Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Larry Walker: Hall of Famer?

I think Larry Walker's candidacy for the Hall of Fame, which will come up in 2011, is very interesting because of how Coors Field fits into his legacy. He was also a relatively quiet star, who had numerous injuries and played for many years on the generally uncompetitive Rockies.

There are several issues to address regarding Larry Walker's Hall of Fame candidacy for the Hall of Fame.

1. Are his numbers good enough?
2. How does Coors Field factor in?

There are many different methods to use and questions to ask when evaluating a player's HOF candidacy. Sometimes, the simplest method can work best. Due to various factors, including injuries, he did not get 500 HR or 3000 hits, so he will need quality of stats over quantity.

Larry Walker: 8030 PA, .313, BA .400 OBP, .565 SLG , .965 OPS, 2160 H, 383 HR, 1311 RBI, 230 SB

1995-96 (Rockies): .766 AB, .296 BA, .593 SLG
1997-2002 (Rockies): 2748 AB, .353 BA, .648 SLG (3 Batting Titles, MVP)

This surprised me a little:

All-Time .300 BA, .400 OBP, .550 SLG, 8000+ PA
Babe Ruth
Rogers Hornsby
Stan Musial
Frank Thomas
Jimmie Foxx
Lou Gehrig
Manny Ramirez
Ted Williams
Larry Walker

All-Time: .300 BA, .400 OBP, .550 SLG, 200+ SB, 8000+ PA
Larry Walker

With only 8030 PA, he is 248th on the all-time list. How does 8000 PA stack up against other Hall of Famers? It's not common, but there are others:
Yogi Berra: 8364
Duke Snider: 8237
Kirby Puckett: 7831
Joe Dimaggio: 7671
Kirby Puckett: 7528

Coors Field: 2136 AB, .381 BA, HR/16.2 PA
Elsewhere: 4771 AB, .282 BA, HR/24.1 PA

Would he be in the discussion if he had played at Wrigley Field from 1995-2003. Perhaps not, although there is no way to know for sure. Here are two small examples of Hall of Famers who benefited mightily from playing where they played:

Jim Rice (Red Sox - Fenway)
Home: .320, .546 SLG, 4507 PA
Road: .277, .469 SLG, 4551 PA

Don Drysdale (Dodgers - Dodger Stadium)
Home: 114-74, 2.53 ERA , 230 GS
Road: 95-92, 3.41 ERA, 235 GS

The Hall of Fame might look a lot different if there had been some minor changes in where people played. For instance, imagine Jim Rice at Dodger Stadium or Don Drysdale at Wrigley Field for their whole careers. There is some luck involved in baseball in where you get to play. Certain hitters who played in pitcher-friendly parks probably would have made the Hall of and vice-versa.

Ok, so let's say Walker is a product of Coors Field. I'm not sure how much this should matter. For instance, what if he had stayed healthy and won 4 MVP awards between 1995 and 2002? If he had stayed healthy (as he did in 1997), it could have happened. He would have been issued multiple MVP Awards (greatly enhancing his HOF resume), despite the fact that everyone knew he was playing in the thin air of Colorado. Yes, it didn't happen, but he did hit .350 from 1997-2002, which is pretty unreal. That's Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby territory.

This is not a slam-dunk. He was hit pretty hard by injuries throughout his career and rarely dominated in quantity of numbers (never placed higher than 3rd in RBI). He was also a very good right fielder who won 7 Gold Gloves. His remarkably high career OBP (On Base %) and SLG put him in elite company and 8000 PA is enough to give him serious consideration. Add in the stolen bases (230) and 7 gold gloves and I think he should gain admission when he is eligible.

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