You see, Edgar didn’t become an everyday player until his age-27 season. He had brief stints with the team in three previous years, but there wasn’t an available roster spot for the future Hall of Famer. How ironic that sounds now.
Martínez’s journey was not easy nor conventional. It took a position change and a historically good run as a 30-something to cement his legacy. Then, there was a 15-year wait before the BBWAA selected “Edgar” for enshrinement.
Enter Mitch Haniger
Edgar’s overdue Hall selection prompted me to reflect on the best late bloomers right now. Players who may enjoy their best years on the wrong side of 30. Unsurprisingly, Haniger was among those mentioned.
This isn’t the first time I’ve noted Haniger’s late-blooming ways. Last year, I discussed his progress after career game-162, comparing him to players who didn’t flourish until their late-twenties. I mentioned Edgar briefly, but segued to ordinary performers.
Unlike Edgar, who’s been a Mariner for his entire career, Haniger is with his third organization. He was drafted by the Brewers, but later traded to the Diamondbacks. Eventually, he arrived in Seattle via another swap in late 2016.
Haniger immediately became a fixture in right field for the 2017 Mariners, but he rose to national prominence and was an All-Star last year – his age-27 season. That’s the same point Edgar finally got his shot and began building momentum towards Cooperstown.
Comping Edgar & Mitch
So how do the early careers of Haniger and Edgar match-up? Here’s a side-by-side comparison through their age-27 seasons.
Haniger has a sizeable advantage in plate appearances, making it difficult to compare counting stats – doubles and home runs and even fWAR. Still, he does hold an early lead in wRC+ and slugging percentage.
Before going any further, I want to make something clear. I’m not out to prove Mitch Haniger is better than Edgar Martínez was, nor am I suggesting Haniger is destined for Cooperstown. But these kind of baseball comps are fun. Baseball is fun. So let’s continue having fun.
Next, I weighed Martínez’s and Haniger’s age-27 seasons. Maybe, we achieve a more closely matched comparison that way.
Again, we run into the same issue; a disparity in plate appearances. This time though, Edgar holds the advantage in fWAR, while Mitch continues leading in wRC+ and slugging percentage.
A Direct Comp
Okay, let’s approach the pair’s stats in a more straightforward manner. Since Haniger has 1,216 career plate appearances, a comp to Martínez’s first 1,216 plate appearances makes sense.
Edgar’s 1,216th plate appearance came during a game at Yankee Stadium on July 25, 1991. As a result, I had to dig into Baseball Reference game logs and use a spreadsheet to determine his slash line. That’s why there’s no wRC+ or fWAR available from FanGraphs listed below.
|Thru 1,216 Plate Appearances
Once again, Haniger maintains the edge in home runs, doubles, and slugging percentage. However, Edgar amassed more walks and hits. Hence, the higher batting average and significantly better OBP.
So what does all of this mean for Haniger’s future as enters his age-28 season?
Probably nothing, but Mariners fans may be encouraged to know the former Cal Poly Mustang has a role model to emulate as he approaches his thirties – Edgar Martínez.
An Amazing Late Bloomer
As noted earlier, Edgar earned his Hall plaque by delivering his best results as a 30-something. He outdid recognizable all-time greats in their thirties in batting average (Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew, and Stan Musial) and slugging percentage (Hank Aaron and Jim Thome). The only Hall of Famer to notch a higher OBP than Edgar in their thirties since 1947 – Ted Williams.
A little more on Edgar’s OBP, it propelled the historically great finish to his career. By the time he retired in 2004, only three right-handed hitters had a higher career OBP – Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx, and Frank Thomas.
Clearly, Edgar doesn’t enter the Hall without sustained superior performance on the wrong side of 30. Here’s his average annual production after his age-27 campaign until ending his career as a 41-year-old.
|Edgar’s Avg Production (1991-2004)|
Realistically, expecting Haniger – or any player – to repeat Edgar’s greatness as a 30-something likely results in disappointment.
There’s no slight intended when I say that. But Edgar does have a Designated Hitter award named after him thanks to historically good run between ages 30-39.
Back to Haniger’s future, what should we expect moving forward? Only a time traveler can know with certainty. Perhaps conferring with José Canseco would help. I hear he’s good at that stuff.
I just time traveled into the future Rams win 27 to 20
— Jose Canseco (@JoseCanseco) February 3, 2019
Seriously, Haniger’s career as a Mariner is off to a great start. That’s all that matters right now. Assuming he remains relatively healthy and with Seattle, he may join Edgar and other greats atop the franchise’s leaderboard.
Among players with 1,000-plus plate appearances as a Mariner, Haniger’s 135 wRC+ is sixth best, wedged between Álex Rodríguez and Robinson Canó. Meanwhile, his OBP and slugging percentage are top-10. Imagine what a strong run in his thirties does for Mitch’s standing among players like Alvin Davis or Jay Buhner.
Haniger’s early success in Seattle doesn’t necessarily guarantee he’ll be an all-time great Mariner. He could regress with age, suffer injuries, leave via free agency (as A-Rod did), or be traded away like Canó.
Let’s Make A Deal
Trade? Oh yeah, that’s right. The Mariners are in the midst of reimagining their future. As a result, they’ve been shipping established MLB talent out of the Emerald City all offseason. Canó, James Paxton, Jean Segura, Edwin Díaz, and Mike Zunino all have new addresses. Perhaps Haniger and Kyle Seager are next.
Still, pondering Haniger’s early success and the possibility of a trade left me wondering again. How different would Mariners history be, if the team dealt Edgar before he hit his thirties?
Imagine the blow back from fans when Edgar rose to prominence elsewhere. That would certainly top the angst over the Tino to the Yankees deal. Right?
That’s the risk general manager Jerry Dipoto accepts whenever trading big leaguers; prospects too. There’s always a chance someone shipped out of town becomes a great player, or even a Hall of Famer.
Having said that, I appreciate the mindset of those endorsing a Haniger trade. There are several years of club control remaining and his market value may never be higher.
Besides, the Mariners may not seriously contend until 2022. By then, Haniger will be getting ready to become a free agent and completing his age-31 season. I get it.
Then again, the Mariners could sign Haniger to an extension, assuming he’s amenable. Such a deal potentially gives Seattle a new face for its franchise, assuming Félix Hernández leaves after the upcoming season.
Maybe keeping Haniger doesn’t make baseball sense, but doing so may resonate with fans patiently waiting for the club to finish re-shaping itself. Imagine if the Mariners caught lightening in a bottle with a late-bloomer for a second time.
As unlikely as that may seem, it’s worth noting Edgar Martínez recorded the biggest hit of his 18-year career during the 1995 playoffs – which was his age-32 season. Mitch Haniger is scheduled to become a free agent just prior to his age-32 season.
My Oh My.