For your baseball pleasure, my take on two terrific sluggers whose careers were both cut short by injuries. I give my readers, as the title subtly suggests, Larry Walker vs. Albert Belle.
First, some basic stats. I went in knowing that Walker would have a big edge in the traditional counting stats because his career was longer. As it turns out, I was correct about that. My thanks to Fangraphs for some of the stats I list, and to the REALLY cool comparison tool on Baseball Reference
Walker does indeed have the edge in the counting stats, as I had guessed, like the standard HR, doubles, runs, RBIs, etc., including a big edge in total bases, 3904 to 3300. This seems almost entirely due to having a longer career, 17 seasons (or parts thereof) to 12 for Belle - but that's still a big difference. Walker also has the edge in career OBP, with a fantastic career OBP of .400 (including a terrific EIGHT years in a row over .400), while Belle sits at merely .369 (including only four years over .400, with another year at .399). Right off the bat, Walker has a significant lead.
But Belle has a counter-punch or two to make. Here is a list of Bells's adjusted OPS (adjusted for park effects but not for position or league differences – 100 is average) by year, starting in 1989:
Career average OPS+ for Belle is 143.
For Walker, coincidentally also starting in 1989:
Career average OPS+ for Walker of 140.
Belle has the edge in career OPS+, AND played in the tougher league, making his higher OPS+ number slightly more impressive. Belle benefits by not having significant decline years, however - that props up his average stats while harming his counting stats. Furthermore, in a somewhat silly comparison but I think a useful one on some levels, there is the Black Ink Test on Baseball Reference (number of times they lead the league in a category, as follows: Four Points for home runs, runs batted in or batting average; Three Points for runs scored, hits or slugging percentage; Two Points for doubles, walks or stolen bases; One Point for games, at bats or triples) and the Gray Ink Test (number of times in the top-10 of a category). Belle has Walker beat in both. UPDATE - As pointed out by frequent commenter Dr. Brainsmart, it is worth noting that Walker had to contend with Barry Bonds (one of the top 5 hitters ever, no matter your opinion on how he got there) in his league so the league leader stat may be even less significant than the small weight I previously gave it.
Walker's WPA (win probably added) was 48.88 over his career, while Belle's was only 26.04, again likely due to playing time. Score a jab for Walker. And with a nice uppercut for Walker, according to this site: his career WAR (wins above replacement) is 67.1, ranking him 67th in baseball history (among position players). Belle is way down the list with 37.1 career WAR, ranking him 318th among hitters.
I also don’t have access to advanced defensive metrics like UZR, as that also only goes back to 2002, or +/- because that's a proprietary stat and I'm not a member of that site! I think it’s fair to say that Walker was a better defender, as for much of his career he considered a very good right fielder, while Belle was considered an average (at best) left fielder – obviously an easier position to play.
Walker gets a better "speed score" from Fangraphs as well, although I'm not sure what that encompasses. Let's just say that I'm willing to bet Walker was more valuable on the bases than was Belle.
Overall, it's pretty clear that Walker had the better career. But I also think it's fair to say that Belle had the higher peak and just didn't sustain his excellence as long. Belle's career wasn't as long but he was seemingly more durable during the years he played – his Games Played is consistently higher than Walker's. So while Walker has the better case for the HOF (but will almost certainly not make it due to the Coors Field stigma and his injuries keeping down his counting stats), it's a closer call as to which player you'd rather have for their 5-year peak – I might say Belle on that question.
Of course, if there was a statistic for which player I'd rather my hypothetical daughter date then Walker would win in a landslide. Belle was, by all reports, a pretty big jerk, while Walker was seemingly affable and goofy in a friendly sort of way.