Thursday, May 13, 2004

On Baseball Primer, there’s been a discussion about Edgar Martinez’s chances for the Hall-of-Fame. Of course, the big millstone around his neck is the fact that he’s played a good chunk of his career as a designated hitter.

I think there’s a number of compelling reasons why Martinez should be a lock. Some examples:

The greatest first, second and third baseman, shortstop, left, right and centerfielder, the greatest pitcher and catcher are all in the Hall-of-Fame. So doesn’t it stand to reason that the greatest DH should be there as well?

Is he the greatest DH? He is and it’s not close. Let’s use two objective measures: Runs Created Above Average (RCAA) and adjusted OPS+ since they take into consideration park effects and league averages while adjusted OPS+ also takes eras into account.

Using RCAA, Edgar Martinez is first all time with 532 (through the end of 2003). Paul Molitor is second with 279! Using adjusted OPS+ Martinez is second with a mark of 151. Frank Thomas is first at 162 although it should be noted that “The Big Hurt” has DHed in 867 games as opposed to Martinez’s 1290 [games]. Thomas has just 269 RCAA as a DH....almost half of Martinez’s total.

Let’s toss out the DH and look at Martinez’s career totals (through the end of 2003):

  • RCAA: 665. He’s 24th all time. Among eligible players, everybody above him is in the HOF. Those who aren’t in Cooperstown are considered locks: Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Frank Thomas, and Mark McGwire. Below Martinez (among the top 100 in RCAA since 1900) are 37 Hall-of-Famers. Also among the top 100 [below Martinez] are several players who have strong cases for the Hall: Jeff Bagwell, Wade Boggs, Rafael Palmeiro, Tim Raines, Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Gwynn, Joe Jackson, Pete Rose (well, they would if it weren‘t for poor life choices), Mike Piazza, Alex Rodriguez, and Roberto Alomar as well as players who are getting close to Cooperstown credentials: Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, Chipper Jones, and Craig Biggio. suffice it to say, he wouldn’t be ratcheting down the standards for Hall-of-Fame induction.
  • His current adjusted OPS+ is good for 32nd all time and he’s got Hall-of-Famers, or soon to be Hall-of-Famers around him. Those above him that aren’t enshrined suffer from banishment (Joe Jackson), short careers (Pete Browning, David Orr, and Charlie Keller....Orr and Browning are also hurt by being 19th century players), or for alleged character issues (Dick Allen). Granted Martinez’s RCAA and adjusted OPS+ is subject to some erosion, but he’s 41 years old and has close to 7000 AB on his resume which means his decline will come swiftly and he probably won’t stick around long enough to see significant decline time.
  • Martinez’s OBP is .422 as of this writing, good for 17th all time. His SLG is .522....good for 54th all time.
  • What some feel to be potential downfalls are his counting stats and his being a DH. Let’s address these. I’m going to cheat a little here and go quick and dirty because, well, I’m lazy (yeah, yeah, the more the qualifiers, the fewer the bodies, but I‘ll make a point about it later). Here’s the benchmark: players with careers of 2000 hits, 500 doubles, 300 HR, 1000 runs/RBI/BB that batted .300 lifetime. The following are those who qualify: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, George Brett, Mel Ott, Willie Mays, and Edgar Martinez. Now it’s pretty obvious that one of these things is not like the other. If you read Bill James, you can find some major flaws in this comparison, but my reason for doing it is this: to accomplish 2000 hits, 500 doubles, 300 HR, 1000 runs/RBI/BB and batting .300 lifetime you need the following skills--you have to be able to hit for average, you have to be able to hit for power, you have to have a keen batting eye and you have to sustain it for a significant period of time. That’s why only 10 players have accomplished the feat in major league history, it takes a special kind of hitter to accomplish it. Some forgettable players have high batting averages (Riggs Stephenson .336), tons of hits (Doc Cramer 2705 hits), HR totals (Dave Kingman 442 HR), 2B totals (Al Oliver 529 2B) lots of RBI (Joe Carter 1445 RBI), high walk totals (Eddie Yost 1614 BB), plenty of runs scored (Tom Brown 1521 runs), but to excel in all the aforementioned categories is reserved for the truly great. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with Edgar Martinez’s counting stats.
  • As to the DH issue, I’m going to resort to the “lowest common denominator” argument. We’ve already established that Martinez is a Hall-of-Fame hitter, but what about his lack of time in the field? Well, going to the opposite extreme, we need look no further than recent inductee Bill Mazeroski; a Hall-of-Fame defender? No doubt. What about his hitting? Yes, he had over 2000 hits but that’s it. Did you know he never had a single season where he was league average in OBP+SLG (OPS)? Not once. Every year, a league average hitter at second base would’ve been a better asset in the lineup than Maz. Yes, second base is a key defensive position, but how did Mazeroski fare against his contemporary second sackers? Over the course of his career, an average 2B created 834 runs. Maz created only 821 runs. In short, not only was he an offensive liability, he was an offensive liability for a second baseman! There are other examples of players inducted due to outstanding defense (Ozzie Smith, Rick Ferrell) and there are great offensive players inducted who were less-than-stellar with the leather (Harmon Killibrew, Hack Wilson). Why? It was felt that their respective deficiencies were far outweighed by their other contributions. It‘s no different for Edgar Martinez. Martinez’s deficiency (being a DH) is far outweighed by his offensive contributions.

I think he’s a deserving candidate.

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Best Regards