Larry Walker and the Hall of Fame

Let me first preface this column by suggesting that I’m no great Hall of Fame historian; I don’t know as much about the history of this great game as my colleagues.

Today I seek to get a good feel whether or not Larry Walker is a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate. Indeed, much of my gravitation towards Walker is derived from his playing era; my baseball formative years started around 1993, which incidentally coincides with almost the exact time Walker rose to prominence.

Prior to researching for this column, in my view, Walker was a Hall of Famer. I guess you could say I’m going to either convince myself he belongs, or disband my #Walker4HOF campaign altogether. Nonetheless, it’s a case study in journaling the progress of determining one’s HOF credentials. Let us begin.

Monday’s BBWAA announcement that Barry Larkin would join Ron Santo in the 2012 class in the Hall of Fame brought few surprises in terms of overall balloting. Indeed, it’d be nice if Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell, among others, would be joining Larkin and the spirit of Santo on that glorious late-July afternoon, but that’s neither here nor there.

Caught somewhere between the Raineses and Radkes of the world was Larry Walker, whom in his first year of eligibility had garnered just under a quarter of the vote (22.9 percent). It’s certainly not the kiss of death for the burly British Columbian; there’s a growing sentiment that Raines will eventually get the call as one of the best leadoff hitters in recent memory, and he too was featured on fewer than a quarter of the ballots in his first dance back in 2008.

But rather than getting caught up too much in comparisons, let’s really dig into where Walker stands among his comrades — those residing in Cooperstown or elsewhere — before letting the reader decide which route they’d take as a voter.

The BBWAA dictates the following:

“Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Now certainly there are only a few of these things we can tangibly confabulate about. Of the six, the latter four are awfully difficult to quantify. It would seem likely that if any of them were an issue, the public would know about it, no? By all indications, those whom I’ve spoken to within the industry indicated no reports of character issues with Walker, though his affinity for hockey may have outweighed that for baseball. Nonetheless, no noteworthy strikes against his record here.

Now as a brief aside, there are certainly a number of arbitrary factors a writer could use to define their personal ballot. Whether or not a player truly dominated his era — in which Jack Morris need not apply — tends to be one bandied about ad nauseum. The more I think about it as I research the candidates, the more I truly ask myself, “Was the candidate elite in any facet of the game?” I think the answer almost always has to be yes, and has to be accompanied by at least one or two well above-average skills. As your hypothetical, yet literal writer here, I seem to recall Walker’s elite talent to be hitting, while his fielding and speed/baserunning both would grade out well above-average. As a studious, if unspectacular sabermetrics guy, I then take to the my mother’s basement and the spreadsheets to help develop/repair my notion.

Meanwhile back on the Walker case, one thing writers look for is longevity, and he doesn’t exactly have it. Sure, Walker played parts of 17 seasons, and that alone is superficially impressive, but subtract his 20-game cup of coffee in 1989, and we’re left with 1,986 games over 16 seasons, which averages out to about 124 per year. As a result, the counting stats don’t really benefit Walker. His 57th-place ranking in extra-base hits all time is his highest ranking among any counting stat, which certainly doesn’t recommend him in the eyes of many traditionalist writers. More on his longevity a bit later.

But while the less contemporary stats don’t benefit Walker too much, rate stats and sabermetrics certainly pick up the slack. For one, Walker’s defense is looked upon very favorably, as his 86.1 runs above average mark ranks him among the 10 finest defensive right fielders of all time. Not only was Walker pretty good at running down bird-chasers, but his arm was regarded among the best in the league during pretty much his entire big league tenure. He was also a decent base thief, with a 162-game average of 19 swipes against six denials, for about an average mark of 75 percent.

And this is even before considering what a hitter Walker was; and what a hitter Walker was! To break it down a bit, consider Walker’s triple-slash of .313/.400/.565; he carries that aesthetically — at least to me — pleasing .300/.400/.500 ratio. And 162-game paces would lead us to believe that had his body not betrayed him, he may well have been on the 500 home run, 2,500-plus hits path, both of which might improve his standing as far as otherwise-stodgy Hall voters are concerned.

But how does one figure for time lost due to injury? Since nobody is really of the Cal Ripken/Lou Gehrig mold, 162-game paces are really more just for fun. If we consider someone like Kirby Puckett losing time to injury, and give him the benefit of the doubt regarding how his career would have extrapolated, it’s still really comparing apples to oranges. For one, we don’t know how many seasons and of what caliber production Puckett had left. As a result, we’re left with his relatively solid career numbers left unaffected by the standard decline that pulls down otherwise solid careers, like Harmon Killebrew’s three-year stretch that saw him lose 25 points off his OPS and don a Royals uniform. Blech. For whatever reason, Walker didn’t permit himself to tread those waters, as his final season triple-slash of .289/.384/.502 would indicate. Is he to be punished for not sticking around one more year to poke 17 home runs to meet some sort of arbitrary 400 home run ceiling? And if so, had he done it with a .700 OPS, how would that have affected his overall line?

It’s not as though a Hall of Famer can’t play under 2,000 games, either. The average Hall of Fame hitter only has played 2,073 games in his hypothetical career, which really means Walker only trails by about half a season or so. In terms of plate appearances, Walker would be in the company of old-timers Hugh Duffy, Kiki Cuyler, and Bobby Doerr, all of whom played in the 154 game era, leaving Larry about 800 trips to the dish off the average pace. Still, there are a number of viable Hall of Famers near Walker’s playing time ledger, including Duke Snider. Joe DiMaggio also appears, but like many others of his era, took time off to serve in the military. Overall, playing time is probably one of the bigger detriments to Walker’s case.

Of course, there’s always the proverbial elephant in the room: Coors Field. During the steroid era, it wasn’t unusual for the park factors at Coors to reach the high 120s. But still, despite Walker’s overwhelming splits at Coors (.381/.462/.710 triple-slash), he was able to pull a 147 OPS+ as a member of the Rockies, where he spent 10 glorious seasons, thus fulfilling any notion that a player needs a decade at the top, regardless of it was atop a mountain. And lest one thinks Walker’s best seasons were solely buoyed by the Coors launchpad, his 1997 MVP campaign came at a time when the run environment had dipped a bit, with a 113-113 park factor. Furthermore, Walker carried a 141 OPS+ at Coors Field; not only is this in line with his career production, but also shows he was still head and shoulders above the competition, regardless of where he played. He wasn’t a total schmuck on the road, either.

Another thing to consider is Walker’s 1994 season (his age-27 campaign) with the Expos. Stade Olympique certainly played into the hitter’s favor that season (107-105 single-season factor), but Walker basically had very similar seasons in ‘94 and ‘95 despite moving to Coors the following campaign (128-128 park factors). It’s awfully difficult to extrapolate how his career path might have gone had he remained in Montreal, but it’s not as though he had a .683 OPS entering Colorado like his bushy-browed bash brother, either. Additionally, it’s hard to credit Walker’s improved walk rate to a ballpark, considering he often registered in the single-digits percentage-wise before settling in the 12-13 percent range as his career waned. This also includes the intentional free pass, where Walker actually registered his highest season rate of 20 with the Expos in 1993, a full season before moving onto the Mile High City.

To put it simply, Walker’s place in history resides here:

*12th among right fielders all time in WAR (73.2)
* Top-25 among all outfielders in wOBA (.414)
* Top-30 among all outfielders in wRC+ (142)
* Top-10 among all outfielders in WPA (48.9) – stat only goes back to 1974.
* Top-20 among all hitters in career OPS (.965)
* Top-75 among all hitters in career OPS+ (140)

The WAR places him ahead of Manny Ramirez, Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Andre Dawson, and Vladimir Guerrero, all of whom are Hall of Famers or considered on the periphery. Similarly, his wOBA places him ahead of Willie Mays, Jesse Burkett, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Big Poison himself, Paul Waner. Interestingly, Walker trails Raines, Lance Berkman, and Bobby Abreu in Win Probability Added; I’m all for Raines entering the Hall and think Berkman and Abreu will be interesting debates. But as laid out here, both in stats that equate for quantity of quality playing time, and in terms of quality play in the short-term as well, I’m starting to be convinced. Even when adjusting for the offensive context in which he played, have there been at least 75 viable Hall of Fame hitters? Absolutely.

B-Ref’s similarity scores are a bit more bearish on Walker, as his comparables are a veritable plethora of fringy Hall of Very Good candidates (Moises Alou, Jim Edmonds, and Ellis Burks) sandwiched by a number of Hall of Famers (Johnny Mize, Snider, and J. DiMaggio) and some very interesting future cases (Albert Pujols, Guerrero, and maybe Edmonds fits here). So while B-Ref doesn’t really have Walker in the company of the aforementioned stars like Mays or Aaron, he’s still in pretty solid company.

Essentially, you have a lethal, if a bit fragile hitter with a cannon right arm, a solid set of wheels, and some very good comparables. I don’t have a BBWAA badge — though that’s somewhere on the list of dreams to attain — but if I did you can bet I’d be voting yes for Mr. Walker.

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In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a Minnesota Twins beat reporter for 105 The Ticket's Cold Omaha website as well as a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

85 Responses to “Larry Walker and the Hall of Fame”

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  1. hernandez17 says:

    Wow, when I read the title I was like “seriously?”. But top 20 among ALL hitters in career OPS…..that’s nothin to sniff at.

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    • I’d tend to agree. I prefer adjust statistics — of course to help neutralize the Coors factor — but yeah, it’s sort of hard to believe he was among such an elite class of hitters no matter the era he played in. I certainly gained a ton of respect for his case in my research.

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  2. Ian R. says:

    For me, Walker is a classic borderline Hall of Famer. I’ll be happy for him and satisfied with the result if he gets in, but I won’t be terribly disappointed if he doesn’t.

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    • Seems totally fair; after all, if he was a no-doubter, he’d be in….and there’s a reason Brad Radke doesn’t get a column like this. Thanks for reading.

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      I agree he is borderline based on his offensive contributions, but his cannon arm makes him a no doubter. I used to play these card based baseball simulation games that are way better than video games (pursue the pennant, diamond mind baseball, etc). Played them for almost 20 seasons of baseball (1979-98). Larry Walker had the highest ever outfield arm adjustment in right field for that entire period. Barry Bonds matched him in left field, but right field arms are more important. Walker was also the range leader for all outfielders for a couple of seasons and lead right-fielders in range factor his entire career. those eye popping defensive measures make him a no doubter to me.

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  3. Some guy says:

    Another quick and dirty perspective that was on MLBTR a few days ago:

    Larry Walker was a great player, but he does not get the proper level of respect because his career falls in that grey area between “the best” and “excellent for really long time.” Larry Walker was neither Sandy Koufax-esque (burning brightest briefly), Pujolsian (truly one of the most elite ever), and certainly he did not stick around for 20+ years (although a fifteen-plus year major league career is nothing to sneeze at). Position differences aside (WAR accounts for that), Walker’s value and case reminds me a lot of Ron Santo with the off-the-field baggage. Nonetheless, Larry Walker’s numbers stack up and are Hall of Fame worthy.”

    A graph comparison of Walker to Molitor and Fisk in that article really shows that he belongs and that his career, short as it may have been, stacked up.

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  4. BronxBaumer says:

    One of the most important aspects in discussing the HOF, in my opinion, is contextualizing the statistics we are comparing. Some of the stats we use do that for us, some of them, most notably wOBA, don’t. So if you are lacking in historical perspective, before sorting lists of stats for any potential HOFer, I think you’ve got to try to understand the context.

    Larry Walker happened to play a lot of games in the easiest place in history to hit. A place that made a lot of very oridinary players look like Hall of Famers while they were there. He was better than those guys, and stuck around longer than those guys, so much so that his career numbers look historically great without considering the context

    Up to you where you want to go from there. He was a great ballplayer regardless of where he played, did everything well and had a hard time staying on the field.

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    • kick me in the GO NATS says:

      ops+ accounts for where he plays. it is fully park adjusted. He is hall of fame based on ops+, but barely. Add in his other wordly defensive abilities and he become a no doubter.

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      • The Real Neal says:

        But OPS+ is a rate stat, and a big knock on Walker was his inability to stay on the field. If he had played 148 games a year, he’d be a no doubter. He didn’t, so consequently he is a border line candidate. Because of his low totals, he’s one of those guys who is going to be used in the future to lower the entrance requirements for other players.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        WAR is park-adjusted and is a counting stat. So it accounts for his short(ish) career.

        Using both bWAR and fWAR, Walker is top 70 all-time, ahead of many well-known Hall of Famers

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      • Brian H says:

        He’s not a no-doubter Hall of Famer if you look at his road numbers. His triple slash line on the road is .278/.370/.495, as opposed to .348/.431/.637 at home. Those are cavernously huge differences. His OPS? It drops from 1.068 at home to a very non-Hall-of-Fame-esque .865. So basically at home he put up Albert Pujols numbers, while on the road his rate stats look a lot like those of Derrek Lee(.281/.365/.495/.859). Considering his counting stats are non-Hallish as well, it’s really only his defensive prowess that makes him even borderline.

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      • jim says:

        because his road stats are TOTALLY his true talent level, right?

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      • Paul says:

        Walker’s road stats while at Coors also do not account for the fact that other guys get to play at Coors, while Walker Road does not get that benefit.

        I happen to think that a guy who hits like a 1/2 Albert Pujols and 1/2 Derrek Lee combination, played an elite RF and added value on the bases would be an excellent addition to the HoF

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      • Spike says:

        the Coors argument against Walker (and the one that will arise for Helton) results in the conclusion that no Rockie player could ever get elected to the HOF. Naturally that’s an absurd handicap to carry around. As we see, Walker’s road stats are nothing to be ashamed of (damn good actually)… point is since a lot of players have to play half their game at Coors field but only the most elite of the elite like Walker far out-performed the rest.

        And if the other argument is that Walker played less than 2,000 games and not enough full seasons… that sounds like another contrived argument b/c I wasn’t aware that the HOF was an honor for the most healthy players.

        Walker should be in based on his excellence as a player, eos.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I think folks are going OUT of their way to explain away the splits, or acting like it’s NOT a major issue.

        Everybody likes Larry Walker, but trying to process and contextualize such drastic differences while playing in a park that we all observed as being fantasy baseball is not easy.

        His triple slash line on the road is .278/.370/.495, as opposed to .348/.431/.637 at home.

        I gotta admit those are huge splits, even while considering that almost every player plays better at home. I wonder if anyone with a 10+ year career has ever had splits that large before?


        Mon: 23 WAR in 5 Seasons = 4.6 WAR/y
        Col: 45 WAR in 9 seasons = 5.0 WAR/y

        Pretty darn valuable at both places. I’m afraid people won;t remember the “Montreal Larry” at all, and just chalk everything up to Coors and walk away.

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      • bstar says:

        The point is that he NEVER WAS 1/2 Albert Pujols, he just was able to compile Pujolsian(new word?) numbers in steroid-era Coors Field. I’ll agree he probably would have been better on the road than’Derrek-Lee-in-his-whole-career’; there is some merit to Coors Field players having a tougher time on the road than others. I would guess it would be similar to doing steroids, and then quitting suddenly.

        Even with that, though, Walker is still a tough sell for me.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        Why do we need to discuss the home/road splits like this? There are plenty of stats that do the park adjustment for us (WAR, OPS+, wRC+).

        One thing is that Coors will always produce drastic home/away splits. While the home numbers are inflated by Coors, the road numbers are suppressed by extreme pitchers parks (LAD, SF, SD).

        And another thing. Why are people saying that Walker’s road numbers are bad? That’s only true if you compare it to other guys’ overall numbers. They’re quite excellent if you compare them to other player’s road numbers. Compare Walker’s .865 road OPS to Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt (.884), Frank Robinson (.881), Duke Snider (.880), Willie McCovey (.876), Harmon Killebrew (.871), Willie Stargell (.865), Jackie Robinson (.864), Ken Griffey (.860), Reggie Jackson (.860), Dave Winfield (.841), Tony Gwynn (.835), Paul Waner (.834), Al Kaline (.827), George Brett (.825), Joe Medwick (.817), Rod Carew (.810), Billy Williams (.808) Joe Morgan (.800), Roberto Alomar (.795), Paul Mlitor (.795), Jim Rice (.789), Wade Boggs (.781), Carl Yastrzemski (.779), etc

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  5. stan says:

    I’d put him in. Its hard to believe that anyone who’s voting for Edgar Martinez isn’t also jumping up and down in favor of Walker. I understand why people wouldn’t want to put him in on the first ballot or would maybe make him wait a while but his rate stats just scream hall of fame so loudly that he has to be in sooner or later.

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    • I don’t get an overwhelming feeling that writers will change course on Walker. I hope I’m wrong.

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    • Paul says:

      Quite True Stan,

      Edgar has a FG friendly stick, but Walker had a just slightly worse stick coupled with great DEF, in RF and added value with his running. you know all those underrated aspects of the game that add value that we like here. Seems like Walker would the No. 1 case for FG to champion

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  6. hernandez17 says:

    His raw stats undoubtedly inflated by Coors, but he had already proven himself as an elite bat in Montreal and there’s no questioning his glove/arm. And it’s not like he played *every* game in that park. I don’t think he “deserves” to get in — like it would be a travesty if he didn’t — but it would be hard to quibble with a top-20 career OPS player gaining entry.

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    • BronxBaumer says:

      Outside of Colorado, Walker’s career OPS was .8717. Which would be good for 113th, right between Tommy Henrich and Magglio Ordonez.

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      • Detroit Michael says:

        Interesting but that’s not quite fair to Walker either.

        Batters on average hit better at home than on the road. Looking at, it was a 28 point OPS difference last year. Assuming that is a typical home / road differential and Walker spent half of his PA in road games, you’d have to add 14 OPS points to Walker.

        Next objection is that there have been studies showing the Colorado batters have an especially hard time adjusting to hitting in road ballparks, so again that’s not fair to Walker.

        Third objection is that Walker’s road games don’t include Colorado, so you’d have to bump his OPS on the road up a touch.

        Fourth objection is why are you choosing this approach at all? Suppose Walker had some unique ability to hit well at Coors that no one else seemed to have. That’s valuable. That should be taken into account. We shouldn’t ignore his home performance and look only at road statistics.

        When all is said and done, you’re better off looking at career WAR or career wRC+, which already attempt to measure his offensive performance after adjusting for park and era effects.

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      • BronxBaumer says:

        Walker’s Coors Field OPS is 1.172. His OPS everywhere else, including his other “home” parks, is .872. That’s a difference of 300 OPS points. You’ve accounted for 14, would the other two adjustments take care of the rest?

        And thankfully we have years and years of Jeff Cirillos and Ellis Burks and Viny Castillas to show us that Coors Field helped everybody, not just Walker, so we don’t have to worry whether or not Wlaker had a unique abilty to hit there.

        But you’re right of course, OPS a bad stat to use, which I why I replied to the person who was basing his decision to quibble the selection based upon the fact that Walker was a top twenty all time OPS guy.

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      • gabriel says:

        OPS+, wRC+ and most importantly the batting component of WAR all adjust for park effects. They completely account for the difference in hitting environment, so any further discounting of his value based on his home park penalizes Walker without reason.

        Even if Walker managed to better exploit Coors compared to his peers, how can that be a real criticism of his value or skill? If anything, it would show Walker to be able to generate better results for his team by changing his approach or technique to exploit his home park. It would also show a rare talent to do so, which arguably should be rewarded by the voters.

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      • Valuearb says:

        Road stats are hugely biased to use when a hitter has a highly favorable home park as his road stats and Home/Road splits are mathematically required to be substantially worse on average.

        In aggregate, if the park factor for Coors is 120 in a 14 team league, the other 13 parks will average 98.5. Add in a 4% differential for a typical home/road split and the splits come in around somewhere around 122/96.

        It means a true talent .900 OPS hitter in Coors should on average have had a road OPS around .865, and a home OPS around 1.100.

        The effect is only complete over the entire sample size of ABs,, so with normal statistical variance some hitters will have bigger or smaller splits, but over long periods their splits should converge to match up with those predicted by park factors.

        Hitters who play in neutral parks only have the much more minor league average home/road splits because their park doesn’t affect the relative park factors of other ballparks, and they don’t have a big difference between their home and road parks.

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    • Cidron says:

      his road splits were against some very good team.. LA has always had good pitching, Houston had the Astrodome, Busch was not remotely a bandbox, Petco came late in his career. Yes, his road splits are sizable, but, … so were the parks and/or pitching staffs he got to face (at their home).

      That said, he might well be the only pre-humidor Rockie to get in (with Helton the only other that I can forsee)

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  7. Oliver says:

    He seems like he belongs, but it’s of course the era and the park that work against him. What would his numbers have been like otherwise?

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    • Presumably like a Chipper Jones, Gary Sheffield, or Duke Snider dependent on the era. Carlos Delgado, Reggie Jackson, and Ryan Howard are in that mix, too.

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      • NickH says:

        Brandon – surely you’re not suggesting that Chipper’s Hall of Fame candidacy is in question? Even if Chipper retired today, he’d be a cinch HOFer, most likely a first-ballot inductee.

        Sheffield, Delgado and Howard are/were all fine players, but none have remotely the same HOF resume as Chipper. As an aside – I doubt any of those three guys make the HOF.

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      • I don’t disagree….just suggesting they’re all in the same OPS+ ballpark (140ish).

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  8. Yo says:

    All-time Canuck homerun champion, to boot. He’s the best rightfielder I’ve ever watched in person. Classics borderline player, and one that I hope sees his scales tip through the Cooperstown doors ’round the 10th or 11th ballot.

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  9. Nate says:

    Walker’s rate stats are so good, it’s really just the injury issues that keep him out (for me). Such a plus player in all aspects, running the bases, hitting, and in the field. Always thought it was amazing he threw out a guy at 1b on a potential single.

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    • regulate says:

      ha. whenever someone mentions walker, the first thing that comes to mind for me is him throwing out a runner from RF circa 1994.

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  10. NickH says:

    I agree that Walker is a fringy HOF candidate; he was a good-to-great hitter whose accomplishments are somewhat devalued by an offensive environment that made Dante Bichette, Preston Wilson, Vinny Castilla, et al. in Triple Crown candidates. That said, when I look at Walker’s career line it reminds me a lot of Jim Edmonds. They’re extremely similar, to wit:
    Walker: .313/.400/.565, 8030 PA, 1355 R, 383 HR, 1311 RBI.
    Edmonds: .284/.376/.527, 7980 PA, 1251 R, 393 HR, 1199 RBI

    Walker made more contact and hit for 30 points higher in average, which correspondingly pushed up his OBP and SLG, but otherwise they were basically the same hitter. Fangraphs has Walker leading in WAR, 73.2 to 67.7.

    I guess for me, if Walker doesn’t make the HOF, by that standard then Edmonds shouldn’t either.

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    • The Real Neal says:

      The guy Walker always made me think of was Fred Lynn. Hall of Fame hitting, baserunning and fielding ability, AAAA staying healthy skill.

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  11. Resolution says:

    People use Coors to look at Walker for what he wasn’t instead of what he was. No doubt did the park inflate his numbers, but people are quick to lump him in with Bichette and Castilla as products of the park but looking at Walker’s numbers, it’s clear that he did things in that park that none of those other guys were capable of.

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    • Agreed. Castilla had a .738 road OPS. Bichette was a mess before COL.

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      • bSpittle says:

        Andres Galaragga hit .370 in coors.

        It looks like from 97-99, only once did walker have an OPS over .900 away from coors.

        For the career, .865 away
        1.068 at home

        (includes expo’s time and cardinals time)

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      • jim says:

        are we *seriously* using straight triple-slash lines to evaluate a hall of fame case on FANGRAPHS? here, I’ll link you some cool stuff you should read:

        the meat of it is here: “wRC+ is also park and league adjusted”

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      • jrogers says:

        bSpittle says: “Andres Galaragga hit .370 in coors.”

        No he didn’t, he hit .370 in Mile High Stadium.

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      • Valuearb says:

        If your home park was that eras Coors field, to have a road OPS over .900, you’d have to be a true talent .950 OPS hitter. There are only 21 hitters in MLB history that could meet that criteria, 19 if you don’t count Walker and Bichette.

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  12. Andres Galarraga is another one to look at in regards to Coors Effect.

    Matt Holliday’s career might actually help Walker. Both guys hit in Coors and hit in StL.

    Coors could likely trump his defense and base running, unfortunately. There’s also the perception of his defense. He doesnt have highlight reels of great diving catches or mind-blowing throws like Vlad had in the RF corner of Olympic Stadium. When it comes to defense highlights, the most memorable one is when he tossed the ball into the stands with 2 outs. I don’t know that voters are really going to examine all of his aspects closely, resulting in him possibly getting the “Trammel Treatment”.

    I think Walker’s going to get the “close but no cigar” status for the HoF. IMO, too many voters are just going to say “Coors Field” and hand-wave it and move on to a more flashy candidate and just say “great guy, good career, all around player … but doesn’t ‘feel’ like a Hall of Famer”.

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    • Owen G says:

      I would say the multiple times he threw runners out at 1B on what should have been singles are highlight reel worthy. I was lucky enough to witness him do so at a game in Montreal against the Pirates, in 92 I think, and it was awesome.

      As an aside, those Expo teams were so much fun. Walker, Deshields, Grissom, Wettleland…sigh.

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  13. DSC says:

    Walker was a great player, but who knows if he’ll get into the HOF? Amazing how many great arms the Montreal outfield had: Guerrero, Walker, Valentine, Dawson. Some teams never have one as good as them!

    Walker should get in, but like a few he’s not going to get in easily. Raines should be in next year, easily. I suppose that Vladimir Guerrero may be the last Expo in, unless Pedro Martinez gets some love.

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  14. As a member of the BBA (not to be confused with the BBWAA) we vote yearly on the HoF and I have voted for Walker both years I have been eligible.

    Sadly, the same voters who overlooked Jim Rice’s ridiculous splits and lack of 5-tool talent are the same ones that refuse to award Walker for his 5-tools and negate him for his splits. For shame.

    Next year the ballot gets very deep and I fear he will fall off.

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  15. BDF says:

    “Now certainly there are only a few of these things we can tangibly confabulate about. Of the six, the latter four are awfully difficult to quantify.”

    Are you arguing that Fangraphs is not the place to discuss unquantifiable stuff or that the unquantifiable stuff is, contra the voting instructions, irrelevant?

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    • Not sure which it would fall under, but I’m simply noting that I’m not qualified to speak about his character having never met him. I did speak with a couple people who had, and they had nothing negative to say of him.

      Either way, we do tend to get wrapped up in stats and less on people in this business (saber-centric writing), but obviously the folks in the game feel the personality stuff matters, regardless of it we can quantify it statistically or not.

      Personally, I lean more towards the stat side but totally see the merit in how a guy is feeling, what he’s going through, and how some of the guys are feeling psychologically. I haven’t talked to many players — a couple dozen, maybe — but I’ve seen them at good and bad, and while I think the difference in how they play based on how they’re feeling is miniscule, it could be there.

      But long, rambling diatribe aside, I wouldn’t say it’s irrelevant, but maybe leaned on a bit too heavily (the things players tell to writers, that is) to sell newspapers and get reporters out of your area while you towel off your nether regions.

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      • BDF says:

        Totally fair. Sabrcentric writing does tend to ignore that unquantifiable stuff, which is totally appropriate since “unquantifiable” is not what sabrmetrics. That often then morphs (unjustifiably, in my opinion) into a belief that the unquantifiable stuff is irrelevant or doesn’t exist rather than an acknowledgment that it is simply outside a sabrmetric purview. But your response acknowledges all that in an intelligent way, in my opinion.

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  16. Bad Bill says:

    Somehow, I can’t help but have the feeling that if Walker had played most of his career in Boston or New York instead of Colorado, there’d be writers all over clamoring for his HoF case based on how “feared” he was.

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    • bstar says:

      I think you’ve got a great point, there, bad bill, as the NE bias cannot be overstated, especially in baseball. But it also begs this question: What if Walker had played his whole career for Montreal/Washington?
      Or had moved to, say, San Diego instead of Colorado? His rate stats would certainly look very different and his (questionable) counting stat totals would look even more suspect for a Hall of Famer. I would guess he would have still made a Hall ballot but wouldnt be a serious choice.

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  17. gabriel says:

    Since 1900, Walker is 43rd overall in wRC+ (which fully accounts for park, league and era) among those with 5000 or more at bats. Of those who are eligible ahead of Walker, only Dick Allen and Edgar Martinez are not in the Hall.

    Add in his excellent defence, and I think it’s hard to argue that Walker doesn’t belong in the Hall.

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  18. jim says:

    among OFs with 8K+ PAs, walker is 16th in wRC+, right smack dab in the middle of Ed Delahanty and Rickey Henderson. hall of famers he’s ahead of include names like Reggie Jackson, Sam Crawford, Duke Snider, Paul Waner, Al Kaline, Tony Gwynn, and Carl Yastrzemski. and wRC+ IS PARK ADJUSTED. claiming that his road splits mean anything is total bullshit, and if you don’t believe it, check out some of the hall of famers with similar home-road sOPS+ numbers

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  19. ToddM says:

    I would hope some those writers that aren’t voting for Walker are doing so for the right reason:

    1) His home park for 60% of his career isn’t the right reason. He was good enough on the road and great enough defensively that “only” hitting at a .870 OPS outside of Coors is strong enough.

    2) His era isn’t the right reason. Walker was one of the most feared hitters of his time, even if he didn’t have godlike home run numbers.

    3) If there IS a right reason, it’s his durability issues and career totals. Walker essentially only played twelve full seasons worth of games despite playing in parts of seventeen seasons. That’s a big problem for a HOF candidate. You need to be remarkably good to overcome a short (by HOF standards) career, and it’s questionable whether or not Walker was good enough by that metric.

    His counting stats are undeniably low for a HOF outfielder. His rate stats are good enough by a wide margin, even accounting for era and home park. It’s just one of those things — guys that have their careers shortened by an unfortunate incident or illness aren’t penalized, but guys that are just brittle tend to be.

    If Puckett is a Hall guy (122 wRC+, 49.4 fWAR, 1783 games) is a Hall guy, Walker (142 wRC+, 73.2 fWAR, 1988 games) certainly is, right?

    Right? Ugh.

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  20. Brian says:

    I think at 67 bWAR he’s fringey / borderline. Assuming no hard steroids evidence came out, I’d vote for him. Why not?

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  21. chuckb says:

    Was Paul Waner’s nickname really Big Poison? What a great nickname!

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  22. BronxBaumer says:

    Larry Walker boils down to three factors for me: Defense, good enough for the HOF. Durability, not good enough for the HOF. Park/Era adjusted offense, good enough for the HOF, but close. So for any individual making the call whether he should be in or out, it’s a matter of lumping those three things together in terms of personal preference.

    Looking at his career, of 16 years as a regular, he managed to play 140+ games 4 times. That’s a big shortcoming.

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  23. Norm says:

    Regardless of whether or not one agrees with your position, this kind of article is the kind of thoughtful analysis that *should* be required of BBWAA badge-holders. Thorough, well-reasoned, and direct.

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  24. hernandez17 says:

    I think one lesson to be learned from Walker’s candidacy is not to go overboard with park-adjusted stats. Top-20 all-time OPS, non-adjusted, is pretty damned impressive. You need elite talent to pull that off, I don’t care where you play. In any event he is top-75 lifetime OPS+, which absolutely enters Walker into legit HOF discussion. I just don’t think it’s fair to penalize a guy for his home park. He produced at an elite level in the situation that was allotted to him. The real Achilles heel for Walker will be longevity, not Coors or roids suspicion, as someone has already pointed out.

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  25. Anthony Calamis says:

    Bold statement time:
    Here are the position players of our era who will get considerable HoF fanfare, imo:

    Honestly, in this group, I’d rank Walker behind Piazza & Pudge, Bagwell, Thome, & Thomas, Jeter & A-Rod, Chipper, Bonds, & Griffey. That’s a whole host of Hall-worthy names he was better than. You could make cases for, I guess, Biggio, Rolen, Manny, The Impaler, and Edmonds, too. But he’s definitely a top-20 player in a generation stacked with superstar position players that consistently shattered offensive records. He was patient, hit for a high AVG, had tons of power, played excellent defense, had a cannon arm, ran the bases absurdly well, had an awesome peak, but unfortunately he played in the best hitter’s park since the Baker Bowl, and was very frail.

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  26. crix says:

    Larry Walker is definitely a Hall Of Famer in my book. He was a great offensive player and good defensive player. I’m tired of hearing about him playing in Coors Field. It’s a lazy argument… No one ever says anything about playing at Fenway, or Yankee Stadium, or Wrigley Field. There’s more, but I’ll move on. Walker’s stats were as follows: Career 11.4 BB%, .313 Avg., .400 OB%, .565 Slg%, 142 wRC+, Career 73.2 WAR, only 2 less than Hall Of Famer, Willie McCovey. Plus Walker was an under-rated defensive player. He had decent range with a good arm, +86.1 in the field for his career. As a side note, he hit .353 from 1997 through 2002.

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  27. bstar says:

    There’s nothing lazy at all about saying Walker’s numbers in Coors Field made him look like the Hall of Famer he very well might not be. The home/road splits are undeniable, almost unexplainable. Take 1999, for instance:

    Home 107H, 26HR, 70RBI .461/.531/.879/?1.410?
    Away 59H, 11HR, 45RBI .286/.375/..519/.894

    Abolutely I am cherry picking the biggest-discrepancy season. To his credit, his immortal MVP 1997 season has no such discrepancy, as he hit for a higher average but less power at home:

    Home 116H, 20HR, 68RBI .384/.460/.709/1.169
    Away 92H, 29HR, 62RBI .346/.443/.733/1.176

    Do I really need to list his career road/home splits again? Or, why don’t you give me some stats that refute this argument? If not, are you the one being lazy?

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    • Valuearb says:

      It’s hard to argue with someone who doesn’t understand math. Any player who hit in Coors during that era was guaranteed to have huge road/home splits over enough seasons. He hit in the best home park by a mile, and had to hit on the road in pitchers parks on average. While other players got to hit on the road in Coors, which helped narrow their natural road/home splits.

      The correct argument is to use park adjusted stats, and Larry does extremely well in them.

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    • jim says:

      you need to read the same thing i showed the other guy, about wRC+

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  28. Cidron says:

    If we are penalizing him for playing at Coors, how many people that played in caverns do we boost ? Parks like the Astrodome, or Comerica (before the moved the walls in), and others.

    Heck, if we are penalizing for things like that, how many Braves do we penalize or credit because they DIDN’T have to face Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddux? We can and sometimes are guilty of over-analyzing.

    Lets also make sure that the big market teams get alot of HoF consideration, as their names are the ones the country is aware of due to big journalism and TV broadcasts. Yes, I am sure that each and every voter takes his time, does his due studying, but, if it comes down to player A and player B, (and all is pretty even between them), the vote goes to the one that is on TV or in the papers more.

    Fair, no. Denver btw, is a pretty small market, but, not as small as Montreal. Walker was unfortunately in both. Had he been a Yankee, a Met, etc etc.. his candidacy would be stronger, imo.

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  29. Michael says:

    Good article and a lot of hard work put into it, but completely disagree. Larry Walker had a lot of tools, but in the end didnt stay healthy enough, play long enough, and add that in with Coors PLUS the steroid era, forget it.

    Sabermetrics, when compared with the right players, can make a lot of people look good. Overall, Walker hit .385 in Coors, and .281 outside of it.

    Yes OPS+ and blah, blah, but the point is, take away Coors and he is a .281/.362/.494 (OPS .856) hitter. Not bad, but nowhere near dominant in that era, imo. Take away Coors and that would be good for right about 148 all time. Within a few points of Rusty Greer, Reggie Smith and Jack Clark.

    Something about that tells me OPS+ is flawed. Basically, Coors field took the edge off a curveball, thus better pitches to hit, more distance on each hit and thus a MUCH higher SLG than OBP effect. When walks go down and hits go up, then SLG goes up disproportionately in general, but even more in a ballpark that allowed an increased fly ball distance estimated to be 4-14% further at altitude (depending on the reference). I would like to see what his career SLG+ numbers are.

    Add in Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, Daunte Bichette, and Todd Helton all bombing 40 Hrs around that time all with dominant OPS+, and the pitches he got because of that, well, Im just not seeing the HOF worthy player.

    A good player, a player I would love on my team, but not HOF. Maybe my standards are just too high for all time immortalization.

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    • Michael says:

      Going deeper into the stats (OPS+) etc, also is a case of not seeing the forest through the trees. 4x over 26 home runs. 4x over 93 RBIs (and only 5x over 86 RBIs in generally lineups that scored lots of runs). 1x over 174 hits in a year. 4x more than 96 runs scored. 4x more than 287 total bases in a year. The averages are great, but the ABSOLUTE numbers leave a lot to be desired over a career.

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  30. LBond says:

    One thing that nobody EVER mentions–and I didn’t read the entire thread, but I’d bet nobody is still saying it–is that Larry Walker was not a fragile or injury prone player, but rather, that he played baseball like a hockey player, frequently sacrificing the body to make the big play. To me, this is a reason to put him IN the HOF. Consider, for example, the time he ran so hard into the outfield wall to make a catch that he broke his collar bone. Many other players would have given up on that ball, but not Walker. He is a Canadian; he is a hockey guy; and that is how he played baseball.


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  31. Test says:


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  32. Test says:


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