Barry Larkin: Great Shortstop, Great Player

On Sunday, Barry Larkin will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Larkin was the star shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds from 1986 through 2004. It is said that he revolutionized the shortstop position, particularly in the National League, by combining steady hitting, power, speed and excellent defense. Among players who played shortstop their entire careers, Larkin compiled 2,340 hits, ranking him fourth; he hit 198 home runs, ranking him second behind Derek Jeter; and he stole 379 bases, ranking his sixth.

He was a twelve-time All-Star, and won nine Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Glove Awards. In 1995, he was voted as the National League’s Most Valuable Player.

In the field, Larkin made nifty plays like this:

And plays like this:

I watched him play. Many of you likely watched him play. He had tremendous range and a strong arm.  He made the routine plays and the not-so-routine ones. And he made those plays, on the brutally hot and unforgiving artificial turf in use in Riverfront Stadium and other ballparks in the 1980s and 90s. He made some plays that defied imagination, until you remembered that Larkin entered the University of Michigan as a two-sport star: a shortstop and a defensive back.  And he made those spectacular plays into his late 30s.

In fact, if it weren’t for MLB’s ridiculous policy of keeping it’s games and highlights off YouTube, we could simply watch Barry Larkin highlights all day long. Because that would be a great way to spend a few hours.

With that option off the table, let’s spend some time looking at just how great a player Larkin was for 19 seasons. Not just a great shortstop, but a great player. Unfortunately, our focus is limited to the offensive side of his game, because without more video (other than this gem) and with only rudimentary defensive statistics available for most of his career, there’s not much we can delve into about Larkin’s defense.

So what made Larkin a special player?

Larkin had longevity. Beginning in the 1986 season, when Larkin debuted, through 2004, when he played his last game, only twelve players had at least 9,000 plate appearances. Larkin was one of the twelve, even though he missed he missed significant portions of the 1989, 1997, 2000 and 2001 seasons to injuries. The others with more than 9,000 plate appearances in that 19-year span: Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Craig Biggio, Roberto Alomar, Fred McGriff, Cal Ripken, Steve Finley, Jeff Bagwell, Mark Grace, Rickey Henderson and Sammy Sosa. Of the group, Larkin had the fourth-highest WAR (70.6), behind Bonds, Bagwell and Palmeiro.

Larkin was balanced. As a right-handed batter, he hit only slightly better against left-handed pitchers. He batted .293/.363/.425 against righties and .299/.391/.497 against southpaws. The same was true of his home/road splits. He batted .297/.383/.456 at home and .293/.358/.433 on the road. He did play some favorites, though. He loved hitting at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, where he had a career line of .347/.411/.547 in 63 games.

Larkin was consistent. Over his career, he batted .293/.364/.436 in the first half of the season and .297/.373/.456 in the second half.

Larkin didn’t wilt under pressure. With the bases empty, he batted .289/.355/.440. With runners in scoring position, he batted .298/.401/.435. In 100 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, Larkin batted .263/.390/.450.

Larkin was unique. In 1988, his breakout season, Larkin recorded a strike-out rate of only 3.7%. That is the eighth-lowest strike-out rate in a season by any player over the 19 years Larkin was in the majors.

Larkin was a winner. Larkin played in 17 postseason games with the Reds. He was the Reds’ shortstop on the 1990 World Series Championship team and on the 1995 National League Central Division winning team. In 78 postseason plate appearances, he batted .338/.397/.465. He stole eight bases and scored 24 runs.

Barry Larkin, great shortstop. Barry Larkin, great player. Barry Larkin, Hall of Famer.

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Wendy's baseball writing has also been published by Sports on Earth., SB Nation, The Score, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

32 Responses to “Barry Larkin: Great Shortstop, Great Player”

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  1. DJG says:

    “He hit 198 home runs, putting him behind only Derek Jeter for most home runs by a shortstop in his career.”

    I’m not following what’s meant here. Several guys have it more home runs at shortstop. A-rod, for example, hit over 300 with the Ms and Rangers where he played SS almost exclusively.

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    • Wendy Thurm says:

      It means: among players who played shortstop their entire careers.

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      • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

        in that case, your word usage is very misleading.

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      • DJG says:

        Oh, OK. Seems like a strange qualifier, to me — because somebody like Ripken played a few extra years at third, his “shortstop career” doesn’t count in a comparison with Larkin and Jeter? That doesn’t really make much sense.

        Anyway, just nitpicking… Good article overall.

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      • JDanger says:

        It’s an odd, arbitrary qualification, “for their entire careers.”

        As far as which hitters have hit the most HR while officially playing at SS during that PA per retrosheet (1950-2011):

        A-Rod 347
        Ripken 345
        Tejada 291
        Banks 261
        Jeter 258
        Larkin 194

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    • Duh says:

      And Ripken, Banks …

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    • DMI says:

      Larkin played 2 games at 2nd in 1986, not sure he should be on the exclusive SS home run list.

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Wendy Thurm says:

    I’ve changed the wording of the first para. to make my point clearer.

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    • AF says:

      It’s still a pretty arbitary and meaningless measurement. Larkin was a great player. His accomplishments don’t require exaggeration.

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      • ValueArb says:

        It’s not meaningless and arbitrary. Staying at short has tremendous value, and usually the big bats aren’t athletic enough to stay there. It certainly is not an important determinant of career value, but it’s an interesting way to view his unique value and career.

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    • rubesandbabes says:

      Yes, this is not it – enjoyed article, but there is only:

      – Home Runs by position.

      -Home Runs.

      Tejada has him by 97 Hrs.


      Sorry, Fangraphs – the circular, faulty WAR stat kinda can’t be more exposed than here, where Larkin has More WAR than Rickey and also Robbie Alomar…Steve Finley, okay…

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  3. jj says:

    You may also want to change Golden Gloves to Gold Gloves since he was not a boxer. Although I bet he could have been a good one with quick hands and legs alike.

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  4. Mac says:

    It was interesting to read a Larkin piece that went beyond just the 30/30 1996 season. That’s for giving us a different perspective.

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  5. Mungo McGillicuddy says:

    It’s pretty balls when all the comments make it look like an editor’s meeting. Poor Wendy…

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  6. vivalajeter says:

    One semi-random tidbit about him: Didn’t he get traded to the Mets in 2000 for Alex Escobar, but he rejected the trade? If the trade went through, things could have been pretty different.

    For one thing, maybe the Mets beat the Yankees in the Subway Series (I vaguely remember Mike Bordick making a few crucial miscues in the field that series, and being an automatic out every time he stepped up to the plate). Adding a 2000 World Series would make his resume even stronger.

    Also, if the Mets made that trade, they wouldn’t have been able to trade Escobar for Alomar. Does Alomar crash and burn if he doesn’t get traded to the Mets?

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  7. SF 55 for life says:

    Its a shame he couldn’t stay healthy. Probably would have had 3,000 hits.

    Am I the only person that would have taken a healthy Larkin over Jeter?

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    • JimNYC says:

      You’re probably not, since I’ve heard many people make that argument, although it’s incorrect and basically irrelevant since Larkin’s defining attribute was his constant presence on the DL.

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      • SF 55 for life says:

        defining attribute? are you butthurt or something?

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      • ValueArb says:

        Yes, Jeter was more durable. Averaging 150 games out of 162 is better than 130 out of 157.

        But when on the field, Larkin was much better than Jeter. Similar offense, but far better defender.

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  8. Detroit Michael says:

    Good post, although I don’t think having similar first half / second half splits tells us anything about how good a player someone was.

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  9. wendy sucks says:

    Barry deserves a better article than this.

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  10. Kirk A. says:

    I had the great pleasure of seeing him play numerous times over the years. Don’t know that I’ve ever seen a shortstop who was better at going back for pop-ups hit over his head into the outfield.

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  11. Tom says:

    I watched Larkin play over the years as well as all other NL shortstops. For some reason his play never jumped out at me. I saw him have good games and other games where I didn’t notice him much. Looking at his stats, he never led the league in any major category. In ’95 he was 2nd in SB and in 98 he was 2nd in triples. Dunno, he always looked to be a good player to me, but never great. In his entire career, he was NL player of the week four times, and player of the month only once. He was on a good hitting Reds team for most of his career, so pitchers always pitched to him. He won 3 gold gloves during his career.

    If I had a vote for the HOF I wouldn’t have voted for him. Nice SS? Yes. One of the greatest ever to have played the game? Absolutely not.

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    • ValueArb says:

      Good thing you didn’t have a vote because your eyes deceived you. Barry Larkin made his greatness look effortless. It wasn’t just your eyes that were oblivious to the fact that a great defensive short stop who was also one of the better hitters and base runners in the league is obviously MVP caliber player, obviously awards voters were too.

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  12. whatever says:

    just cause-

    Larkin, 9057 PA, 70.1 fWAR, 67.1 rWAR
    Trammel, 9376 PA, 69.5 fWAR, 67.1 rWAR

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  13. whatever says:

    oh yeah-

    Derek Jeter, 11578 PA, 75.9 fWAR, 67.9 rWAR
    lou whittaker, 9967 PA, 74.3 fWAR, 71.4 rWAR

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    • ValueArb says:

      BTW: BsR was only calculated from 2002. Jeter gets credit for 18 in 10 years, Larkin 8 in his 3 career ending years. It seems clear that Larkin, instead of losing 10 runs to Jeter in this category, was many runs better, as is his relative WAR.

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  14. dannyrainge says:

    Excellent article! I always thought my favorite player of all-time (Jeter) was much more similar to an inferior-fielding, Larkin look-alike with an analagous skillset as opposed to the cliche Compariosn to Cal Ripken.

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    • dannyrainge says:

      Just to be clear I am saying Jeter is inferior fielding-wise to Larking not the other way around.

      Oh and comparison*

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