After ten years on the ballot and with a pretty strong Twitter campaign behind him, the BBWAA just elected Tim Raines with 86% of the vote. And you know what? If I could take only him or Larry Walker, I’d take Walker.
That’s right, Larry Walker is better than Internet darling Tim Raines (sorry about that Ryan Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) and Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri)).
Let’s start with something simple like career WAR. Walker ranks 86th at 72.6, while Raines is 108th at 69.1. In terms of a 7-year peak, it’s Walker at 44.6 WAR and Raines at 42.2. My numbers have Walker at 56.2 MAPES points and Raines at 53.7. My numbers put Walker 10th among right fielders and Raines 13th in left. Walker was a better hitter. We can see that with his 420 batting runs on BBREF compared to Raines’ 291. And he was a better defender too. That’s shown by BBREF’s 94 fielding runs for Walker versus -7 for Raines. If you prefer DRA as a defensive measure, like I do, it’s Walker at 58.3 and Raines at -7.4.
So where does Raines beat Walker? It’s with his feet. Combining BBREF performance on the bases and avoiding double plays, Raines tops Walker by a margin of 123 to 50. Closer than you thought, right? I know it’s closer than I thought since Raines is an all-time great baserunner. To explain the relatively narrow margin in another way, Walker is better when we combine bat and bases than Raines (470 to 414). Comparing still another way, if you completely remove Walker’s bat and just count defense and legs, Walker still tops Raines (144 to 116).
Let’s take a seasonal look, including only seasons where Raines was worth at least a tenth of a win by my numbers.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 =============================================================================================== LW 9.6 7.5 6.1 5.9 5.7 5.7 5.6 5.4 4.3 4.2 4.1 3.7 2.5 2.2 1.6 1.3 -0.2 TR 7.5 6.6 6.5 6.2 5.9 5.5 4.4 4.3 4.2 3.6 3.2 3.1 2.7 2.1 1.5 1.5 1.1 0.8 0.6
Don’t misunderstand me. It’s close. It’s absolutely close. However, if allowed to choose just one, I’d go with Larry Walker.
So why is Raines in while Walker received support from just 21.9% of the electorate?
Players who are great at one aspect of the game tend to get noticed more – a lot more – than those who are very good at lots of things. And make no mistake, Tim Raines is one of the greatest baserunners in the game’s history. By the aforementioned BBREF baserunning number, Raines is third all-time, behind just Rickey Henderson and Willie Wilson. If we consider only the elite base stealers, those with 500+, in the era for which we have numbers on caught stealing, Raines owns the best SB percentage of all-time.
Larry Walker wasn’t great at anything. Among right fielders, he’s seventh in OPS+, ninth in batting runs, third in baserunning runs, seventh in fielding runs, and eighth in WAR. Again, that’s just at his position. Raines was an all-time great runner in all of baseball.
But I have to ask you, what kind of a small Hall would have fewer than ten right fielders in it (the current Hall has 24 RFs)? If Walker is in the top-ten in every aspect of the game – hitting, fielding, and running – he should probably be one of those ten, right? Certainly one of the 24.
Let’s take Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, and Reggie Jackson. I think we’d all take those guys over Walker. And we should take Mel Ott and Paul Waner too.
I have to say, however, that we can only take guys like Sam Crawford and Harry Heilmann by a hair if we take them at all. And we can only select the likes of Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield, and Andre Dawson (or Vlad Guerrero, for that matter) if we’re anti-WAR or choosing some odd weights. My numbers put Walker ahead of everyone in that group. And Jay Jaffe’s JAWS numbers put Walker tenth, behind Heilmann but ahead of Waner.
Coors, blah, blah, blah
Rains also gains over Walker because the speedster never called Corrs Field his home. Man, I’m so sick of this argument. WAR is park adjusted! And almost nobody ever speaking on the issue has ever offered any evidence that the Coors adjustment isn’t appropriately high.
I’m going to avoid really complex math both because I can’t understand it and because you’d probably skip reading it even if I could.
Instead, I’ll just look at Walker as a Rockie from 1997-2002. The charts below shows him and a couple of teammates each year. I want you to look at those counting numbers as well as WAR. Yes, we absolutely see some huge counting stats. But if you’re judging a candidate’s case based on his counting stats, you’re using the wrong methodology. That’s why I’ve included WAR too. In spite of some huge counting stats in Coors, we see great, mediocre, and just awful WAR totals. Why? It’s because Coors does not now and has not ever inflated WAR.
- Walker has 9.8 WAR in 1997 because he was an incredible player that year. Andres Galarraga has similar counting numbers and a WAR that doesn’t look remotely like Walker’s.
1997 HR RBI OBP WAR ========================================= Larry Walker 49 130 .452 9.8 Andres Gararraga 41 140 .389 3.8 Vinny Castilla 40 113 .356 3.1
- Check out the counting numbers in 1998. Vinny Castilla more than doubles Walker in HR and RBI. Yet, they’re even in WAR. That’s because Walker got on base a ton and ran the bases well; Castilla was a poor runner who grounded into a ton of double plays. The little things matter, even in Coors.
1998 HR RBI OBP WAR ========================================= Larry Walker 23 67 .445 5.7 Vinny Castilla 46 144 .362 5.6 Dante Bichette 22 122 .357 1.0
- The starkest example of how Coors does nothing to WAR might be 1999. Walker was a star. Castilla and Dante Bichette posted similar power numbers and were, as a duo, worse than what was essentially freely available minor league talent.
1999 HR RBI OBP WAR ========================================= Larry Walker 37 115 .458 5.1 Vinny Castilla 33 102 .331 0.7 Dante Bichette 34 133 .354 -2.3
- Walker was hurt in 2000, the same year Todd Helton burst onto the scene. Helton is another guy who’s going to be hurt by the misunderstanding of Coors. He’s an elite all-time 1B who will deserve a Hall vote when he’s eligible. But that’s another post for another time.
2000 HR RBI OBP WAR ========================================= Larry Walker 9 51 .409 1.6 Todd Helton 42 147 .463 8.8 Jeff Cirillo 11 115 .392 3.4
- By 2001, Walker was healthy again, Helton was still awesome, and another good player, Jeff Cirillo, contributed value without huge numbers. The reason is that he was helpful in every aspect of the game and was an exceptional defender that year.
2001 HR RBI OBP WAR ========================================= Larry Walker 38 123 .449 7.8 Todd Helton 49 146 .432 7.8 Jeff Cirillo 17 83 .364 4.4
- Our last year in question is 2002. And again we see that even with decent counting stats, a guy like Todd Zeile didn’t have a lot of value. Plus, we see continued greatness from Walker and Helton.
2002 HR RBI OBP WAR ========================================= Larry Walker 26 104 .421 6.1 Todd Helton 30 109 .429 6.3 Todd Zeile 18 87 .353 0.7
Working against Walker, at least if what we hear a lot is to be trusted, is that he was quite frequently injured. And to be fair, he was hurt a lot. Only three times did he appear in 90% of his team’s games. Perhaps we forget that Walker was healthy in 1994 and 1995 because those seasons were shortened due to work stoppages. Then again, he did play in at least 80% seven more times.
But it doesn’t matter!
WAR accounts for this – almost perfectly, actually. WAR stands for “Wins Above Replacement”. That means when Walker was hurt, the Expos and Rockies needed to use a replacement player, a guy who we’d expect to play at a replacement level. Right? So just like his WAR is true despite Coors, his WAR is true despite injury.
Or maybe not. His WAR is real, and his teams were hurt less than we might expect when he was out.
Let me go through it.
- Marquis Grissom (1.3 WAR) and Otis Nixon (1.6) were the two most frequent OF replacements in 1990.
- In 1991, Montreal played Dave Martinez (2.0) a lot.
- Let’s skip 1992 because Walker hardly ever missed a game.
- The next year didn’t go well. John Vander Wal (-1.1) and Lou Frazier (0.3) got at-bats.
- The next two years saw Walker play in 90%+ of his team’s games.
- In 1996, Walker was a Rockie. In the games he missed, he was replaced by the likes of Quinton McCracken (0.3) and Vander Wal (0.1) again.
- You’d think that the pattern of Walker being hurt would resonate in Colorado enough that they’d find a competent back-up. And they did with Ellis Burks (1.9).
- The next year Burks started more frequently. Darryl Hamilton (1.6 in COL) was the chief replacement after being acquired mid-season.
- In 1999 Angel Echevarria (-0.6), Jeff Barry (-0.9), and Edgard Clemente (-0.7) really stunk up the joint. Yes, we have to blame Walker for getting hurt, but we also have to blame Colorado for not being able to roster a suitable replacement.
- Biran Hunter (0.1), Juan Pierre (0.2), and Todd Hollandsworth (1.4) improved things in 2000.
- Alex Ochoa (-0.5) struggled, but Todd Hollandsworth (1.4) again was good in 2001.
- Jay Payton (2.4), Benny Agbayani (-0.6), and Gabe Kapler (0.6) were a collective plus the next year.
- By 2003 Walker was 36 and played 143 games, so I’m not even going to consider his replacements that year. We shouldn’t expect much more than 88% participation from a guy that old.
- In 2004, he was injured as a Rockie and replaced by Preston Wilson (-1.1). As a Cardinal, he was quite healthy.
So overall, Walker’s replacements in the outfield were pretty good, totaling 9.7 WAR as replacements. No, I’m not focusing just on when they replaced him. If I could figure out how to do so, we’re probably looking at something more along the order of 3-4 WAR. But the point holds – and is even stronger than I originally stated. Walker’s WAR was Walker’s WAR, and when he was hurt, his teams didn’t get clobbered as much as one might predict.
Yes, the injuries happened. But
Tim Raines is acknowledged as among the best baserunners in history. Edgar Martinez is one of the game’s elite right handed hitters. Omar Vizquel is (wrongly) thought to be one of the best defensive shortstops ever. Larry Walker has, if anything, anti-narrative as described above.
The Ballot Glut
I’m okay that Raines is in the Hall now and that Walker isn’t. And I was okay with Walker’s progress, or lack thereof, for three years, both as compared to Raines and in general. Believe it or not, I’m not attacking the BBWAA on this one. I continue to believe that they’re getting marginally better on an annual basis. But in 2014 the arrival of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, and Jeff Kent changed the ballot. An incredibly problematic glut began. As you can see below, Walker dropped quite a bit in his fourth year (glut year) on the ballot, while Raines made steady progress after his second year.
BBWAA Ballot 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ======================================================= Tim Raines 24.3 22.6 30.4 37.5 48.7 52.2 46.1 Larry Walker 20.3 22.9 21.6 10.2 11.8 15.5 21.9
On one hand, that 2011 total doesn’t suggest he’s going to get elected; he’s certainly no sure thing. On the other, Tim Raines started at 24.3%. And Edgar Martinez, who now looks like he has a real shot in a couple of years, was at 25.2% when the Maddux group hit the ballot. Larry Walker is one of the reasons I’ve recently changed my mind on the ballot limit.We have to understand that “great” is a comparative term. And in 2000, there were more great players in the game than 50 or 75 or 100 years before simply because there were more players.
Time Raines was great. He deserves his place in Cooperstown. Larry Walker was just a bit greater. He also deserves a place in Cooperstown.
So I’m saying that Walker started high enough to eventually get elected, but because he wasn’t elite at one specific thing, because writers misinterpret the effect of Coors on the numbers that mean the most, because of the lack of narrative, and because of the ballot glut, Walker is on the outside looking in, and I expect that he will remain so at least until he gets in contact with the Veterans Committee.
And that’s a shame for a player who’s slightly better for the clearly qualified Tim Raines.