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The Hall of Fame is incomplete without Larry Walker

This is the last chance for Hall voters to elect him.

2019 Spring Training: Milwaukee Brewers v. Toronto Blue Jays

For better or worse, it’s officially Hall of Fame season. The 2020 Hall of Fame ballot has been released and sent to voters. This will also be Larry Walker’s tenth and final appearance on the ballot. Either justice will prevail and he enters the Hall, or the system will fail and he will have exhausted eligibility.

The BBWAA had better not screw this up. There is no rational, intelligent, sane reason for any voter to leave Walker off their ballot. He was unequivocally one of the most brilliant players in baseball history, checking every conceivable box on the Hall of Fame checklist. It’s time to fire up the engines on the #WalkerHOF hype train.

Hall of Fame Metrics

By any measure of Hall worthiness— and there are several— Walker makes the grade. The most prominent is JAWS. With 58.7, he ranks 10th among the 26 right fielders in the Hall, comfortably above the average of 56.8. His overall bWAR and WAR7 also surpasses the average Hall of Famer. All nine players ahead of him are Hall of Famers, as are the three below him (excluding the permanently banned Shoeless Joe Jackson).

Expand beyond just right fielders and his JAWS looks even better. There only two position players who have been retired at least five years with a higher JAWS- Barry Bonds and Pete Rose (Bobby Grich and Walker are tied). This includes Derek Jeter, who will be elected with near unanimity on the first ballot. Walker bests Jeter in bWAR, WAR7, and JAWS.

There is a more meritorious, albeit less prestigious, hall that has already welcomed Walker. The Hall of Stats gives him a score of 151 (100 is needed for inclusion), which is seventh best among right fielders. This is the highest rating of any player not in the Hall of Fame, other than Bonds.

Hall of Fame Monitor and Hall of Fame Standards, a pair of Bill James creations, both also smile upon Walker. His Monitor score is 148, easily surpassing the likely HOFer score of 100, and his Standards score of 58 beats the average HOFer’s 50.

By any available metric for comparing Hall of Famers, excluding Walker would be more egregious than any other scandal-free player in history. Let’s say you require a more familiar frame of reference. Here he is compared to a few other recently retired or inducted right fielders:

Walker vs. HOF RF

Player bWAR JAWS Hall of Stats OPS+
Player bWAR JAWS Hall of Stats OPS+
Larry Walker 72.7 58.7 151 141
Tony Gwynn 69.2 55.2 128 132
Ichiro Suzuki 59.4 51.5 108 107
Harold Baines 38.7 30.1 57 121

I don’t want to imply that Walker was better than Gwynn and Ichiro. I want to state it clearly: Walker was better than Gwynn and Ichiro. Ichiro isn’t Hall eligible yet, but does anyone doubt he’ll make it on the first ballot? Walker absolutely obliterates them all in every category. (Also, Baines’ enshrinement is still a joke.)

Just for fun, here’s how he compares to the three Hall of Fame Expos outfielders:

Walker vs. HOF Expos

Player bWAR JAWS Hall of Stats OPS+
Player bWAR JAWS Hall of Stats OPS+
Larry Walker 72.7 58.7 151 141
Vladimir Guerrero 59.4 50.3 111 140
Tim Raines 69.4 55.9 129 123
Andre Dawson 64.8 53.7 123 119

Walker stands above them all by a wide margin. A Hall without Walker is simply incomplete.

Stats and Such

Maybe the Hall metrics aren’t your thing. The day-to-day baseball stats make Walker’s case just as well. From 1997-2002, he slashed .353/.441/.648 with a park-adjusted 157 OPS+. Neutralized for league and era, this would have been .312/.396/.572. That’s basically the same as Joe DiMaggio’s .325/.398/.579. His .458 wOBA during that stretch was 120 points higher than league average, and second in MLB behind only Bonds.

While his peak was incredible, his overall career numbers rank highly on several leaderboards. He’s 12th in slugging percentage (.565), 15th in OPS (.965), 38th in WPA (51.5), and, for whatever it’s worth, 32nd in hit by pitches (138).

The above numbers describe his outstanding work at the plate, but his defense was also special. His career 2.0 dWAR might not seem like much, but thanks to positional adjustments it’s actually eighth best all-time for a right fielder (75% games in RF). He also boasts the eighth most outfield assists in the expansion era with 154.

The impact of an outfielder’s arm is difficult to measure, but it’s fairly easy to eyeball:

We like to let numbers do the talking on this website, but if you’re more into hardware, Walker’s covered there as well. He won the 1997 NL MVP award, seven Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, and participated in five All-Star Games.

The Elephant in the Room

bUt wHaT aBoUt CoOrS FiEld?

Yes, Walker’s unadjusted numbers benefited from playing his home games in Colorado. Coors Field in the 90s was the most extreme offense-friendly environment in recent history.

Fortunately, we have adjusted numbers that account for environment, including park factors. OPS+, wRC+, and DRC+ all rate him 34-41 percent better than league average over the course of his career.

Even on the road, he was a 126 wRC+ hitter. That’s equal to HOFer Enos Slaughter’s career mark. Andre Dawson’s career wRC+ is 117, and Derek Jeter’s is 119. Even if Walker never played a home game, he’d still be a better overall hitter than either of them!

That wouldn’t be fair to Walker, though. The games he played in Coors still counted in the standings. So why should his numbers count against him? Over 2,501 plate appearances in Colorado, he swatted .381/.462/.710. That’s a 1.172 OPS over the equivalent of five full seasons. For reference, Babe Ruth’s 1.164 OPS is the career record. Walker literally hit better than The Babe in the park where he played the most games!

People often wonder what an all-time great player, such as Bonds, Ruth, or Ted Williams, would have hit in Coors Field. Walker wasn’t quite at the level of those three immortals, but he’s not nearly as far off as most people think. It’s intellectually dishonest to toss out his best work just because it happened in an outlier ballpark. Besides, Baseball Prospectus’ Matt Trueblood explained that his early years in Montreal’s scoring vacuum offset his time in Colorado.

Last year, and for the first time, more than half of all voters marked Walker’s name on their ballot (54.6 percent). With a lot of recent inductions, the ballot has unclogged somewhat. We’ve also seen Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez receive big voting boosts in their final years of eligibility. That all portends well for Walker, but he still needs a lot of voters to change their minds.

Excluding players connected to scandals, Larry Walker is the best non-Hall of Famer in history. That’s a Pyrrhic honor, and his continued absence is a stain on the establishment. This is the BBWAA’s last chance to set things right. Let’s hope they don’t blow it.


Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. Tweets @depstein1983.