January 22, 2009
BASEBALL: Professional Hitter
David Pinto looks at Edgar Martinez as a Hall of Fame candidate. There's really no doubt that Edgar was a better hitter than at least two thirds of the position players in the Hall. His career OPS+ of 147 is equal to those of Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell, and among the 40 players ahead of him on that list, only 8 are not in the Hall of Fame - three flawed players from the 1880s (Pete Browning, Dave Orr and Charley Jones), Federal League star Benny Kauff (who was later banned, at least informally, from baseball), short-career sluggers Charlie Keller and Gavvy Cravath, and Mark McGwire and Dick Allen. Martinez' peak years were especially fearsome.
But you know, somebody has to be the best hitter not in the Hall, and if you were to design a player to fit that bill, it would look a lot like Edgar:
-No defensive value (after a couple early years at third base, he spent the bulk of his career as a DH).
-Relatively short career; Martinez was more or less in his prime from 1990-92 and 1995-2003, which does add up to twelve really good years, albeit separated by a lot of time lost to injury in 1993-94. There's not a lot outside that. His real peak was seven seasons from 1995-2001. That said, his 8672 career plate appearances dwarfs the totals for guys like Keller and Cravath, and indeed is more than anyone above Fred McGriff on that chart.
-Not really as good as his raw numbers; Martinez played in a hitter's era, and until 2000 played in a hitter's park.
-Injury-prone; besides the 1993-94 period, Martinez missed more than a third of the season in 2002 and missed at least 20 games in 1992, 1996, 1999 and 2001.
-Played for teams that seemed to chronically underachieve, not winning a single pennant with Griffey, A-Rod, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer and Jay Buhner, and then going belly-up in the ALCS after winning 116 games in 2001.
Martinez isn't a friviolous Hall candidate, and in fact you could make some of the same points about McGwire, who I regard as above the line, but I just think he has too many strikes against him.
Well, you knew this was going to have to come up since the damn DH was invented. So we have to realize that we can't always use defensive value in determining whether a DH is worthy of induction, any more than we evaluate a pitcher because he can't hit. Because the nature of the position dictates that. However, to take a more contrary (and more common sense approach): No DH can ever determine the outcome of a game nearly as much as a pitcher.
Also, do we then determine that a player who WOULD have been a DH in another more accomodating universe, and I am thinking of Luzinski and Kingman, as worthy of analysis? Well, I would say no, since we can only evaluate them based on what they did do. And the same for Edgar and the rest. I always figured that to be a Hall of Famer, in addition to the ten year rule, you had to be the best in your position in your league for five years. Which then brings say, Will Clark and Don Mattingly into the argument. After all, we don't evaluate Ozzie as a first ballot inductee the same as his teammate Jack Clark, who could certainly hit better, but couldn't field or balance his checkbook nearly as well.
So does a DH have to be the best hitter in his league for a period of time? That's really the discussion, since he's already been established as a less complete ballplayer.
The real question will emerge when David Ortiz comes up. Especially with Manny no longer behind him. Some of Pappy's numbers look a bit better than Manny's, yet only someone with no brain would think that Manny, poor fielder that he is, isn't a first ballot inner circle type of inductee. Yet Ortiz, who is presumably the best DH ever, well, where would he stand?
Tough call on DHs. Being a National Leaguer myself, I find this an very perplexing question. Is DH an actual position? If we consider it so, then should we look at a HoF candidates who (like Martinez) never had to play much in the field?
If we exclude DHs, is that fair? No DH has won a MVP award. So until one wins that award, should the HoF consider DH candidates?
Tough question. If Thome had stayed in the AL, he also would have pushed this issue. He has over 500HRs and hence a HoF candidate.
I say, yes they should be considered but the bar needs to very high.
I'd vote for Edgar. There are plenty of people deservedly in the Hall who were great hitters with little defensive value-Killebrew being one.
And certainly if Greg Luzinski had had a long career, instead of a fairly brief one, with the numbers he posted for his first five or six years, he'd be worthy as well.
Jeff Kent makes Edgar's candidacy look positively girly, and I'm an Edgar fan.
John, Killebrew must have been at least vaguely competent defensively, since he continued to play third base well into his thirties even though the Twins lacked a great first baseman.
I'm not against putting a DH into the Hall, but everything a player does contributes some to making him HOF valuable, or not, and Edgar's defense, like Frank Thomas's (who played more in the field than Edgar, but was so awful he probably shouldn't have) contributed nearly nothing, even compared to non glovemen like Carlos Delgado or Jim Thome. In the case of Thomas, his bat alone puts him well over the line, I think. Edgar is close, and I haven't decided if he's just over or just under.
DH is not a position. Rather it is the absence of a position. A DH shouldn't be measured against other DH's since most players have a primary position and DH later in their career. My own thought on evaluating a player with more than 40% of career AB's as DH would be to grade them against corner OF's of the same period. However, corner OF's who were noted for their defense would have a serious edge in that ranking. OF's who were poor defenders would still get some benefit for defensive value. Paul Molitor is a good comparison. In his 20's Molitor was a fragile 2B and 3B. Somehow in this 30's he was durable. Truth is his durability can be matched to his move to the DH slot. He is in the HoF because he was healthy enough to pass 3,000 hits. Bottom line: DH's should be held to a slightly higher standard.
Is Edgar above that standard? I don't know. He was very good for several season. Great for a couple. I have to think about him some more.
Don Baylor won his MVP as a DH. It was not a good choice though.
Don Baylor won his MVP as a half DH/half LF. It was not a good choice though.
error posting, better take off the field and put me at DH