Edgar Martinez Should Not Be A Hall of Famer
Last year, when contemplating who should be inducted into the Hall of Fame, I ultimately determined Edgar Martinez fell short. Ultimately, the crux of the argument was due to the scarcity of DHs even available for Hall of Fame voting, it was hard to create a standard. As a result, Frank Thomas, the only player in the Hall of Fame who spent more time at DH than in the field became the standard upon his election. As Edgar was not the DH Thomas was, he should fall short of election.
Since that time, the IBWAA had decided to induct Edgar in what amounts to their own straw poll, and we have seen a groundswell of support of voters to induct him into the Hall of Fame. Whether he does in fact get elected today remains to be seen, but at a minimum, it led to rethink how to approach Edgar’s Hall of Fame candidacy.
Ultimately, I decided that since a DH is just a hitter, Edgar should be looked upon as a hitter only first. After collecting all that information, we can then make the determination about whether he was a good enough hitter to be in the Hall of Fame based upon his hitting alone.
The Steroids Era has blurred this somewhat, but we do know that there are certain magic numbers that get you into the Hall of Fame. On the offensive side, those numbers are 3,000 hits and 500 homers. With respect to both, Edgar not only falls short, but he falls well short. In fact, he “only” had 2,247 hits and 309 homers.
Considering he averaged just 125 hits a year and 17 homers a year, he was going to need another six years to get to 3,000 hits and 11 years to get to 500 homers. So from the magic number standpoint, we know Edgar falls well short.
Lesser Known Magic Numbers
To be fair to Edgar, he was not a home run hitter, and you do not have to be a home run hitter to be a truly great offensive player. To that end, further examination is due to determine if he has the numbers in other categories that are worthy of Hall of Fame induction. For the sake of brevity in this section, the bars set are for all players eligible for the Hall of Fame who have not been implicated by PEDs.
Runs – Putting Johnny Damonaside for the moment as he is on the ballot, every player with more runs scored than Cal Ripken, Jr.‘s 1,647 runs scored has been inducted. Edgar only has 1,219 runs scored.
Doubles– Again Ripken is the bottom line standard with his having hit 603 doubles. Edgar falls short of this mark with his having hit 514 doubles.
RBI– Every player with more RBI than Ernie Banks‘ 1,636 RBI is in the Hall of Fame. What’s interesting is Harold Baines, a career DH himself, was next on the all-time RBI list with 1,628. Edgar finished his career with 1,261 RBI.
Walks – Walks are not as forgiving a category as the others as the Hall of Fame voters have not really rewarded that as a skill, at least not to the extent of the balls in play categories. Thomas and his 1,667 walks is the floor, and Edgar again falls well short with 1,283 walks in his career.
BA -Like Walks, batting average is a bit unforgiving with Babe Ruth and his .342 setting the low water mark. Edgar again is well short with a .312 batting average.
OBP – This is where Edgar’s best case is. Everyone with a higher OBP than Dan Brouthers and his .423 OBP are in the Hall of Fame. However, if you remove Max Bishop, who played from 1924-1935 from the equation, that number drops to Stan Musial and his .417 OBP. With Edgar having a .418 OBP, he meets the criteria of this adjusted standard.
SLG – For this one, some allowances need to be made as Larry Walker, Jim Thome, and Vladimir Guerrero remain on the ballot. Another factor is Albert Belle and his .565 SLG is an outlier not being good enough for induction is an outlier. Otherwise, the bar would be Rogers Hornsby and his .577 SLG. Making those allowances, the new mark is Ralph Kiner and his .547 SLG. Edgar again falls short with a .515 SLG.
Looking at these numbers, Edgar misses the bottom line standard on all of them. In reality, he misses the mark by a big margin for most of them. If we tweak the numbers, his OBP is the only one that matches. It’s certainly impressive, but for a player whose sole job was to go out there and hit, it is really difficult to argue that one truly elite Hall of Fame level skill is enough to merit induction.
As time passes by, we get smarter, and we learn new and better ways to evaluate hitters other than just their traditional back of the baseball card stats. As we know, it is easier to hit in some parks than others, and as a result, we need statistics that adjust accordingly. For a number of factors, including their goal of synthesizing a number of park and league neutral factors to derive an overall hitter value, I decided to use OPS+ and wRC+ for an advanced statistical analysis.
OPS+ If you look at the players eligible for the Hall of Fame and not tainted by steroids, Ty Cobb and his 168 OPS+ was the lowest “magic number” mark. You could even push it down to 163 as Jimmie Foxx had that mark, but it should be noted he is tied with Pete Browning, who was not inducted into the Hall of Fame. Edgar falls short of this mark again with his 147 OPS+.
Now, if we were to focus solely on modern players and just focused on those players who played over the last 50 years, the OPS+ threshold doesn’t really move as Dick Allen with his 156 mark was not inducted into the Hall of Fame. However, Willie Mays and Thomas were. So, if we were to treat Allen like an exception, that mark would move to Willie McCovey and Mike Schmidt, whose career OPS+ is 147, which as we know is Edgar’s career mark.
If we are making a case here for Edgar, which is what we are searching to do, it should be noted by this metric alone, he is tied for 42nd on the list.
wRC+Again, Dick Allen is the major impediment here as his 155 wRC+ was not sufficient for Hall of Fame induction. That would make Tris Speaker and his 157 wRC+ the standard bearer. Edgar and his 147 wRC+ falls well short of that mark.
If we were to make the same allowances that were made for the OPS+ mark, the threshold would move to the 145 wRC+ posed by McCovey, Willie Stargell, and the presumed to be inducted Thome. Edgard has a higher mark than that.
Another factor in Edgar’s favor here is his 147 wRC+ ranks 33rd best in the history of baseball.
If we are going to discuss advanced metrics, we have to discuss WAR. In reality, the WAR required for Hall of Fame induction is a moving target. The high water mark is the 73.9 average for starting pitchers and the 40.6 average for relievers. Putting pitching aside, the high water mark is the 73.2 WAR average for right fielders and the 53.4 average WAR for catchers serving as the low water mark.
Certainly, Edgar falls within all of those parameters with a 68.3 career WAR. In fact, that mark puts him tied for 112th all time. That’s ahead of first ballot inductees like Ivan Rodriguez(68.4) and Ernie Banks (67.4). However, it also puts Edgar behind players never inducted into the Hall of Fame like Lou Whitaker (74.9) and Bobby Grich, both of whom were five percented in their first year of the ballot and were not inducted in the most recent Veteran’s Committee vote.
Overall, Edgar is 112th, which puts him well below some Hall of Famers, but it does put him ahead of many others. The same goes for people not in the Hall of Fame.
Revisiting The Frank Thomas Argument
As of today, the DH position has only been in existence for 44 years thereby making it the newest position in all of baseball. In the brief history of the DH, we have seen it used in a variety of ways. It has been used as a spot for an aging veteran, and we have seen it used for a rotating spot to give players a rest. Of course, with players like Edgar, we have seen it go to good hitters.
As of this moment, there is only one player in the Hall of Fame who spent more time at DH than in the field. That player was Frank Thomas. In his career, Thomas hit .301/.419/.555 with 495 doubles, 521 homers, and 1,704 RBI. He had a 73.7 WAR, 45.2 WAR7, and a 59.5 JAWS. If we are looking to create a standard to induct a DH, he’s it.
Edgar falls short having a lower OBP and SLG with significantly fewer homers and RBI. His 68.3/.43.6/56.0 all fall well short of the numbers Thomas put up.
If we are going to look at Edgar just among hitters, we also need to take other things into consideration. Despite being just a DH, which is effectively a part-time player, Edgar only played over 150 games in just three seasons. To be fair, we should make that four with him leading the league in games played in the shortened 1995 season. Still, he was a DH that could not stay on the field.
Despite the current narrative that Edgar is the best DH ever, he really wasn’t as Frank Thomas was. Moreover, Edgar wasn’t recognized as such in his playing days. During his career, Edgar only won five Silver Sluggers and made just seven All Star teams in 18 years. I know his name is on the American League award for DHs, but that doesn’t mean he was the best DH ever or even of his era.
One other argument I’ve seen is Edgar not playing the field helped his team. Sure, his being utilized the best possible way was a benefit to the Mariners. However, it’s hard to argue that is was also beneficial the Mariners had players like Mike Blowers, Russ Davis, David Bell, Jeff Cirillo, and Scott Spiezio at third base.
From this analysis, it is pretty clear that if you want to make a case for Edgar Martinez as a Hall of Famer, you certainly can. He was certainly a very good hitter in his career, and based upon what metric you chose to use, he was among the best hitters in any particular category. However, the question ultimately is whether he was a good enough hitter that we can overlook his never really playing in the field.
For me, the answer is no.
Right now, the standard for a DH is Frank Thomas, and Edgar falls well short of that. He also did not put up anywhere near 3,000 hits or 500 homers. You literally have to move the floors for any other statistical category for Edgar to be above the proverbial red line. Worse yet, he was a DH that was not able to play over 150 games a season. That’s a problem when you’re looking to induct a one-dimensional player.
No, it won’t be a travesty when and if Edgar is elected into the Hall of Fame. However, it will ultimately be the wrong decision.