Underrated Walker deserves more Hall consideration
Slugger benefited from friendly home park, but excelled on road, too
By Andrew Simon
When the Hall of Fame's 2017 class is revealed on Jan. 18, Larry Walker won't be getting the call to Cooperstown.
Sure, Walker might make some progress in the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voting. But in 2016, Walker's sixth year out of 10 on the ballot, he garnered a mere 15.5 percent of the vote, below his high of 22.9 percent from '12 and miles away from the 75 percent needed for induction. And based on publicly tracked ballots thus far, he's hovering around 20 percent.
The results of the 73rd BBWAA Hall of Fame election will be revealed Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. ET live on MLB Network, and simulcast live on MLB.com beginning at 5 p.m.
This situation makes Walker perhaps the most underrated of all eligible players. While there likely are several contributing factors, it's clear that Walker's 10 seasons playing in Colorado have become more of a curse than a blessing when it comes to his Hall prospects.
There is no doubt Coors Field helped Walker post his gaudy numbers, but the penalty the sweet-swinging Canadian seems to be paying for his longtime home park is too severe.
Here is a look at why Walker should be a much more serious Cooperstown candidate, despite the influence of the Mile High City.
Advanced statistics already account for park effects -- and they're on Walker's side
The beauty of a metric such as weighted runs created-plus (wRC+) is that it adjusts for external factors, including ballpark and era, allowing comparisons of players who performed in radically different environments. This all-encompassing offensive stat has 100 as league average.
Over his 17-year career in Montreal (1989-94), Colorado ('95-2004) and St. Louis ('04-'05), Walker posted a career wRC+ of 140, meaning that he was 40 percent better than average as an offensive player, all things considered. That ranks 38th in history (minimum 7,500 plate appearances) and 18th among outfielders. Vladimir Guerrero, a first-time candidate this year who is sure to finish far ahead of Walker in the voting, had a 136 career wRC+. Current Hall of Fame outfielders such as Reggie Jackson (139) and Al Kaline (134) also are behind Walker.
Combine Walker's park-adjusted offensive excellence, his effective baserunning (230 career steals) and his stellar defense in right (seven Gold Glove Awards; 154 assists), and you get an all-around star. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Walker finished with 72.6 wins above replacement, 44.6 WAR over his seven-year peak and a score of 58.6 in JAWS, a system developed by Jay Jaffe to measure a player's Hall worthiness.
Each of those numbers is essentially tied with or higher than the average for the right fielders already in Cooperstown, not to mention well ahead of Guerrero (59.3 WAR, 41.1 peak WAR, 50.2 JAWS). The group of already-enshrined outfielders behind Walker in career WAR includes Tony Gwynn, Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield, Willie Stargell and many others.
Walker still raked on the road, which is no easy feat for a Rockies player
The left-handed hitter's Denver tenure included four All-Star selections, the 1997 NL MVP Award and utter dominance at Coors Field. Walker hit an eye-popping .381/.462/.710 in 597 career games at the ballpark and from 1995-2004 trailed only Barry Bonds in home OPS.
Keep in mind, however, that Walker was one of baseball's best hitters at home both over his last two years in Montreal (.984 OPS) and in his final season for St. Louis (.989). And he wasn't some slouch on the road, either, with an .865 career OPS that compares favorably to first-ballot Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. (.860). That includes a .279/.382/.508 road line over Walker's nine full seasons with the Rockies.
In his 1997 MVP campaign, Walker actually hit a tiny bit better away from home -- .346/.443/.733 with 29 homers. Only nine players since 1913 have posted a better single-season road OPS (minimum 250 plate appearances): Bonds, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Mark McGwire, Norm Cash and Jeff Bagwell.
If that isn't enough evidence, consider what MLB.com's Mike Petriello showed in this piece, which is that for as much as Coors Field helps Rockies hitters at home, it also hurts them on the road. When hitters such as Matt Holliday and Dexter Fowler have departed Colorado in their primes, their home OPS have declined, but their road OPS have increased, and their overall park-adjusted offensive performances have ticked upward.
In other words, if Walker is penalized for his home numbers at Coors Field, he also should be given extra credit for his road numbers while with the Rockies.
Plenty of hitters who benefited greatly from their home parks already are enshrined
This isn't a dig at any current Hall of Famers, but rather a demonstration of the fact that while Coors Field attracts so much attention in Walker's Hall discussion, i'ts nothing new for players to take advantage of favorable offensive environments on their way to Cooperstown.
Walker's career home OPS of 1.068 is 110.7 percent of his overall OPS of .965. Here is a quick look at eight Hall of Fame hitters, each of whom also had a home OPS that was at least 108.5 percent of their total:
1. Bobby Doerr (.929 home OPS, .716 road): The Red Sox second baseman spent 14 seasons enjoying Fenway Park, where he slugged a whopping 65 percent of his home runs and doubles.
2. Chuck Klein (1.027 home OPS, .813 road): In his early days with the Phillies, the left-handed batter thrived at the Baker Bowl, a bandbox that was 280 feet down the right-field line and 300 to right-center (with a high wall). Klein hit an absurd .420/.467/.760 and averaged nearly 52 homers per 162 games there from 1928-33.
3. Hank Greenberg (1.122 home OPS, .912 road): The right-handed slugger spent all but his final season with Detroit, taking aim at the inviting left-field seats at the ballpark that later became known as Tiger Stadium. Greenberg walloped a still-standing record of 39 home runs at home in 1938, and two years later slashed .394/.500/.814 there on his way to AL MVP honors.
4. Ron Santo (.905 home OPS, .747 road): The Cubs great smacked 62 percent of his career homers within the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. In 1968, Santo was impervious to the so-called Year of the Pitcher at home (.285/.399/.569), but not on the road (.209/.310/.591).
5. Roy Campanella (.942 home OPS, .784 road): The Brooklyn Dodgers catcher played all but 10 of his career home games at cozy Ebbets Field. In each of his three NL MVP seasons (1951, '53, '55), he posted an OPS of better than 1.000 and hit more than 20 homers there.
6. Wade Boggs (.934 home OPS, .781 road): His left-handed stroke was a perfect fit at Fenway Park. With the Red Sox from 1982-92, he posted an OPS roughly 200 points higher at home, batting .369/.465/.525 there, compared with .307/.391/.400 on the road.
7. Earl Averill (1.009 home OPS, .846 road): He spent much of his career at Cleveland's League Park, which complemented the left-handed batter with a high wall that was 290 feet away down the right-field line and 317 to right-center. Averill hit .360/.439/.625 there, clearing a 1.000 OPS every year from 1930-37.
8. Kirby Puckett (.909 home OPS, .761 road): Puckett certainly felt at home at the Metrodome, the only home park he ever knew. At his peak (1986-92), Puckett's .935 home OPS -- he hit .355/.392/.542 -- trailed only Boggs, while his .797 road OPS ranked 35th (minimum 1,500 plate appearances).
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.