In his eighth year on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, Larry Walker again appears unlikely to receive the 75% of the vote he’ll need. In fact, he’s unlikely to even be close. This doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, as Walker had a career that was clearly Hall of Fame-caliber. He had a career comparable to Reggie Jackson and other right field Hall of Famers, his MVP season is one of the best we’re ever likely to see, he had a personality that helps the “fame” part of his case, and over on Earth Two he’s already a Hall of Famer!
Let’s dig in to the definitive case for Larry Walker, Hall of Famer.
First and foremost, we should take a look at Walker’s career numbers. In his 17-year career, Walker hit .313/.400/.565, a park-adjusted 141 OPS+, with 2,160 hits, 471 doubles, 62 triples, 383 home runs, and 230 stolen bases. Walker also won seven Gold Gloves in right field and was rated 94 runs better than average defensively by Baseball-Reference. He was a five-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger, and won the MVP in 1997 on the strength of an absurd .366/.452/.720 slash line (178 OPS+), 33 stolen bases, and defense that rated 10 runs better than average.
When all was said and done, Walker had a career 72.6 rWAR, a seven-year peak rWAR of 44.6, and a JAWS (the average of total and seven-year peak rWAR) of 58.6. This all looks impressive, but how does it compare to other players already in the Hall of Fame?
There are 24 right fielders currently in the Hall of Fame. This group has an average of 73.2 career rWAR, an average seven-year peak rWAR of 43, and an average JAWS of 58.1. These are remarkably similar to Walker’s numbers. Out of that group of 24, Walker would rank 12th in rWAR and 10th in seven-year peak rWAR and JAWS. It may not sound great on the surface, but remember we’re comparing him to quite the elite group here. Coming out slightly better than average in the context of a comparison with only Hall of Fame players means he wasn’t just good, he was great. That said, he doesn’t need to beat out the players already in the Hall of Fame. He needs to beat the players currently on the ballot. How does he stack up there?
Among players on the Hall of Fame ballot, Walker comes in seventh in career rWAR. Even on a ballot limited to only 10 players, Walker should comfortably make his way onto the majority of them. Instead, there are currently six players with a lower career rWAR who have made their way onto as many or more of the ballots released to the public than Walker. Maybe WAR isn’t telling us the whole story here. Instead of WAR, let’s look at win probability added (WPA). Here, Walker comes in sixth. It’s important to note, though, that WPA doesn’t factor in defense. According to Baseball-Reference, Walker also places seventh in fielding runs among players on the ballot. Pretty much any way you slice it, Walker is deserving of strong consideration for any voter’s top 10.
These numbers show us a bit of it, but what truly made Walker a special player was his ability to contribute in all facets of the game. He was a legitimate five-tool player. Of players currently on the Hall of Fame ballot, Walker is one of only two with a career OPS+ of 140 or better, 90 or more runs above average defensively, and 35 runs or more above average on the bases. The other is someone you may have heard of—Barry Bonds.
In fact, Walker is one of only four players all-time who can boast that impressive set of numbers. The other two—Willie Mays and Hank Aaron—are also players you may be familiar with.
Here is a list of Hall of Fame-eligible players with 2,000+ hits, 450+ doubles, 50+ triples, 350+ home runs, 200+ stolen bases, and defense rated at least average who are not in the Hall of Fame:
- Barry Bonds
- Larry Walker
This is not meant as a suggestion that Walker’s career was on par with all-time greats like Aaron, Bonds, and Mays. It is, however, meant as an illustration of Walker’s unique skill set and immense value he provided throughout his career, in spite of not reaching some arbitrary milestones that tend to make players far more likely to reach the Hall of Fame.
Take Vladimir Guerrero as an example. He had a nearly identical career as a hitter—his career 140 OPS+ is just one point off of Walker’s career 141—but was roughly neutral defensively and on the bases. His career rWAR of 59.3, seven-year peak rWAR of 41.1, and JAWS of 50.2 are all worse than Walker’s marks. But Guerrero also broke the 400 home run barrier, hitting 449 in his outstanding career. Of 30 ballots made public so far, Walker has been named on just seven of them. Guerrero, on the other hand, has been named on 27 and appears likely to be inducted.
After this year, Walker will have only two years remaining on the Hall of Fame ballot before he reaches his 10-year limit. Unless something changes soon, it seems unlikely he’ll be able to sway enough voters to make his way to Cooperstown. If that is indeed what happens, it will be a shame. It won’t, however, make him any less deserving.