Pitcher List Hall of Fame Voting: Larry Walker

The Argument for Walker

When you think five-tool player, you think Larry Walker. The man could do it all. He hit for power (.252 ISO) and for average (.313), while displaying excellent speed (230 stolen bases with a 21.5 BsR), fielding (1.1 UZR in right field), and a cannon for an arm (15.8 ARM ranking on Fangraphs).

Looking at Walker’s Hall of Fame candidacy should be a slam dunk. He has a 72.7 WAR, a 44.7 peak WAR and a 58.7 JAWS score, all which are above the metrics for an average HOF right fielder. Looking at his standard stats is impressive as well, with a .313/.400/.565(!) slash line, 383 home runs, 2,160 hits, and a 141 OPS+.

There are two arguments working against Walker:

No. 1 is the Coors Field effect, which has tarnished his offensive numbers in the eyes of many voters. The other is his injury history. Throughout his 17-year-career, Walker only played more than 150 games once and more than 140 games just four times. Injuries cost him dearly in the 1996 and 2000 seasons. Had he been healthy in those two years, his peak would be even more dominant, and his volume stats would look closer to the arbitrary totals that Hall of Fame voters tend to gravitate toward.

Still, his pure dominance when he was healthy is reflected in his WAR and JAWS scores, and I think punishing him for still putting up elite numbers when battling through injuries is unfair.

The Coors effect is notable, and it is no doubt that Walker was at his best in the friendly, high-elevation confines in Colorado. He slashed a staggering .381/.462/.710 at Coors but a still very respectable .282/.372/.501 elsewhere in his career.

Overall, Jay Jaffe on Fangraphs summed up Walker’s case the best in one quick sentence: “In less playing time, Larry Walker created more value with his bat than several first-ballot Hall of Famers routinely lauded for their major milestones.”

Walker has a lot of catching up to do, but if he can at least approach 50% before his time runs out on the ballot, the Eras Committee may give him a second look  which he deserves.

Andy Patton

The Argument Against Walker

 

Let’s get one thing straight  Larry Walker was an amazing player who truly had all five tools. On a per-game basis, he ranks among the best ever, and I have zero beef with him making it into the Hall (and I expect he will eventually). That said, I didn’t vote for him, and here’s why:

 

He didn’t play

 

Injuries dogged Walker. He walked up to the plate 8030 times in his 1,988 games across his 17-year career. That may seem like a lot, but let’s put it in the proper context by comparing him with the only two Hall of Fame hitters who started their careers after 1961 (the beginning of 162-game seasons) with fewer than Walker’s 8,030 plate appearances: catcher Mike Piazza (7,745) and outfielder Kirby Puckett (7,831).

Puckett’s excuse for the low number of plate appearances is simple: He played just 12 seasons. He certainly got the most out of those 12 seasons, though, as he played in fewer than 152 games just four times over that span and averaged 148.6 games per season. Piazza played in just one fewer season than Walker but even as a catcher managed to play in more games per season than Walker (126 for Piazza and 123 for Walker, excluding each player’s brief first season).

Piazza’s work behind the dish provides a reasonable excuse for missing time as a result of the toll donning his gear took on his body and the fact that he played nearly his entire career in the National League, so he had to either strap on the pads or sit on the pine. Walker’s spot in right field was far less taxing on a day-to-day basis, and yet he still managed fewer games per season.

Overall, Walker missed 25% of his team’s games during his career, which negatively impacted his team and his overall performance. I hate blaming a guy for missing time  there’s no evidence that he had any control over his injuries, and I’m certain he did his best to play through them  but Walker missed a such a high number of games that it impacts his overall numbers.

 

The Coors Effect

 

I’ll keep this brief, as many others have talked about this with more grace and intellect than I have, but I am of the belief that no existing popular metric can truly adjust for the hitting environment at Coors Field (particularly in its pre-humidor days). Walker was able to take full advantage of his home park in an incredible way.

I don’t want to just lazily quote numbers such as home/away OPS or something like that, so I did a little number-crunching. I compared Walker’s 162-game averages at Coors with his collective 162-game average at every other stadium where he recorded at least 100 plate appearances. Here’s a link to the spreadsheet detailing those numbers.

I realize that virtually every player tends to play better at home and that it may not be fair to penalize Walker for playing well at Coors, but it’s worth pointing out that Coors put him in legendary company, while on the road he was merely very good.

Walker probably deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. When he was in the game, be it at the plate, on the basepaths, or in the field, he was a threat to his opponents. Unfortunately, he wasn’t actually in games all that often, compared with his enshrined peers, and he was mostly a threat on one particular field. These two things, combined with the strength of recent classes, have made it difficult for me (and other people whose votes actually matter) to give him a vote. That’s a bummer but hopefully one that will be rectified before his eligibility expires.

Also, I really wanted to get Gary Sheffield on my ballot.

Scott Chu
(Graphic by Justin Paradis/@freshmeatcommr on Twitter)
Andy Patton

Andy is the GIF Manager here at PitcherList. He manages the Nastiest Pitches articles while also contributing a weekly article on Deep League Adds and 'The Rotation', an Anti-List post about music and baseball. Beat writer for the Seattle Seahawks (SeahawksWire) as well as a contributor at Prospects1500 and Rotoballer. Diehard Tigers fan and Gonzaga graduate.

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