Walker made big gains this year, but he still has a long way to go.
It has been well established that former Rockies, Expos and (for a brief time) Cardinals outfielder Larry Walker deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Yet he received just 54.6 percent of the BBWAA vote when the results were announced on Tuesday. And while he did make some significant gains this cycle, Walker heads into his final year of Hall of Fame ballot eligibility 20.4 percentage points shy of election.
All of this information thus begs the question: can Walker get elected?
I will say, more likely than not, Walker will be. Even if he’s not elected by the writers next year, Walker has garnered enough support that he likely will, one day, be enshrined into Cooperstown. That’s a good thing, as he’s certainly deserving of having a plaque.
But, will Walker be elected by the BBWAA next year?
This question is a much harder one to tackle. Walker has seen unprecedented gains in his candidacy over the past four years — jumping from just 15.5 percent of the vote in 2016 to 54.6 percent of the vote in 2019. And, according to Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker, Walker has already gained 55 votes from returning voters through 255 publicly available ballots. If he gains at least two more votes once all of the public ballots get revealed, Walker will have the largest year-to-year net gained vote increase in tracker history. Yet, even with all of this newfound support, Walker still fell 87 votes shy of election. He would thus need 45.6 percent of non-voters this year to vote for him in 2020. Ironically, Walker finished with 88 more votes this year than last. So, all factors remaining equal, Walker would be narrowly elected in 2020 if he sees repeat gains.
There’s a lot that works in Walker’s favor beyond just his recent trend.
For one, the election of Mike Mussina was big. As we know, social media has played an increasingly important role in the Hall of Fame election process, and with Mussina being off the ballot, statheads will be able to turn their attention fully to Walker.
Secondly, 2020 will be Walker’s last year. Players in their final year tend to see significant gains. Take Fred McGriff, who didn’t receive a ton of noise from the sabermetric community as a whole (at least not as much as Edgar Martinez or Mike Mussina did, at least). McGriff still finished with 169 votes in 2019, a 71-vote increase that can mainly be attributed to the fact that it was his final year on the ballot. The more “urgent” a player’s case becomes, the more likely that voters will give them a harder look. That was the case for Martinez, who was elected this year, and it also was the case for Tim Raines, who was elected his final year on the ballot in 2017. Both of those candidates, similarly, were sabermetric darlings.
That’s all good news. But there’s unfortunately a lot working against Walker, too.
For one, Walker received just 40.0 percent of the private vote this year. In the Thibodaux tracker era (2014-present), no candidate has been elected to the Hall of Fame with less than 68.0 percent of the private vote. That was Ivan Rodriguez in 2017. Mussina, actually, had the second-lowest private vote percentage for an elected player, with just 69.7 percent. All other 18 players who were elected since 2014 received more than 75 percent of the private vote alone.
If Walker wants his private vote total to jump to Rodriguez’s total of 68.0 percent, he would need approximately 48 more private votes alone. That’s going to be a hard jump to make, though not impossible. Mussina, for comparison, jumped 22.6 percentage points on his private vote from 2018 to 2019. Likewise, Martinez jumped 25.7 percentage points on his private vote. While it will be a hard jump to make, it’s not impossible, and it was just done this year by two different players.
Next, let’s compare Walker to Martinez and Raines. Their cases have been ballooned by social media support from the sabermetric-friendly community. Even still, though, Walker lags far behind.
Looking at this chart, Walker seems one year behind. At nine years, he’s at where Martinez and Raines were in their respective eighth years of eligibility. Both Martinez and Raines had about 70 percent of the vote in their ninth years, allowing them to waltz to induction. If anything, Walker needs to trudge to induction in 2020. Here’s the above graph in chart form:
This is probably the worst news for Walker. He’s garnered a lot of support for his case over time, but his candidacy dropped to levels that Martinez nor Raines even saw. The minimum vote shares for those two players were 25.2 percent and 22.6 percent, respectively. Walker dropped as far as 10.2 percent, making it a tougher climb to begin with.
Walker’s only hope seems to be a less crowded 2020 ballot. With Derek Jeter as the only sure-thing, voters will have plenty of open spots to use on Walker. Five players who garnered more than 5 percent of the vote (the four inductees and McGriff) are dropping off of the ballot this year. Luckily for him, Walker’s 10th year of eligibility comes in a rather dry year for Hall of Fame candidates.
Still, there’s going to be a long road ahead. Walker isn’t going to be doing any waltzing to election. His odds of eventual enshrinement certainly increased by a lot this year, but he definitely is far from being a sure thing in 2020.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.