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Are We Smoking Doby?


Larry Doby's candidacy for the Hall of Miller and Eric has been suspendered.

Larry Doby’s candidacy for the Hall of Miller and Eric has been suspendered.

Larry Doby is in every baseball Hall of Fame that the Hall of Stats tracks. He’s not in the Hall of Miller and Eric—and during our last election we removed him from active consideration.

Like Lucy, we got some splainin’ to do.

Fame, Merit, or Stats?

We don’t wish to speak for the five gentlemen on the Hall of Stats’ consensus page. But for the three Halls shown there, we see some obvious differences in outlook, methods, and rules that create divergence from us. In brief:

*We didn’t include Negro Leaguers in our proceedings because the background research required would have taken too long, and we’d have never gotten off the ground. Should we expand later to include Negro Leaguers, Doby might re-emerge as a candidate.

But none of these alone is reason enough for us to have given Larry Doby the axe.

Why Larry Doby doesn’t measure up

To begin with, take a look at the Hall of Stats consensus page. Doby is the lowest ranked player to appear in every Hall. His Hall Rating is 101, where 100 is the threshold for inclusion. He’s hardly a no-brainer to begin with, and a relatively minor ding to his candidacy could create big problems for him.

His fielding is just such a ding.

We’re fans of Michael Humphreys’ DRA (with an adjustment for outfield arms). DRA (-32 runs) and BBREF (+13 runs) have a strong disagreement about Doby’s fielding. Worse yet, for the half of his career in which we have detailed information about how well Doby checked runners’ advancement, his arm is worth -8 runs. DRA has him at -7 runs for his entire career. Put it all together, and Doby’s losing three to four wins of value or more in each of our eyes. Perhaps that doesn’t seem like much, but centerfield is tightly bunched, and no one can afford to throw away value. So to speak.

That alone might sink Doby’s chances, but there are other, structural questions. At his 1998 election and for several years thereafter, reasonable people placed Doby among the top dozen centerfielders based on his MLB stats and early omnibus value stats like Win Shares. Cobb, Mays, Mantle, Speaker, DiMaggio, Hamilton, and Snider were clearly better looking at the time, but Doby played well among Ashburn, Carey, and Jimmy Wynn. Little credence was given to early guys like Paul Hines, George Gore, Mike Griffin, and Pete Browning. As the WAR framework emerged, fielding stats improved, and watchers looked again at olde-tyme players more closely, Doby’s case weakened. Then people started remembering Chet Lemon, Willie Davis, Cesar Cedeno, and other less heralded modern players, looked them up, and saw that they compared pretty well to Doby too. Maybe he was still in the top dozen. Maybe he wasn’t in the top 20.

Worse yet, for Doby, while he was being elected, his chances came under fire from the contemporary game itself. Junior Griffey, Jim Edmonds, Kenny Lofton, Bernie Williams, Andruw Jones, and Carlos Beltran all emerged. If you stop to consider all centerfielders in history, active or not, he might well be outside the top 30.

This is the structural issue. Doby’s not strong enough to withstand the downward pressure created by newly eligible players and newly rediscovered players. We can all agree that as a very borderline case. What the baseball analytical world didn’t know in 1998 curtailed his chances for the Hall of Miller and Eric. The subsequent influx of centerfield talent killed them.

Doby’s low Hall Rating at the Hall of Stats demonstrates all of this. We can reasonably expect that if BBWAA gets it right and elects at least four highly ranked players in 2015 (Biggio, Johnson, Pedro, and Smoltz? Can we have Piazza too?!) and a couple more in 2016 (including Griffey) he will fall out of the Hall of Stats.

And when he does, we won’t be on an island by ourselves anymore. At least not over Larry Doby.



4 thoughts on “Are We Smoking Doby?

  1. I remember Doby, at least the latter part of his career. Always liked and admired him, and understood how important his position as the first black player in the American League was to all of us. But other than a couple of really outstanding seasons (like 1952 or 1954) I never truly considered him an elite player. Based on your criteria I understand your reasoning. Just wish it wasn’t so.
    Really nice article.

    Posted by verdun2 | June 13, 2014, 8:38 am
    • Thanks, V2! As always, we appreciate your taking time to read our stuff and post thoughtful comments.

      There’s a certain Dale Murphyesque quality to Doby in that he has a couple really excellent seasons and lots of very good ones, but not quite enough or for long enough. If either of Murphy or Doby could turn one of their lesser full-time seasons into just one more excellent one, they’d be a much closer call. Especially in CF, which doesn’t overflow with high-quality candidates.

      Posted by eric | June 13, 2014, 7:53 pm
  2. I can speak for one of the gentlemen on that page, as I am one of them. Personally, if I went purely by the numbers, and attached no name or back story to it, then no, I would not put Doby in my Hall. Very much a fringe candidate by the stats, likely milling around the Top 20 Hall of Nearly Great. What separates Doby is a lot of what you mentioned. The historic aspect (first black player in the AL) and factoring in time spent in the Negro Leagues helped me arrive at my decision. Plus, a 136 OPS+ is nothing to sneeze at, as well as probably being the best CF of his era that didn’t play for a classic NY franchise (Yanks, Dodgers, Giants).

    Very much enjoyed reading this! Found out about you guys from when you linked to my site last year, which was then looking like it would come to fruition. Sadly it did not, school came in the way among other things, but it (or something similar) will return, and I hope you guys can check it out 🙂

    Posted by Dalton Mack | June 13, 2014, 10:36 pm

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