We're zeroing in on the Jan. 6 reveal of the BBWAA 2016 Hall of Fame class, one certain to include Ken Griffey Jr. and maybe another player or two. As we lead up to that announcement, CBS Sports' Eye on Baseball scribes are running through the serious candidates one day at a time.
Outfielder Larry Walker was one of the most gifted baseball players of his generation. The term "five-tool player" gets thrown around far too often, but Walker was a true five-tool talent in his prime. He hit for both average and power, he could field and throw, and he ran the bases very well. Walker did it all.
This is Walker's sixth year on the Hall of Fame ballot, and in his first five years, his support has dwindled from 20.3 percent in 2011 to 11.8 percent in 2015. He hasn't come close to receiving the 75 percent needed for induction, and, as of this writing, Walker has appeared on 13 of the 112 public Hall of Fame ballots collected by @NotMrTibbs, or 11.6 percent. He isn't gaining support.
That is happening despite great career numbers -- Walker retired as a career .313/.400/.565 (141 OPS+) hitter with 2,160 hits, 383 home runs, 230 stolen bases and 72.6 WAR -- plus an MVP award (1997 NL), seven Gold Gloves and five All-Star Game selections for two reasons: Coors Field and injuries.
The Coors Field Effect
Walker played with three teams (Expos, Rockies, Cardinals) in his 17-year career, and 10 of those 17 years were spent in Colorado. He hit .334/.426/.618 with the Rockies and .282/.361/.489 with the Expos and Cardinals. Of course, Walker's time with the Rockies included many of his peak seasons (ages 28-37), but that's still a huge difference.
Thanks to the thin mountain air, Coors Field is the best hitter's park on the planet, and that was especially true during the pre-humidor days. Walker hit .384/.464/.715 at home and .280/.385/.514 on the road during his 10 years in Colorado. Most players hit better at home than on the road, but not to that extreme.
There is no doubt whatsoever Walker's career stats have been inflated by Coors Field. At the same time, we can adjust his career numbers using park factors. OPS+ adjusts for ballpark, and still Walker's 147 OPS+ with the Rockies far exceeds his ~129 OPS+ with the Expos and Cardinals. But again, Walker spent most of his peak in Colorado. He spent his "growing up years" in Montreal and his age 37-38 seasons in St. Louis.
There's also this: only 2,501 of Walker's 8,030 career plate appearances have come in Coors Field, or 31.1 percent. He spent roughly 70 percent of his career playing in less hitter friendly environments.
Again, playing in Coors Field absolutely helped Walker's career numbers. How much did they help? That's up for debate. It's not like he was a slap hitter away from Coors Field either. Walker raked pretty much everywhere he played. He just raked a whole lot more at altitude.
Due to all sorts of injury problems, Walker played in only 1,083 of 1,458 possible games from 1996-2004. That's 375 lost games, or the equivalent of two and one-third seasons. Those were Walker's age 29-37 seasons too, so there were some peak years in there. His career numbers would be even better with good health. (That applies to everyone, not just Walker.)
I don't think anyone holds the injuries against Walker -- they're not the reason he's yet to receive more than 25 percent of the vote -- but voters do have to acknowledge their impact on his career. Walker's career home run and stolen base totals are impressive but not otherworldly. The injuries hurt him there. Some voters aren't seeing the bulk production they want to see from a Hall of Famer.
As great as he was on the field -- Walker falls just short of the established Hall of Fame standard for right fielders in terms of overall value but does exceed in peak value according to Jay Jaffe's JAWS system -- the injuries and the Coors Field effect do cloud Walker's Hall of Fame candidacy. They're costing him votes.
Personally, I am very much on the fence with Walker, and if I had a Hall of Fame vote, I would need to spend a lot more time researching his case in order to be convinced one way or the other. He would not be among the 10 names I'd submit this year, however.