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June 24, 2003

Breaking Balls

Precedents

by Derek Zumsteg

Edgar Martinez's Hall of Fame candidacy remains controversial, judging by my e-mail, which baffles me. He's one of the 50 best hitters baseball's ever seen, and I don't see how any argument mitigates that. Possibly "he's not actually human."

There is a historical precedent for electing a Designated Hitter to the Hall of Fame. As baseball has evolved, the players who have evolved with it have been recognized for their accomplishments in the new roles they've filled. Shortstop, for instance, hasn't always existed in its present role, but would anyone argue that no shortstop should ever have been elected to the Hall of Fame because they would be the first? For most of baseball's history, the relief corps has been random swing starters, position players, the rotation on their off-days, and passers-by. Would anyone argue that true relief aces like Goose Gossage and Dennis Eckersley shouldn't even be considered because their contributions in relief came in a role that didn't exist, or wasn't important, throughout baseball history? The DH is a position in the rules, and the DH contributes to a team's success or failures.

What does a player have to do to be the first recognized? Continued excellence? Edgar's done it. Defining the position? Edgar's done it. No one has been more productive as a DH than Edgar. In every rate stat, Edgar dominates the field as a DH. There could not be a better choice as the first DH inductee to the Hall of Fame. For 14 years, Edgar's helped his teams win. It doesn't matter if the DH is an aberration or if it'll be around in 100 years. Edgar is a historically great hitter and shouldn't be penalized because of the role he's played in the last eight years.

To the milestone issue. Say you think Rafael Palmeiro's a Hall of Fame lock. Through 2002, here are the career marks again, as discussed here:


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

So, Edgar has to make up, what, 661 hits, 56 doubles, 217 home runs, and no walks. Say you set Edgar's debut at 19, and have him play five full-time seasons. What're those five season lines going to look like to reach those totals?

Mmm, .240/.240/.398 or thereabouts. That's a sweet little line for young Edgar. Requires him to hit 43 home runs a year, but if he's got 420 outs to work with, you can afford to be Russ Branyan-esque. That's Tony Batista without the walks. Having Edgar be a bad player for an extra five years wouldn't establish that he's a great hitting talent, especially when we have as evidence a career of excellence.

I'll put this another way. Say you're evaluating directors for lifetime achievement awards. You can only select one director. On one hand, you have, say, seven movies of Akira Kurosawa (Ran, Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Red Beard, Yojimbo, Hidden Fortress, High and Low), and the other major contender is Joel Schumacher, and you have his full catalog. Lost Boys, Tigerland...and all the others: Dying Young, Falling Down, Batman Forever, all 24 movies I see listed on IMDB. Would you chose Schumacher because he's been more prolific, because he's been able to keep the money coming in to make pictures and keep the industry employed, while Kurosawa (say, for purposes of this example) suffered crippling health problems that limited his output? I believe instead that you recognize that Kurosawa's contributions over his shorter career are so much greater than Schumacher's that you must offer him the award.

There's also the issue of Most Valuable Player voting. Edgar hasn't fared well in MVP voting, placing third in 1995 and sixth in 2000. MVP voting should be thrown out as a criteria for considering players for the Hall of Fame. MVP voting is a joke, filled with back-scratching, crazy ballots writers attempt to justify afterwards with strange articles filled with contradictions ("I don't believe pitchers should be the MVP, so I put Pedro Martinez second on my ballot..."). Some people who've criticized Edgar for not doing well enough in MVP voting have themselves written about how bad MVP voting has run. I have no respect for a system so messed up that Alex Rodriguez has never won an MVP award despite clearly being the best player in the league year after year. Gauging a player's dominance by what an irrelevant system decides at the time, especially when it's clearly contradicted by historical evidence, is stupid.

We must also recognize that MVP voting on Edgar is tainted by the same anti-DH prejudice that hurts his chances at HoF induction: that a player who only hits cannot be considered ("It's for the most valuable player, not hitter, or pitcher. Player."). No player who got most of his plate appearances as a DH has ever won the MVP, and in general even the best performance by a DH is lucky to crack the top five in the same way even a dominating pitching performance in a bad year for hitters (like 1999, for instance) has a tough time to make #2. Using the MVP standard is helpful if you agree with this sentiment, as the failure of some voters to consider Edgar's contributions as MVP-worthy reinforce your own point that he's not a Hall of Fame-quality hitter, but passing this kind of biased standard as an objective endorsement is at best lazy thinking.

What's the replacement standard here? If not HoF voting, then what? IBAs? Maybe.


Internet Baseball Awards and Edgar

Year	Place
1996	11
1997	9
1998	14
1999	21
2000	8
2001	8
2002    47

Other than last year, when Edgar missed a huge chunk of the season with a major hamstring injury, Raffy, as a side note, gets consistently stomped by Edgar in the IBAs. Anyway, Edgar's already getting a lot more grey ink than the standard MVP voting, and in an environment where pitchers are regularly voted into the Top 10.

I don't see that any system of subjective analysis is going to be without bias and flaw. Ideally, we'd have more specific awards, all of them well defined, and a widely distributed blind-ballot voting system that enjoys the participation of an involved and educated electorate without an axe to grind. Anyone who locates such a paradise should contact me immediately, so I can join you there and enjoy the free premium tequilas that must certainly accompany such an unlikely discovery.

Here's the question no one has answered: How good would a DH have to be to be the first inducted? Edgar is one of the best 50 hitters ever to play baseball. Would he have to be one of the best 20? Ten? Would he have to be the best hitter in the history of baseball to be inducted as a DH? What exactly is the penalty applied to the first DH, and does that make Edgar a good second DH inductee?

Edgar is an ideal candidate to be the first at his position. Penalizing a hitter of his skills for playing a position that doesn't require him to field is unfair to him particularly, and unfair to the history of the game as a whole.

Related Content:  Edgar Martinez,  Dh,  The Who,  Internet Hall Of Fame

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