG / 110 OPS+

162 Game Stats:  87 R /13 HR/71 RBI/17 SB

Barry Larkin

WAR Totals:  103.9 Peak-Adjusted WAR – 68.9 career WAR + 7 All-Star seasons (+35)

Stats:  19 seasons, 3,279 Times on Base (2,340 hits, 939 BB), 1,329 Runs, 198 HR, 960 RBI, 379 SB, .295 AVG / .371 OBP / .444 SLG / 116 OPS+

162 Game Stats:  99 R / 15 HR / 71 RBI / 28 SB

Roberto Alomar

WAR Totals:  88.5 Peak-Adjusted WAR – 63.5 career WAR + 5 All-Star seasons (+25)

Stats:  17 seasons, 3,756 Times on Base (2,724 hits, 1,032 BB), 1,508 Runs, 210 HR, 1134 RBI, 474 SB, .300 AVG / .371 OBP / .443 SLG / 116 OPS+

162 Game Stats:  103 R / 14 HR / 77 RBI / 32 SB

Alan Trammell turning the double play for the TigersBefore this latest analysis, I had these three in reverse order (see my middle infielder analysis from last year).  This also matched the HOF voters who had Alomar on 73.7% of the ballots, Larkin on 51.6%, and Trammell on 22.4%.

Trammell and Barry Larkin are pretty much a coin flip based on this analysis.  They are #2 and #3 based on my calculations for post-WWII shortstops who were retired as of 2005 – both trailing Cal Ripken’s 139.9 (If you count Robin Yount and Ernie Banks as shortstops, though they played 50% of their time at CF and 1B respectively, they would be #4 and #5).  Trammell edges Larkin on my calculations because his best season (1987) was an 8.4 MVP-level season while Larkin’s best was 7.4 (1996 when he went 30-30, a better year than in 1995 when he won the MVP).

Overall, Larkin was better offensively and baserunning while Trammell bested Larkin in defensive value.

Barry Larkin turning the double playI think the reason why Trammell has been unappreciated so far by HOF voters is the middle infielder bias I referred to in my post last year.  MI’s rarely play long enough to get 3,000 hits (Ripken is currently the only player with 70% of their starts at SS to reach the mark.  Jeter will be there likely by the 2011 All-Star break) nor are they built to reach milestones like 400 HRs (only Ripken).  The one exception for a modern SS is Ozzie Smith who got in mainly for his glove.

Here is an interesting comparison of Runs above Replacement for Alan Trammell vs. Barry Larkin vs. Ozzie Smith.

Name Sum Rbat (Batting) Rbaser (Running) Rfield (Fielding)
Trammell +221 +124 +21 +76
Larkin +301 +189 +85 +27
Smith +171 -150 +82 +239

While Ozzie was rightfully voted into the HOF fueled by his amazing glove, note how he gave back over 60% of those runs with his below average hitting.  While Trammell and Larkin were not in Ozzie’s class for fielding, their solid defense and much better bats more than made up for it.

As for Roberto Alomar, I was very surprised to see that he had less All-Star worthy seasons of 5.0+ WAR (5) than Trammell or Larkin (both with 7).  In reviewing the data, I found a couple of reasons for this (mis)perception:

1) Roberto Alomar’s sterling defensive reputation is not backed up by advanced defensive statistics.  Baseball-Reference’s Rfield has him at -32 runs for his career – basically saying he was a BELOW AVERAGE fielder.  Here is a comparison of the top 2Bs based on number of Gold Gloves.

Name # of Gold Gloves Rfield
Roberto Alomar 10 -32
Ryne Sandberg 9 +60
Bill Mazeroski 8 +147
Frank White 8 +121
Joe Morgan 5 -47
Bobby Richardson 5 +15
Craig  Biggio 4 -71
Bret Boone 4 -39
Bobby Grich 4 +83
Orlando Hudson 4 +23

Now it’s misleading in that several of these players (Morgan and Biggio) had struggles early and late in their careers but had solid Rfield stats during their Gold Glove years.  I think the advanced statistics correlate fairly well with the less exact Gold Glove awards so I am going to give the benefit of the doubt to the statistics that Alomar’s defense was overrated compared to the perception at the time (note: another popular metric, UZR, didn’t consider Alomar’s defense great either).

2) While I’ve found that middle infielders tend to be penalized in MVP-voting because of a bias towards HR/RBI that favor 1B/OF, it seems that Alomar’s top-10 MVP votes exceed his true value.

Name MVP Top 10s WAR Top 10s (excluding Pitchers)
Alomar 5 – 1991 (6th),1992 (6th),1993 (6th), 1999 (3rd), 2000 (4th) 4 – 1992 (4th), 1993 (9th), 1999 (3rd), 2000 (4th)
Larkin 2 – 1990 (7th), 1995 (1st) 6 – 1998 (5th), 1990 (9th), 1991 (4th), 1992 (8th), 1995 (5th), 1996 (6th)
Trammell 3 – 1984 (9th), 1987 (2nd), 1988 (7th) 6 – 1983 (7th), 1984 (3rd), 1986 (5th), 1987 (2nd), 1988 (8th), 1990 (3rd)

My best guess for this is that Alomar happened to play on better teams than the other two players.  Trammell’s Tigers only exceeded 90 games twice (1984, 1987) and Larkin’s Reds had three 90+ win seasons (1990, 1992, 1999).  Alomar’s teams had seven 90+ win seasons (Toronto – 1991-1993, Baltimore – 1997, Cleveland – 1999-2001).  Of the 10 MVP nominations, only 2 (Larkin 1995, Trammell 1988) were to players on teams with less than 90 wins*.  It also helped that Alomar was more durable than Trammell and Larkin (13 seasons of 140+ games vs. 7 for Larkin and 8 for Trammell) which helps build up counting stats.

* Note:  Derek Jeter – who has played on 90+ win teams for all but two seasons of 87 and 89 wins – has 7 top-10 MVP finishes and 6 top-10 WAR seasons (excluding pitchers).  Cal Ripken – who played on only three 90+ win teams – had 3 top-10 MVP finishes and 7 top-10 WAR seasons (excluding pitchers).

Roberto Alomar turning the double play

3) The boom in shortstops over the last 30 years hurts the perception of Trammell and Larkin vs. Alomar.

In the past 30 years, we have seen the best post-WWII SS (Cal Ripken), the best fielding SS ever (Ozzie Smith), the best peak SS (Alex Rodriguez top years edge Ernie Banks), the first two shortstops to reach 3,000 hits (Ripken, Jeter soon enough), and that doesn’t include great players like 2-time MVP Robin Yount (one at SS), one-time MVP Miguel Tejada or Nomar Garciaparra (6 seasons of 5.9+ WAR).

There have been good 2Bs in the past 30 years (Ryne Sandberg, Jeff Kent, Chase Utley, Lou Whitaker) but they do not cast nearly the same shadow.

This boom overshadows the fact that – everything equal – shortstops are more valuable than second basemen.  According to Tom Tango’s research, the estimated difference in value is 5 runs per 600 plate appearances.  A team win is estimated to be 10 runs and, thus, over a 9000 PA career (roughly 15 full seasons), a SS is worth 75 more runs or 7.5 wins.

Looking at their career rate statistics, the three players are very close to even.  Trammel’s offense is slightly below the other two though some of that is corrected for era in OPS+.  But look at Larkin vs. Alomar.  The rates are almost exactly equal!  Alomar did have 1,343 more plate appearances which would eat into much if not all of Larkin’s positional advantage in WAR (figure Alomar would need two seasons at 3.75 WAR to negate the advantage).  But I do not think the boost to his career counting stats (2,724 hits, 210 HRs, 474 SBs) vs. Larkin (2,348 hits, 198 HRs, 379 SBs) is the reason for their perceived difference (as seen in 2010 HOF voting).

Trammell – 285 AVG / .352 OBP / .415 SLG / 110 OPS+

Larkin – .295 AVG / .371 OBP / .444 SLG / 116 OPS+

Alomar – .300 AVG / .371 OBP / .443 SLG / 116 OPS+

Now even with crediting Alomar as below-average on defense, he still ends up 5th (based on my formula) amongst post-WWII second baseman who retired by 2005 behind Joe Morgan (103.5), Bobby Grich (102.6), Ryne Sandberg (97), and Lou Whitaker (89.7).   Three post-WWII HOF second basemen are below him:  Nellie Fox (64.4),  Red Schoendienst (55.4), and Bill Mazerowski (26.9).

So I see all three players as HOF-worthy but that Alomar is a little below Larkin and Trammell in total value.

Fun (and potentially fictional) facts:

Alan Trammell, Barry Larkin, and Roberto Alomar walked into a bar where they ran into a magical, beautiful nymph.  She looked at the three retired baseball players and said, “I’ve gone out with baseball players and I’ve been hurt by their pasts.  Before I can consider any of you, I must know what teams you played for, your major role, and who the owners were.

Trammell:  I was the heart of the Tigers when they were owned by Tom Monaghan (founder of Domino’s) and Mike Ilitch (founder of Little Caesar’s).

Nymph:  Ah, so I might catch a case of heartburn from you.

Larkin:  I was a great hitter for the Reds when they were owned by Marge Schott.

Nymph:  Ah, so I might catch a case of bat shit crazy from you.

Alomar:  I was a great player on 4 teams (San Diego, Toronto, Baltimore, Cleveland) and horrible on one (NY Mets).  I have been with too many owners to name.

Nymph:  Hmm.  Well, I don’t know what I’d catch from you but I sure as hell don’t want to find out.

  1. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    Thanks again, Rudy, for a wonderful series. You mention Bobby Grich, one of the most interesting and underated ballplayers, perhaps of all time. Perhaps you can do a post on him some time. Ron Santo, who I believe deserves to be in the Hall over every other candidate with the possible exception of Buck O’Neil, who deserves induction for reasons other then his play on the field, is overlooked for similar reasons as Trammell and Larkin – Mike Schmidt and George Brett, possibly the two greatest ballplayers of all time, followed his career, putting up numbers which dwarfed Santo’s. Yet he ranks above most third baseman in the Hall, and is at least the all-around equal of Brooks Robinson, his contemporary.

    Out of the three candidates, I think that Larkin is the best player, and by a considerable margin. He was a complete player – he hit for average, power, had speed, and played excellent defense. Trammell ranks second, due to his superior defense, but perhaps his defensive edge has a lot to do with Lou Whittaker. I believe that they played more games as a 2nd/SS combo then any two players in history. You can hardly mention one without the other. He likely is a hair better then some other SS in the Hall, including Pee Wee Reese, Luis Aparicion, Lou Boudreau, and certainly Phil Rizzuto.
    Roberto Alomar reminds me of Derek Jeter. Both played for outstanding teams, elevating their batting totals, and giving them a bit higher value then they would have had, say, playing on the Montreal Expos. Their lifetime stats are comparable. Jeter’s highest similarity score is Roberto Alomar, at 869; Barry Larkin is second, Trammell is 6th. Jeter’s fielding, like Alomar’s, has been overated. Trust me, I love watching Jeter, but his value is similar to those under discussion. I also observed Alomar when he was traded to the Mets; his slide from excellence to mediocrity was rapid indeed.

  2. big o says:
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    “Ozzie was rightfully voted into the HOF ”

    really ?

  3. @Paulie Allnuts: Thanks Paulie. I’m planning to cap off this research with a ‘Top Players not in the HOF’ post. 100% agree w/ you on Grich and Santo.

    I think Larkin was the most complete player of the three but his career and peak values are about equal with Trammell. I think it’s a very close race and not one worth debating…unless Larkin makes it and Trammell doesn’t (or Alomar makes it and the other two don’t). It’s an interesting point on how much Trammell’s defense was helped by Whitaker – just not sure how one could quantify the value of a solid MI partner.

    Alomar and Jeter are an interesting comparison. Only difference I’d say is that most sportswriters agree that Jeter’s defense is overrated. Not so with Alomar…

    @big o: Yup. Ozzie’s peak-adjusted WAR is #9 all-time amongst retired SS.

  4. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @Rudy Gamble: I agree with everything in your post. I do know that Bill James, for one, agrees that Alomar’s defense was overated. @big o: Ozzie is a no-brainer. Shortstops, and fielding in general, are perennially undervalued in the Hall of Fame voting.
    SS is the most important defensive player on the field. Given that no one played the position as well as the Wizard of Oz in the modern era – I wasn’t around to see Honus Wagner – 13 Straight Gold Gloves doesn’t tell you half the tale about his fielding. Also, from 1985-1989, Ozzie was in the top ten for WAR position players. Defensively, his WAR is 4th of all time. 7X’s he was in the top ten in stolen bases, and is ranked 22nd of all time. He led the National League in assists 5 times, and is 2nd all time in assists for shortstops. The two players who are most similar to Smith were Luis Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville, both in the Hall.

  5. Jeff says:
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    “I think that Larkin is the best player, and by a considerable margin”…your joking, you must be a reds fan, as for Robbie’s D watch the highlights, count the gold gloves. He may have been a fickle guy but he is hte best 2b bar none.

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