Breaking down Larry Walker’s Hall of Fame Hopes

In his ninth and second last year on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, Larry Walker‘s fate remains unclear. The Maple Ridge-native appears set to make a huge leap towards the 75-percent mark this year but will likely need a big jump in 2020. Assuming he doesn’t make it to 75-percent this year, he will only one chance left to be voted into the Hall by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America.

This article is not intended to be a ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ on Walker’s Hall of Fame worthiness, but for the sake of transparency, I will say I am a hard ‘Yay’ on the matter. There have been plenty of great articles written, on either side, about Walker, Coors Field, and what it means to be a Hall of Famer and I would recommend you search those out and make your own conclusions.

Below is Walker’s theory on the lack of ballot love he is receiving.

But I am looking to the future of Walker’s candidacy, and whether he will join the Hall in 2019, 2020, be selected by Committee at some point in the future, or not be enshrined at all.

Comparing Hall of Fame ballots from year-to-year may seem like a futile cause. If comparing players feels like ‘apples and oranges’ then comparing Hall of Fame ballots is like comparing apples to the prickly Durian fruit. But thanks to Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker (@NotMrTibbs on Twitter) accessing and analyzing ballot trends is easier than ever.

COMPARING WALKER TO OTHER 10TH YEAR CANDIDATES 

In July 2014 the Baseball Hall of Fame decreased the number of years a player could remain on the ballot from 15 to 10.  Since that change there have only been four players that have reached their tenth year, with one not making the cut (Mark McGwire), one being inducted (Tim Raines), and two remaining on the 2019 ballot (Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez). Of the two remaining on this year’s ballot it looks like Martinez will be voted in and McGriff will be voted out.

Ballot yearsMark McGwireTim RainesEdgar MartinezFred McGriffLarry Walker
10th12.30%86.00%*90.9%*36.9%         —
9th10.00%69.80%70.40%23.20%*66.8%
8th11.00%55.00%58.60%21.70%34.10%
7th16.90%46.10%43.40%20.90%21.90%
6th19.50%52.20%27.00%12.90%15.50%
5th19.80%48.70%25.20%11.70%11.80%
4th23.70%37.50%35.90%20.70%10.20%
3rd21.90%30.40%36.50%23.90%21.60%
2nd23.60%22.60%32.90%17.90%22.90%
1st23.50%24.30%36.20%21.50%20.30%

*numbers are from Ryan Thibodaux ballot tracker (01/19/2019)

Of these five players Walker had the lowest first year entry (20.3%) and his 2014 10.2% was the second lowest of the group. But based on his current 2019 surge he may end this year more comparable to Raines and Martinez than McGwire and McGriff.

Walker’s drop off in 2014-2016 may have been due to ballot issues beyond his control. Both the newly implemented 10 year cutoff in 2014 and the entry of controversial candidates Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds to the ballot in 2013, may have pushed him off many voter’s ballots.

Assuming that Walker’s current vote total drops (as is traditionally the case) than he will find himself in a unique place among tenth year candidates in 2020. With current projections suggesting a 50-60% total, Walker would have to make a historical push in his last year.

Martinez likely serves as the best example of the four to compare to Walker. Both men have offensive statistics that are clearly Hall-worthy but they also have perceived baggage. Walker has been penalized for the Coors-Effect and Martinez has been penalized for his career as a Designated Hitter.

But despite Walker having better offensive statistics than Martinez, and having seven Gold Gloves, he has still lagged behind Martinez in every year he has been on the ballot. The Mariners slugger was on the brink of 75-percent threshold in his ninth season and looks like he will soar past the three-quarters mark in 2019.

Even if Walker is able to stay at 55-percent (a 20.9-percent jump from last year) in 2019, he would still need another significant jump in his tenth season.

WHEN WILL WALKER BE INDUCTED?

Walker’s early 2019 bump may suggest a change in attitude by many BBWAA voters. But the likelihood of the undrafted superstar being inducted in 2019 is still unlikely.

With less than half of the vote revealed there is still a chance for Walker to get one final boost this year. But as the above graphs suggest the second half of the vote has historically seen player’s percentages decrease rather than increase.

Looking to next year, Walker’s hope of reaching the 75-percent mark will be greatly influenced by what his final mark is in 2019. If he was able to sustain his current pace and stay above 65-percent, Canada’s all-time home run leader would find himself with similar numbers to Raines (69.8%) and Martinez (70.4%) in their ninth years.

Raines comfortably made the Hall in his tenth year (86%) and Martinez looks like he will be well past the three-quarters mark in his last year on the ballot (currently polling above 90%). If Walker ends 2019 close to 70-percent than his chances of being inducted in his tenth year would seem all but certain.

Most ballot projections continue to predict Walker will see a significant drop-off, ending 2019 under 60-percent (two recently tweeted by Thibodaux had 57% and 53%).

Raines received a 16.2% boost in his tenth season and according to the estimates above Martinez is projected to make a 13% jump in his last year. If Walker ended in the mid-fifties, he would have a Rockies-sized mountain to climb in his final year.

If you look at Walker’s 2018 totals after 160 ballots, he was steadily around the 35-percent mark. Obviously the higher you are the further you have to fall, but Walker did not see a major drop off on the 2018 ballot (after 160 votes).

If the seven-time Golden Glover fails to gain enough support next year he will have one final chance to make Cooperstown via the Modern Era Committee. The 16 member group votes twice every five years on players that have been overlooked by the BBWAA and have recently elected players such as Lee Smith, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, and Alan Trammell.

Walker seems a likely candidate to be enshrined by the Modern Era Committee if he fails to get to 75-percent by 2020. Of the last four players inducted Morris had 61.5% in his final season, Trammell had 40.9%, Smith had 34.2%, and Baines was voted off after his fifth season with 4.8% percent. Walker seems likely to have a higher vote total than any of these candidates if he fails to make the cut in his final year.

A Canadian has not received this much Cooperstown buzz since Fergie Jenkins was inducted with 75.4% in 1991.  Walker would become only the second Canuck in the Hall and will likely be the last big ticket Canadian on the ballot for the for seeable future.  Looking to the future, Joey Votto will likely be the next Canuck with realistic Hall ambitions. But for now, Canadian baseball fans will continue to closely follow Walker’s bid.

Top Photo: (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

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A graduate of Centennial's Sport Journalism program. Grew up a Montreal Expos fan but now focus on my hometown Blue Jays. Have been blogging about the Jays and Canadian Baseball since 2015.

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