If You Vote for Vlad, You Have to Vote for Walker

If you’re an avid FanGraphs reader, you might remember a piece I wrote January in which I wondered whether Vladimir Guerrero had the credentials of a Hall of Famer. The verdict? He does. As an inductee, he wouldn’t have the most impressive resume in the Hall, but he’d belong — and, according to the first 44 ballots collected by Ryan Thibodaux by way of his BBHOF Tracker, it appears as though the voters agree:

2017 Hall of Fame Ballot, Vote %
Player Vote%
Jeff Bagwell 89%
Tim Raines 87%
Ivan Rodriguez 81%
Vladimir Guerrero 74%
Trevor Hoffman 74%
Barry Bonds 70%
Roger Clemens 70%
Edgar Martinez 66%
Mike Mussina 62%
Curt Schilling 51%
Manny Ramirez 43%
Lee Smith 36%
Larry Walker 19%
Jeff Kent 17%
Fred McGriff 15%
Jorge Posada 11%
Sammy Sosa 11%
Billy Wagner 9%
Gary Sheffield 6%
Vote % through 44 ballots from Ryan Thibodaux’s BBHOF Tracker

At 74%, Guerrero is right on the threshold for induction (which requires a candidate is named on 75% of ballots). That means that even if he isn’t selected this year Guerrero will almost certainly gain entry to the Hall next year. Which is great. Guerrero was a fantastic player. He’s deserving.

Larry Walker was also a great player, though. In most important ways, he was a superior one. And he’s received enough votes on previous Hall of Fame ballots to return for a seventh year. Like the previous six years, however, Walker is unlikely to be enshrined in Cooperstown this year — if the early polling holds steady, that is. In light of Guerrero’s seeming popularity, that’s strange. By most reasonable accounts, Walker has a better case. If you vote for Guerrero, you have to vote for Walker.

Let’s begin by re-examining the voting-percentage numbers for this year’s candidates so far, in the context of some well-established metrics for determining the strength of a player’s Hall of Fame credentials.

2017 Hall of Fame Ballot, Vote % & HoF Metrics
Player Vote% WAR JAWS Hall of Stats HoF Rating
Jeff Bagwell 89% 80.2 63.9 164 71.6
Tim Raines 87% 66.4 55.6 128 54.2
Ivan Rodriguez 81% 68.9 54.0 154 54.5
Vladimir Guerrero 74% 54.4 50.2 111 43.7
Trevor Hoffman 74% 26.1 24.0 63 16.1
Barry Bonds 70% 164.4 117.6 362 168.7
Roger Clemens 70% 133.7 103.3 294 124.4
Edgar Martinez 66% 65.5 56.0 135 54.8
Mike Mussina 62% 82.2 63.8 164 67.6
Curt Schilling 51% 79.8 64.5 172 72.4
Manny Ramirez 43% 66.4 54.6 129 51.7
Lee Smith 36% 26.6 25.4 63 16.3
Larry Walker 19% 68.7 58.6 151 56.4
Jeff Kent 17% 56.1 45.4 102 44.1
Fred McGriff 15% 56.9 44.1 94 44.0
Jorge Posada 11% 44.7 37.7 90 35.2
Sammy Sosa 11% 60.1 51.0 116 50.1
Billy Wagner 9% 24.1 24.0 65 14.6
Gary Sheffield 6% 62.1 49.1 116 51.6
Vote % through 44 ballots from Ryan Thibodaux’s BBHOF Tracker
HoF Rating from Craig Edwards’ “An Alternative Hall of Fame Rating System”
Hall of Stats from Adam Darowski’s HallofStats.com
JAWS from Jay Jaffe, obviously

As you can see, Guerrero sticks out like a sore thumb: he’s received quite a share of the vote relative to his most relevant numbers. Walker sticks out, too — for the opposite reason. The contrast becomes more stark when you strip this down to just right fielders:

2017 Hall of Fame Ballot, Right Fielders, Vote % & HoF Metrics
Player Vote% WAR JAWS Hall of Stats HoF Rating
Vladimir Guerrero 74% 54.4 50.2 111 43.7
Manny Ramirez 43% 66.4 54.6 129 51.7
Larry Walker 19% 68.7 58.6 151 56.4
Sammy Sosa 11% 60.1 51.0 116 50.1
Gary Sheffield 6% 62.1 49.1 116 51.6
Vote % through 44 ballots from Ryan Thibodaux’s BBHOF Tracker
Hall of Stats from Adam Darowski’s HallofStats.com
HoF Rating from Craig Edwards’ “An Alternative Hall of Fame Rating System”
JAWS from Jay Jaffe, obviously

When you boil it down like this, you see that Walker is first among all of these measures, while Guerrero is last in all but one (JAWS), and he is next-to-last in that measure. A graphic from Adam Darowski’s excellent Hall of Stats sums things up well:


These are the top right fielders by Darowski’s Hall Rating who haven’t been inducted. Darowksi’s methodology rates Walker as his seventh-best right fielder of all-time, with Guerrero as 20th-best, in a virtual tie with Bobby Bonds, who isn’t enshrined in Cooperstown.

Guerrero does have a lead on Walker in some counting stats, but not over all of his right-field brethren. (Listed in order of games played. Table is sortable.)

2017 Hall of Fame Ballot, Right Fielders, Counting Stats
Sheffield 2,576 10,947 2,689 1,686 467 27 509 1,636 1,676 1,475 130 253 104
Sosa 2,354 9,896 2,408 1,375 379 45 609 1,475 1,667 929 154 234 107
Ramirez 2,302 9,774 2,574 1,452 547 20 555 1,544 1,831 1,329 216 38 33
Guerrero 2,147 9,059 2,590 1,618 477 46 449 1,328 1,496 737 250 181 94
Walker 1,988 8,030 2,160 1,244 471 62 383 1,355 1,311 913 117 230 76

Looking specifically at Guerrero vs. Walker, we see that despite logging 1,029 more plate appearances than Walker, Guerrero’s extra-base hit advantage is a minuscule 56. If you look at rate stats, you see that Walker had a 19.1% HR/FB compared to 16.0% for Guerrero. And this isn’t merely a product of Coors Field, either: Walker’s advantage holds for away games as well — 16.9% for Walker to Guerrero’s 15.8%. And keep in mind those are numbers that encompass only the tail end of Walker’s career (our splits only go back to 2002, which is the first year the Rockies had their humidor), and the prime of Guerrero’s.

The Coors Field factor still is a bugaboo, though, isn’t it? Let’s look at the road stats for the position players on this year’s ballot.

Career Road Stats, HoF Ballot Position Players
Bonds 1494 6482 1505 309 37 383 255 0.296 0.44 0.597 1.037 0.301 98
Ramirez 1151 4984 1327 289 9 273 22 0.314 0.409 0.58 0.989 0.266 99
Sosa 1170 4999 1209 191 18 288 125 0.27 0.337 0.513 0.851 0.243 94
Bagwell 1067 4787 1153 241 14 215 110 0.291 0.398 0.521 0.919 0.230 94
Guerrero 1055 4461 1249 221 23 210 95 0.312 0.376 0.536 0.912 0.224 96
McGriff 1236 5206 1298 225 12 252 38 0.288 0.376 0.51 0.887 0.222 100
Walker 1002 4034 967 203 23 168 109 0.278 0.370 0.495 0.865 0.217 80
Kent 1149 4911 1277 291 22 203 43 0.29 0.353 0.504 0.857 0.214 100
Sheffield 1282 5538 1352 239 13 247 138 0.288 0.384 0.501 0.886 0.213 95
Martinez 1038 4391 1157 246 10 160 24 0.312 0.412 0.514 0.926 0.202 98
Posada 937 3721 836 201 7 123 12 0.263 0.363 0.447 0.809 0.184 91
Rodriguez 1269 5194 1386 300 18 149 69 0.285 0.322 0.447 0.769 0.162 93
Raines 1246 5295 1323 225 55 87 368 0.289 0.378 0.419 0.796 0.130 97
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
tOPS+ = OPS for split relative to player’s total OPS

The table is sorted by road ISO, and you’ll see that Walker is squarely in the middle of the pack. Not much separates him from Guerrero, and he does better than Hall of Famers like Edgar Martinez, Gary Sheffield and Tim Raines, whose offensive credentials are not in question. Overall, on the road for their careers, Guerrero posted a .376 OBP, while Walker was at .370. That’s a negligible difference.

The real hangup is the separation between Walker’s home and road stats, which we see quantified numerically in tOPS+, which is defined as “OPS for split relative to player’s total OPS.” Walker’s road numbers look far worse than his home numbers, and so it appears as though his stats were unfairly inflated by Coors Field. But as we see here, Walker’s stats on the road show he was no scrub. He hit more road homers than Martinez in fewer PA. Compared to his contemporaries, Walker was in the top 40 in OBP and OPS, and top 50 in ISO and SLG.

Moreover, this gap isn’t a reflection of Walker’s true talent. We have seen time and again that Rockies hitters face an adjustment when they go on the road due to the altitude. Notably, we’ve had this discussion about Matt Holliday, Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez in recent years. Mike Petriello examined this at MLB.com a year ago today, and that entire piece is worth re-reading. Here’s a key excerpt, regarding the post-Rockies performance of Holliday, Fowler, Clint Barmes, Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta:

Every single one improved, except for Barmes, who basically hit at his established averages no matter where he was. While five players is admittedly not a huge sample, there’s no evidence that a Rockies hitter who goes elsewhere and gets regular playing time is going to fall apart. Unless you think Gonzalez’s entire career to this point is due entirely to Coors Field, which isn’t supported by evidence, he’ll be productive anywhere.

Let’s do the same with Walker. Was Walker aided by Colorado’s thin air in the pre-humidor days? Let’s look at his OPS+ and wRC+ breakdowns by team as well as by pre- and post-humidor for his time in Colorado.

Larry Walker, OPS+ and wRC+ Splits
Team Age OPS+ wRC+
Montreal 22-27 128 128
Colorado (Overall) 28-37 147 147
Colorado (1995-2001) 28-34 150 150
Colorado (2002-2004) 35-37 140 139
St. Louis 37-38 134 139

Now, you can see that Walker was at his best in those humidor days. Was the humidor single-handedly responsible for Walker’s better performance? There are reasons to believe otherwise. First of all, Walker was well past his prime by 2002, when he was 35. We wouldn’t expect him to perform as well then as in his late 20s and early 30s. In addition, when Walker was at his best, he was unstoppable anywhere. Check his splits from his 1997 campaign, when he won the NL MVP Award:

Larry Walker, 1997 Splits
Home 78 350 116 30 4 20 17 0.384 0.460 0.709 1.169 100 199
Away 75 314 92 16 0 29 16 0.346 0.443 0.733 1.176 100 213
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
tOPS+ = OPS for split relative to player’s total OPS
sOPS+ = OPS for split relative to league’s split OPS

As you can see, Walker hit just as well on the road as he did at home, and his road stats compared against the league (sOPS+) in that season were exemplary. Combine this with Petriello’s anecdotal evidence and there’s sufficient reason to believe in Walker’s offensive accomplishments. Walker hit well at Coors Field because he was capable of hitting well everywhere. This shows up in the stats that strip out the bias inherent with ballparks, wRC+ chief among them. For their careers, Walker was a better hitter than Guerrero by wRC+, 140 to 136. Whether you want to give full credit to these ballpark adjustments, they’re not so wrong as to be completely discounted. The bottom line is that there is no argument that Walker was a far inferior hitter to Guerrero.

We can also see Walker also stole more bases and was caught fewer times. His +154 SB-CS margin is nearly double Guerrero’s +87. Again, Walker did this with far fewer opportunities. Advanced metrics have him as a better baserunner as well. Walker’s 21.5 BsR is third-best among players on the ballot this year, while Guerrero’s -49.8 is next-to-last, better only than Posada’s. Take it to the full accounting of history, and Walker’s 21.5 BsR is 29th-best among 686 qualified right fielders all-time, while Guerrero’s -49.8 BsR ranks dead last.

There is one piece of evidence that does offer support for why Guerrero is doing so well on ballots. Check out that IBB column in the counting stats table above. If you subscribe to the theory that the most respected/feared hitters are the ones who garner the most intentional walks, then Guerrero is definitely at the cream of that crop.

Intentional Walk Leaders
IBBs, 1955-Present IBBs, 1996-2011
Player IBB Player IBB
Barry Bonds 688 Barry Bonds 492
Albert Pujols 302 Albert Pujols 251
Hank Aaron 293 Vladimir Guerrero 250
Willie McCovey 260 Manny Ramirez 206
Vladimir Guerrero 250 Todd Helton 183
Ken Griffey Jr. 246 Carlos Delgado 182
George Brett 228 Chipper Jones 170
Willie Stargell 227 Ichiro Suzuki 168
Eddie Murray 222 Jim Thome 158
Miguel Cabrera 220 Lance Berkman 154
1955 is the first year IBBs were tracked.
1996-2011 is the span of Guerrero’s career.

In the non-Barry Bonds division, Guerrero was basically the most respected hitter in the game. Part of that is surely because Guerrero was capable of making contact on any pitch, so you couldn’t just pitch around him in a normal way. But all those IBBs may just be distorting his true value.

Walker was also a far better defender. In the scouting community, they talk of five-tool players. Larry Walker was the quintessential five-tool player who actually exhibited those tools in game action. Guerrero no doubt had all the tools, but he too often wasted them.

Walker suffers a little in this regard because he played so much of his career outside of the “FanGraphs era.” The chief defensive stats we use — UZR and DRS — aren’t available before 2002 and 2003, respectively. Since Walker played from 1989 to 2005, only the tail end of his career is accounted for by these stats, whereas Guerrero — who played from 1996 to 2011 — gets the majority of his career covered. And yet, Guerrero, he of the cannon arm, loses out to Walker in the two Arm components.

Arm Component Metrics
Player Innings rARM (DRS) ARM (UZR)
Larry Walker 3392.3 5 15.8
Vladimir Guerrero 7627.3 2 6.3

Even at the tail end of Walker’s career, when he had endured eight surgeries and it hurt for him to turn his head to the left, Walker still had a better arm than Guerrero. In fact, that table is being generous to Guerrero. If we isolate it to the final four years of Guerrero’s career the way we are for Walker’s, it looks a lot worse for Guerrero.

Arm Component Metrics, Last Four Years
Player Innings rARM (DRS) ARM (UZR)
Larry Walker 3392.3 5 15.8
Vladimir Guerrero 973.7 -5 -3.2

Pay special attention to the innings column. Guerrero played far fewer innings in the field his last four seasons. In fact, in his final season, he was strictly a designated hitter, whereas Walker played the field right to the end.

The same is true for the older advanced fielding stat, Total Zone. Baseball-Reference has Walker’s TZ at 97, compared to 43 for Guerrero. They also break it down per 1,200 innings, and Walker again grades out twice as well — 8 to 4.

Of course, we don’t even need advanced stats for this comparison. Let’s look at basic statistics.

Walker vs. Guerrero, Outfield Defensive Statistics
Player Innings Putouts Assists Errors Double Plays
Larry Walker 14,987.0 3,315 154 48 39
Vladimir Guerrero 13,784.0 3,169 126 125 32

This is what you call no contest. The notion that Walker was less durable doesn’t exactly square with what we see in the innings played column. Walker played in the field for far longer than did Guerrero, who started 508 games at DH — more than three seasons’ worth. The reason why is clear when you look at the error totals. Guerrero’s 125 errors are eye-popping. During his career, Guerrero was charged with 46 more errors than any other outfielder. In the Integrated Era (1947-present), only eight outfielders have been charged with more errors. To say he was mistake-prone is a gigantic understatement.

So, we’ve established that Walker was a better hitter, fielder and baserunner in the regular season. What about the playoffs?

Career Postseason Stats
Larry Walker 28 121 100 23 5 1 7 0.230 0.350 0.510 0.860
Vladimir Guerrero 44 188 171 45 7 0 2 0.263 0.324 0.339 0.664

Walker bests Guerrero here as well. In 67 fewer postseason PAs, Walker racked up four more extra-base hits than did Guerrero. Walker’s .860 postseason OPS was at least in the neighborhood of his .965 regular-season OPS. But there is a Grand Canyon-sized gulf between Guerrero’s regular-season .931 OPS and his .664 postseason OPS. In fact, these overall numbers don’t do the comparison much justice. Walker put up a .389 OBP against one of the best-ever pitching staffs in the 1995 Atlanta Braves, and was the only Cardinals player to hit a home run off of the Red Sox in the 2004 World Series. Guerrero faced those 2004 Red Sox too. How’d he do?

2004 Postseason Stats vs. Red Sox
Player Age Tm Series G PA AB H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Vladimir Guerrero 29 ANA ALDS 3 14 12 2 0 0 1 0.167 0.286 0.417 0.702
Larry Walker 37 STL WS 4 17 14 5 2 0 2 0.357 0.438 0.929 1.366

Look, obviously it’d be silly to condemn Guerrero over 14 PAs, but the point is illustrated once again: whether you want to slice it finely, or take the broader view, there are very few ways you can paint Guerrero as a superior player to Walker. Yeah, Guerrero has him on career bulk in some categories, most notably for home runs, because Walker was injured a lot. But that’s about it. And subjectively, if you’re talking about the love of the game, you’re going to have a real hard time convincing me that the guy who endured eight surgeries and kept coming back for more deserves to be punished for his relative lack of career bulk. If anything, he deserves to be applauded. Seems to me that a player who goes under the knife eight times and can still rock a .424 OBP and hit two homers in the World Series at age 37 is about as tough as they come.

If you want to vote for Vladimir Guerrero, that’s totally fine. I would love to see him in the Hall of Fame — I’m not a “Small Hall” guy by any stretch. But if you are voting for Guerrero, you should be voting for Larry Walker, too.

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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Anthony Calamis
7 years ago

It’s certainly worth noting that I’ve seen my fair share of ballots with Walker as their #11, and if you only have ten slots and see next year’s first time group on the horizon – Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel and Johan Santana, five or six of whom could get 5% and two of whom should be first-ballot selections- it’s not insane to want to clear Vlad from the ballot and push hard Walker’s final three seasons. Walker is definitely deserving. If he can make serious gains, like into the 25-30% range, then there could be actual momentum towards giving his final three years an incredible push to 75%. Even if he fails, he’ll immediately become one of the top Today’s Game candidates. I think he’ll get the support there.

7 years ago

I hate that there has to be this much of a strategy to filling out a HoF ballot.

7 years ago
Reply to  KJL

Yes Kevin L, a million times YES! Look at what a hotel’s relatively innocuous marketing strategy (let’s build a baseball museum to attract guests, after all, baseball was invented here (it wasn’t of course)) has come to!

Its “Hot or Not” for baseball writers. That sounds hyperbolic, but whatever, its the same idea. Having a concept of what is *exclusive*, and then applying it, but here the hotties are made public. Cool.

So let’s just have fun with baseball stats. Fancy stats like you guys who are good at the maths, and easy count-y stuff for guys like me. Awe and laughs, that’s the goal. I just flipped through baseball reference numbers and am laughing that Barry Bonds had 2,169 more combined hits, walks, and hbp than Vlad Guerrero. 5599 to 3430 (Barry played a lot more games, of course). And yet, Vlad managed to get himself thrown out on the bases 142 times (not counting caught stealing… just running around) and Barry was out on the bases only 91 times. Vlad Guerrero, overconfident at running. Lol.

Also fun, they scored from 2nd on a single at nearly the exact same rate, to the thousandths: .659. I love how skill-focused baseball is. Think of how Barry and Vlad would have ran from 2nd to home in their absolute prime compared to their last years. Some physical skills can crater, and yet you can still suit up. Like life

HOF is dumb, bye all