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:
- The Hall of Fame mentions Doby’s pioneer status and other accomplishments away from the field on his plaque. We don’t take off-field activities into account.
- The Hall of Merit takes into account Doby’s Negro League play. We don’t take non-MLB playing time into account.*
- The Hall of Stats only includes inputs from BBREF’s WAR. We don’t have this limitation.
*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.