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Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Good Company: Larry Walker and the Hall of Fame

Except for maybe Augusta National, few institutions are as exclusive as the National Baseball Hall of Fame, albeit for slightly different reasons. Cooperstown honors a tradition of excellence and demands outstanding achievement before one can have a plaque with their likeness displayed there. Ballots for the class of 2006 start arriving in BBWAA members' mailboxes before the end the month, and then the debate can begin in earnest as to who merits election in the next class of eligible players. You can bet there will be no shortage of bloggers approaching the issue, the Diaspora included, as I'm a big Will Clark fan.

Today, however, I want to jump ahead to 2011 and consider the case of one Larry Walker. Without question, Walker had a great career, posting outstanding numbers along the way. While his case for membership is strong, it is not open and shut.

Through 16 seasons in the majors, Walker collected the NL MVP once in 1997, and over the course of his career was a five time All-Star, won three batting titles, three Silver Sluggers, and seven Gold Gloves. He even found a dead body on his Evergreen, Colorado ranch in 2004 while out with an injury. All of these things, except for the body, will have to be taken into account when the Writers find Larry's name on their ballot. His stats, however, will account for more, so let's jump in there and take a look at Walker's case sabermetrically. For this exercise, I've used the updated Hall of Fame measures laid out by Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus (go subscribe). Before I go further, let me also thank Mr. Jaffe for fielding my questions about his method in specific regard to Walker. He was tremendously helpful. For Mr. Jaffe's full explanation of his method, check out this article analyzing the HOF class of 2005. JAWS (Jaffe WARP Score) averages adjusted career WARP (wins above replacement player) and a player's peak WARP representing the five best consecutive seasons of their career. Adjustments for injury are allowed, and this was certainly an issue with the oft injured Walker. Clearly, he was at his peak between 1997 and 2002, but I chose '97 through '01 to represent the five best. In 2000, Walker appeared in only 87 games, just over half a full season. Discarding that year, 2002 gets added into the mix. Also included per Jaffe, are Walker's Batting Runs Above Replacement (BRAR), Batting Runs Above Average (BRAA), and Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA). Walker's stats are then compared to the average HOF right fielder's numbers.

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Yesterday on Fox Sports' website, Dayn Perry made the case for Walker utilizing his more traditional stats, and bringing OPS+ into the mix to counter the argument that Walker's stats carry a Coors Field bias with them. The WARP3 numbers also even out these kind of factors, allowing player comparisons across the years. Fungoes gave us a quick look at his HOF Monitor and HOF Standards scores, which further Walker's case.

As you can see, Walker is below average for HOF RF standards. Let's mention here also that HOF right fielders include some pretty elite company, such as Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Effecting Walker's case for the HOF most is the impact of injuries, essentially limiting him to 12 years worth of playing time over the course of 16 years. However, Walker's numbers do not water down the Hall's standards for right fielders even though he would represent the lower end of that spectrum.

Obviously, there are other considerations. Walker's awards and recognition will help his case, but there is definitely room for argument. Perhaps international politics will help Walker if the voters decide to honor the greatest Canadian hitter up to this point in the game's history (Jason Bay fans take note). If Walker is elected, he would most certainly be in a Colorado uniform. Sorry Cardinal fans, Larry's played the vast majority of his career in Denver and was a real credit to that franchise. I remember watching him play when I was going to college up the road in Wyoming and thinking what an amazing player he was. He would certainly have my vote, but if rabid fans were allowed to vote, the HOF would hardly be special. I'd be surprised if he got voted in right away, but he should be able to hang around, until he gets a cortisone shot from the BBWAA voters.

Yeah, i don't see Larry getting into the HOF. I see the voters giving him some love, maybe a Dale Murphy-esque 10%, maybe a Jack Morris 40%, to signify that he was a talented player, that got somewhat of a boost from Coors, but while he wasn't Dante Bichette, he isn't a HOFer either.
it's close, maybe the veterans committee put him
I wonder if Walker's chances diminish due to Helton --- as in they'll want Helton to be the first Rockies HOFer.
maybe, but helton's got a few more years of playing time
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