The BBWAA has made their decision about the next wave of Hall of Fame inductees, and once again just a single player has earned a spot in Cooperstown. Barry Larkin, shortstop and 19-year Cincinnati Red, will be inducted this summer as the newest member of the baseball Hall of Fame after receiving 86 percent of the vote.
Larkin is a fascinating case, as on the surface it appears like he had the longevity (19 seasons) and the rate production --a .295/.371/.444 career line, 116 OPS+, .283 True Average, and above-average defense at shortstop -- to make him a no-brainer. The longevity is a bit misleading, as we'll get to, but the production is for real. His plate discipline allowed him to reach base 3,334 times, even with "just" 2,340 career hits. That's good for #11 since 1901 among players who were primarily shortstops. You don't have to do the math to realize that's an impressive standing.
If you go just by wins above replacement -- a terrible practice for predictive purposes, but useful in these more backward-looking contexts -- Larkin's 69 rWAR puts him sixth all-time among the same group of shortstops, behind just Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken, Arky Vaughan, Derek Jeter, and Luke Appling. On its own merits, that's fantastic; when the idea of longevity is brought back into it, it's even better. rWAR is a counting stat, and Larkin excelled in his overall production, as evidenced by his ranking among fellow shortstops. In those 19 years, he averaged just 115 games played per season -- that kind of rate damages how high a counting stat can go, and also explains the relatively low hit total for a career of that many seasons. Even if you remove his rookie campaign from the equation (41 games and a seventh-place Jackie Robinson award finish), he still averaged just 119 games a year.
He had to play the 19 years to get as much value packed into his career as he did thanks to seemingly constant injuries and lingering fragility. He absolutely deserves this spot in Cooperstown despite the time he missed given how well he did play when he was on the field, of course. This is all just a way to bring up how good Larkin would have been had he actually played a normal schedule throughout a career too often interrupted by injury.
Per 162 games played, Larkin averaged 15 homers, 174 hits, 70 walks, and 5.5 wins above replacement. While it's not realistic to expect him to never miss time, averaging about fives wins per year thanks to a more normal games played average, over a nearly 20-year career, would have resulted in a player at least as good -- if not better -- than Cal Ripken, and one miles ahead of Derek Jeter instead of along the same lines. Not that there's anything wrong with only being one of the top five or so ever to play a position.
When Larkin was on the field, he was a Hall of Fame shortstop. He might not have been on it as long as we selfishly would have liked to have seen him, but he played enough to earn the honor he will enjoy later this summer. Congratulations, Barry Larkin.