On Edgar Martinez

In the last round of Hall of Fame voting, Edgar Martinez set a new high in his percentage for the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, for Martinez, that percentage was barely more than a third of eligible voters. While usually such predictions are left to our Nostradamus of the Hall of Fame ballot, Chris Jaffe, it seems a safe bet that, though Martinez will spend the full 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, his chance of being elected is relatively low.

And if it were up to me, that’s just the way it should be. Though Martinez has his adamant supporters—his Baseball-Reference page is sponsored by a fan linking to an article by ESPN’s David Schoenfield in favor of Martinez’ case—I remain largely unimpressed.

Before we get into the reasons I don’t believe Martinez belongs in the Hall of Fame, it is only fair I point out that were he to earn election, he would hardly be the worse choice. The list of players worse than Martinez in the Hall is not a short one and includes names like Lou Brock, Ross Youngs and everyone’s favorite recent inductee Jim Rice.

Having said that, there are three reasons I believe Martinez does not belong in the Hall. These are presented in no particular order, although I’m saving the most subjective—and by extension, probably most debatable—point for last.

(1) He Didn’t Play Enough

This was part of the comment I made explaining why I did not support Edgar in the THT Hall of Fame vote. It was not until Martinez was 27 that he received 500 at-bats in a season. It is almost indisputable that Martinez should have been playing long before that. In 1987, coming off a year when he put up a .329/.434/.473 line at Triple-A Calgary, Martinez earned a September call-up with the Mariners. In just under 50 plate appearances, Martinez hit .372 and slugged .581 for a mediocre (78-84) Seattle team.

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Like Edgar Martinez, David Ortiz does not spend enough time doing this (Icon/SMI)

Instead of giving their obviously ready young hitter a chance, in 1988 the Mariners stuck with the dreadful Jim Presley who hit .230 and posted a .635 OPS—worse than all but fourteen batting title qualifiers that year. In a related story, the Mariners went 68-93. Meanwhile, Martinez proved he had nothing else to learn at Triple-A, hitting .363 with a .983 OPS, putting the power into the Calgary Cannons.

The Mariners still didn’t learn from this as it was not until 1990—at age 27, as I mentioned before—that Martinez finally earned a full-time job. Unfortunately for Martinez, though he would be a regular when healthy for the rest of his career, health issues (and later interleague play) limited his action. Martinez played until he was 41 but still only had 10 seasons of 550 or more plate appearances.

For his career, he only came up to the plate 8,672 times. Had the Mariners given Martinez a job when he deserved one—likely before the ’87 season—and he had the benefit of better health, that might be enough to push him over the top of Hall of Fame worthiness.

(2) His Best Wasn’t Quite Great Enough

There’s no denying that at his best Martinez was a tremendous hitter. In 1995, he won the American League batting title, while also leading in good measure in runs, doubles, and slugging percentage. Just to prove this was no fluke of the hitter-friendly Kingdome, Martinez led the league in OPS+ by six points over Frank Thomas. Further cementing his legend, Martinez terrorized the Yankees—and by extension, my 11-year old self—in the ALDS putting up a ridiculous .571/.667/1.000 line which included the series-winning double.

Despite this, Martinez simply does not have the numbers to support his induction. As someone whose Hall of Fame has to be defined entirely by offensive production—and despite playing in a strong hitters ballpark for much of his career—Martinez’ ranks in offensive statistics are underwhelming. In the “Black Ink Test,” which rewards a player for leading his league in meaningful statistics, Martinez accumulated fewer points in his entire career than names like Ryan Howard and Don Mattingly. As great as Martinez could be, he was never quite as dominating a hitter as people sometimes remember.

(3) Being a DH is Easy

As mentioned earlier, this one is subjective. Nonetheless, I think it is a major part of why Martinez does not belong in the Hall of Fame. For his career, Martinez played less than 600 games in the field. After suffering an injury—something of a fluke owing to a temporary field at Vancouver’s BC Place stadium—before the 1993 season, Martinez was essentially finished as a defensive player. Martinez’ last season of more than 100 defensive games was in 1992, and by the time the strike was resolved prior to the 1995 season it was clear that Martinez’ days as anything but a DH were essentially over. (And indeed, from 1995 until he retired, he played well under 50 games in the field.)

This means that from 1995 on, Martinez had all the benefits that being a DH has. He could train in the off-season able to focus entirely on hitting, with no concerns for his defense. Martinez never had to come to the plate after spending a day in the field in roasting August heat or freezing April sleet. A DH never has to bat having just endured a rough slide on a double play, nor had the wind knocked out of him diving for a ball in the outfield.

Most statistical measures attempt to account for a DH in some manner, usually centered on penalizing them for their defense—or lack thereof. This is something which obviously needs to be accounted for, but I remain convinced that the standard for a full-time DH needs to be set tremendously high when you consider the multitude of inherent advantages.

As I said at the outset, while Martinez would hardly be the worst choice for the Hall of Fame—I’d still rather see him in than Jack Morris—I would not be giving him my vote, a view it appears I share with the majority of the Hall’s voters.


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DC
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DC

Being DH is easy…yeah, Mr. Dunn would definitely agree on taht

DC
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DC

On a serious note, I believe being the first truly great DH in baseball should account for something. His playing career is nothing but excellent, and a player should not be faulted when his team refuse to play him over atrocious options.

John DiFool
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John DiFool
As DC intimated, if you adjust DH numbers from the defensive side of things, then if you truly wish to be objective you have to adjust them from the offensive side of things too.  There’s been plenty of players who, when moved to DH, simply couldn’t hit as well there as they did when they played the field (this remains true even if you adjust for aging curves, as players tend to play more at DH when they get older).  Having a guy like EMart or David Ortiz who can rake from the position for an entire season is pretty… Read more »
Richard Barbieri
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Richard Barbieri

Has anyone ever made a real study of players moving to DH and compared their hitting? It seems like a lot of the examples that it negatively affects players are anecdotal and often influenced by outside factors.

I don’t dispute there might be an adjustment to be made, but I stand by the general sentiment of what I wrote in #3.

Ed
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Ed
Your third point is awfully subjective. If you’re going to weigh that against him (when studies have actually shown that DHing full-time makes hitters worse—I’m trying to find the article), you should probably take into account that he suffered from an ongoing eye problem that regularly diminished his depth perception or left him unable to follow the ball entirely. Combating that left him with a lot less time to focus on his training. Meanwhile, he put up a .312/.418/.515 batting line, one of what, 18 players to ever top .300/.400/.500 for their career. To put it another way, his 69.9… Read more »
db
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db

I agree with Rich.  Edgar was a great hitter, but not great enough, long enough to deserve to be in the HOF.  For an offense only type player, I think bilestones matter.  So I would leave Edgar off, while I would vote Frank Thomas (who was about as nifty with the leather as Edgar was) in.

db
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db

The word was “milestones.”  Bilestones sound very painful.

Ed
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Ed
Tangotiger’s study here shows that players who DH hit worse than they do when playing other positions: http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/is_where_you_play_on_the_field_conducive_to_better_hitting_performance/ Conclusion: over the course of an average season, DHing full-time costs a hitter 9 runs, or nearly one win. It’s unclear how much of this is related to players DHing because they’re injured and thus less productive. (And when it comes to positional adjustment for DHs, they err on the conservative side to reflect this uncertainty. In other words, DHs may currently be undervalued by ~0.4 WAR/season.) However, in this article, we see that batters perform notably worse when pinch-hitting than when… Read more »
Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider
I don’t find your last point persuasive because plenty of guys are out there only for their hitting and are a negative in the field.  I was at a game last year sitting in the outfield and saw Lance Berkman eating sunflower seeds in left field.  I doubt he was worrying about his defense. I’m sure someone would have thrown Edgar out somewhere to keep his bat in the lineup.  Unless you are saying he literally would not have been able to field a position (e.g., couldn’t catch a routine fly ball), I can’t hold being a DH against him. … Read more »
Paul G.
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Paul G.
I find the argument that he didn’t play long enough to be plausible.  He probably should have at least two more good seasons on his resume, but if you rate him on that assumption then you’re rating him on hypotheticals as opposed to what he really did.  There be the dreaded “What If” ball. However, in my mind accepting argument #1 invalidates the “DH is easy” argument.  Even if we assume it is true (debatable), Edgar actually did put up those impressive numbers.  Would he have put up those numbers if he wasn’t a DH?  I don’t know.  Would he… Read more »
Alaska Pete
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Alaska Pete
db said:  “I would vote Frank Thomas (who was about as nifty with the leather as Edgar was) in.” Edgar has pretty decent defensive numbers at 3rd base, right around league average.  This would seem to be a significantly better defender than Frank Thomas. I’m in the camp that your 3rd point is terribly weak.  As others have pointed out, multiple studies (and a mountain of anecdotal evidence such as many former players testimony like Cliff Floys) point to DHing actually depressing offensive numbers. I’m not going to say that being a DH actually HELPS Martinez’s case, but I don’t… Read more »
Alaska Pete
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Alaska Pete

If you want much, much more on this discussion, check out the 159 mostly well-reasoned arguments from both sides of the Edgar Martinez HOF debate on this post on baseball reference:  http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/8212

BobDD
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BobDD

“. . . Ryan Howard and Don Mattingly. As great as Martinez could be, he was never quite as dominating a hitter as people sometimes remember.”

No, he was better!  He was better than Howard and Mattingly; anyone who would take the career stats of those two over Edgar Martinez would permanently reside in the cellar of any Strat or APBA league as penalty for not understanding true babeball value.

BobDD
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BobDD

babeball?
uh, I guess my mind must’ve been somewhere else – hah! what a typo

Micah Rose
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Micah Rose
I guess you wouldn’t put Sandy Koufax in either? His period of dominance was 4 years, and he only one 165 games out of 397 appearances. No Roy Campanella either (not to pick on the Dodgers)? I know it’s different as both those players had their careers ended by injuries. However, you are essentially arguing that his lack of playing time due to mismanagement and injuries means he wasn’t one of the most dominant of his generation, like K It irks me that hall voters will put in closers, who only influence one inning of most games they pitch in,… Read more »
David P. Stokes
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David P. Stokes
I don’t find the arguments against Martinez persuasive.  He has minimal to no defensive value, considering his career as a whole, but there are plenty of players in the Hall with little defensive value who are there because of their hitting that weren’t as good an all-round hitter as Edgar.  As for career length, even with his late start, he had a longer career than many Hall of Famers, and as far as being good enough goes, he was plenty good enough.  Leaving Pete Rose and players tainted by steroids out of it, who was good enough to still be… Read more »
David
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David
So, I don’t buy your premises. 1)  “Say, I don’t think that Greenberg fellow belongs in the Hall of Fame.  His career wasn’t long enough!”  6096 PAs, WAY less than Martinez.  Greenberg’s OPS+ = 158.  In 33% more PAs, Martinez’s is only 11 points lower.  Pretty comparable, I’d say.  Greenberg was in the War, which Bill James talked about as “circumstances beyond a player’s control.”  Oscar Charleston had zero ML PAs.  Satchel Paige hardly had any innings pitched.  I’m not going to hold segregation, WWII, or an incompetent organization against a player.  That’s just silly. 2)  His black ink isn’t… Read more »
jmarsh
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jmarsh
I believe Edgar is a borderline candidate, but am skeptical of some of your reasoning.  As you said, the third point is controversial.  It’s not that he couldn’t play the field.  He was just valuable at DH and fit there.  I’m sure if he were on an NL team, they would’ve handed him a 1B mitt and sent him out.  I don’t get Point 2.  He was one of the best hitters.  He hit for a good (but not extraordinary) average, walked a ton and had a high SLG based mostly off doubles, exactly the underrated categories most voters don’t… Read more »
Tree
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Tree

“I’m not going to hold segregation, WWII, or an incompetent organization against a player.”

I understand the thought, but one of these is not like the others.

Segregation and a military draft are a totally different order of magnitude when it comes to “beyond a player’s control”. I’m not sure I would even put a late call up on the same scale as beginning a career in Japan.

bucdaddy
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bucdaddy

You can take Edgar’s five best seasons and mix them in with Ted Williams’ career and I’d defy you to tell the difference. That kinda sounds like an HoFer.

OTOH, he was on a team with three other certain HoFers (a team that didn’t win anything) and I’d easily take any of those three in their prime over him, and maybe Buhner too. That doesn’t sound much like an HoFer.

Klatzy
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Klatzy
Many of your arguments are subjective and unsubstantiated.  The worst is the “DH is easy” one, which is complete bunk as others have mentioned.  There’s a DH hitting penalty for many.  Second you mentioned he hit for most of his career in a hitters park.  But you fail to mention he spent 6 seasons in a pitcher’s park (Safeco) that crushes right-handed hitters.  His best season in Safeco: .324/.423/.579.  Manny Ramirez, who has the offensive stats for the HoF, ranged from below average to terrible in the field.  And yet the defense (ignoring other issues) isn’t really going to keep… Read more »
philosofool
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philosofool

That the THT could publish an article in which Edgar’s ability to hit is called “not great enough” is a sad indication that this site is badly failing its readers.

Seriously? (1) and (3) are important considerations, but if you think the Edgar wasn’t an all-time great with at the plate, you should be learning about great hitting, not writing about it. His career OPS+ is greater than A-Rod’s. I’m not saying he’s more hall worthy, but that comes down to points (1) and (3); he was a better hitter during his career than A-Rod has been in his.

Chris
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Chris
Of course you are entitled to your opinion but I think the actual numbers dispute every single one of your points. Here goes. Point #1- He didn’t play enough- He had more plate appearances than Johnny Bench, Duke Snider, Bobby Doerr, Hank Greenberg and Yogi Berra. In fact, more than MANY HOFers. This renders this point moot. Point #2 – He wasn’t quite great enough. Edgar’s career OPS of .933 ranks him 17th AMONG HALL OF FAMERS. 17th! His career OBP of .418 ranks him 14th AMONG HALL OF FAMERS! His numbers dispute your not great enough theory. Point #3… Read more »
hopbitters
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hopbitters

647 RCAA, 33rd in the modern era
.933 OPS, 34th in the modern era
.173 OPSv, 42nd in the modern era

Easy decision.

george s
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george s

Do Keith Hernandez and/or Donnie Baseball rate over Edgar, because of their defensive contributions and, perhaps, era differences?

just a question on my end at this point, am curious how folks would weigh these guys. Right now it is just that reading this invoked a subjective, admittedly NY-driven impression that these 2 guys might have been more significant than Edgar as historical figures.

hopbitters
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hopbitters

I’d put Hernandez in purely based on hitting. With his defense, he’s a no-brainer, but I’d still rank Edgar higher. I’d count Mattingly as borderline based on offense, but I’d say everything else pushes him over (with my admitted NY bias). The era differences come out when you compare to league average. FWIW, if you add in Fielding Runs Against Average, Edgar still ranks 42nd all time, even with his negative score.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
The study on DH vs. position hitting is relegated to 25-29yo players. It’s not really applicable. What we need to see is some studies on players that spend half of their careers at DH and how they “age” versus guys that played positions. My opinion is that the DH penalty is “not enough” for these guys over their career. Sure, many guys don’t hit as well as a DH due to them moving to the position as an aging or ailing player, same deal with 1B. So, we’re basically comparing a player’s non-prime situations to their prime situations. The “career… Read more »
CircleChange11
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CircleChange11

@ Chris

I’m fine with no DH or reliever being in the HoF.

hopbitters
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hopbitters
I’ve been thinking about the DH argument in a different way. What’s the difference between an average fielder (0 FRAA or whatever your defensive favorite metric is) and a DH with the same offense? What’s the difference between a DH and a below average fielder with the same offense? Is the position player more valuable even though they cost you runs? Ultimately, any player’s value is how many runs they account for on either side of the plate. If that total is more than the next guy, does it really matter what combination of pitching, offense, and defense generated that… Read more »
Paul G.
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Paul G.

@hopbitters
And hence the problem with metrics that measure against an “average” basis or have +/- values.  Win Shares, for all its flaws, does have the right idea that 0 does not mean average or replacement level or whatever.  It means 0, as in no value at all.  Even an absolutely brutal fielder has some value just for the sake that they occasionally field something.  When you try to shoehorn a DH into a fielding metric working off average, insanity ensues.  Though insanity can be fun.

BobDD
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BobDD
Well Paul, the measurement would be against replacement – against what is next available – which again means Edgar’s hitting.  A DH will not get any fielding credit, but Edgar is still more than double the (pick your stat) of the average DH and that is his value.  His non-fielding does not subtract from that.  He was the all-time best hitter for a full-time DH, which means nothing towards value I guess, but I just don’t see how a hitter that in just about any lineup is a 3 or 4 hitter can be explained away. hopbitters, you can only… Read more »
BobDD
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BobDD

greated DH?  How cheesy sounding

why do I only see the typo’s after submission?

with all the errors I make, I’ll have to start insisting that my range makes up for it

hopbitters
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hopbitters
Forget the metrics and the comparison point. Winning games is determined by the runs you score versus the runs scored by your opponents. Every player accounts for some number of runs scored offensively and runs prevented (whether by pitching or defense). However you determine and calculate those value for each component, they all add up to some number and a positive or negative (or no) contribution to the team’s total runs. Now you can (and will) argue all day long about how to arrive at that actual figure, but it doesn’t really matter what it is. When you determine who… Read more »
David P. Stokes
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David P. Stokes
Hopbitters, the reason you’d separate the values is that you have to figure the components separately in order to get the total.  And there doesn’t appear to be a consensus as to how to figure the defensive and offensive components in a way that lets us just add the two together to get the total value.  Yes, we have access to a lot of metrics that try to do that, but obviously we don’t place a lot confidence in them (if we did, then the question of the value of a pure DH compared to a really bad fielder would… Read more »
hopbitters
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hopbitters
@David I’m not talking about determining a number and assigning it to a player. I’m talking about separating a player’s theoretical value into offense and defense and pitching and saying x player didn’t contribute to the defense or the pitching, therefore he has no value, no matter what his offensive contribution was, which is the crux of the anti-DH argument. If we say that we could compare a DH (zero defensive value) to position player with poor defensive skills if we had reliable and comparable metrics, then we’re saying that there is some point where the metrics would zero out… Read more »
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