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In his last year on the BBWAA ballot, Larry Walker deserves Cooperstown nod

It's his last year on the ballot, and it deserves to be the year that finally gets him into Cooperstown. Former Cardinal Larry Walker should be a hall of famer.
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
St. Louis Cardinals' Larry Walker connects for his seventh inning solo home run off the Padres relief pitcher Blaine Neal during their baseball game in St. Louis, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2004. The Cardinals defeated the Padres, 7-2. (AP Photo/James A. Finley)

Baseball righted a longstanding wrong earlier this election cycle when the "Modern Game" committee finally elected Ted Simmons to the hall of fame, after 25 years of waiting.

The writers should take it upon themselves to right another wrong later this month, by electing Larry Walker to Cooperstown in his final year of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot.

It's a shame St. Louis only got to see 144 of Walker's games, and at the end of his career, because when he was on, few could match the tools he brought to the table.

Walker's candidacy for Cooperstown admittedly hasn't always been black and white. He does have some things working against him when it comes to the hall of fame. Let's take a look at them, and why Walker ultimately deserves a spot in the hall.

(And before I do, I'll plug Fangraph's Jay Jaffe, who did this spectacular analysis of Walker's Hall of Fame candidacy)

What's working against him

Coors Field

It's no secret that playing in Denver, Colorado will help your offensive numbers. The altitude does have an impact. That's just the way it is.

Walker had an insane .462 on base percentage and .710 slugging percentage at Coors field for his career. His OBP and SLG at all other parks? .371 and .501 respectively.

Hall of fame voters have been wary in considering Walker, and Todd Helton, who both played a big chunk of their careers at the high altitude of Colorado.

Injuries

An iron man Larry Walker was not.

He did stick around for 17 years in the Majors, but only played more than 140 games in a season four times. He actually averaged playing in just 110 games a season over his career. 

Injuries hampered Walker's ability to stay on the field throughout his career, not unlike his 2004 and 2005 Cardinals teammate and fellow Cooperstown candidate, Scott Rolen.

MLB Network's Brian Kenny breaks down these perceived shortfalls pretty well in this video.

What's working for him

The sabermetrics help his case

Like Ted Simmons, the sabermetrics community has made Walker's case look better than ever.

As Jaffe illustrates in his article, Larry Walker has the 11th highest wins above replacement (WAR) of any right fielder in MLB history. The 10 ahead of him are already in Cooperstown. He's number 86 on the all-time list (just barely ahead of Mike Trout and .3 ahead of likely 2020 first ballot inductee Derek Jeter).

Walker has the 15th highest OPS in MLB history, and is 43rd all-time in OPS+ among players with at least 7,000 plate appearances. OPS+ helps account for Walker's time spent at high altitude.

He passes the eye test

If you saw Larry Walker play in his prime, it was apparent he was a five-tool player.

He has the awards that usually accompany a hall of fame worthy player to back it up, too. He won three batting titles, three silver slugger awards, was a five-time all-star and won seven gold gloves.

He did the less "glitzy" things well, too. Runners wouldn't dare test his arm on the basepaths, and as a baserunner himself, he was one of the smartest. Walker stole 230 bases in his career at a 75% success rate.

And do you remember just how big of a deal it was when Walker came to the Cardinals at the end of 2004? It was huge news in baseball-crazed St. Louis, because everyone here knew the kind of reputation Walker had already earned.

He's getting more support than ever among the writers

Since BBWAA voters have had their ballots clear up a bit and embraced analytics a bit more, Walker has gotten more of a look.

Walker was meddling in the teens in terms of percentage during the mid-part of his hall of fame candidacy, but has received a huge late push.

Last year, in his ninth year of eligibility, he received 54.6% of the vote. 

Thanks to tracker Ryan Thibodaux monitoring public ballots, we know Walker has been named on a whopping 85.3% through 149 known ballots. Now obviously he won't stay quite that high, and the latest projection has him coming up just short of the 75% needed for induction.

Even though it looks like Walker might come up short in his last shot on the BBWAA ballot, not all hope is lost. His strong showing should make him a slam dunk candidate for a hall of fame committee later on down the road.

It's a shame the writers might not get the job done, though.

Yes, the Coors affect is real, and yes, Walker leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to consistently getting on the field year to year. But if Larry Walker can't get in, is no player for the Rockies ever going to get in?

The man has 2,160 hits, 471 doubles, 383 home runs, a career average of .313, a career OPS of .965, was a legitimate 5-tool player and was a dominant and clean player in the era of PED's.

Larry Walker deserves a place in Cooperstown, and 2020 should be the year to make it happen. We'll just have to see if the writers feel the same way.

The 2020 BBWAA inductees to the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced on January 21.

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