In this article, we’ll look at former Red’s shortstop Barry Larkin, and his chances of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible. Larkin began his career in 1986 with his hometown Cincinnati Reds, and played for them and only them during his 19 season career, which ended in 2004. He will be first eligible for election into the Hall of Fame in 2010. In this article, we’ll look at the pros and cons of Larkin’s Hall of Fame case, and compare him to other shortstops already in the Hall of Fame.
Below is a look at Larkin’s career numbers:
Larkin was a consistent force throughout his 19 year career, played exclusively for his hometown Cincinnati Reds. He won an MVP award (in 1995), was a 12-time all star, won 3 gold glove awards, and won 9 silver slugger awards.
While not a slugger, Larkin did hit 441 doubles and 198 home runs during his career. His .295 career batting average and .371 career on base percentage point to a consistent ability to get on base. He stole 379 bases during his career; good for 81st all time, and was only thrown out 77 times … an impressive 83% success rate. He won 3 gold gloves despite a 10 year overlap with Ozzie Smith as his NL shortstop contemporary. He also exhibited excellent plate discipline, collecting more walks than strikeouts for his career.
He was at his best when it mattered most, putting up .338 /.397 /.465 totals in 71 postseason at bats. In the World Series, he did even better, with .353 /.421/.529 totals in 17 at bats. 30% of his career post season hits went for extra bases, and he was 8 for 9 on the base paths in the postseason.
It should be noted that Larkin’s total of 12 All Star appearances is bested by only 19 other players, and all of those eligible are in the hall. Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn should join that group in 2007, Barry Bonds is still active, but is a sure hall of famer, and Pete Rose is ineligible. 14 players are tied with Larkin with 12 All Star appearances, and all of them that are eligible are in the Hall of Fame. The others are all very likely Hall of Famers.
The knocks against Larkin are not plentiful, but they do demand some attention. Obviously, his HR and RBI numbers don’t match up to those of many Hall of Famers, but as a shortstop, he is well within expected range, especially for such a good defensive shortstop.
Another serious knock against Larkin is that fact that he didn’t play many full seasons. Despite 19 seasons in the big leagues, he played in over 150 games in a single season only four times, and in only nine seasons did he record 450 or more at bats.
For a Hall of Fame voter looking for dominance, it’s also important to note that while he acquired a good amount of award hardware during his time, Larkin never led the league in any major offensive category.
Noted baseball researcher Bill James has developed several metrics for determining how likely a player is to get into the Hall of Fame. The Black Ink, Gray Ink, HOF Standards, and HOF Monitor give a good idea of how a player ranks compared to an average or likely Hall of Fame inductee. Let’s take a look at Larkin’s numbers and what they say about his Hall of Fame chances.
Larkin does not have a Black Ink score, because as stated above he never led the league in any major offensive category. The average Hall of Fame hitter has a score of 27. Some voters will understandably count this against Larkin when he comes up for election.
On the Gray Ink score, Larkin does a bit better … scoring a 66. This score is based on the number of times that a player appears in the top 10 in the league in a major offensive category. The average Hall of Famer has a score of 144, putting Larkin well under the range for Hall of Fame consideration. Of note is that neither the Black nor Gray Ink metrics are adjusted for position. Traditionally, a shortstop will put up a bit less offense than an outfielder, first baseman, or designated hitter. This makes Larkin’s 66 score a bit more impressive.
The HOF Standards metric attempts to measure the overall quality of a player’s career as opposed to singular brilliance (peak value). On a scale of 0-100, it ranks a player’s contributions over their career. An average Hall of Famer has a score of 50, with a score of 70 or higher being an elite all time great (Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, etc.). Larkin scores a 46.9 on this metric, well within range for Hall of Fame consideration. This metric does take position into consideration, which helps Larkin substantially. It’s worth noting that Larkin’s score ranks him within the top 100 scores overall (91st). Of the 90 players ahead of him, only 25 aren’t in the Hall of Fame, and that 25 consists of 1 who is ineligible (Pete Rose), 3 players who played mostly in the 19th century, and 21 who are either still active or are not yet eligible for hall election.
The HOF Monitor metric attempts to determine how likely (not how deserving) a player is to gain induction into the Hall of Fame. A score of over 100 would make someone a good possibility to be inducted to Cooperstown, while a score of 130 or over would make one a likely inductee. Larkin’s score is 118.5, well within range for consideration. Again, this metric is position-adjusted, which helps Larkin. Larkin’s score on this metric places him 114th overall, a good showing. Of those 113 players ahead of him, only 35 are not in the Hall of Fame, and most of them are either still active or not yet eligible.
What do these metrics tell us about Larkin’s career? They seem to say that while his peak years were not as dominant as you’d expect from a Hall of Famer, his career totals are well within range of induction, especially when his position is taken into consideration.
Comparison to other HOF Shortstops
With a defense-intensive position like shortstop, it is helpful to compare a Hall of Fame candidate to other players already in the Hall of Fame who play that position. While this is far from a perfect system, it does give us some idea of what is considered a Hall of Famer for a certain position. It does not, however, account for the era during which the player played, nor does it account for some questionable Veteran’s Committee electees (like Phil Rizzuto).
There are 22 players in the Hall of Fame who played a large percentage of their career at shortstop. Two of these are Negro League greats (Pop Lloyd and Willie Wells), four more played mostly in the 1800’s and turn of the century (George Davis, Hughie Jennings, Bobby Wallace, and Monte Ward), making statistical comparisons difficult. That leaves sixteen “modern” shortstops in the baseball Hall of Fame. It’s worth noting that two of the remaining shortstops (Ernie Banks and Robin Yount) played a substantial number of games in their career at other positions.
The shortstops in the Hall of Fame fall into several categories:
The Offensive Elite – Honus Wagner (.327/.391/.466, 3415 hits), Ernie Banks (.274/.330/.500, 512 HR, 2 MVP’s), Robin Yount (.285/.342/.430, 3142 hits, 2 MVP’s), Arky Vaughn (.316/.406/.453)
The Offensive 2nd Tier – Luke Appling (.310/.399/.398, 2749 hits, 2 time batting champ), Lou Boudreau (.295/.380/.415, 1 MVP, 1 batting title), Joe Cronin (.301/.390/.468), Joe Sewell (.312/.391/.413)
The Speed/Defense Elite – Luis Aparicio (.262/.311/.343, 505 SB, 9 GG), Ozzie Smith (.262/.337/.328, 580 SB, 14 straight GG), Rabbit Maranville (.258/.318/.340, 291 SB), Pee Wee Reese (.269/.366/.377, 231 SB, 10x AS)
The Questionable Veteran’s Committee Picks – Dave Bancroft (.279/.355/.358, 16 seasons, 2004 hits), Travis Jackson (.291/.337/.433, 15 seasons, 1768 hits), Phil Rizzuto (.273/.351/.355, 1 MVP, 13 seasons, 1588 hits)
How does Larkin compare to the players above? His hitting rate stats of .295/.371/.444 place him on the cusp between the Offensive Elite and the Offensive 2nd Tier. His 198 career home runs would place him near 2nd among Hall of Fame Shortstops; behind only Ernie Banks (Cal Ripken holds the record for SS, with 345 and should be elected to the hall in 2007). Add in his 379 stolen bases and 3 gold glove awards, and Larkin begins to look more and more favorable compared to many Shortstops already in the Hall of Fame.
We have looked at how Larkin matched up with other shortstops already in the Hall of Fame, but how does he match up with his peers, those who will make up the next batch of potential Hall of Fame shortstops? Let’s take a look at the numbers of several other shortstops whose careers overlapped with Larkin’s.
Cal Ripken helped change the way people looked at shortstops in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Ripken was big (6′4î, 225), and slow (36 career steals in 21 seasons), but he could hit, hit for power, and field his position exceptionally. Ripken’s rate stats were .276/.340/.447 and he had 3184 hits and 431 HR’s to go with 19 All Star appearances, 2 MVP awards, and 2 GG’s. Ripken set the all time record for HR by a shortstop before switching to third base at the end of his career. His consecutive game streak and squeaky clean image also add to his hall resume. He should gain induction in 2007, his first year of eligibility.
Alan Trammell played 20 seasons, all for the Detroit Tigers. He put up .285/.352/.415 rate stats and collected 2365 hits, 236 SB, 6 All star appearances, and 3 GG’s. His Jamesian numbers are slightly lower than Larkin’s – Larkin leads in Gray Ink 66 to 48, and HOF Standards 46.9 to 40.4. They have the same HOF Monitor score at 118.5. In the most recent hall of fame election, Trammell got 17.7% of the vote, well below the 75% needed for induction. Trammell’s chances with the baseball writer’s look slim, although he is a solid enough candidate that he’ll get some consideration from the Veterans committee.
Tony Fernandez played 17 seasons, putting up rate stats of .288/.347/.399 with 2,276 hits, 246 stolen bases, 5 all star game appearances, and 4 GG’s. Fernandez is a good peer to compare to Larkin, as their careers overlapped by about 15 years seasons, and their career at bats are very close (7937 for Larkin, 7911 for Fernandez). While Fernandez was a solid player (hurt by his inability to take a walk), Larkin leads him in every major offensive category except triples and strikeouts (Larkin struck out 33 more times, and Fernandez hit 16 more triples). Their Jamesian metrics show this, with Larkin leading in Gray ink 66 to 51, HOF Standards 46.9 to 31.5, and HOF Monitor 118.5 to 74. Fernandez does have a Black Ink score of 3, from leading the league once each in games, at bats, and triples.
What does this show us? That among his peers at shortstop, he ranks below Cal Ripken (a very probable inductee to Cooperstown), but slightly ahead of Alan Trammell (a potential eventual inductee) and well ahead of Fernandez (a perennial All Star, but probably not a Hall of Famer).
The Hall of Fame does not exist in a vacuum. What other variables can affect Larkin’s candidacy? One thing to keep an eye on is the careers of several current shortstops. Much like the steroid era sluggers of the late 90’s and early 2000’s dwarfed the career totals and Hall of Fame chances of several 1980’s sluggers (Jim Rice, Dale Murphy, and Andre Dawson spring to mind), a rash of current shortstop greats could make candidates like Larkin look less worthy of hall induction. A few years back, it looked like the “Holy Trinity” of shortstops – Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Derek Jeter were going to lead a new batch of offensive shortstops into the forefront of the game. Rodriguez continues to put up huge numbers, but has moved to third base now that he is a teammate of Jeter’s. Garciaparra has had some injuries, and it remains to be seen whether he will regain his former hitting stroke. His future as a shortstop is also in doubt; he’s slated to play first base for the Dodgers in 2006. Jeter is still going strong, although his “peak” numbers have always been less gaudy than the other two. If he keeps up his current pace, he should be a strong Hall of Fame candidate, but shouldn’t have any negative effect on Larkin’s candidacy. Miguel Tejada is entering his 10th season and will turn 30 this season, but it’s a bit early to begin thinking about his Hall of Fame worthiness.
Hall of Fame voters also look at integrity, sportsmanship, and character. As a winner of both the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (1994) and the Roberto Clemente Award (1993), Larkin should be looked upon in a positive light on this front by the voters.
The fact that he played his entire 19 year career for one team, and that team was based in his hometown, may be an additional plus for voters looking for a “warm and fuzzy” angle.
Another thing going for Larkin is the relatively thin Hall of Fame candidate classes coming up. The 2007 class is famously exceptional (Ripken, Gwynn, and McGwire), but the next few classes all have only one or two real viable candidates. In 2008, Tim Raines is the only potential inductee, in 2009, Rickey Henderson is a lock, but there are no other probable inductees in that class. In 2010, when Larkin becomes eligible for the first time, he and Edgar Martinez are the only two viable candidates. A thin class can only help a player who some may not have given a fair shake in a bigger class.
From the information we’ve examined, I believe it becomes fairly evident that Barry Larkin is worthy of enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Regardless of whether you’re looking at his career totals, rate stats, Jamesian metrics, or comparing him with shortstops already in the hall, or with his peers, he comes out looking like a Hall of Famer. Whether he’ll be elected in his first year of eligibility or not remains to be seen, but everything points to him being enshrined sooner or later.
G AB R H 2b 3b HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG 2180 7937 1329 2340 441 76 198 960 379 77 939 817 .295 .371 .444