I have written blog posts about a lot of the players who will appear on the 2016 HOF ballot, including Jim Edmonds, Billy Wagner, Nomar Garciaparra, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. I have very strong feelings about a lot of these players, and am hoping to get a post out about a vast majority of the players who are hoping for induction next year.
Up next is a player who is entering his sixth year on the ballot, but who has seen his percentage drop from 22.9% in 2012 down to 11.8% last year. It is hard to understand why the voters are ignoring the five tool talent possessed by former Expos, Rockies and Cardinals right fielder Larry Walker, but let's examine the entirety of his career a little closer and see what comes up:
For Larry Walker and the Hall of Fame:
As I have mentioned before, there are a few different "types" of Hall of Famers: The longevity guy (like Craig Biggio) who put together a steady career that amounted in milestone numbers (like 3000 hits or 300 wins) but who may not have been the most dominant player of his era. Then there are the peak players, players who simply dominated a period of time, but did not last long enough to reach those peak numbers. (Obviously there are also players who fit into both categories, guys like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron etc).
Walker definitely fits into the second category. His career may have spanned 17 seasons, but he only played more than 150 games once, as he was constantly nagged by injuries. He was consistently good, but definitely peaked for a six year period between 1997-2002. This peak, however, needs to be talked about as one of the best six year peaks of all time (5 1/2 really, he missed most of the 2000 season with an injury). Between 1997-2002, Walker slashed a blistering .353/.441/.648/1.089 with a 157 OPS+. He averaged 30 home runs and 98 RBI's, and accrued 392 walks compared to 419 strikeouts. His WAR during this period was 36.1, or about a 6 WAR per season.
During this time period, Walker was a three time batting champion (98, 99, 01) with second place finishes in 97 and 02 (he hit .366(!) in 97 but finished second to Tony Gwynn, and he only hit .338 in 02, losing to Bonds' steroid fueled .370 average). He was a five time gold glove winner, a two time silver slugger winner, a four time all-star, and the 1997 MVP. Perhaps most tragically, he finished a distant tenth in MVP voting in 1999 despite slashing .379/.458/.710/1.168, good for first place in every single category, along with 37 home runs and 115 RBI's.
In addition to having a peak rivaling the best hitters of all-time (right fielders in the HOF average a seven year peak WAR of 43, Walker's was 44.6) Walker was also an incredible five tool talent. He could hit for average (.313 career and three batting titles), and power (383 home runs and 471 doubles, led league with 49 bombs in 1997), he had speed (230 steals and 62 triples for a power hitter) and an incredible arm in the outfield (he won seven gold gloves and is 17th all time in assists as a RF and 9th in double plays).
All of these talents helped him accrue a career WAR of 72.6, good for 56th all time for position players, ahead of Hall of Fame outfielders Dave Winfield, Andre Dawson, Tony Gwynn, and Duke Snider.
Larry Walker is 12th all time in slugging %, and 15th all time in OPS, ahead of sluggers like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, Stan Musial and Frank Robinson.
According to baseball-reference, Larry Walker has a HOF monitor score of 148 and a HOF standards score of 58, where the average HOFer scores 100 and 50, respectively.
Against Larry Walker and the Hall of Fame:
There is one argument that gets thrown around constantly when discussing Larry Walker's HOF candidacy: The fact that his dominant seasons (specifically 1995-2004) were spent in the pre-humidor Coors Field era. In 2007, Coors field installed humidors to store the baseballs in before the games, in an effort to combat the drastically higher elevation at Coors Field (Coors is at 5200 feet above sea level, the next highest stadium is Chase Field in Arizona, at 1100 feet). Prior to this installation Coors had far more home runs, doubles, and triples than any other stadium, thanks largely in part to the drier, more elastic baseballs.
It would be pretty pointless to argue that Walker wasn't at his most productive in Colorado. He spent 10 seasons there, accruing 48.2 of his 72.6 WAR, including 258 of his 383 home runs. While a member of the Rockies, Walker hit .334/.426/.618 compared to his .281/.357/.483 in his first six seasons in Montreal. He never hit more than 23 home runs in Montreal, before blasting 36 his first year in Colorado in 1995. He led the league in doubles in 1994 with Montreal, but other then that he was only ever a league leader in Colorado, where he won all three of his batting titles.
Walker, much like current ballot partner Nomar Garciaparra, suffered from a rash of injuries that kept his career numbers from reaching certain milestones. Walker only played over 150 games once, and only played over 140 games four times over 17 seasons. He missed about half of the 1996 and 2000 seasons, which were right in the heart of his peak. Had he been healthy those seasons alone, he probably would have mashed another 35 home runs and 110 RBI's. As it stands, Walker finished with 383 bombs and 1311 RBI's, fine career totals but short of the expectations for power hitting outfielders (63rd all time in home runs and 105th all time in RBI's).
Lastly, I believe the voters are abstaining from voting for certain players in the 90's that they believe may have been using PED's. Personally, I don't believe in withholding a vote from someone based on nothing substantial, but Walker, along with Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, appear to be suffering for this. Unless something damning comes out about any of these players, I believe you should vote based on merit, and not perceived cheating.
I think Larry Walker is a Hall of Famer. I understand the Coors Field argument, but I think it is completely unfair to penalize Walker based on where he played his home games. He did not demand to play there, he simply took advantage of the opportunity given to him. It is impossible to know exactly what his career would have looked like had Coors field used humidors sooner, or had he played elsewhere. However, Coors field didn't make him stronger or faster or a better outfielder, all traits he had long before he played in Colorado. His five tool talent alone should give him the necessary merit, without having to evaluate the field he played on.
Sadly, Walker's numbers have been floating downward recently and have yet to come close to the 75% necessary for induction into the Hall of Fame. I think with four players going in last year there may be a slight uptick in Walker's vote totals, but it does not look like it will reach the 75% necessary. He will be evaluated by the Veteran's committee years from now, and perhaps they will give him a shot.