Why Is Larry Walker Not In The Hall of Fame?
Larry Kenneth Robert Walker mashed anywhere and everywhere.
Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, and Mariano Rivera. Those are the four names who garnered the necessary 75% of the votes from the BBWAA, thus ensuring their induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. All tremendous players. All deserving of the incredible honor.
There should have been a fifth name added to this list, and that name is Larry Walker.
You know what? I take that back. On this ballot, which represented Walker's ninth and penultimate chance at induction, he should not have received the 75% he needed. But that's only because there should already be a plaque with his mug on it in that damned museum. Instead, Walker's name appeared on 54.6% of the ballots, a good number for someone in his first few years of eligibility, but a scary one for a player banking on one final chance.
But what is it that has made it so difficult for a player with Walker's résumé to generate votes? Was he connected to any PED hullabaloo? Nope. Questionable character? Sorry, try again. Sub-par postseason performances? See: 2004 playoffs. No, no, no. What really seems to grind the gears of the voting members of the baseball-writing community is the fact that Kevin Malone, the former GM of the low-budget Expos and the namesake of The Office character, did not offer arbitration to Montreal's star right fielder, Larry Walker. This allowed Walker to become a free agent after a strike-shortened 1994 season, and lo and behold, the Colorado Rockies decided to sign him to a four-year deal worth 22.5 million dollars.
Walker wound up playing just over nine seasons for the Rockies, which is a big no-no for the BBWAA. Hitting in the thin air made Coors Field play like Williamsport in the 90's and 2000's, leading many in the baseball community to interpret the Rockies' offensive statistics of that time with the proverbial grain of salt. This has been terrible for players like Walker, whose numbers would warrant a quick and easy induction if he had played his home games in any other MLB ballpark.
Here's the thing, though; Walker was great no matter where he played.
Thanks to modern advancements in baseball analytics, we now have statistics that take into account factors such as positional value, ballpark, and era, making it much easier for us to determine just how good a player was, no matter when or where he played. And guess what? Larry Kenneth Robert Walker mashed anywhere and everywhere.
Consider his career wRC+ of 140 (according to Fangraphs), which takes into account all of the aforementioned factors and produces one number that essentially tells you how good a player is at producing runs. 100 is average, meaning Walker was about 40% above average on offense over the course of his career. Again, this factors in the Coors Effect, along with the offensive boom of the 90's and early 2000's. Walker came in at 1-freaking-40.
Now, take a peek at the wRC+ of some of the other all-time greats.
Alex Rodriguez: 141
Chipper Jones: 141
Larry Walker: 140
David Ortiz: 140
Mike Piazza: 140
Vladimir Guerrero: 136
Reggie Jackson: 139
Ken Griffey Jr.: 131
Rafael Palmeiro: 130
You get the idea. Walker stood toe-to-toe with some of the best to ever put on a baseball uniform, and was simply better than many of them. Yet he is penalized because of geography. You would think the members of the BBWAA all minored in Climatology.
But wait, there's more! Let's erase Coors Field from the equation entirely. Let's look at how Walker performed on the road throughout the course of his incredible career by analyzing his .865 road OPS compared to some other sluggers.
Rafael Palmeiro: .868
Larry Walker: .865
Reggie Jackson: .860
Ken Griffey Jr.: .860
Tony Gwynn: .835
George Brett: .825
Wade Boggs: .781
Equal to or better than all of these guys. Away from Coors. Did he hit better at home? You betcha. Keep in mind though, that the vast majority of players perform better at home than in opposing ballparks, for obvious reasons. The BBWAA seems to disregard this fact when analyzing Walker's numbers, instead pointing to Colorado's elevation as the sole reason he demolished baseballs at Coors Field. It wasn't. Get over it. The guy raked wherever he went by any metric you want to look at.
It is a crying shame that Larry Walker is not already in the Hall of Fame. He was a five-time All Star whose trophy case includes seven Gold Gloves (oh yeah, he was also a good defender with a Remington rifle for an arm), three Silver Sluggers, three batting titles, and an MVP award. His career slash line of .313/.400/.565 puts him in the exclusive .300/.400/.500 club, which has just 18 members. As a part of St. Louis's 2004 playoff run, he hit six home runs and drove in 11 men over 16 games, including a nice little 1.366 OPS in the World Series. The man was legitimately a 5-tool player who was worth 72.7 wins over his 17 years in the bigs, according to Baseball Reference.
20.4% is quite a jump to make over one year. That is what will need to happen in order for Walker to become the first Colorado Rockie to be inducted into the Hall. Let's hope that enough writers put down their hygrometers and barometers for a change and dive a little deeper into Walker's road and park-adjusted numbers. This will show them, once and for all, the immutable truth...
#33 was a helluva player.