Several Reds players appeared on the most recent ESPNÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Hall of 100, the network’s list of the one hundred greatest players of all time. Here’s my general post on their rankings. Today I’ll begin looking at the specific playersÃ‚Â by examining the Reds career of Barry Larkin (#75). Number reflects his ranking on the ESPN Hall of 100 list.
Growing up in Cincinnati, Barry Larkin was a multi-sport star at Moeller High School. Larkin was such a goodÃ‚Â football player, Bo Schembechler recruited him to play at the University of Michigan. Luckily for the Reds, Larkin gave up football to concentrate on baseball after Schembechler redshirted LarkinÃ‚Â his freshman year. While at Michigan, Larkin played with future Reds Chris Sabo and Hal Morris. Larkin led the Wolverines to the College World Series in 1983 and 1984 before being drafted in the first round by the Reds in 1985.
Larkin had to compete to become the Reds starting shortstop. The Reds were looking for a replacement for the legendaryÃ‚Â Dave Concepcion, who was still on the roster when Larkin made his major league debut in 1986. Kurt Stillwell, the Reds first round pick in 1983, also played shortstop and had his supporters within the organization. Larkin had only played 175 games in the minors before he played his first full season with the Reds in 1987.
After giving over 400 plate appearances to both Stillwell and Larkin in 1987, the Reds traded Stillwell to the Royals and officially crowned Larkin as the shortstop of the future. The Reds reaped the benefits of that decision for the next 18 seasons.
The Reds most recent addition to the Baseball Hall of Fame (2012) played from 1986-2004, all with the Reds. Larkin hit .295/.371/.444 in his career with 198 homeruns and 960 RBIs while winning nine silver slugger awards. Larkin also stole 379 bases and went to twelve All Star games.
He had tremendous range at shortstop and rated well in both traditional and advanced defensive statistics. Larkin won three consecutive gold gloves from 1994-1996 and did things like this:
While the media persistently raved about National League rival Ozzie SmithÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defense, LarkinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s well rounded game was arguably better than SmithÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. Amazingly, both players ended their careers with exactly 67.6 WAR (Fangraphs).
Larkin was an excellent player almost instantly. Fresh off winning the shortstop battle, Larkin blossomed in 1988. According to Fangraphs, LarkinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 6.3 WAR was the best among all shortstops in 1988. He hit .296/.347/.429 with 12 homeruns and stole 40 bases. His 122 wRC+ was third among shortstops.
He also excelled defensively. We have a metric (courtesy of Fangraphs) called Def that adjusts for position and tries to capture total defensive value. On the Def score scale, 0 is average, 4 is above average, and 12 is great. In 1988, Larkin had a Def score of 18.9, fourth among all shortstops. Three years after being drafted, Larkin was already a legitimate star.
Larkin was an integral part of the Reds 1990 World Series championship. He hit .301/.358/.396 with 30 stolen bases. LarkinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s bat and excellent defense (18.3 Def score) helped him accumulate 5.4 WAR. In the postseason, Larkin would hit .300/.378/.425, striking out only once in 45 postseason plate appearances.
Larkin won the MVP award in 1995 when he hit .319/.394/.492 with 51 stolen bases. That 1995 season is still the last season in which the Reds won a playoff series as Larkin collected twelve hits in just 31 at bats.
LarkinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 1996 was even better. That year, Larkin became the first shortstop to hit at least 30 homeruns (33) and steal at least 30 bases (36) in the same season. LarkinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 30th homerun came against those nasty Redbirds.
LarkinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s had a higher Isolated Power (ISO) score (.269) during his 1996 season than Jay Bruce has ever had in one season his career.
Prior to the 1997 season, Larkin was named the fourth captain in Cincinnati Reds history, a distinction last bestowed upon LarkinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s predecessor, Concepcion. As captain, Larkin was recognized as someone he had already been for years: the face of the franchise.
LarkinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s career is characterized by his stellar all-around game and consistency. Between 1988 and 1999, Larkin had at least 3.3 WAR in every season and had over 5 WAR in eight of those seasons.
Davey Johnson, LarkinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s manager for several seasons, once said that Larkin was the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best leadoff hitter, second-hole hitter, and three-hole hitter. Among Reds shortstops with at least 1000 plate appearances for the team, Larkin is the leader in most offensive categories including the following:
- Batting Average (.295)
- On Base Percentage (.371)
- Homeruns (198)
- wRC+ (118)
- Stolen Bases (379)
- Doubles (441)
- Triples (76)
- RBIs (960)
Maybe no single stat sums up Barry LarkinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s impact like the following: When Larkin was in the lineup during his career, the Reds had a .523 winning percentage. When he was out of the lineup, the Reds had a .455 winning percentage.
Even as aÃ‚Â 40 year old in 2004, Larkin hit .289 with a .352 OBP. He retired after that season not only as the greatest shortstop in Reds history, but as one of the greatest shortstopsÃ‚Â in the history of the game.