Larry Walker Is A Deserving Hall Of Famer – But He Was No Slam Dunk

Another Hall of Fame vote has come and gone. The highlights? Derek Jeter, obviously, is in, but wasn’t a unanimous selection. Arguably the best hitter and pitcher I’ve ever seen, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, aren’t. Curt Schilling is creeping closer, while comparable and lesser candidates who haven’t been on the ballot as long saw their vote totals spike.

The big story, however, is the election of Larry Walker in his 10th and final season on the ballot. It’s been quite a trip, from just over 10% of the vote only five years ago to 76.6% this time around. On balance, I’m pretty happy about it.

From what leading industry scribes have written, not to mention the rants of the social media hordes, Walker should have been elected easily many years ago. His first five years on the ballot never happened, and if they did, his lack of success was due to the negligence of the dinosaurs doing the voting. Just like Tim Raines, who was going to fall off of the ballot if not for the efforts led by a heroic……whoops, never mind.

It’s not that simple. Yes, there was a massive logjam of talent on the ballot at mid-decade that was difficult to deal with because of the 10-player ballot limitation. The BBWAA did not do a very good job of dealing with that glut – the average number of player votes per ballot didn’t even exceed seven until 2014, peaking at 8.46 in 2018.

Personally, I think their biggest shortcoming has been their unwillingness to recognize the greatness of Bonds and Clemens, two players whose greatness both preceded and overwhelmed any use of performance-enhancers. Bonds had over twice as many WAR as any player on the ballot this year.

In any event, there is no longer a logjam on the ballot, and there shouldn’t be an excuse for the writers to not elect deserving players at this point. This year, they were presented with an array of 10 position players (excluding Bonds, and his 162.8 Baseball Reference WAR) with WAR totals in a narrow band from 55.4 (Jeff Kent) to 72.7 (Walker) WAR. That’s right, Walker nosed out Jeter’s 72.4 WAR.

Those 10 players, in WAR order:

  • Walker – 72.7 WAR
  • Jeter – 72.4
  • Scott Rolen – 70.2
  • Manny Ramirez – 69.4
  • Andruw Jones – 62.8
  • Todd Helton – 61.2
  • Gary Sheffield – 60.5
  • Bobby Abreu – 60.0
  • Sammy Sosa – 58.6
  • Jeff Kent – 55.4

(Omar Vizquel doesn’t make the cut at 45.6 WAR, trailing even Jason Giambi (50.5) who fell off of the ballot.)

Much has been written about Walker’s career road performance, to counteract arguments that his numbers were inflated by his Coors Field years. Walker was a very good road performer, batting .278-.370-.495 for his career.

Would you guess that Ramirez (.580), Sosa (.513), Kent (.504), Sheffield (.501) and even Jones (.496) posted higher career road slugging percentages? Or that Ramirez (.409), Helton (.386), Sheffield (.384) and Abreu (.379) beat out his road OBP? Walker bested only Rolen (.357 OBP-.484 SLG) in both categories, and tied Jeter (.370 OBP-.431 SLG) in career road OBP.

Quality-wise, Walker is the fourth best hitter of the group, behind Ramirez, Sheffield and (narrowly) Helton. Now Walker had seven Gold Gloves, which in my opinion bumps him ahead of the latter two.

But let’s talk about quantity. Walker’s counting stats are on the low end among Hall of Famers. Instead of getting swept up in minutiae, let’s boil it down to the number of seasons each of these players accumulated enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.

Jeter leads the way with 18; that and his offensive performance relative to his position are his most noteworthy credentials, in my opinion. Next comes Sheffield (15), Ramirez and Abreu (14), Kent and Sosa (13), Walker and Helton (11) and Rolen and Jones (10).

So let’s bring it all together. I honestly would not a significant issue with any member of this player cluster being enshrined. Jeter was a slam-dunk, but nowhere near 100%-worthy.

I would argue that Ramirez’ incredible offensive numbers would place him 2nd among this group. The next group would include Walker, Rolen and Jones on a plane slightly ahead of Helton and Sheffield. The former have plenty of offensive quality, but not as much quality, to go with seven, eight and 10 Gold Gloves, respectively.

Helton is an offensive clone of Walker’s at a more offense-friendly position, and fewer (3) Gold Gloves. Sheffield is a superior offensive player to Walker quality and quantity-wise, but with far less defensive contribution.

Abreu is right on the HOF-worthy line for me, a guy I hope gets in. Offensive quantity is quite good, quality a bit below the Walker Line. His speed (400 steals!) and defense (he actually won a Gold Glove) were both better than you probably remember. Kent and Sosa, for me, are not Hall of Famers.

The good news is that most of these guys will get in. The writers will have plenty of excess ballot capacity moving forward. Only 6.61 players were selected per ballot this time around, with 1.77 of those dedicated to Jeter and Walker. That drops that number to 4.84 players selected per ballot – and means there are 5.16 open slots per ballot available to the holdovers next year. They will joined by the newly eligible Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle and Torii Hunter, none of whom will provide particularly stiff competition.

Things get a bit tighter in 2022 (which will be Schilling/Bonds/Clemens’ last chance if they don’t get in next year) with the addition of Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz (plus Mark Teixeira and Jimmy Rollins) to the ballot. 2023 brings Carlos Beltran, and 2024 brings Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley and David Wright.

The writers have come a long way since those halcyon days of electing no one, or perhaps even worse, Andre Dawson, Jack Morris or Jim Rice in the presence of far better alternatives. They’re now in a position where they can comfortably elect the three clear best options on the ballot (Bonds, Clemens, Schilling) and a few of the others discussed here, all in fairly short order. Let’s hope they can complete this mission.

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