The definitive treatise on why I didn’t vote for Edgar Martinez for the HOF

Posted By on December 31, 2011 11:22 am

A few days ago I did Edgar Martinez in my series of pieces on my deliberations for my HOF ballot, and it generated some attention from my friends at FanGraphs. I’ve also written this and this, as it relates to Edgar, and I’ve been having the debate on two message boards.

What I’m trying to do with this post is put it all together in one place, so this can serve as my definitive piece on why I did not vote for Edgar Martinez. Hopefully, those of you who just got a sliver of the argument from some other source can see what you’ve missed. Also, this is for me, so I can just look back at this when the ballot comes next year.

Here is the nut graf, as we say in journalism:

I believe that Edgar Martinez fundamentally benefited from being a DH, both in the volume and quality of his offensive production. Therefore, his offensive numbers must put him well above the theoretical dividing line for him to be a Hall of Famer. Considering the era in which he played, his numbers place him only among a handful of borderline candidates.

There, that’s the crux of my argument. Now, let’s separate that into two parts. The first, is that Edgar fundamentally benefited from being a DH. I don’t think it’s possible to debate the volume part. Clearly, the DH extended the careers of people like Edgar. As for the quality, people like to cite studies that show that DHs generally perform worse at DH than they do as everyday players. I believe those studies are faulty because most players become DHs when they are already in decline. If you look at other players who fill-in as DH from time to time, their numbers suffer from small sample size, as well as the fact that they are unfamiliar with how to DH, and view it as a day off.

But don’t take my word for it.

Look at his splits. Edgar had a career OPS of .850 in 2,269 PAs as a third baseman, and an OPS of .959 in 6,218 PAs as a DH. (I’m ignoring his 1.263 OPS as a 1B because it was just 117 PAs.)

The reason Edgar’s OPS is so much higher as a DH is because once he became a full-time DH in 1995, he started hitting a lot more homers and walking a lot more. This tells you where the homers came from…

18 Seasons86723.6%10.0%
MLB Averages2.6%7.6%

I should also note that the Mariners moved to Safeco in the middle of 2000, so you see that Edgar’s HR rate at 38 at Safeco was almost double what it was at age 28 at the Kingdome. (EDIT: Because of a reader suggestion, I added the MLB average for HR/FB by year.)

As for the walks, I submit that Edgar’s discipline didn’t get any better at age 32, but that pitchers just started pitching around him more because of all the HRs. Prior to 1995, Edgar drew one intentional walk every 139 PAs. From 1995-01, he drew one every 56 PAs. He also drew a four-pitch “unintentional” walk once every 45 PAs prior to 1995, and once every 26 PAs from 1995 to ’01.

It looks to me like the added SLG and OBP both came from the same thing: more balls flying over the fence instead of hitting off it for doubles.

Now, that’s a pretty strange thing to happen to someone at age 32. How strange?

In the entire history of baseball, there are only five players who have had at least three 25-homer seasons after age 31 while having zero prior to that.

Ken Williams and Cy Williams both did it, starting in 1922, shortly after the new ball was introduced (thanks Black Sox). Luke Easter also did it, but he was an African American who didn’t reach the majors till 1949, at age 33, and he hit 25-plus in each of his first three full seasons.

The other two players are Edgar Martinez and Ken Caminiti.

Hmmm. I could make one assumption about what happened, and I wouldn’t be the first. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to assume, because this improvement so neatly fits the time frame of him becoming a full-time DH, that he simply got stronger because he wasn’t wearing himself out playing in the field anymore. He also probably got to spend more time in the clubhouse watching video while his teammates were out in the field. Which brings me back to…

I believe that Edgar Martinez fundamentally benefited from being a DH, both in the volume and quality of his offensive production.

Pretty sure that is the assumption that the Edgar supporters would like me to make, isn’t it? Not the other possibility.

Anyway, now that we’ve established that, we move on to the second part, which is that, in order for Edgar to overcome the DH advantage he got, he’s got to be well above the line for a HOFer, compared with his peers.

That last little bit is important. A Hall of Famer to me is someone who stands well above the crowd in his time, not merely someone who gets lifted by an overall offensive era to put up numbers that dwarf someone who played in another era. Edgar’s straight OPS is higher than Hank Aaron’s, but no one would be foolish enough to compare them that way, because of the era in which Edgar played.

So, let’s first look at Edgar compared to all other hitters during the years that he was an everyday player, 1990-2004.

1Barry Bonds19919902004
2Mark McGwire17019902001
3Frank Thomas16219902004
4Manny Ramirez15619932004
5Jim Thome15119912004
6Gary Sheffield15019902004
7Jeff Bagwell14919912004
8Vladimir Guerrero14919962004
9Edgar Martinez14919902004
10Jason Giambi14819952004
11Todd Helton14819972004
12Mike Piazza14819922004
13Brian Giles14619952004
14Ken Griffey14619902004
15Albert Belle14619902000
16Alex Rodriguez14319942004
17Carlos Delgado14219932004
18Larry Walker14219902004
19Bobby Abreu14019962004
20Chipper Jones14019932004

So, that makes Edgar just the 9th best hitter in MLB during the years that he was an everyday player, and he’s the only guy on that list who played almost no defense at all. (Frank Thomas played 379 more games in the field, and Thome played 1,003 more.)

Again, the point is not that Edgar didn’t contribute to his team with his defense (although he didn’t), because some guys on that list who did play defense didn’t contribute much positive (looking at you, Manny). The point is that he didn’t have to endure the physical toll of playing defense, so he could be fresher and play longer. And, as we saw above, that made a difference to Edgar. At least, we hope that’s what made a difference.

Now, this list is somewhat flawed, because I just took the actual calendar years that Edgar was an everyday player, so there are players in here who were at different stages of their career during this time. So, now I’m going to look only at Edgar’s peak. I’m going to strip away his early years and his late years, and look only at that seven-year stretch, from 1995 to 2001, when Edgar was an absolute beast. But I’m also going to cherry-pick out the best six- or seven-year period for some other guys. (You can click on their names to see the full stat line from the period in question.)

Jason Giambi1999-05 (7)28-341649.7
Edgar Martinez1995-01 (7)32-3816310.0
Gary Sheffield1995-01 (7)26-321619.3
David Ortiz2003-08 (6)27-321528.8
Carlos Delgado1998-04 (7)26-321519.0
Brian Giles1999-05 (7)28-341518.8

That list, ladies and gentlemen, is the pure definition of borderline. And these borderline guys, by the way, mostly played defense.

What’s a Hall of Famer look like? These guys — and I’m only comparing him to other 1B/LF/RF/DH types, no catchers or shortstops — all had peaks that were either comparable to Edgar’s, but longer, or better than Edgar’s, or both.

PlayerYears (Total)AgeOPS+RC/G
Barry Bonds1990-2007 (18)25-4219512.0
Albert Pujols2001-11 (11)21-311709.4
Edgar Martinez1995-01 (7)32-3816310.0
Frank Thomas1990-2004 (15)22-261629.3
Jeff Bagwell1994-2001 (8)26-331629.5
Manny Ramirez1995-2008 (14)23-361579.2
Jim Thome1995-2006 (12)24-351549.3
Vladimir Guerrero1998-2007 (10)23-321518.1

By the way, do you notice the ages of the peak years for every single player I’ve listed besides Edgar? Every one of them started before he was 30, but Edgar’s peak started when he was 32? Gosh, that’s weird.

Anyway, the point is just what I wrote before…

Considering the era in which he played, his numbers place him only among a handful of borderline candidates.

All of this isn’t to say that no one can reasonably vote for Edgar. In the end, it just comes down to a matter of where you want to draw the line. Personally, I’m a tough grader when it comes to the HOF. I only voted for Larkin, Bagwell, Raines and McGwire. That’s where I draw my line. It’s fine if someone else wants to draw their line a little lower, and include guys like Edgar. If they do that, though, then they’d better be prepared to also include Giambi and Sheffield, not to mention Larry Walker, Fred McGriff, Todd Helton and … you get the idea. Borderline.


7 Responses to “The definitive treatise on why I didn’t vote for Edgar Martinez for the HOF”

  1. jim says:

    will you vote for a reliever for the hall? for instance, mariano rivera?

  2. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Yes, I’ll vote for Rivera and I’ll probably vote for Hoffman, but that’s it. I have never voted for Lee Smith. I can’t think of any other relievers I would vote for.

    If you are using the DH-reliever analogy, I think Rivera is essentially Frank Thomas, a guy whose case is such a slam dunk, that even if you deduct points for being a specialist, he still makes it.

    Edgar is more of a Billy Wagner, and I don’t believe I’d vote for Wagner.

  3. Julian says:

    “But I’m also going to cherry-pick out the best six- or seven-year period for some other guys.”

    Every single player you cherry-picked was worse by RC/G, and some were quite a bit worse. Even the second table only has one player with a better RC/G, and that’s Barry freakin’ Bonds (you can compare just about anybody to Bonds and they’ll look bad).

    The rest of the post did get me thinking, though. It’s hard to get a real idea of how much Martinez benefited from DH, but it’s something that should be given a lot of thought.

  4. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Yes, if you go by RC, they are worse, but in the same ballpark. The same goes for OPS+. And althought those players were slightly worse than Edgar, they did it while playing defense, so that evens it out more. The point is just that Edgar fits much better in the Giambi-Sheffield group of borderline guys than in the Thome-Thomas-Manny group of HOFers.

    If someone still wants to vote for Edgar, they can, but I submit that they’d then better vote for about 12 other guys I also wouldn’t vote for.

  5. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Oh, and I should also point out most of the guys in the second list had peaks much longer than Edgar’s, so that also makes up for some of the slightly lower rate stats. I’d take a guy with a 9.3 RC/G over 12 years instead of a 10.0 for seven.

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