If Alomar, Why Not Larkin?

Roberto Alomar is going to Cooperstown. Barry Larkin is not. I don’t get it.

They are the very definition of contemporaries. Larkin began his career two years earlier, but they both retired at the end of the 2004 season, having their careers almost entirely overlap. They are both middle infielders with essentially the same exact skillset. Their career lines are practically identical. Seriously.

In 9,057 plate appearances, Larkin hit .295/.371/.444. In 10,400 plate appearances, Alomar hit .300/.371/.443. Their rate statistics are as close as any two players could possibly be over that time period. Alomar was considered a great defensive second baseman. Larkin was considered a very good defensive shortstop. The fact that he could play the more challenging position, and play it well, eliminates any possibility that voters should give Alomar a significant boost for defensive value, as second base is where players who can’t cut it at shortstop go.

Alomar doesn’t have a stronger peak value argument than Larkin either, with five seasons of +5 WAR or more, while Larkin had six such seasons. His very best year was marginally better than Larkin’s very best year, but given that Larkin won the NL MVP in his best season and Alomar never finished higher than third would eliminate that as a potential reason for the voting differences. In fact, we can basically throw at-the-time-they-happened awards voting out the window entirely. Both made the All-Star team 12 times. Alomar landed in the top 20 of MVP voting six times, Larkin five. As mentioned, Larkin actually won of those.

Identical offensive players who participated in the same era. One played the more challenging side of second base, while the other took the easier side. The latter gets in while the former does not. The only explanation is counting stats, while Alomar wins out on because of the extra playing time. He stayed healthier than Larkin – who lost good chunks of his 1989, 1997, and 2011 seasons to injuries – and was thus able to accumulate the equivalent of two extra years worth of at-bats.

However, it’s hard to imagine that the difference in those counting stats is the divider between enshrinement and rejection. Alomar is going in on his second chance, having only been turned away from his initial chance due to the John Hirschbeck incident. He got 90 percent of the vote this year. He’s not considered a borderline case. By most accounts, he’s an easy selection for most voters. He is not being treated like a player who is anywhere near the line that separates in from out. And yet, Larkin had the exact same career, just minus 1,350 trips to the plate that produced no extra value. While the “compiler of stats” label is used as a denigrating term to keep players with long careers and low peaks (such as Lou Whitaker) out of the Hall Of Fame, that is exactly what Alomar’s extra plate appearances amount to.

Congratulations to Roberto Alomar, a deserving Hall-Of-Famer. Hopefully, we can say the same to Barry Larkin next year. They really should have gone in together.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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