Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Edgar Martinez

I believe a higher standard needs to be set for baseball's Hall of Fame. There are too many players currently there who don't deserve it. Sometime I'll have to list them.

Until then, I will continue to fight against those on the ballot. Edgar Martinez, hitter extraordinaire, finds himself on the ballot for the first time in 2010, and David Schoenfield of ESPN gives a lengthy plea on why he deserves to make it.

I'll make the case against him.

Mr. Schoenfield argues four points, which he believes to be the main cases against his election, and tries to disprove each in order to bolster Edgar's bid for immortality. I'll outline as follows:

Mr. Schoenfield states that he "will present only facts, statistics and analysis", but it takes him 625 words before he even starts to rely on those. Until then, he discusses the dark days of being a Mariner, how a couple of people said he was the greatest hitter they ever saw, and how he is a Mariners fan.

So much for the facts, statistics and analysis.

Mr. Schoenfield's argument is aimed at the following:

1. The anti-DH bias among BBWAA voters.
2. His career was too short.
3. His statistics aren't good enough.
4. He wasn't famous enough.

I'll outline Schoenfield's case, then argue against it.

1. He argues that Martinez wasn't a bad fielder, but was moved to DH full-time in 1995 to protect his legs. He then points to Paul Molitor being enshrined in the HOF, and how "If Molitor had finished with 2,900 hits, his Hall of Fame case becomes much more debatable."

My rebuttal? Of course. 3,000 hits is one of those numbers (like 300 wins, or until recently 500 HRs) that guarantees a player a spot in the HOF. If Molitor hadn't reached 3,000, he would have a difficult time getting in (like Harold Baines, who finished with 2,866 hits). Molitor instead reached 3,300 hits...

A thousand more than Edgar. No offense, Mr. Schoenfield, but it's difficult to compare two players when one of them wound up with 50% more offense than another (along with 500 SBs), and claim if the writers elected the first, they have an obligation to elect the second.

It doesn't work that way.

Note: I haven't even mentioned he was a DH. In fact, being a DH weighs in Edgar's favor, but I'll get there in a second.

2. In response to Edgar's career being too short, Schoenfield argues it was the Mariners GM's fault for not starting Edgar's career earlier, and he gives us a list of players who appeared in less games than Martinez, yet were still elected to the HOF.

I find it very interesting that in arguing against this position, Schoenfield fails to mention any of Edgar's career statistics. Why? Because he doesn't have the numbers.

Jim Rice played 35 more games than Martinez, Sandberg 100. Puckett played fewer, but I'll get back to that case in a second. Let's compare Rice's numbers to Martinez:

Jim Rice: .298 BA, 382 HRs, 1451 RBIs, .854 OPS, 1 MVP award, 5 other top 5 finishes...and 8 All-Star games.

Edgar: .312 BA, 309 HRs, 1261 RBIs, .933 OPS, 1 Top 5 MVP finish (3rd in 1995), and 7 All-Star games.

Edgar has an edge in two categories...and trails in 4 others. And before Schoenfield cries foul that Martinez played in the Great Northwest, which is ignored by the baseball voters, Griffey finished 2nd in voting the year before, and Randy Johnson won the Cy Young in 1995. Seattle was not ignored.

In addition, during the time Jim Rice played, it was more difficult to score runs and generate offense. Rice played full-time from 1975 to 1988, during which time the average AL team scored 4.44 runs/game. In the go-go steroid era of the 90s and early 2000s, the run rate had increased to 4.90 runs/game. Edgar played in a time when offensive statistics increased by 10% over those of Jim Rice's league.

I'll give another example.

Dale Murphy: .265 BA, 398 HRs, 1266 RBIs, .815 OPS, 2 MVP awards, 4 top 10 finishes overall, 7 All-Star games.

Edgar only has two top 10 MVP finishes.

Murphy played in a league that had 20% less offense than Martinez. Comparing apples to apples, Martinez isn't that impressive.

Finally, let's take a closer look at those players who played less games than Martinez:

Kirby Puckett: 10 All-Star games, 7 Top 10 MVP finishes, pity factor in voting having been chased from the game by going blind. I think some would consider Puckett's selection on the weak side, but at the time of the voting, most believed he would have eclipsed 3000 hits, and voted with their heart instead of straight numbers. Then again, Puckett appeared in more All-Star games and had more MVP votes than Martinez did.

Rizzuto - not elected by the voters, selected by the Veterans Committee.
Reese - not elected by the voters, selected by the Veterans Committee.
Cepeda - not elected by the voters, selected by the Veterans Committee.
Cronin - elected on tenth ballot, on strength of his managerial duties as well as a player.
Doerr - Veterans Committee
Traynor - widely considered the best defensive 3B before Brooks Robinson, also first 3B elected. Played in an era where season was shorter - expand to 162 games, would've played in about the same as Martinez. Also finished in top 10 MVP voting 6 times.
Terry - last player to top .400 in the NL, also won 3 pennants as a manager (2 as a player-manager), and 1 World Championship. Considered one of the top 60 players in the 20th century.
Medwick - 10 AS games, 4 top 10 MVP finishes (1 win), elected on eighth ballot
Sisler - no AS games during his career, .340 BA, 2800 hits in same number of games as Martinez
Mize - 10 AS games, 6 Top 10 MVP finishes, more HR/RBI than Edgar, same BA.

The others on that list are catchers. I think it is worthy to note that only 4 catchers in the history of the game have surpassed Martinez's 2,055 games played, and all of the top 10 have played there since 1980. Medical advancements have allowed catchers to play that position longer today.

Ryne Sandberg - 10 AS games, 1 MVP win (4 top 10 finishes), 9 Gold Gloves...285 HRs, 1061 RBIs, .285 BA, .795 OPS, 2386 hits while playing in a league with about 12% less offense, and playing second base, which has not been considered a power position since the dead ball era.

In short, the players who had a short career like Martinez either weren't selected by the voters (and because of some poor selections by the Veterans Committee, they have changed how the elections are done for them), played catcher (a notoriously tough position), or waited a number of ballots before being selected. There are a few with which Martinez is comparable.

3. Schoenfield admits his career numbers aren't that great, so he nitpicks: "since World War II, only eight right-handed hitters have had as many as six .320 seasons: Albert Pujols and Hank Aaron (eight each); Roberto Clemente, Molitor, Edgar, Manny Ramirez and Derek Jeter (seven); and Vlad Guerrero (six). Pretty good company."

Let's break that down: on that list, 4 have (or will have) 3,000 hits, a magical number in the eyes of voters (Aaron, Clemente, Molitor, Jeter). Pujols is the best hitter of this era, while Ramirez's numbers also dwarf Martinez's. 12 AS games and 9 Top 10 MVP finishes will do that.

Why does Schoenfield make the cut off World War II? Because if he includes the players before then, suddenly Martinez stops looking like a HOFer. In the history of baseball, Martinez has the 91st highest BA, and 37th among right-handers.

The two right-handers directly above him are not in the HOF.

Schoenfield then relies on the only statistic that makes Martinez look like a HOFer - OPS+, and it is here where Edgar shines. It turns out that Martinez was a prolific hitter, certainly when compared to Jim Rice. Rice, by the way, had to wait 14 years to be elected, and has more awards than Martinez ever did.

Schoenfield then does his strongest work, comparing Martinez to Tony Gwynn, who was a singles hitter/batting title machine, who wound up crossing the 3,000 hit threshold. In comparing OPS+, Martinez outshines Gwynn consistently.

But why is Tony Gwynn in the HOF?

1. 3,141 hits (Edgar 2,247)
2. 8 batting titles (2)
3. 15 All-Star games (7)
4. 7 Top 10 MVP finishes (2)
5. 5 Gold Gloves (0)

Martinez has the advantage in one category. One.

4. Schoenfield argues Edgar Martinez wasn't famous enough. Unfortunately, this is his weakest argument, because:

a) the DH award is now named after him.
b) the 1995 series against the Yankees exposed him and the Mariners to the world
c) since Baseball Tonight, there aren't any "hidden outposts" in the baseball world anymore. Griffey won MVPs with Seattle, Randy Johnson won Cy Youngs, and Alex Rodriguez grew up before out eyes playing there.

I would go another direction here: if Martinez hadn't been a DH, would he be considered for the HOF? Let's compare statistics with a contemporary of Edgar's...

Albert Belle: .295 BA, 381 HRs, 1239 RBIs, .933 OPS (143 OPS+), 5 AS games, 5 Top 10 MVP finishes. All in the same ballpark with Martinez.

When one takes into account the various eras, I find it hard to accept Edgar Martinez as a HOF player. Will he get votes? Sure, and he no doubt will be on the ballot for 2011.

But he is not a Hall of Famer.

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