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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

HHS: Darowski: Larry Walker and Responsible Park Factoring

Mile High Heat Stats, if you will.

This post was inspired by a comment by a HHS reader a few weeks back. Artie Z, talking about Larry Walker, said:

  Walker wasn’t just posting a .300/.370/.500 line in Coors – it was a .381/.462/.710 line in Coors. That’s a higher batting average than Cobb and a higher slugging percentage than Ruth. I think the numbers are so disorienting that it makes people think that Rbat isn’t doing its job, but then when you (1) look at how Rbat adjusts other Coors hitters and (2) look at how much better Walker was than those other hitters (other than Helton) it makes a little more sense.

Now, when Rally’s WAR (which was the basis for Baseball-Reference’s WAR) originally was published, I was a bit surprised by Walker’s ranking. I knew he was great, but I think I just did what everybody else did and dismissed him as a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate based on his home park.

The more I’ve looked into his case, the more I realized he’s a Hall of Famer—and not just by a little bit. We now have the ability to adjust offensive numbers based on thier context (era, park, etc.). Even after adjusting Walker’s numbers, he’s Hall-worthy. Actually, if we didn’t adjust his numbers, he’d basically be Stan Musial. People are dismissing his numbers as being more like Dale Murphy. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between.

...My Verdict

If Larry Walker was a weak-fielding first baseman, I would say that his offense, once park-adjusted, would make him a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. But he played right field. He was a force on the bases. He was an even bigger force defensively, both by the new metrics and by the awards of his day.

By Hall Rating, Walker’s 151 ranks behind only Barry Bonds (364) and Jeff Bagwell (164) among hitters outside of the Hall of Fame. That’s ahead of Pete Rose (150), Shoeless Joe Jackson (129), McGwire (123), and many, many more.

Larry Walker should be in the Hall of Fame. Yes, his park aided his numbers. But his park didn’t completely erase his numbers.

Repoz Posted: March 19, 2013 at 02:02 PM | 26 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. cardsfanboy Posted: March 19, 2013 at 02:31 PM (#4391507)
Love Larry Walker and think he's a definite borderline guy, but anyone that looks at Walker and doesn't look at games played per season is missing a big chunk of the story.
   2. vortex of dissipation Posted: March 19, 2013 at 03:07 PM (#4391593)
Yep. Only played 150 games in a season once - and won the MVP that year...
   3. cardsfanboy Posted: March 19, 2013 at 03:17 PM (#4391608)
Yep. Only played 150 games in a season once - and won the MVP that year...


If Walker played the same number of games in his career, and put up the same career numbers, but did it in three fewer seasons, I don't think there would be a debate about his hof validity, he would pretty much be a lock. During his peak, he averaged 128 games played a season, put it at 140 and I don't think anything keeps him out.(adjust for the two strike shortened years of course)

   4. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 03:26 PM (#4391628)
If Walker played the same number of games in his career, and put up the same career numbers, but did it in three fewer seasons, I don't think there would be a debate about his hof validity, he would pretty much be a lock. During his peak, he averaged 128 games played a season, put it at 140 and I don't think anything keeps him out.(adjust for the two strike shortened years of course)

Perhaps, but that hypothetical Walker would have been a better, more valuable player.
   5. BDC Posted: March 19, 2013 at 03:28 PM (#4391633)
If Walker played the same number of games in his career, and put up the same career numbers, but did it in three fewer seasons, I don't think there would be a debate about his hof validity

Good point. Joe Medwick would be the thought experiment that fits that bill: pretty similar career numbers all round, and though each played parts of 17 seasons, Medwick had some late-career years that are extremely partial; Medwick was a really strong major-league player for about 10 years, as opposed to 15 (at a lesser pace) for Walker. And as a result, Medwick has accomplishments like the three RBI titles and the Triple Crown that were clearly very attractive to voters; Walker would have had more of that black-ink dominance than he does on your plan. (Walker has the three batting titles, but was scraping by to qualify at times.)

In terms of actual value, I'm tempted to say that WAR is WAR no matter how distributed, but there are arguments that compressing it into really big seasons is more valuable. Of course, a player was what he was; a more dominant Walker might not have been as durable longterm.
   6. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: March 19, 2013 at 03:32 PM (#4391637)
One MVP, one fifth place finish in 17 seasons. And now he's Stan Musial. Yeah...I'm going with no.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: March 19, 2013 at 04:55 PM (#4391741)
One MVP, one fifth place finish in 17 seasons. And now he's Stan Musial. Yeah...I'm going with no.

The author never says anything remotely like this.

What the author wrote was that if there was no park adjustment, he looks like Musial. That's still a silly statement but clearly the author is not claiming that Coors should be ignored and therefore is not claiming that he comps to Musial.

there are arguments that compressing it into really big seasons is more valuable.

Sure, but (a) these arguments don't speak to ability; (b) that extra value actually only matters if the team otherwise would barely miss a playoff spot. This extra value is trivial and likely purely random.

Frankly, they are arguments that were invented and adopted to justify that individual's decision that so-and-so isn't an HoFer and selectively applied. Barry Larkin only topped 150 games 4 times while having 5 seasons of 100 games or fewer. From 24 to 35, Larkin averaged 128 games (includes the strike years) while Walker averaged 126 but Larkin got in easily and was nearly universally supported around here (as he should have been).

Mark McGwire had plenty of 150+ seasons but also plenty of disaster seasons. From 24-35 he averaged 127 games and given he was injured in both strike years I'm not sure he deserves any adjustment to that.

Now add it all up and Walker had just over 8000 PA which is low for an HoFer so, absolutely, his lack of playing time has to be considered. But virtually no consideration should be given to how a player's playing time is distributed -- that's about a 5th order problem.

He was an even bigger force defensively

He wasn't really and this is one of the misunderstood aspects of his HoF case and one that is sometimes held against him. He has only 1.5 dWAR for his career. bWAR does not say that he was an otherworldly defender, bWAR basically says he was an average CF who played RF his entire career. That's not particularly hard to believe. Walker is not benefiting from crazy, impossible defensive numbers. (By contrast, Clemente had 12 dWAR (and that's regressed!). Walker is more like Dawson (.9) or Bobby Bonds (-2) and is behind Rickey in the same PA.)
   8. Greg K Posted: March 19, 2013 at 05:36 PM (#4391791)
I have Walker as the best RF of my lifetime. Though that perhaps over-states it as my OF would be Rickey-Griffey-Bonds. But Walker as the 4th OF is a nice accomplishment.

For other OF you've got Gwynn (who I think Walker beats), Ichiro (rated purely on MLB play), and other guys like Manny, Sosa, Vlad, Beltran, Lofton, Sheffield, Raines, Berkman.

Heyward and Stanton appear to be the threats on the horizon, but Walker is tops for the next few years at least.
   9. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 05:46 PM (#4391802)
I have Walker as the best RF of my lifetime.

What's your cutoff date?
   10. Greg K Posted: March 19, 2013 at 05:52 PM (#4391809)
What's your cutoff date?

Players who have 4000 PA after 1990.

It's a bit of a trick of history, a bunch of great RFs retired just before I was born (Aaron, Robinson, Clemente, Kaline...and Reggie Jackson when I was alive but too young to know who he was). In terms of the top guy at the position RF is by far the weakest within my arbitrary end points. (Well, I suppose the 2012 season isn't that arbitrary an end point, but you know what I mean). At pretty much every other position I've seen arguably a top 5 all-time player...possible exception of 2B.
   11. SoSH U at work Posted: March 19, 2013 at 06:01 PM (#4391818)
Players who have 4000 PA after 1990.


Answering Snapper's question: Walker over Winfield?

And I'd take Gwynn over Larry, but it's arguable.
   12. Greg K Posted: March 19, 2013 at 06:12 PM (#4391826)
Ah I did forget Winfield. He also doesn't make my 1990 cut-off.

Though he actually beats Winfield and Gwynn (due to my system's blind reliance on WAR). I give varying weights to career WAR, WAR in top 3 seasons, WAR in top 5 seasons and WAR per PA. Walker is helped quite a lot in general because of the inclusion of the rate component. But he beats Gwynn and Winfield in all three other components as well anyway.

I should note that I am far from a Hall of Merit voter. As you can see the system I use is far from rigorous, just a lazy, fun formula I can plug players into at the end of every season. This shouldn't be taken as a claim of how good Larry Walker was that I take too seriously.

   13. GEB4000 Posted: March 19, 2013 at 06:25 PM (#4391836)
If Walker's career was 25% longer, everybody would be all in for his hall of fame induction, but it isn't, so he is a borderline case.
   14. cardsfanboy Posted: March 19, 2013 at 06:27 PM (#4391838)
Frankly, they are arguments that were invented and adopted to justify that individual's decision that so-and-so isn't an HoFer and selectively applied.


Not in the slightest. The silly concept of looking at raw rate stats and career totals without looking at seasonal value is just people who are buried in books and to lazy to actually attempt to analyze anything. It's pure laziness to just look at career numbers and not individual seasons.

   15. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 19, 2013 at 07:27 PM (#4391884)
Answering Snapper's question: Walker over Winfield?


The two I thought of in my baseball watching life (~1976 to present) were Winfield and Reggie Jackson. Without any analysis, I think I'd take them both over Walker.
   16. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: March 19, 2013 at 07:37 PM (#4391887)
It's a chaining argument, isn't it? Here's a thought experiment. Please correct my assumptions as necessary. I'm trying to keep the math simple since I'm on my phone.

Say that the average RF in Walker's time plays 145 games a year, and that Walker plays 125/year.

Walker's teams need to fill in 20 G that another team wouldn't. Just say the typical 4th OF is a true-talent 1.5 WAR player, then the team gets about .2 wins in those 20 games. Walker would have given them something like .7 wins in those 20 G. So half a win lost.

But now his team also must use its 5th OF as its 4th OF. Let's say that a typical 4th OF gets in about 60 G a year and is a 0.5 WAR true-talent player. That means the 5th OF will play about 8 games the 4th OF would have played on a typical team. in those 8 games he is worth about .03 wins. The 4th OF would have been worth about .07 wins.

So the aggregate in my (ad hoc and imperfect example) is .54 wins a year. Multiply by 17 and Walker cost his teams 9.2 WAR in this example.

Knock 9 WAR off Walker, and you're still at 60 wins of value.
   17. cardsfanboy Posted: March 19, 2013 at 08:15 PM (#4391919)
It's a chaining argument, isn't it? Here's a thought experiment. Please correct my assumptions as necessary. I'm trying to keep the math simple since I'm on my phone.


That is part of my point, I don't care if someone concludes Walker or Larkin or McGwire is a hofer, I just think that it's lazy to just look at career rate numbers and counting numbers, without looking at individual seasonal data. I have Walker directly on the line of borderline, some days I think of him as a hofer, others not so much.


Knock 9 WAR off Walker, and you're still at 60 wins of value.


Not sure if there is any reason to knock or adjust a player's war, there is no "magic" number for war that equals hof player. If Mariano Rivera is a hof player at 52+ war, and why isn't Chase Utley at 53(or Sheffield, or Olerud or Damon etc)

Heck why do so many support McGwire(58) war over Andruw Jones(59) war... (or whoever else in the same range like Willie Randolph, Helton, Bobby Abreu, etc) It's because there is more than just raw war to look at.
   18. Kiko Sakata Posted: March 19, 2013 at 09:56 PM (#4392059)
So the aggregate in my (ad hoc and imperfect example) is .54 wins a year. Multiply by 17 and Walker cost his teams 9.2 WAR in this example.

Knock 9 WAR off Walker, and you're still at 60 wins of value.


In theory, WAR is supposed to be correcting for this already. Walker already got 9 (or more) fewer WAR for his career than he would have gotten had he played 150 games per season. If anything, your chaining argument would argue that WAR is being too hard on Walker if you think his replacements were mostly above-replacement.
   19. Cblau Posted: March 19, 2013 at 10:50 PM (#4392121)
I go by Pennants Added, which takes season by season value into account. By this measure, after adjusting for season length, Walker is 60th best non-pitcher ever. I don't know if this makes him HoF-worthy, since I don't know what how good a player someone was has to do with making the Hall of Fame.
   20. Cooper Nielson Posted: March 20, 2013 at 11:39 PM (#4393270)
It's a chaining argument, isn't it? Here's a thought experiment. Please correct my assumptions as necessary. I'm trying to keep the math simple since I'm on my phone.

I have always thought that the problem with Walker's missed games -- from the perspective of a former fantasy owner :) -- is that they were very regular yet largely unpredictable. He wasn't on the DL that often, but he routinely missed a game or three here and there. You never really knew when he would be healthy enough to play.

Every year, Walker was missing 20-30 games, 15-20% of the season, but they were sprinkled all over the schedule. As Dr. Chaleeko notes, this meant that his teams were deploying their 4th and 5th outfielders more frequently, whereas if Walker missed 30 games by virtue of two 15-day DL stints, the team would have been able to call up their top OF prospect (who was probably a better player than their 4th outfielder, and definitely a better player than their 5th). If he played 155+ games a year for five years, then missed a full season with an injury, his team would have been able to address the absence with a free agent or trade.

So in my opinion, the 300 or so games that he "missed" during his career (vs. what a healthy Walker would have played) were more damaging than the 300 games missed by, say, Mark McGwire.
   21. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: March 24, 2013 at 01:20 PM (#4395272)
Though that perhaps over-states it as my OF would be Rickey-Griffey-Bonds.


Bonds in RF? Not sure that's a great idea...
   22. bobm Posted: March 24, 2013 at 01:53 PM (#4395297)
Spanning Multiple Seasons or entire Careers, From 1901 to 2012, From 1st season to 17th season, Played 50% of games at RF, Top 20 sorted by greatest WAR Position Players

                                                                     
Rk              Player WAR/pos    PA OPS+ Rfield From   To   Age    G
1           Hank Aaron   120.1 11125  158    110 1954 1970 20-36 2576
2              Mel Ott    92.9  9753  157     53 1926 1942 17-33 2315
3       Frank Robinson    92.7 10305  155     24 1956 1972 20-36 2432
4     Roberto Clemente    85.1  9798  130    193 1955 1971 20-36 2331
5            Al Kaline    78.0  9249  137    153 1953 1969 18-34 2226
6         Larry Walker    69.7  8030  141     95 1989 2005 22-38 1988
7         Sam Crawford    67.8  9557  148    -36 1901 1915 21-35 2224
8           Paul Waner    67.6 10325  134     25 1926 1942 23-39 2375
9       Reggie Jackson    67.5  9402  146     -8 1967 1983 21-37 2287
10      Harry Heilmann    67.3  8960  148    -44 1914 1932 19-37 2147
11        Andre Dawson    63.4  9658  123     85 1976 1992 21-37 2310
12          Tony Gwynn    62.8  9534  133     11 1982 1998 22-38 2222
13        Dwight Evans    58.9  9088  128     79 1972 1988 20-36 2236
14         Bobby Abreu    57.2  9926  129      2 1996 2012 22-38 2347
15       Dave Winfield    56.5 10003  134    -65 1973 1990 21-38 2401
16         Bobby Bonds    55.7  8090  129     48 1968 1981 22-35 1849
17   Vladimir Guerrero    55.2  9059  140      7 1996 2011 21-36 2147
18          Sammy Sosa    54.9  9442  130     86 1989 2005 20-36 2240
19       Ichiro Suzuki    54.6  8723  113     96 2001 2012 27-38 1911
20      Enos Slaughter    51.3  8791  124     26 1938 1957 22-41 2218
   23. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: March 24, 2013 at 02:09 PM (#4395302)
(b) that extra value actually only matters if the team otherwise would barely miss a playoff spot.


No. No no no no. This playoff obsession has got to stop. The extra value always matters, regardless of the team the player is on. If you have a 3 WAR player on a 70 win team, a 3 WAR player on a 90 win team, and a 3 WAR player on a 110 win team, those are all performances of the same value.
   24. The Keith Law Blog Blah Blah (battlekow) Posted: March 24, 2013 at 02:32 PM (#4395309)
Booger?
   25. Group Captain Mandrake Posted: March 24, 2013 at 04:07 PM (#4395353)
but anyone that looks at Walker and doesn't look at games played per season is missing a big chunk of the story.


It doesn't help that he suffers from Tim Raines syndrome. The strike and lockout make him look less durable than he was. He played 103 games in 1994 and 131 in 1995, 147 games played if those were full seasons. You see 112 and 144 games in the middle of Ripken's career and you immediately think strike. You see 103 and 131 in Walker's and you assume "Two more injury years." If Walker had decided to be injured those two years and healthy in say 1996 and 1998, people might have a better impression of him. Same number of games played total, but instead of:

143
138
103
131
83
153
130
127

from 1992-1999 he's

143
138
58
115
153
147
147
127

   26. bobm Posted: March 24, 2013 at 04:37 PM (#4395366)
Another 50-60 games added back (probably fairly IMO when you look at his games played by month split) because of labor relations issues does not change where Walker ranks in games played among RFs in their first 17 seasons, including players who played 154 game schedules.

                                  
I         Split   G  GS   PA tOPS+
    April/March 296 283 1242    98
            May 351 333 1472    95
           June 326 300 1320   121
           July 339 315 1362    90
         August 351 321 1422    95
       Sept/Oct 325 281 1212   103


Walker seems also to have retired early for a RF.

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