Monday, January 02, 2012

Rethinking Larry Walker's Hall of Fame Case

Larry Walker isn't getting a whole lot of Hall of Fame love. According to this wonderful Hall of Fame tracker, Walker is getting one vote for every four ballots cast. On this Fan's previous post concerning the Hall of Fame, Walker wasn't good enough, long enough, especially with inflated numbers due to Coors Field. Bill over at The Platoon Advantage thinks he should be in. Joe Posnanski voted for him. Peter Gammons did not. So the respect meter for this Fan is all over the place. After reading Bill's piece, this writer went to Larry Walker's Baseball-Reference.com page and frankly, was kind of blown away. So what are the arguments against him?

Well, there are the counting stats. He only reached 2,160 hits. He "only" hit 383 homers. He "only" drove in 1,311 runs. So he has none of those magic numbers that seem to guarantee induction. But do we really do that any more? Looking at the love Rafael Palmeiro is NOT getting, the answer is probably no. We have gone beyond magic numbers in these kinds of considerations. WAR and Win Shares and OPS+ and other things have come to the forefront in this new world. Everyone's magic number for WAR these days seems to be 70 for a career to be Hall-worthy. Fangraphs gives Walker 73.2.

What about the fact that he only played more than 150 games once in his career? George Brett was injury-prone. Barry Larkin was injury prone and it looks like he'll get in this year. Mickey Mantle missed a lot of time during his career. Should that matter? Or should overall excellence over a period of time matter more? It would seem based on those other names that it should.

No, the biggest ding against Larry Walker has been that his greatest years came at Coors Field before they had the humidor for the baseballs. Walker had some of the most amazing seasons but they all occurred at Coors Field as his home ballpark. The argument is that his home park over-inflated his numbers and we should take that into account. And yes, there is no doubt that Larry Walker was unbelievable at Coors Field. His slash line in that park was: .381/.462/.711. Whoa. But the question comes down to this: Only in this modern age of statistics do we pay attention to home/road splits. Voters never did in the past.

For example, Walker didn't play as long as Mel Ott. But if you look at their career slash lines, they stack up pretty well. Walker's career: .313/.400/.565. Mel Ott's: .304/.415/.533. But Mel Ott hit 511 homers. But did you know that Ott hit 323 homers at home in the Polo Grounds where the right field fence was close as apposed to 188 on the road? If Mel Ott had hit 376 homers for his career, would we look back at him the same? George Brett played with a slick surface in Kansas City for many years. He hit .320 at home for his career and .280 on the road. So why are we punishing Larry Walker? And do we really know that he wouldn't have had those great years if he had played them say for the Yankees instead?

But Walker wasn't just a great hitter who happened to play many home games at Coors Field. He was a terrific fielder for all but the last two seasons of his career. He accumulated almost 10 wins as a fielder for his career. He added 154 assists from the outfield. And he was an excellent base runner for his entire career. Statistics for such things only became sophisticated enough to measure base running toward the end of his career, but even then, Walker was getting above average ratings there to the very end. He stole 230 bases in his career with a 75 percent success rate.

OPS+ is park adjusted and Walker still finished at 140 for his career. In his final year in Montreal, he put up a .322/.394/.587 season. So greatness seemed to be in the offing no matter where he played. And playing in Montreal might just have been the reason his health was never great in his career. That place had a devastating impact on the careers of Andre Dawson and Vladimir Guerrero too.

The bottom line is that this Fan was wrong about Larry Walker. It is wished that he played more games and that he didn't play most of his career in Coors Field. But put all that aside. When you measure value and overall play, he has the credentials to be a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame.

5 comments:

Jonathan C. Mitchell said...

Glad you came around on Walker. I am a big supporter of him and made my vote clear on him here: http://mlbdirt.com/2011/12/02/larry-walker-has-compelling-hof-case/

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Yes, you did have it right the first time. You usually do. :)

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Thomas Slocum said...

Through his age 29 season (5 season with the Expos, 2 with the Rockies), Larry Walker was a nice 5 tool player compiling a .285/.354/.510 record. He was recognized as an outstanding rightfielder, displayed both stolen base speed and good baserunning ability, and his power had developed nicely in his prime years (27-29) with a Slugging Average near .600.

Then he went absolutely, verifiably, and certifiably nuts (in a good way) over the next 6 years (all with the Rockies), totaling .353/.434/.648 while leading the league in hitting 3 times, OBP, SA, and OPS twice, and homers once. He also picked up 4 All Star appearances, 1 MVP award, and 5 Gold Gloves.

He wound up his career (ages 36-38) by roughly splitting time with the Rockies and the Cardinals, ringing up a record of .289/.399/.512 with his final two years spent mostly as a part-timer.

So while Larry was learning his trade, while he was establishing himself as a solid performer, and then later while he was winding his career down, the numbers, in total, were .286/.365/.510. In other words, in what might be termed his "down" years, Walker rang up numbers comparable to the career totals for Jim Rice (.298/.352/.502) and Andre Dawson (.279,.323/.482), Hall of Famers both. And it might be pointed out that both Rice (16 seasons in Fenway Park) and Dawson (6 seasons at Wrigley, 2 in Fenway) had the opportunity to play in hitter's parks.

Anonymous said...

A great stat to show he would have been great anywhere was of course the Montreal example but also his St-Louis time.

.289 AVG .384 OBP .502 SLG in his final season with St-Louis

Given all the slack we cut players when they struggle with inuries all year makes this year more remarkable. Despite battling neck issues all year, that's a great line in your final season. So is a 130 OPS+

But there's more to it. He showed in St-Louis it wasn't because he hit at Coors but because he's naturally a home hitter. He had a whopping .989 OPS with St-Louis at home in his final year after years of accumulated injuries. If that coupled with a fantastic 2004 postseason doesn't tell you he would have been great no matter where he signed after the Expos, I don't know what will.

He should be an easy hall of fame induction.

The outfield of his generation is LF: Bonds, CF: Griffey and Walker in RF. Name other outfielders who excelled in all aspects. I can't really think of any.