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June 12, 2003

Breaking Balls

More Edgar, for the Unconvinced

by Derek Zumsteg

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I got a lot of mail on whether or not Edgar Martinez is Hall of Fame material. Not Pete Rose-volume e-mail, but a lot. And many of them contained the same two points:

  • Edgar doesn't belong in the Hall based on career contribution.

  • Edgar doesn't belong in the Hall based on his defensive liabilities.
Edgar's career has been marked by fragility, as he was hurt badly a couple of times and since then has suffered a lot of nagging injuries that have sapped his speed and caused him to miss playing time. But how many years are required to prove yourself as one of the best hitters of all time? Five? 10?

Would Edgar have more support if he played next year and retired with 15 years of .320/.420/.530 lines? Let's say there's a player who sucks--Charles Gipson, for instance--and he can hit .200/.225/.250 until age 100, which even as a utility player eventually racks up some big counting stats. Does Gipson become a sure Hall of Fame member based on that accomplishment? If not, how much better do you have to be and how short a career can you have? If Sandy Koufax, for instance, can be elected based on six years of dominance, how can one of the greatest hitters ever be denied recognition because he was only truly great for more than 10 years?

One common complaint about his career that is easily dismissed is that Edgar needs to be taken as part of the Palmeiro-McGriff class of problem candidates. Edgar whups them both on ability, though. Let's compare Edgar to Rafael Palmeiro, and I'll demonstrate why Edgar should be elected to the Hall of Fame ahead of Palmeiro.


Careers through last season (Raffy 1986-2002, Edgar, 1987-2002)
	G	H	2b	HR	BB	AVG	OBP	SLG
Raffy	2413	2634	522	490	1140	.293	.373	.522
Edgar	1769	1973	466	273	1133	.317	.424	.528

The career milestones are due entirely to Raffy's edge in playing time--years where Edgar languished in the minors (and languish he did) were prime productive years in Raffy's career--and yet Edgar beats Raffy handily, with a huge edge in the all-important on-base percentage department. Over 14 years, fifty points of OBP is huge--roughly the gap between Alex Rodriguez and Rich Aurilia, in careers twice as long.

But those are raw stats, you say? Edgar played much of his career in the hitter-friendly Kingdome, while Raffy didn't? Look at their player cards: Edgar's career EqA is .332, and Rafael's is .309. (Frequently overlooked Will Clark, by the way, retired with a career EqA of .310, and had a clear period of dominance that Palmeiro does not.) The Kingdome was not such a great hitter's park as is often believed, and Palmeiro played much of his time in similarly favorable stadiums; overall, park-adjusting doesn't make Edgar look any worse.

Further, Edgar now plays in Safeco Field, tacking on huge numbers as we speak in a park that eats up right-handed hitters. It's like Barry Bonds hitting well at home in Pac Bell Park--that these players don't display splits anywhere near where you'd expect is, I believe, a testament to their greatness, that they're able to adapt and thrive in those harsh hitting environments.

The sad thing about the career argument, dumb as it may be, is that it is needless. If the Marines hadn't been so badly managed, Edgar might well have been able to make the team much earlier and made even the career milestone people bow down to him.

I did some quick research and in 1987, the last year before the team started to call him up for a long period so they could not play him, Edgar hit for a .329 average with 144 hits, 31 doubles, and 10 HR at the age of 24 in Triple-A Calgary, an inhospitable hell-hole of a stadium. He walked 89 times, and struck out only 35 times. I don't care what kind of difficulty adjustment you want to apply for the move from Calgary to Seattle--Edgar should have been playing in the majors regularly, and possibly should have been promoted even earlier than 1987.

Unfortunately the Mariners were stuck on Jim Presley--author of a lousy .247/.296/.433 that season--and it was years before Edgar got the full-time job. Had the team not had their head up their collective ass, today Edgar would be close to 3,000 hits, have 600 doubles, a bunch more homers, and 1,500 walks.

Despite all that--his late entry, playing full time for the first time at 27, when we'd expect him to peak and begin his long decline--Edgar has still clearly established himself as one of the best hitters to ever play baseball, and should be honored as such.

Let's handle the other objection, that Edgar doesn't belong in the Hall based on his defensive liabilities.

First, it doesn't matter. Edgar for the majority of his career has played a position that doesn't require him to play defense. His hypothetical defensive shortcomings never had an effect on a game, so they can't be counted against him.

Second, for all the talk about Edgar being a pure DH, through 2002 he played 560 games at third base, and 1,150 games as a designated hitter. That's only 2/3rd of the time as a DH. He played much of his time at 3B until the strike of 1994, and from 1995 on for several years played about 30 games at third or first. And during that time, Edgar was not the stone-gloved fielder his detractors would have you believe. His raw stats, fielding percentage and the dubious range factor, are both about league average.

Check out Edgar's fielding statistics as a third baseman and you'll see that the Davenport translations make him out to an average third baseman throughout his time as a regular there.

In 1995, the team installed Mike Blowers (who'd covered third during Edgar's injured 1993) full-time before moving to Russ Davis (and if you think Edgar was a stone-gloved fielder, you haven't seen Russ during his down years), and Edgar went to full-time DH duties.

So until the team moved Edgar to DH, he offered a huge bat and an average glove at third base. How then is it rational to assume that if you have to penalize him for not doing something his position doesn't require, you should levy the highest possible penalty, and assume that when he went from 3B to DH he immediately became the worst first baseman of all time? And then how is it possible that when he did play third and first after 1995, he wasn't that awful at all?

If you want to believe that Edgar was the worst defender possible, then you have to also believe that Rafael Palmeiro should be similarly docked for spending time at DH, that while he can be credited for playing (cough) Gold Glove defense at first, he should equally be docked for playing over 300 games as a DH, when we then have to assume he too was the worst fielder ever, and cost his team hypothetical runs.

Should American League pitchers be ineligible for the Hall of Fame because they don't hit? After all, in so doing they're not playing both sides of the game. Should we perhaps assume then that those pitchers are all the worst-hitting hitters of all time, and so dock their Hall of Fame candidates for a hypothetical offensive ineptitude they never proved existed? Edgar's historical credentials can't be docked because he was put into a position that did not require him to put on a glove every day.

Finally, Edgar has his own embroidery shop where you can get cool Edgar-related embroidered stuff. That seals the deal.

Related Content:  Edgar Martinez,  Time

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