Monday, January 3, 2011

The Case to Elect Larry Walker into the Baseball Hall of Fame

I believe that Larry Walker deserves a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and yes, it’s somewhat because he’s Canadian. So sue me.

In the same spirit of how Shi Davidi provided Jose Bautista with his single first-place AL MVP vote, and how Jefff Blair (who has a Hall of Fame vote) is also supporting Larry Walker for the Hall, I’m campaigning for Walker because hometown (and country) biases need be applied to keep up with the Joneses.

New York writers will vote for Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Dallas writers will vote for Juan Gonzalez, and Houston journalists will favour Jeff Bagwell. But it’s not all about the Canadian connection, Larry Walker is probably worthy of induction based on numbers alone.

As we saw with Andre Dawson last year, an MVP season can go a long way, if supplemented by solid career numbers. In fact, in many ways Dawson was a similar player to Walker, both were power/speed threats, both had very lengthy careers (Dawson played for 21 years, Walker for 17) and both of course, had their MVP seasons. But this is where Walker’s stats start to stand out: Andre Dawson had a career OPS of .806. Larry Walker OPS’d .965 for his career, never having a 500 AB season with an OPS of less than that of Dawson’s average.

Hall of Fame voters also really appreciate players that had seasons in which they led their league in certain statistics. Larry Walker won the NL batting title three times and in different years won the doubles and home run titles as well as many percentage titles. Black Ink (a stat that measures how noteworthy a player was by the amount and quality of the statistics he led his league in, provided by Baseball Reference) puts Larry Walker at 24 points, while the average Hall of Famer has about 27 points, putting Walker 79th all-time.

In Hall of Fame Monitor, a Bill James statistic that simply assesses whether or not a player is worthy for the Hall, Walker scored 147, on a scale in which 100 denotes a likely Hall of Famer.

But it doesn’t take fancy stats to realize that his 1997 MVP season is truly among the best non-steroid aided (and perhaps including) seasons ever. The .366/.452/.720 slash line is incredible, but to think that he also managed to swipe 33 stolen bases and hit 49 home runs while striking out only 12 more times than the rate at which he took walks. Not to forget that Walker played above-average defense in right field for his entire career.

However, most voters decide to punish Walker due to playing in Coors for much of his career and the extreme home-road splits that come from it. Yet while Coors Field certainly is a launching pad by all accounts, it’s not as drastic a factor as some people make it out to be. This season, U.S. Cellular Field beat out Coors Field for the HR Park Factors title (calculated by ESPN) and in 2009, Coors placed 9th, behind parks such as Angel Stadium, which is not generally considered too much of a hitter’s park. In 2001 (As far back as ESPN calculates Park Factors for), Coors placed 2nd.

Walker only once hit more than 38 home runs, his career was not exactly built on power the way Mark McGwire’s was. Walker’s batting skills are what make him worthy of the Hall, as well as the gaudy on-base numbers that were fueled by the average and good plate discipline. In four separate seasons Walker batted over .350, and while I hate the notion of using batting average to compare players, it’s hard to not be amazed by Walker’s ability to get a hit. His 230 stolen bases place him 266th all-time, which is not impressive on its own, but surely is substantial when adding it to his other numbers.

Sure, the voters have already voted, but make sure when you read the results to make note of Larry Walker’s votes, become a supporter yourself. For Canada’s sake, he deserves election.

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