Thursday, January 21, 2016

Is Larry Walker a Hall of Famer?

Before I begin this analysis, I'm going to stipulate that it will only deal with performance on the field. I don't know whether Larry Walker used PEDs, and I'm not sure I really care. The term PED means "performance-enhancing drugs," and steroids are just the most modern form. Willie Stargell loved his amphetamines. Even the sainted Hank Aaron had to admit in his autobiography ("I Had a Hammer") that he once took an amphetamine pill before a game. Before the age of drugs, there were plenty of other forms of cheating. Hitters used corked bats. Pitchers like Gaylord Perry cheated their way into the Hall of Fame with all kinds of shenanigans. Rogers Hornsby told True magazine in 1961, "I’ve been in pro baseball since 1914 and I’ve cheated, or watched someone on my team cheat, in practically every game. You’ve got to cheat.” King Kelly and John McGraw practically invented baseball cheating, and their plaques are in the Hall of Fame right next to the straight shooters.

So you guys debate that issue amongst yourselves. I'm only going to address what Walker accomplished, not how.

When I started to assemble this data, I was predisposed to think that Walker didn't have the right stuff. After all, his creditable lifetime numbers are heavily influenced by the time he spent at Coors Field, and he owned that joint. In 1999, when he ripped National League pitching for a career high .379 average, the fourth highest batting average since Ted Williams retired, he batted only .286 on the road, with a measly 11 homers. He batted .461 at Coors that year, with 26 homers and a 1.410 OPS. That kind of information led me to believe that Walker was vastly overrated.

After having considered the matter in more depth, however, all the while trying to keep my mind open and my eyes on the big picture, I now believe that Walker is a legitimate candidate for the Hall.

Consider three men with similar levels of achievement: Larry Walker, Chuck Klein and Duke Snider. lists Snider and Klein among the ten players most similar to Walker. Snider and Walker are very similar. In fact, Baseball Reference lists Snider as the most comparable retired player. I chose to add Klein to the comparison because he is a Hall of Famer and he, like Walker and Snider, had career stats heavily influenced by one friendly home park. Chuck Klein batted .395 with power at the Baker Bowl, Walker batted .381 with power at Coors, and Snider had a .999 OPS at Ebbets Field.

If you look at their career stats, Walker is not only similar to the two HOFers, but actually seems a bit better.


The numbers above include everything Walker did at Coors Field, of course, so his lifetime .965 OPS is higher than either Ty Cobb or Willie Mays. I think we all know he was not that good. But the fact that he wasn't really better than Willie Mays doesn't mean he is not a Hall of Famer. If the Hall was restricted to all players as good as or better than Willie Mays, it would be a mighty cozy place. Some might even argue that Willie would be the only member. But Walker still seems to be a Hall of Famer after the effects of Coors are factored out. Walker's similarity to Duke Snider is not just because of Coors. If you ignore what all three of the players above did in their friendly home parks and just concentrate on their performance in all other games, as summarized below, it is only Klein who drops out of contention, while Walker still comes out of it looking solid, and is still virtually identical to Snider in the key hitting indicators. His lifetime OPS outside of Coors (.876) is excellent. Eddie Mathews, for example, is at .885, and nobody would contest that he is a high-tier Hall of Famer and was a great power hitter.

outside Baker Bowl
outside Coors Field
outside Ebbets Field

To state my case briefly, I've changed my mind. Larry Walker is almost precisely equal to Duke Snider with the bat. In addition, he was faster and stole more bases than Snider, threw out more runners with a stronger arm, and had comparable range factors on those occasions when he was called upon to play center field. Ordinarily, I would not accept the argument that "X is as good as Y, and Y is a Hall of Famer, therefore so is X" because that argument usually involves a Y who should never have been selected to the Hall in the first place. On the other hand, I am willing to take the stand for any player who is as good as somebody who BELONGS in the Hall of Fame. For example, I'm not willing to state a case for Walker based upon the fact that he was obviously a far better hitter than Chuck Klein, because Klein's credentials are suspect. On the other hand, Walker has a good case in the Duke Snider comparison, because Snider is not a bottom dweller. By any reasonable set of standards, he is an above-average member of the Hall.

Here's how Baseball-Reference breaks down Snider's HOF credentials:
  • Black Ink Batting - 28, Average HOFer ≈ 27
  • Gray Ink Batting - 183, Average HOFer ≈ 144
  • Hall of Fame Monitor Batting - 152, Likely HOFer ≈ 100
  • Hall of Fame Standards Batting - 47, Average HOFer ≈ 50

In summary, I see it like this:

It's not just a Coors Field issue. Of the three New York center fielders in the famous baseball song, Larry Walker was not as good a player as Willie and Mickey, but he was as good or better than the Duke, who is not only in the Hall of Fame, but definitely belongs there. Therefore, I withdraw any previous objections I have made to Walker's candidacy. I don't consider his candidacy to be a high priority, but his credentials are genuine, even for a Hall of Fame outside of Canada.

1 comment:

  1. I have not done the comparisons to similar players in the HOF, but I remember Walker as being a lot more than a good player who got his stats inflated by playing at Coors Field. He definitely has my vote for Cooperstown, but it is not going to happen it seems, until the Veterans Committee takes it up, years from now. Too bad, this is a HOFer.