Every year around this time, people debate the Hall of Fame ballot. It always ends up with three different categories of players - the obvious Hall of Famers on merit (Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell), and the obvious "No's" (Royce Clayton, Jeff Cirillo). The third category, outside of the PEDs issue, is what livens the debate. Because for players like Fred McGriff, Rafael Palmeiro and Larry Walker, it ultimately shifts the question away from the player and onto: "Well, how big of a Hall do you want?"
There are Small Hall purists, who only want the true juggernauts enshrined, but we are already past that convention breaking down. Grant Brisbee wrote a piece analyzing the break down of the Small Hall in which he notes just how many eligible players he is surprised he would vote for this year: over 15.
He cites Graham Womack's 50 Best Not in the Hall of Fame project, which hit its third installment Wednesday. Players were voted on and ranked, and each player got a written argument, penned by some great writers: Dan Szymborski of ESPN, Bill Parker of The Platoon Advantage, Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated, former White Sox and Dodgers GM Dan Evans, Jason Wojciehowski of Baseball Prospectus, Brandon Warne of Fangraphs...oh, and me. I got the honor of writing up Larry Walker.
Walker finished 18th in the voting of eligible players, yet of the votes cast for Walker from the panel, 71.4% selected "yes." Clearly, the contributors are Large Hall guys, and feel many deserving players are getting shut out. Check the actual BBWAA voting this year so far and Walker has just 13.1% of the vote, with the top vote getters (Bagwell and Raines) still falling short at 68.8%.
Somehow, we have a large group who feel 15+ deserve to be enshrined, and another large group who feel zero should. How the grey area gets sorted out will be fascinating.
Writers have tended to come up with all sorts of unique arguments to keep players off the ballot, and Troy Renck's charge that Walker didn't "care enough" is a confounding and creative. Does the route taken to a HOF-level career much matters if the end point is the same? Did Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle care that much? They certainly enjoyed their post-game activities. When did "Was baseball your #1 sport" a requirement for Cooperstown?
Statistically, Larry Walker was a much better player than we remember. Courtesy of Fangraphs, here is a WAR graph of six players on this year's ballot. Renck voted for five of them, omitting Walker, who actually had the highest career WAR.
I went into it a bit in my limited passage for Womack's project, but voters don't know how to handle pre-humidor Coors Field or the "steroid era," and those two happening concurrently over a player's peak like Walker really confounds things. Yet his park- and era-adjusted OPS+ was 141 for his career, 6th best on this ballot. He had a 144 in 2004 at age 37, better than any season put up by Troy Tulowitzki or Carlos Gonzalez. Walker's 130 in his final season at age 38 is much better than the career numbers for the Rockies' current star duo.
Yet what really gets overlooked is that Walker's offense was only part of his game, and he makes up significant ground in defense and baserunning.
Jay Jaffe has been running a fantastic series on the Hall of Fame voting around his JAWS metric, an attempt at an objective measurement of a Hall of Famer. Walker is a clear Hall of Famer by his metrics based on the average value of a player currently in the Hall of Fame, buthe adjusted his thinking with a piece yesterday raising the bar for entry.
The result keeps Bonds, Clemens and Bagwell in the Hall but pushes Walker onto the fence along with Schilling, Trammel and Raines.
Ultimately, Walker's Hall of Fame case centers most around how large of a Hall the voter believes should exist.
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