Read that one: Here
Today we'll be looking at a player with a career .965 OPS (on base + slugging), which is unusually high, yet who's hall of fame bid is not garnering much support. This man is Larry Walker who was born in Maple Ridge British Colombia.
The reason for him not garnering a ground-swell of support hinges on the fact that he racked up insane numbers in a hitter's park...in fact the park which greatest favored hitters over pitchers of any park ever.
Park factors is a fairly new way of looking and interpreting baseball statistics. It is quite simple, it boils down to, some stadiums favor hitters and other stadiums favor pitchers. Many factors are at play some examples are the following:
1. How close are the outfield walls? If the corner of the outfields are 350 feet instead of 355 feet...it might sound like no big deal but that five feet means many a ball that would be home runs in the 350 park will be outs in the 355 park.
2. How big is the foul area? Some parks have huge in-play foul territories and some parks have very small foul territories. If a guy pops up to the third base side and it sails into the crowd...it becomes a souvenir for a fan rather than in the third baseman's glove and the third out of the inning. Large foul territories favor pitchers.
3. Is the infield grass or turf? A grass infield will slow the ball down and a sharp hit grounder will die out and be fielded by the infielder...while in a carpet park with turf many of these hard hit balls hit the hard ground surface, don't slow down, and wind up past the infielder and into the outfield for a hit.
|Walker, in a rare right-handed at-bat|
Scientists pointed out that the altitude of the stadium, which is a full mile above sea level, or around 1600 meters above sea level was making the air in the stadium less dense. Mountain climbers might be familiar with the gasping for air as they get higher and higher up a mountain, and this is the same case here. The air is simply not as thick when you're that high above sea-level.
Now, pitchers throw balls usually between 85-100 miles per hour and hitters nail these pitches with bat speeds coming through their centers of gravity at about 100 miles an hour...meaning when these two forces collide the ball off the bat will go quite far quite fast. If the air is thinner, the resistance of the air molecules that the traveling ball is meeting isn't posing much of a resistance at all. Not only that, but many breaking pitches need to push off dense air molecules to complete their breaks and if the air is too thin then, for example a curve-ball, will not break/move/drop on the hitter because it has nothing to break against.
Colorado has tried to curb the exaggerated effects of the boost to hitters over the years and the effects are not as exaggerated as they used to be (but it still is a VERY hitter friendly park). They now store the baseballs used in the games in a big humidor to make the balls more moisture-logged so they don't rip through the air as easily. Unfortunately, the era of 1993 to 2002 in Colorado and hitters hitting there have the stigma of "Mile-High Effect" on their stats, and Walker was a Colorado Rockie from 1995 to 2004, therefore, getting a good eight full season of the Mile-High boost.
Hall of Fame voters now don't know what the hell to do, no one knows what his numbers would have been without the boost and it seems for the most part they are all just not voting for him at all. It's unfortunate because chances are without the boost he may very well would have had a hall of fame career regardless.
Another Player who Benefited from Park Effects
Teams used to design their damned parks after their star players. If a big left handed hitter was their star player than possibly one year the right field wall would have "accidentally" been brought closer by about 20 feet. I read in Bill Veeck's book that, well he claims that, he installed an electric fence which went in closer while his team batted, and then at the push of a button, went out really far when the opposing team batted. There is no evidence of this ever happening and is accepted by historians as being a flat-out lie told by Veeck as more of a parlor jest than anything else.
|Aided by Park Effects?|
There's parks now and over the years where it is 345 to the corner outfields, some stand at 340...and then there's some where it is literally just above 300 feet. It is the older ball parks where this is the case, most people have seen the green monster in Boston which looks like a little league park it is so close to the hitter but at least they raised the wall to tower up and keep line drives from becoming homers. Yankee Stadium in Ruth's era had a right field wall which was 314 feet away and wasn't an over-exaggerated tower of a wall like in Boston....just a regular wall 314 feet away. That's it.
Ruth was a pull hitter who pulled the ball to right field, and at 314 feet away, guess what? Fat Boy logged a lot of fucking homeruns. Is it just me or does logging 714 homers while your home park custom built you a wall 314 feet away seem kind of cheap? No offense, I know the Babe is a legend, but F that cheap tailor made field for him, man. Revive this guy with some voodoo, put Babe Ruth in SafeCo Field down in Seattle as his home park, and watch this "legend" hit .275 with 22 homers next year.
That kid Kyle Seager who hit 16 homers at SafeCo last year should be pretty proud of himself. That's not an easy park to drop bombs in.
A lot of the old legends got the benefit of playing around in home parks where they were literally little league dimension fields. Home or away, they got to fool around in tiny little parks.
Did Larry Walker get his stats monstrously inflated from Coors Field? Yes, yes he did.
Those are his stats from the 1998 season for example, hitting .418 with 17 homers at home but only .302 with 6 homers on the road. That is highly irregular and not normal. To get a good idea what his stats would have been sans-Coors, someone should look at his career Away OPS, and see if it is still good. If his career Away OPS is still over 900 then I think he should be a shoe in Hall of Famer.
According to the data his career OPS on the road is .865...which is still very very good and possibly good enough for the Hall of Fame.
The thing is, the Hall of Fame is filled with players who's park effects weren't analyzed even a little bit. Should Walker get sort of a "grandfather clause" bypass because Coors Field was basically the field which made park factors such a well-studied phenomena? If Babe and all these other guys got their park factors thrown out the window then maybe Walker should too. He has the negative stigma of playing in the park which literally lead to such an interest in park factors...which is a huge stumbling block to his candidacy.
It's hard for anyone to imagine what his numbers would have been if they weren't altitude inflated...I'm not sure that is a license for all BBWAA writers to just toss his case out the window though. All in all, the design flaw of Coors field may keep him out of the hall of fame.
For what it is worth, I 100% fully believe, that if you took the 1920s Babe Ruth, you somehow cloned him or revived him with some hypothetical elixir, and stuck him a Mariners uniform (or a Padres uniform where it's 402 to right-center) for the 2015 season...1920s Babe Ruth would struggle to even hit .280 and not even make it to 30 homers in a full season. I truly believe that.