The Ballot: Larry Walker
Hitting: 475 points
Fielding: 50 points
Base running: 25 points
League leaders: 45 points (batting average three times, on-base percentage twice, slugging twice, doubles, homers)
MVP award: 25 points
Has a weird thing about the number three (wore 33, was married at 3:33 p.m., took three practice swings, etc): 5 points
Coors Field adjustment: minus ??? points.
Hall of Fame Race to 400 points: 625, minus whatever you want to take from him for all the at-bats he got at Coors Field
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I don't really have time to do an entirely new post on Larry Walker -- the Hall of Fame announcement is only a few days away, I have several other people I have to get to in this series, I'm trying to get the final edits done on a certain book I might have mentioned -- but really, this is too good.
I'm hoping that all of you have seen Phil Birnbaum's terrific Fun With Splits post. If you haven't, please go read it now. I'll wait. And if you refuse to do that, let me quickly sum up a couple of its great splits.
In Frank Thomas' 1993 MVP season, he had this split:
Thomas 1: 352 PAs, .367 average, 1.251 OPS, 22 doubles, 33 homers
Thomas 2: .309 PAs, .259 average, .796 OPS, 14 doubles, 8 homers
What the heck was this split? If you haven't read Phil's piece, you might guess that it's a home/road split. Or maybe it's the difference between games won and games lost, sometimes that split is crazy. It doesn't seem likely to be lefties vs. righties, because he wouldn't get 309-plus plate appearances against lefties. Is it grass vs. turf? AL Central vs. rest of baseball? High leverage vs. medium/low leverage? What?
Whatever it is: It's decisive. Thomas 1 was all but impossible to get out. Thomas 2 was very average. Thomas was the unanimous MVP in 1993. Were people unaware of this split?
The split is not often THIS decisive, but it does rear its head at other times.
In 1987, using the same split, Ken Phelps 1 hit .329 with 10 doubles and 19 homers, while Ken Phelps 2 hit .188 with 3 doubles and 8 homers.
In 2004, Derek Jeter 1 hit .325, while Derek Jeter 2 hit .254.
But it can go the other way too. In 2001, Dmitri Young 1 hit .255 with just two homers, while Dmitri Young 2 hit .348 with 19 homers. In 1978, Rod Carew 1 hit 0 triples while Rod Carew 2 hit 10 triples.
I've played this out even though I know you already know the split.
I've done this because I'm hoping to hammer home this point: As much as we may THINK we respect randomness in baseball, we don't respect it enough. And I say that as much to myself as anybody else.
The split is odd and even days on the calendar. That's it. Phil has brilliantly come up with a split as random as flipping a coin, and yet he found numerous differentials that were almost as crazy as Larry Walker's or Todd Helton's Coors Field home/road splits.
[caption id="attachment_24029" align="aligncenter" width="436"] Coors Field aside, Walker's HOF case is airtight.[/caption]
So you might say: Well, OK, it's one thing over a single season. But what about over a career? Certainly splits like that wouldn't happen over a career. So, I asked Phil if he had the career numbers. He was kind enough to send some along.
I was surprised: Even over a career, the split was pretty wide in numerous cases. Of the 515 players who had at least 2,500 plate appearances on odd and even days, more than 10 percent of the players had at least a 50-point difference in OPS.
Greg Luzinski 1 hit .289 with 180 homers in his career. Greg Luzinski 2 hit .262 with 127 homers.
Gabe Kapler 2 hit .295 with an .818 OPS in his career. Gabe Kapler 1 hit .242 with a .688 OPS.
Dee Gordon 2 was a .300 hitter (.306, actually), while Dee Gordon 1 hit .274.
Willie Horton hit 200 of his 325 homers on odd days, while Ron Santo hit 48 more homers on even days.
So, what's the point with Walker? Am I saying that Walker's home/road split should be ignored as "randomness?" Of course not. We all know that Coors, particularly in Walker's day, was a hitter's paradise, because of the light air and huge outfield.
-- In 1993, when Andres Galarraga hit .370, he hit .402 at Coors.
-- In 1995, when Dante Bichette finished second in the MVP balloting, he slugged .755 at Coors and hit 32 of his 40 homers there.
-- In 1996, when Vinny Castilla hit 40 homers, he hit 27 of them at Coors (and slugged 200-plus points better at home).*
*The next year, Castilla hit 40 homers again, but strangely this time his home/road splits were very similar.
Home: .320/.361/.560, 21 homers
Road: .287/.352/..534, 19 homers
And so on. There are many examples. We know that Coors Field was a hitters' park. We know that playing home games there inflated Walker's home numbers (and hurt his road numbers, as has been shown in numerous studies).
But to me, the wonderful idea behind Phil's splits story is that maybe we fool ourselves by trying to make perfect sense of everything that happens in baseball. We don't know, we can't know, what Larry Walker's career would have been like had he played all of it in Montreal or St. Louis or Milwaukee. Maybe he wouldn't have won an MVP award. Maybe he would have won multiple MVPs.
Maybe he wouldn't have finished with a .300/.400/.500 career line and 73 WAR and what statistically looks like a pretty airtight Hall of Fame case. Or maybe he would have been luckier from a health perspective, not missed as much time with injuries, managed to play on a little bit longer and put up even more impressive career numbers.
We're only guessing. Randomness is an overpowering presence in the game. What we know about Larry Walker is that he hit brilliantly, he fielded brilliantly, he ran the bases brilliantly, he signed as a free agent with Colorado and brilliantly adjusted his game so that he could take full advantage of Coors Field.
And that's the last point to make. Tom Tango points this out:
Highest OPS for players at Coors Field (min. 200 PAs)
Sammy Sosa, 1.183
Larry Walker, 1,172
Adrian Beltre, 1.170
Barry Bonds, 1.162
Eric Karros, 1.160
Gary Sheffield, 1.159
Jeffrey Hammonds, 1.156
Jeff Kent, 1.122
Mike Piazza, 1.115
Craig Biggio, 1.091
Look at that list and consider three things. First, with a couple of fluky exceptions -- though Karros and Hammonds were both fine players -- these are some of the greatest hitters of the last 30 years.
Second, Walker is SECOND on this list, ahead of Bonds, ahead of Piazza, ahead of Sheffield, behind only Sammy Sosa, who, you know, hit 600 homers in his career.
Third, notice that Walker is the only Rockies player in the Top 10. Matt Holliday is 11th. Todd Helton is 15th. We know how good both of them were. The more at-bats you get, the less likely that you would be on a list like this.
This year, Larry Walker is polling around 67% on the Ryan Thibodaux Hall of Fame tracker, a huge leap from last year, and it potentially sets Walker up for election next year. It will likely be very, very close, but it's nice to see him making a final push.
Here's where I am: Larry Walker should have been a slam dunk Hall of Famer years ago. We have not voted him in yet, in my view, because we don't respect how random baseball is, and we think we know more than we know.