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December 30, 2010

Prospectus Hit and Run

Class of 2011: Edgar Martinez

by Jay Jaffe

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Edgar Martinez could flat-out rake. A high-average, high-OBP hitting machine with plenty of power, he played a key role in putting the Mariners on the map as an AL West powerhouse, and emerged as a folk hero to a fan base that watched Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, and Alex Rodriguez lead the Mariners' charge to relevancy, only to force their ways out of town over contract issues. When Martinez debuted on the Hall of Fame ballot last year, I compared him to the enshrined third basemen using JAWS because he played 562 games at the hot corner and accrued a bit of value there before settling in as a designated hitter. Considering him in a broader context beyond the Hall's third basemen actually strengthens his candidacy.

For the uninitiated, JAWS (Jaffe WARP Score) is a measure I developed to compare Hall of Fame candidates against those of the average enshrined player at their positions using career and peak Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) totals. WARP measures each player's hitting, pitching, and fielding contributions relative to those of a freely available reserve or minor-league call-up, incorporating park and league contexts to compare players from different eras or scoring environments. Peak is defined as a player's best seven seasons, and JAWS is the average of career and peak totals. For more information on the particulars of the system as it pertains to this year's ballot, please see here.

Player

H

HR

RBI

AVG/OBP/SLG

AS

MVP

GG

HoFS

HoFM

Bal

2010%

Edgar Martinez

2247

309

1261

.312/.418/.515

7

0

0

50.0

132.0

0

N/A

 

Player

TAv

RARP

RAP

FRAA

Career

Peak

JAWS

Martinez

.317

649

417

-34

68.9

46.4

57.7

Avg HoF 3B

.290

545

266

81

71.8

47.1

59.5

Avg HoF CInf

.300

543

279

22

66.9

44.6

55.7

Avg HoF Hitter

.295

540

278

46

69.5

45.4

57.5

Deciphering the abbreviations in the first table, AS is All-Star game appearances and GG is Gold Gloves won; HoFS and HoFM are the Bill James Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor, respectively; Bal is how many years the player has appeared on the ballot, and 2010% is the player's share of the vote on the last ballot, with 75 percent needed for election. In the second table, TAv is True Average, RARP is Runs Above Replacement, Position-Adjusted, and RAP is Runs Above Position, both included here as good secondary measures of career and peak value. Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) is a bit more comprehensible to the average reader than measuring fielding from replacement level.

Martinez falls shy of the JAWS standards for third basemen on career and peak measures, primarily because of his defense. His RARP and RAP both clear the standards by more than 100 runs, and those figures as well as his WARP-based ones hold up similarly well when comparing him to the Hall's corner infielders (first and third basemen) and hitters as a whole. Before delving further into those considerations, it's important to appreciate the arc of his career.

Born in New York City but raised in Puerto Rico, Martinez was signed by the Mariners as a non-drafted free agent in 1982 after playing ball at American College in Puerto Rico. He broke through as a hitter at Triple-A in 1987, his age-24 season, but received just the proverbial cup of coffee from the Mariners in 1987 and 1988, and struggled in 1989 (.240/.314/.304) after opening the season as the team's third baseman to the point that he was briefly sent back to the minors. He broke out at age 27 in 1990 (.302/.397/.433), and a year later helped the Mariners crack .500 for the first time since their 1977 inception. In 1992 he won his first batting title, hitting .343/.404/.544 with a league-leading 46 doubles, and tallying 7.6 WARP, a total surpassed by only three AL hitters, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, and Mark McGwire.

Alas, Martinez was limited to just 131 games in 1993-1994 due to hamstring and wrist injuries as well as the players' strike. The latter season led the Mariners to relieve Martinez of his defensive responsibilities; he wasn't horrendous (93 Rate2, seven runs below average per 100 games, but still above replacement level), but his bat was far more important than his glove. The decision paid off; in 1995, Martinez tallied a career-high 8.6 WARP, hitting .356/.479/.628, leading the league in batting average, OBP, and doubles (52), and helping the Mariners to their first playoff berth in franchise history. No hit of his was bigger than The Double off the Yankees' Jack McDowell in the 11th inning of the decisive Game Five of the Division Series, driving in the tying and winning runs—a moment whose euphoria helped generate a groundswell of support to secure the Mariners a new taxpayer-funded stadium. Martinez was a one-man wrecking crew in that series, batting .571/.667/1.000 with four-three hit efforts, reaching base safely 18 times in five games.

The 1995 season began a seven-year stretch in which Martinez hit a combined .329/.446/.574 while averaging 42 doubles, 28 homers, 107 walks, and 6.2 WARP per year—even with virtually zero defensive value (he played 33 games at third and first in that span). The Mariners reached the playoffs three more times in that span, including their record-setting 116-win 2001 campaign after Johnson, Griffey, and Rodriguez had all departed. Martinez was hardly a window dresser for that team, hitting .306/.423/.543 with 40 doubles and 23 homers. He played three more seasons, hitting well for two of them, before retiring.

Martinez isn't the first Hall of Fame candidate to benefit from spending his twilight years as a designated hitter—Paul Molitor reached Cooperstown largely because of what he did there—but his is an interesting test case for the voters. He played so few games in the field not only because he established himself at a relatively advanced age but because the risk/reward payoff wasn't merited once he emerged as an elite hitter, though it's likely the Mariners could have stuck him at first base—a much easier position than third, requiring less mobility—had they so desired. He'd have been a Hall of Fame-caliber talent there, as the comparison to the JAWS corner infield and hitter-at-large standards suggests.

Also worth considering is that Martinez played in an era of increased specialization, particularly with regards to bullpen roles. Teams concerned with a pitcher's stamina, health and/or repertoire often convert starters to relievers, who rarely produce enough value within their limited roles to merit consideration for the Hall. Mariano Rivera is the best example; even without delving into his postseason accomplishments or his high save totals, his career, peak and JAWS scores (88.0/52.0/70.0) top those of the average enshrined pitcher (68.9/46.6/57.8), and it's quite possible he'd have never approached such a level had he remained a starter. Edgar was essentially the Mariano Rivera of DHs, so good within his limited role that he produced enough value to transcend it.

There's no doubt he was a truly special hitter. Among those with at least 8,000 plate appearances, he ranks 13th all-time in OBP and 17th in True Average, which expresses how many runs a player created per plate appearance, translated to the familiar scale of batting average.

Rk

Player

PA

TAv

1

Babe Ruth

10617

.364

2

Ted Williams

9789

.360

3

Barry Bonds

12606

.353

4

Lou Gehrig

9660

.341

5

Mickey Mantle

9909

.337

6

Rogers Hornsby

9475

.333

7

Stan Musial

12712

.328

8

Frank Thomas

10074

.326

9

Willie Mays

12493

.325

10

Mel Ott

11337

.325

11

Ty Cobb

13072

.324

12

Jimmie Foxx

9670

.324

13

Hank Aaron

13940

.322

14

Manny Ramirez

9757

.321

15

Jeff Bagwell

9431

.320

16

Frank Robinson

11743

.320

17

Edgar Martinez

8672

.317

18

Chipper Jones

9654

.317

19

Tris Speaker

11988

.316

20

Eddie Mathews

10101

.315

BBWAA voting history shows that hitters such as Tim Raines, Ron Santo, and Bobby Grich who derive a good portion of their value from on-base percentage have been ill-served by the voters. Martinez's first-ballot showing of 36.2 percent suggests he may join that company, though he's already topped Raines' highest vote percentage as well as those of nine other players—including recent inductees Rich Gossage, Jim Rice, and Bruce Sutter—who eventually gained election via the writers despite even less impressive ballot debuts. The hunch here is that he'll reach Cooperstown eventually, but only after a long, slow climb.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

19 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

TraderBob

Traditionally your last paragraph sums up you JAWS based position by saying if he'd be on your ballot. It's missing here. Perhaps on purpose?

Dec 30, 2010 10:05 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

He'd absolutely be on there. As an ESPN Insider piece, this had to deviate a bit from the JAWS series structure (see the ESPN version at http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/hof11/insider/news/story?id=5966468).

Dec 30, 2010 18:55 PM
 
Fresh Hops

I love Rivera comp. Indeed, if Martinez had worn pinstripes his whole career, I think the question would be whether he's a first ballot HoFer.

Dec 30, 2010 11:21 AM
rating: 2
 
Alceste42

Not to put words in Jay's mouth, but given last year's position that Martinez would be on the JAWS ballot using the 3B comparison, I suspect he would have the same answer here.

Dec 30, 2010 11:24 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Who cares what '3rd baseman' or '1st baseman' or 'corner infielder' or 'hitter' (thereby including catchers and shortstops, for goodness' sake) standards Edgar meets? He was a DH. He's got to exceed those standards, and by a goodly amount.

I understand you all like Edgar, and maybe want to show how cool and smart you are by appreciating an underappreciated. But he quite simply has to exceed regular standards. Make an argument for 'how much', then show that he meets that 'how much'.

I understand that Edgar will get in someday, due to everyone liking him. Which is fine with me, as I'm all for rewarding congeniality. But all SABR articles on Edgar come across as slightly sophisticated fan-club paeans to him.

Dec 30, 2010 12:09 PM
rating: -7
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

No, he doesn't have to exceed those standards "by a goodly amount," he has to approximate the value of a two-way player. And he did, because he was legitimately one of the great hitters in baseball history, and I just spent something like 1,300 words attempting to show that. Even without playing defense for three-quarters of his career, he is a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate because of his hitting.

Dec 30, 2010 18:59 PM
 
conwell

It could be that I'm not fully grasping the math here, but it seems to me that Edgar should need to exceed the standards that any other player needs to exceed. As you point out, he doesn't exceed the standards at 3B. If he can't exceed those standards, why should we apply an easier standard? It doesn't logically make sense to me that Martinez should have an easier standard than Chipper Jones for example.

Dec 31, 2010 14:51 PM
rating: 0
 
Ogremace

You want "good" there, as you're describing a noun and not a verb.

Dec 31, 2010 14:47 PM
rating: -1
 
garsonf

But, Richie, WARP, and thus JAWS, take into account a player's contributions as a fielder, as well as at the plate. So, if Martinez is exceeding the typical Hall threshhold as measured by those standards, then he is doing so even accounting for the fact that he contributed nothing (virtually) with his glove. And that's not unique. Harmen Killebrew, for example, probably did more damage with his glove than if he had just hung out in the dugout while his team was in the field. But the bat was special. Yes, a player who contributes nothing to his WARP totals via his glove must contribute even more with the bat to clear the level of contribution required to make the Hall. JAWS takes that into account, and Edgar Martinez is that player.

Dec 30, 2010 12:39 PM
rating: 3
 
Richie

Then why do we even have "Avg HoF 3B", "Avg HoF CInf", and so on, garsonf? If it's all just normalized to one WARP and/or JAWS, then defensive position should be meaningless. Anyways, in his 2nd paragraph above Jay calls JAWS position "dependent", not independent.

Dec 30, 2010 15:08 PM
rating: 0
 
Pat Folz

The HOF voters don't use a WARP standard, so avg JAWS reflects how they valued each position. The average second baseman that the voters elected has more WARP than the average elected left fielder, for example.

Edgar Martinez compares favorably in *overall value* to the average corner infielder despite having less than zero defensive value, because he was that damn good as a hitter.

Jan 01, 2011 03:12 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

I recognize that Edgar having 57.7 WARP compared to a similarly-WARPed 'Joe HoF 3BMan' means Edgar hit better than Joe did. But given that 8.5 out of 9 hitters also have to play the field, ability to do so even at replacement value has more than zero value. If you take up that DH spot due to defensive inability, that has some negative value, not zero value. Not much, I'd think. But there's some there.

Dec 30, 2010 15:19 PM
rating: -1
 
Richie

I'll also defend Killebrew. Billy Martin, as able a baseball man as there ever was in his sober moments, played Harmon at 3rd base extensively as late as 1969. Ergo he was able to field bunts, get to balls, throw to first et.cet., well enough so as to get the job done. For a very good team that had other options.

Dec 30, 2010 15:23 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

As great a hitter as Killebrew was - great (.306 TAv but not as great as Edgar), he's particularly hurt by his defensive value when it comes to JAWS. He comes in at 50.3/34.4/42.4 because while he was above average as a hitter (595 RAP, 315 RARP) he was 144 runs below-average as a fielder, with an 86 Rate2 at third base (14 runs below average per 100 games, with the equivalent of about 700 games played there) and a 98 Rate2 at first base in the equivalent of nearly 900 games there; overall, he was just 59 runs above replacement level in the field. For JAWS purposes he's a 1B comp, but it's more appropriate to think about him in the corner infield aggregation, and even there he doesn't come close to measuring up to Edgar.

Dec 31, 2010 07:30 AM
 
Richie

Theoretically, I suspect this means that defensive replacement level value may not be set low enough. Or perhaps it just has difficulty with the non-linearity of value concerning baseball 'events'.

Dec 30, 2010 15:26 PM
rating: 0
 
David Greene

Is there a place on this site (or elsewhere) to find career TAv for players under 8,000 PA? In particular, how does Joe DiMaggio come out for his career?

Dec 31, 2010 10:59 AM
rating: 0
 
David Greene

Of course, as with any *great* site, merely posting a question provided the link to its answer (Joe Di's career TAv is revealed to have been .326). Thanks!

Dec 31, 2010 11:01 AM
rating: 0
 
DLegler21

Is it just me or is the whole analysis flawed? Does it make sense that Edgar would compare more favorably to the average HOF corner infielder than he does to the average HOF 3B?

No, it doesn't make sense and that is because WARP is a position-dependent metric, both offensively and defensively. And since Edgar spent most of his career as a DH, most of his accumulated WARP is (I believe) relative to the average DH. He would need to be compared to the average HOF DH and since no such average exists, Jay has chosen other positions to compare against but that's really comparing apples and oranges.

In order to do this analysis in a way that holds water, you would need to restate Martinez' career WARP numbers vs the replacement level for another position. In my opinion, it wouldn't be fair to compare him vs the 3B position since defense is a large component of a 3Bman's value and therefore the offensive standard is much lower than, say, 1B. I think restating his career WARP numbers vs the replacement level for 1Bmen and then comparing him to the Avg HOF 1Bman would be the most fair way to assess his candidacy.

Jan 01, 2011 10:17 AM
rating: 0
 
Noel Steere
(965)

I think the fairest way would be to penalize Martinez the difference between a replacement level DH and a replacement level 3B (or perhaps average players at each position). By playing DH, Martinez's teams need to play someone else at 3B, which is less advantageous than if Martinez could play the position (possibly even at a below average level).

Jan 04, 2011 10:53 AM
rating: 0
 
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