Reconsidering Edgar’s legacy

I’m not a native of the Pacific Northwest. Heck, I didn’t even move to the Puget Sound area until 2009. So, I’m not a “lifelong” Seattle Mariners fan like my beautiful bride or her father. Nope, the many failures and very few successes of Seattle’s professional baseball team aren’t etched into my memories — or nightmares for that matter. Perhaps, that’s why I’m not upset that Edgar Martinez isn’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe the 52-year-old should have been enshrined by now. I just don’t have an emotional investment in Edgar getting a plaque in Cooperstown. Truthfully, emotion shouldn’t be a factor when discussing his qualifications because he meets the criteria set forth by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA).

The specific guidance given to voters states “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Based on these principles, Martinez merits enshrinement. This becomes abundantly clear when he’s compared to the position players selected during the last decade.

Recent arrivals
Most articles promoting Edgar’s Hall of Fame credentials capitalize on the merits of his resume compared to the all-time greats. His hitting percentages — batting average (BA), on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage (SLG), and on-base plus slugging (OPS) — hold up very well. I’ll get to those more “classic” evaluations comparisons later.

Before looking at the old-timers, I’d like to focus on players who’ve played more recently. There are a couple of reasons for taking this approach.

For starters, baseball has evolved in several ways during the last half-century — designated hitter, expansion, and specialized relievers are three examples. Comparing a 21st century player to someone from long ago provides historical context. However, weighing how Edgar measures up to the eleven players elected to the Hall by the BBWAA since he retired in 2004 provides more insight into his credentials.

On the following table, I ranked players by the baseball-reference.com version of wins above replacement (WAR). To help illuminate Edgar’s standing, I highlighted hitting percentages that were better than the Mariners icon’s. It didn’t take me very long.

Player WAR G PA H 2B 3B HR BB BA OBP SLG OPS
Rickey Henderson 110.8 3081 13346 3055 510 66 297 2190 .279 .401 .419 .820
Cal Ripken 95.5 3001 12883 3184 603 44 431 1129 .276 .340 .447 .788
Wade Boggs 91.1 2440 10740 3010 578 61 118 1412 .328 .415 .443 .858
Frank Thomas 73.7 2322 10075 2468 495 12 521 1667 .301 .419 .555 .974
Barry Larkin 70.2 2180 9057 2340 441 76 198 939 .295 .371 .444 .815
Tony Gwynn 68.8 2440 10232 3141 543 85 135 790 .338 .388 .459 .847
Edgar Martinez 68.3 2055 8674 2247 514 15 309 1283 .312 .418 .515 .933
Ryne Sandberg 67.5 2164 9282 2386 403 76 282 761 .285 .344 .452 .795
Roberto Alomar 66.8 2379 10400 2724 504 80 210 1032 .300 .371 .443 .814
Craig Biggio 65.1 2850 12504 3060 668 55 291 1160 .281 .363 .433 .796
Andre Dawson 64.5 2627 10769 2774 503 98 438 589 .279 .323 .482 .806
Jim Rice 47.4 2089 9058 2452 373 79 382 670 .298 .352 .502 .854
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/23/2015.

 

Frank Thomas, Wade Boggs, and Tony Gwynn were the only players who bettered Martinez in any category. Thomas was the only one who topped Edgar more than once. That’s no surprise. All three of these players were clearly first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Another reason to gravitate towards the most recent inductees is that their vote tallies reflect the current attitude of voters. The standards used by writers who voted 45 years ago shouldn’t be the same ones used today — hopefully. The game has significantly changed since 1970; thereby evaluations of players should evolve accordingly.

Some say that Edgar didn’t have enough playing time to exceed the highly publicized Hall of Fame milestones cited by both writers and fans in years past. For hitters, the most often statistics cited are 3,000 hits or 500 home runs.

I’ve also heard 1,500 runs batted in mentioned from time to time. However, I’m not going to discuss that statistic. If I have to explain why, then I’ve already lost you. Thank you for sticking with me this far.

Milestones
There’s no denying that if Edgar had reached these benchmarks, I’d probably be writing about another player right now — perhaps, Jeff Bagwell. Nevertheless, many players in the Hall didn’t get their “check in the block” either. Here are Hall of Famers who have been active within the last four decades, but never surpassed any of those key milestones.

Notable Hall of Famers with w/o HOF Milestones
Player H HR R BA OBP SLG OPS
Brooks Robinson 2848 268 1232 .267 .322 .401 .723
Ozzie Smith 2460 28 1257 .262 .337 .328 .666
Johnny Bench 2048 389 1091 .267 .342 .476 .817
Ron Santo 2254 342 1138 .277 .362 .464 .826
Barry Larkin 2340 198 1329 .295 .371 .444 .815
Gary Carter 2092 324 1025 .262 .335 .439 .773
Carlton Fisk 2356 376 1276 .269 .341 .457 .797
Ryne Sandberg 2386 282 1318 .285 .344 .452 .795
Andre Dawson 2774 438 1373 .279 .323 .482 .806
Billy Williams 2711 426 1410 .290 .361 .492 .853
Willie Stargell 2232 475 1194 .282 .360 .529 .889
Tony Perez 2732 379 1272 .279 .341 .463 .804
Jim Rice 2452 382 1249 .298 .352 .502 .854
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/23/2015.

 

The players listed above aren’t obscure names from a bygone era. All are relatively recent selectees by baseball writers with the exception of Ron Santo, who was a choice by the Veterans committee. Yet, it’s been repeatedly stated by some media personalities that Edgar’s career doesn’t merit inclusion in the Hall because he failed to reach 3,000 hit or 500 home runs.

What if some very famous names didn’t reach these writer-created standards? Would fans and the media feel the same way about them?

Several players barely reached the 3,000-hit club. Most notably, Roberto Clemente (3,000) Al Kaline (3,007) and Boggs (3,010). Would any of these players be less worthy if they finished with “just” 2,999 hits?

The same applies to 500 home runs. Do Ted Williams (521), Ernie Banks (512), and Eddie Matthews (512) not gain entry if they only had 499 home runs? Conversely, does anyone really believe that Dave Kingman (442) would have deserved enshrinement if he stuck around long enough to hit 500 homers?

The specter of the steroid era and the evolution of specialized bullpens have radically changed the game. Hopefully, writers aren’t reluctant to progress accordingly. How a player dominated their peak years deserves more scrutiny than antiquated standards like total hits and home runs.

The best of times
Every Hall of Famer experiences a sustained period of productivity during their illustrious career. For Edgar, that was 1992-2001. Let’s compare Edgar’s best decade to the ten-year peaks of the same eleven players elected to the Hall since his retirement. This should help shed further light on Edgar’s standing among these superb players.

Player Seasons G PA BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Rickey Henderson 1980-1991 1653 7378 .292 .406 .446 .852 141
Cal Ripken 1983-1994 1891 8314 .279 .350 .455 .805 121
Wade Boggs 1983-1994 1761 8020 .334 .425 .456 .881 140
Frank Thomas 1991-2002 1638 7266 .313 .431 .569 1.000 163
Barry Larkin 1988-1999 1541 6550 .304 .383 .461 .844 126
Tony Gwynn 1984-1995 1690 7337 .339 .391 .454 .845 134
Edgar Martinez 1990-2001 1580 6835 .321 .429 .537 .966 155
Ryne Sandberg 1982-1993 1809 7928 .291 .349 .457 .807 119
Roberto Alomar 1990-2001 1733 7644 .311 .385 .469 .853 124
Craig Biggio 1990-2001 1771 7979 .295 .386 .440 .826 122
Andre Dawson 1977-1988 1729 7348 .283 .328 .489 .817 125
Jim Rice 1975-1986 1766 7754 .304 .356 .520 .876 133

 

The trio of Thomas, Gwynn, and Boggs were ahead of Edgar once again, plus a new name — Rickey Henderson. Otherwise, Martinez dominated the other seven Hall of Famers in batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage/on-base plus slugging. Considering how well he measures up to these great players, I don’t understand how his voting tally has continued to drop with each passing year.

The all-timers
Let’s see how Edgar’s success compares to the 148 position players already in the Hall. Next to each statistic, I included notable names who finished behind him. Once again, I opted to avoid individuals who played before a color television was a common household item.

Edgar Martinez’s Standing Among Hall of Famers
Category Value Rank
Notable Inductees Ranking Behind E. Martinez
WAR 68.3 57th Roberto Alomar / Craig Biggio / Andre Dawson /Dave Winfield / Jim Rice 
AVG .312 59th Paul Molitor / George Brett / Frank Thomas / Roberto Alomar / Barry Larkin
OBP .418  14th Wade Boggs / Rickey Henderson / Rod Carew / Tony Gwynn / Paul Molitor / George Brett
SLG .515  28th Jim Rice / Reggie Jackson / Andre Dawson / Eddie Murray / Dave Winfield
OPS  .933  19th Wade Boggs / Tony Gwynn / Rod Carew / Paul Molitor /  Roberto Alomar / Andre Dawson
OPS+ 147 13th George Brett / Wade Boggs / Jim Rice / Paul Monitor / Craig Biggio / Ryne Sandberg

 

Edgar holds his own against the best of the best. Plus, he ranks ahead of an esteemed group of players in all of these categories. It may surprise some that Edgar does so well when compared head-to-head with so many great players.

How many fans knew that Edgar had a higher career batting average than George Brett? A better on-base percentage than Boggs, Gwynn, and Brett? Or that he topped Jim Rice, Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray, and Dave Winfield in slugging percentage?

One last note on Edgar’s pedigree — Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx, and Thomas are the only right-handed hitters in the Hall of Fame who have a higher OBP. Only eight righties had a higher OPS and Thomas is the only one who played in the last forty years. It’s puzzling to me that Edgar’s not already a Hall of Famer.

Providing value to his team
Edgar’s impact on his team was considerable. Look at the Mariners’ WAR ranking at the positions he played. After breaking in as a third baseman with Seattle, he became the club’s full-time designated hitter by 1995. That’s when his contributions became were most apparent.

Between 1995 and 2001, the Mariners earned the highest designated hitter value of any team six times thanks to Edgar. It’s important to note that during his first full season — when he was a third baseman — Seattle had the highest value at that position too.

Edgar’s Contributions to His Team (Based on WAR)
Edgar’s Positional Rank Seasons
1st  1990 / 1995 / 1996 / 1997 / 1998 / 2000 / 2001
2nd  1991 / 2003
3rd  1999
4th or below  1992 /1993 / 1994 / 2002 / 2004

 

The numbers clearly point to Edgar’s worthiness for enshrinement. Nonetheless, several questions have been raised about his selection. One merits discussion, while two others are simply inane.

Defense
Simply said, Edgar didn’t excel as a fielder. He had a career .946 fielding percentage at third base and a -9.7 defensive wins above replacement (dWAR). With that said, there are current and likely Hall of Famers who weren’t exactly golden fielders throughout their respective careers.

Gwynn had a -10.5 dWAR during the last 14 seasons of his career. Although he was very athletic when he first arrived in the majors, his body eventually betrayed him. Amazingly, he continued to be a great hitter until he retired in 2001.

Nolan Ryan was best known for being a flamethrower and throwing seven no-hitters. But, how many people realize he that had a career .895 fielding percentage?

Derek Jeter is a likely first ballot Hall of Famer. During his 19-year career, he had the fewest defensive runs saved (DRS) among shortstops who had at least 10,000 innings at the position. Overall, he registered -159 DRS. I’m betting that “Captain Clutch” will still be giving an acceptance in Cooperstown during his first year of eligibility — regardless of his defense.

If you think that any of these players — or Edgar — shouldn’t have a plaque in Cooperstown, perhaps you should have deplaned back when I mentioned runs batted in.

I’m not trying to downplay the importance of defense or even gloss over Edgar’s difficulties in the field. Perhaps, if the designated hitter position hadn’t been available, he’d have moved to first base where he had a more respectable .981 fielding percentage there during a small sample of 28 games.

It’s important to note that WAR takes into account all aspects of a player’s game — offense, defense, base running. So, Edgar’s already been penalized for his defense. Despite his shortcomings, he still provided more value than most the majority of Hall of Famers.

One-dimensional player
I’ve heard pundits say that a full-time designated hitter is “one-dimensional.” That’s a flawed premise. The defensively challenged Hall of Famers that I just mentioned aren’t considered “one-dimensional,” although several were better suited for the designated hitter position, especially during the second half of their careers.

If one applied that mindset across the board, how many relief pitchers enshrined in Cooperstown — or mentioned as future entrants – would make the cut? Only Bruce Sutter, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Trevor Hoffman were relief pitchers from the beginning of their professional careers.

Goose Gossage and Mariano Rivera were failed starters and Dennis Eckersley wouldn’t have made it based on his time as a starter. The same may apply to John Smoltz, who excelled as both a starter and closer.

Do I believe that Gossage, Eckersley, and Rivera should be Hall of Famers? Absolutely. Then again, I haven’t been affected by the “one-dimensional” insanity.

No rings
Anyone remotely familiar with the history of the Seattle Mariners knows that they’re one of two major league franchises that hasn’t reached the World Series. The Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos is the other. Why should that impact the Hall worthiness of Edgar or Ken Griffey Jr?

I haven’t heard or read a writer specifically mention World Series championships. But, I’ve witnessed talking heads mention the number of rings a player owns as a factor on determining their credentials for inclusion in the Hall. That’s as absurd as using runs batted in to determine a player’s worth.

Notable Hall of Famers with One or No Rings
Rings Players
None Craig Biggio / Andre Dawson / Jim Rice /  Ryne Sandberg / Tony Gwynn / Rod Carew
Frank Thomas / Carl Yastrzemski / Ron Santo / Ted Williams
One Wade Boggs / Paul Molitor / George Brett / Eddie Murray / Ozzie Smith
Pedro Martinez / Randy Johnson / Greg Maddux / Dennis Eckersley

 

Does anyone believe that Pedro Martinez wouldn’t be worthy of induction if Boston had lost the 2004 World Series? What about Randy Johnson?

If New York Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera doesn’t throw the bunted ball off the bat of Arizona Diamondback Damian Miller into center field during game seven of the 2001 Series, it’s possible that the Yankees hold on to win the series and Johnson doesn’t get a ring. I suspect that the “Big Unit” would still have been a first ballot entrant into the Hall.

Conclusion
Edgar Martinez was one of the best right-handed hitters in the history of baseball — regardless of era. Seeing how he compares to both historic and more recent Hall of Fame players should give writers and fans a reason to pause and reconsider his legacy before it’s too late.

Although not emotionally invested in Edgar’s reaching Cooperstown like my bride and father-in-law, I’m troubled that he hasn’t already been enshrined. A player of his stature — regardless of team affiliation or era — shouldn’t be overlooked by the BBWAA.

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Jason A. Churchill

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