Larry Walker: Ink Test

January 8, 2020

According to the exit polls, Larry Walker is significantly trending upwards in Hall of Fame voting to the point where he is flirting with election in his final year on the BBWAA ballot. At the very least, if he is not voted in this year, he has made a huge mark in his candidacy and could potentially be voted in a post-BBWAA Hall committee in the not too far future.

 

For Walker’s case, initially it was thought to be hampered by the "Coors Field effect" as his home/road splits do differ, as expected. But over time, as more analysis has been brought to light, it is now widely accepted that Walker’s overall playing ability was without question exceptional, Coors or no Coors.

 

Now the major question concerning Walker’s case is his durability and if his missed time was significant.  If elected, Walker’s career plate appearances would be the lowest amount since Mike Piazza who spent his career as a catcher and Kirby Puckett whose career was shortened due to injury by an HBP in the eye. In addition to the low career plate appearances, Walker also averaged a low number of games per season.

 

In relation to recent inductees who also had a low average number of games per season:   

 

Player*

Games Played per Season (Career)

Games Played per Season (8-year peak)

Larry Walker

117

133

Ivan Rodriguez

121

134

Mike Piazza

120

136

Carlton Fisk

104

139

Willie Stargell

118

140

Tony Gwynn

122

144

Barry Larkin

115

145

Edgar Martinez

114

147

Johnny Bench

127

148

Ted Simmons

117

149

Gary Carter

121

152

*Each of these players played during a strike shortened season (1981 or 1994)

 

Compared to Walker, for their career Carlton Fisk, Barry Larkin, and Edgar Martinez averaged a lower amount of games per season but they averaged more games during their 8-year peak.  As far as peak seasons, Walker has the lowest amount of games per season, lower than catchers Piazza and both Pudges.

 

But did Walker’s missed time have an impact?  One way to quickly gauge per season impact is black and gray ink. As indicated in Baseball-Reference.com, this method was developed by Bill James to measure how often a player led in a variety of "important" stats. For the black ink test, players accumulate the following points for leading the league in a season in the following categories:

 

  • Four Points for HRs, RBIs, or Batting Average
  • Three Points for Rs, Hs, or Slugging Percentage
  • Two Points for Doubles, Walks, or Stolen Bases
  • One Point for Games, At bats, or Triples

 

For gray ink, the scoring is exactly the same except you accumulate points for being Top Ten in the league in a season in the same categories.

 

In Baseball-Reference.com, Larry Walker’s batter similarity scores are to:

 

  1. Duke Snider*
  2. Ellis Burks
  3. Moises Alou
  4. Jim Edmonds
  5. Joe DiMaggio*
  6. Matt Holiday
  7. Johnny Mize*
  8. Vladimir Guerrero*
  9. Lance Berkman
  10. Chuck Klein*

*denotes Hall of Famer

 

The black and gray ink score for Walker and his similarity score counterparts:

 

Player

Black Ink

(Avg HOF approx. 27)

Gray Ink

(Avg HOF approx. 144)

Larry Walker

24

116

Duke Snider

28

183

Ellis Burks

6

45

Moises Alou

0

64

Jim Edmonds

0

60

Joe DiMaggio

34

226

Matt Holliday

13

107

Johnny Mize

50

202

Vladimir Guerrero

6

166

Chuck Klein

60

166

Lance Berkman

8

107

Bold indicates HOF’er

 

One major thing to note, the black and gray ink tests benefit players from yesteryear (like Snider, DiMaggio, Mize, and Klein) because these players were up against 8 teams per league while more recent players are up against 14-16 teams per league.

 

Larry Walker’s ink numbers are great and his slash line numbers throughout his career have been outstanding (career .313/.400/.565). But if we are evaluating durability, we would need to look further into counting totals rather than percentages.

 

For instance, Larry Walker led the league in Batting Average 3 times and was Top Ten, 6 times. However, he never actually led the league in Hits and was Top Ten in Hits only once (second in Hits in 1997, his monster MVP season). In contrast, Tony Gwynn led the league in Batting Average 8 times (Top Ten- 15 times) and correspondingly led the league in Hits 7 times (Top Ten- 12 times).

 

To evaluate durability and counting stats per season, we can modify the black and gray ink tests, and replace the percentage categories with comparable counting statistics.  In these tests, Hits are already accounted for in the 3-point category, so in place of Batting Average in the 4-point category, we’ll use Times On Base (which is the base statistic for OBP and is now of course accepted as a better  indicator of value than BA and Hits). In place of Slugging Percentage in the 3-point category, we’ll use its base counting statistic Total Bases.

 

If we focus the similarity group with only the modern players who had significant black and gray ink (higher than 5 and 100, respectively), their modified black and gray ink scores are interesting:

 

Player

Modified Black Ink

(difference from Black Ink total)

Modified Gray Ink

(difference from Gray Ink total)

Larry Walker

9 (-15)

84 (-32)

Matt Holliday

12 (-1)

111 (+4)

Vladimir Guerrero

12 (+6)

147 (-19)

Lance Berkman

8 (+0)

116 (+9)

 

On these modified tests that consider only counting statistics, Walker’s numbers take the biggest hit. On the modified test, Guerrero and Holliday surpass Walker in black ink.  In the modified gray ink test, Holliday and Berkman overtake Walker compared to the original gray ink scores. This slight modification in the black and gray ink tests gives us a rough idea on the significance of the time Walker missed per season and its impact.

 

Another way to express this is using season averages. If we were to compare Walker’s time with the Expos and the Rockies to the focused non-HOF similar counterparts, along with another corner outfielder currently on the ballot:

 

Player

Team

G

PAs

H

HRs

TOB

TBs

SBs

Larry Walker (1990-1993)*

Expos

138

546

133

20

195

226

21

Larry Walker (1995-2003)

Rockies

126

517

147

28

224

272

14

Bobby Abreu (1998-2005)

Phillies

157

681

173

23

288

293

29

Lance Berkman

(2000-2009)

Astros

141

596

155

31

263

289

7

Matt Holliday (2004-2008)

Rockies

140

594

170

26

234

293

13

Matt Holliday (2010-2016)

Cardinals

131

550

138

20

211

232

4

*The strike shortened 1994 season was not included

 

When it comes to Hall voting and the players in this table, Lance Berkman was one and done, and is off the ballot.  Bobby Abreu is currently on the ballot and has 6-7% of the vote on public ballots. Matt Holliday will not be on the ballot until 2024 but based on his career WAR and JAWs numbers, he most likely will not get that much traction.

 

However, from a per season output perspective, Walker’s average totals are on the lower end comparatively. Yes, Walker produced more per game played, but championships are determined by the season and as BJO contributor Daniel Marks recently stated in an article- "seasons matter".

 

In 1999, Larry Walker led the league in all triple slash line percentages but played only 127 games. From a WAR perspective he put up a 5.1 season (which would prorate to a 6.5 in a full season).  In contrast, in that same year, Vladimir Guerrero played 160 games and put up a lower WAR season of 4.4.  Their season totals were as follows: 

 

Player

G

PAs

H

HRs

TOB

TBs

SBs

WAR

dWAR

Larry Walker (1999)

127

513

166

37

240

311

11

5.1

-1.2

Vladimir Guerrero

(1999)

160

674

193

42

260

366

14

4.4

-0.8

 

The point being isn’t whether Vlad is better than Walker or not. The point is that seasons matter as does production per season. Even though Walker produced more per game, Guerrero produced more for the season.  Guerrero’s WAR was lower, but in terms of contribution to the team, a GM or manager may very well prefer to take Guerrero’s full season instead of Walker short season based on stability and dependability.

 

When it comes to career WAR, two 4.0 half seasons equals a 8.0 win full season. However in reality, two half seasons do not equal a whole season. I believe most GMs would rather have their best player hit 140 RBIs for 7 seasons versus a player that hit 70 RBIs for 14 half-seasons. For Walker, he compiled a great deal of WAR during his less than full seasons. To complement his outstanding 1997 MVP full season, Walker has 11 seasons in which he played in 1463 games and amassed 55.1 WAR. That’s an average of 133 games per season with 5.0 WAR, which is outstanding, but the negative side is that he only averaged 82% of games played for over a decade.

 

In contrast if that same output was performed in 10 seasons, the career WAR numbers would be the same, but he would’ve averaged 146 games with 5.5 WAR per season.  This would be an average of 90% of games played per season and a more significant contribution to his teams. In 10 seasons versus 11 seasons, his per season performance would be more impactful but this is not conveyed in reviewing career WAR totals solely.   

 

And lastly, as far as counting statistics, another different perspective is to review a player’s rank in these slash line categories for their career. For instance, Carl Yastrzemski played from 1961 to 1983.  From 1961 to 1983 he was second in Hits, second in Times On Base, and first in Total Bases.  It is expected he will rank high in these categories as the years are filtered specifically for the length of his career. This method does not penalize for the player’s length of career because it is custom fit. If we do the same for Kirby Puckett, who played from 1984 to 1995, he was first in Hits, fourth in Times On Base, and first in Total Bases.  

 

Willie Stargell is a player that is often referenced when discussing Walker’s candidacy due to his low amount of games played per season.  For Pops (1962 to 1982), he was 12th in Hits, 11th in Times On Base, and 7th in Total Bases (3rd in Home Runs with 475).

 

Now for perspective, if we use this method on the current borderline candidates on this year’s ballot:

 

Player

Career Span

Hits

(rank)

Times On Base

(rank)

Total Bases

(rank)

Larry Walker*

1989-2005

2160 (18th)

3283 (17th)

3904 (11th)

Todd Helton

1997-2013

2519 (5th)

3998 (3rd)

4292(5th)

Jeff Kent

1992-2008

2461 (5th)

3499 (13th)

4246 (6th)

Bobby Abreu

1996-2014

2470 (9th)

4051 (4th)

4026 (14th)

*For Home Runs, Walker ranked 15th with 383

 

Andruw Jones and Scott Rolen were not included in this breakdown because a large part of their candidacy relies on their defensive performance (Career dWAR 24.4 and 21.2, respectively).  Walker was terrific defensively as well but not on the same level as these two players (Walker’s Career dWAR is 2.0).  Walker’s candidacy is primarily based on his offensive production and on this list, he is the only one of these borderline candidates that did not to crack the Top Ten in any of the triple slash line categories.  The other players were Top Five in at least one of the categories (former teammate Todd Helton was Top Five in all three).   

 

 

When Walker played, he was absolutely magnificent and undoubtedly an amazing talent.  However, when it comes to Hall voting, the question should be if he had a Hall of Fame career. Thanks for reading.

 

 

Thanks to Ryan Thibodaux and his team for all of the HOF tracking work. All source data and information was obtained from Baseball-Reference.com.  The Times On Base data listed is TOB w/ ROE.

 
 
 

COMMENTS (25 Comments, most recent shown first)

Marc Schneider
Almost by definition, there are going to be some players that are borderline HOFers that are in the HOF. If the standard was, say, Ruth, Mays, Mantle, Aaron, for example, then Frank Robinson might be borderline. (I'm not saying he is, just using an example.) There are always going to be some that fall slightly on one side or the other, unless you want to do like tennis and set up specific criteria for induction. I think, in tennis, if you win a certain number of Grand Slams, you are automatically in. There are some players in who obviously aren't great players and shouldn't be in, but if a guy is a great player but has some deficiency, then I have no problem with him being in. Obviously, some Hall of Famers are better than others.
4:46 PM Jan 23rd
 
FrankD
Not to be negative but I have to respond to LesLein. What about being at high altitude and developing more red blood cells so you got more oxygen when playing down on the flats. As for recovery: hell, the US Olympic team trains in high altitude on Col. And when did they go to baseballs in humidors in Col, before that the balls dried out and went 10% further. Clearly Coors field inflates offensive stats. And the less dense atmosphere effects any flying ball, whether hit or thrown. Walker is borderline HOF, I say no, but not hell no …..
8:17 PM Jan 20th
 
LesLein
Today’s Wall Street Journal makes a good case that Denver is a tough place for hitters. Curve balls break more on the road than they do at Coors. According to former GM Dan O’Dowd players would ask for days off on the road because of the difficult adjustment.

Because of the altitude it’s tougher to recover from baseball’s normal soreness. Walker had to play in constant discomfort. “It’s the hardest place to play in the game” says O’Dowd.

The article says that in Coors Walker had better road stats than many HOFers.

I think Walker belongs in the HOF.
11:43 AM Jan 18th
 
wovenstrap
To me he's a marginal Hall of Famer, basically non-Hall of Famer. You've got an absolutely fabulous player who played in the best hitter's park in baseball and was notoriously non-durable. He won a single MVP and otherwise did no serious damage in MVP votes. I think if you're using as your baseline guys like Musial, Schmidt, Frank Robinson etc. there isn't a serious argument at all. At best you're taking a guy who's on the bubble and saying he should be in. So all in all I say no.
3:42 PM Jan 16th
 
sansho1
I don't want to undersell the value of Grey Ink, but it does tend to exacerbate the weakness in Walker's case that we all acknowledge -- health within seasons. I look at that list and think there are only about 6 or 7 I'd rather have on any particular day.
9:29 AM Jan 15th
 
Brock Hanke
I'm not sure what "modified" means, but if pgups6's chart is accurate - and I have no reason to question it - then Walker is the worst player on the list in terms of Grey Ink. He's just ahead of Raines (of all people) in unmodified, and well behind everyone in modified, including Raines. This does a great deal to confirm my current opinion, not question it. Everyone else has over a hundred "modified" Grey Ink; the lowest total is Willie Stargell, 110 against Walker's 84. Everyone except Walker and Raines is over 120 unmodified.
7:09 AM Jan 15th
 
Mike137
I am with sansho1 as to being mystified by someone being "strongly opposed" to Walker being in the Hall. I would also be puzzled by someone thinking he is a no-brainer for inclusion. He is clearly a borderline case. Of course, I am talking about the actual HoF, not some fantasy version that exists in someone's imagination.

But maybe Brock is no actually strongly opposed sinc e it looks like Walker actually does have loads of gray ink from his time in Montreal. At least when we consider that he only had 4 seasons not in Colorado when he qualified for the batting title.
2:41 PM Jan 13th
 
pgups6
Thanks everyone for reading and your interest.

Concerning Gray Ink, here are the scores (standard/modified) of Walker and HOF outfielders elected by the BBWAA from the last 30 plus years:

Walker- 116*/84
Vlad- 166/147
Raines- 114/139
Junior- 162/163
Dawson- 164/158
Rickey- 143/174
Rice- 176/179
Gwynn- 155/139
Puckett- 122/129
Winfield- 152/161
Reggie- 175/175
Yaz- 206/221
Stargell- 125/110
Billy Williams- 208/245
Brock- 146/164

*90 of Walker's 116 came while he played for the Rockies. This is not just a product of the ballpark but also came at a time when Walker was entering his prime (started with the Rockies at age 28).
9:14 AM Jan 13th
 
sansho1
I understand coming down against Walker's HOF case, but I can't imagine being strongly opposed. He missed a lot of time to injury, and Coors inflated his numbers, we all know that. But, to me, being strongly opposed is tantamount to saying he wasn't a good enough ballplayer to belong among the enshrinees, and that's a Rubicon I can't cross.

There are 170 position players enshrined. Per Bref WAR, the player at the midpoint, #85, is Jackie Robinson. OK, bad comp. But the other (non-catcher) players in the 80-90 range are Billy Hamilton, Lou Boudreau, Home Run Baker, Jesse Burkett, Jake Beckley, Harmon Killebrew, and Zack Wheat. Their WAR ranges from 60.2 to 63.3, but I'm not so concerned about WAR per se (Walker - 72.7) as the squishier question of whether Larry Walker stands out in that group as particularly undeserving.
7:14 AM Jan 13th
 
Brock Hanke
Mike137 - Thanks. I am strongly opposed to Walker being in the Hall. About the only thing that might change my mind would be to find that he has loads of Grey Ink in ballparks other than Colorado. It would have to be loads.
7:51 PM Jan 12th
 
FrankD
Interesting article. I'm on the fence for HOF for Walker. First, did his team win an WS? That is the goal. And I don't think a comparison of games/season is in anyway meaning full when you put catchers vs non-catchers in the same list. Catching is a whole different category for wear/tear on players. And a shortened career by injuries: that also makes it difficult. But Puckett did lead his team to two WS wins. I weight championships heavily, maybe too much. But being on a championship team reveals a lot of intangibles: at least this guy on a winning team contributed in ways we can't quantify, he wasn't distruptive, etc. Overall, I'd vote no for HOF for Walker but he would not be an embarrassment to the HOF if he got in …..
8:54 PM Jan 10th
 
Mike137
Brock Hanke,

You can find the grey ink here: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/w/walkela01.shtml#all_leaderboard

There is a link at the top to expand all leaderboards.

Walker's grey ink is spread out from 1992 through 2002. So he has a fair bit of grey ink from his last 3 years in Montreal.
6:45 PM Jan 10th
 
mradican
"I have to say, I'm confused about taking the 4 WAR guy in 160 games over the 5.1 WAR guy in 127, because the 4 WAR guy is doing something to help you win in those extra 33 games".

hortonwho,

I meant to say that the 4 WAR guy "could" or "might" be doing something to help you win games. The guy whose missing obviously isn't doing anything in those 33 games to help you. IMO the important thing for a player is to try to help you win games not get as high a WAR as he can. Bryce Harper is good at getting a high WAR> He's not as good as helping anybody win games. If I don't think Vlad should be in (and I don't) I definitely agree with you on Baines, Morris, Hunter, and Garvey.
11:58 AM Jan 10th
 
steve161
Thanks for trying, Brock. At this point, I can't honestly say it would likely change my mind, but I do pay more attention to gray than to black.
7:48 AM Jan 10th
 
hortonwho
mradican -- I have to say, I'm confused about taking the 4 WAR guy in 160 games over the 5.1 WAR guy in 127, because the 4 WAR guy is doing something to help you win in those extra 33 games.

Is he? Or are those 33 games in which he plays like some 30 year old guy you just called up from Triple A? The point is -- those extra 33 games at 0.0 WAR are (theoretically) fungible -- you can get a guy to play like that, a pretty much negligible cost.

And, sure, if you're a small Hall guy, by all means leave Walker out. As long as you also leave Vlad out (as you've admitted you would.) And many many more.

For myself, I'm kind of a medium Hall guy. I think Vlad should be in, and Walker, and, hey, Scott Rolen, and Bert Blyleven, etc.

But I have limits. I don't think Harold Baines should be in. I don't think Catfish Hunter should be in. I don't think Jack Morris should be in. And I don't think Steve Garvey should be in.
7:01 AM Jan 10th
 
Brock Hanke
steve161 - I tried to find out when Larry Walker's Grey Ink occurred. I couldn't find that breakdown. BB-Ref lists his total of Grey Ink, but, unlike Black Ink, it doesn't mark the items in his career detail sheet. So, I'm afraid I don't know when his Grey Ink occurred.
9:47 PM Jan 9th
 
Manushfan
Oh Larry Walker's a more than reasonable HoF. Sure he played in Coors-so does everyone else in the NL--sure he got hurt alot--so did Molitor, Brett, etc--sure there's the whole question about the era he played in, etc.

I don't care. He did gobs of things across the board you wanna see in a Hall of Fame candidate(said gobs very well covered in said article above)---I'm in the if he doesn't go in now he's a lock to make it via the Vet Committees.
11:28 AM Jan 9th
 
Mike137
I agree with steve161 that the Hall is about greatness, not value. And Walker was great.

Walker's reputation got screwed by his playing in Coors at a time when park adjustments were not widely understood. Instead of adjusting his stats, people just discounted them. We have a much better handle on that now and after park and league adjustments, he still is impressive. But the misimpression that he was just a product of Coors Field remains. The only real issue with his candidacy is his shortage of playing time.

Something that gets over looked is that Walker's missed games may have been affected by playing at altitude. And his career was cut short by a neck injury; is that so different than Puckett's eye problem?
11:04 AM Jan 9th
 
Gfletch
I agree with all of steve161's points.

It strikes me that Walker has an obvious similarity to Chuck Klein (terrific hitter playing in an extremely friendly to hitter's park). A closer look would be appropriate.

I'm not taking a closer look. My sense of it is that Walker was a better player than Chuck Klein, but then there's that recency bias thing.

Anyway, Walker is Walker no matter what the Hall of Fame says. Interesting arguments, of course, no matter who the player under discussion is..
11:00 AM Jan 9th
 
steve161
1. To say that Walker (or any other candidate) would be a below-average Hall of Famer is not an argument. Approximately half the members of the Hall are below-average Hall of Famers.

2. Emphasizing counting stats over rate stats favors career value over peak value. The restriction to peak years discriminates against players who maintained a longer than average peak value. It is very difficult to select a subset of seasons without cherry-picking.

3. This is strictly my personal opinion: the Hall of Fame is about greatness, not value. Great Stats like WAR or Win Shares hint at greatness, but measure value (however well). They are thus ill-suited to determining Hall-worthiness.

And this to Brock: point taken on Walker's Black Ink. What about his Gray Ink?

Finally, repeating something I said in Reader Posts: for the same reason I prefer to see a guilty man go free rather than an innocent man convicted, I would rather see an undeserving candidate elected to the Hall than a deserving one omitted.
8:12 AM Jan 9th
 
mradican
(Again, WAR isn't everything, but geez, the 13 WAR difference between him and Vlad is pretty striking!)


Maybe. IMO I don't think Vlad is a valid HOFer either. But I'm a "small hall" guy.

Personally I'd take the 4.0 WAR guy in 160 games over a 5.1 WAR guy in 127 games. The 127-game guy isn't doing anything to help you win games in those 33 games he isn't playing.
8:09 AM Jan 9th
 
Brock Hanke
I just went and checked Walker's career. Except for a doubles crown in 1994, ALL, I repeat ALL!!! of Walker's black ink is in Colorado. He has no realistic case for the Hall of Fame. Which does not imply that the BBWAA has caught up to realistic ballpark adjustments yet, and won't vote him in. As Bill James wrote when Phil Rizzuto was elected, "He won't be the worst player there." That's not an endorsement.​
11:58 PM Jan 8th
 
hortonwho
If WAR is truly measuring "Wins Above Replacement", it stands to reason that a 5.1 WAR season in 127 games is better than a 4.0 WAR season in 160 games.

The idea is, you replace the missed games with a replacement level player -- "replace", see? So that 127 games of 5.1 WAR plus 0.0 WAR for the remaining 35 games is worth, let's do the math, hmmm ... 5.1 WAR! And the 4.0 WAR for 160 games plus 0.0 WAR for the remaining 2 games is worth, hmm, carry the 0, 4.0 WAR! Wow!

Yes, durability matters, and checking counting stats is a good proxy for factoring in durability. But WAR IS a counting stat, in essence. Larry Walker does get dinged for his lack of durability, and that's fair. But he's still a Hall of Famer! (Again, WAR isn't everything, but geez, the 13 WAR difference between him and Vlad is pretty striking!)
10:04 PM Jan 8th
 
villageelliott
A compelling argument to this jingoistic lifetime Cardinals fanatic supporter of Larry Walker's HOF candidacy. Thank you.
8:10 PM Jan 8th
 
sansho1
Interesting article, thanks. Health is the only mark against Walker's candidacy, but he missed so much time that it's a significant ding. That said....if you came up with a metric that incorporated everything either countable or measurable that one could do on a baseball field (BA, frequency of 2B, 3B, HR, BB, HBP, K, GIDP, SB, SB%, Bases Advanced, Catching, Throwing, whatever else), but punished below-average performance in any area (like Power/Speed but all-encompassing), I feel confident that he would rate in the top 10 in the history of the game. He was above average to elite at every aspect of on-field performance (I think defensive WAR shortchanges him, but YMMV). That's what voters and those who would be want to reward -- the fact that he was the best ballplayer on the field just about whenever he was on the field (standard Bonds exception applies).
5:43 PM Jan 8th
 
 
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