Friday, December 4, 2009
Should Edgar be Hall's first DH?
I don't have a problem with designated hitters.
I mention that only because I've been accused of discriminating against designated hitters. But I'm not. I'm fine with them.
What I'm not fine with is this argument: "Designated hitter is a position just like any other position. Further, just as the best first baseman and the best shortstop belong in the Hall of Fame, so the best designated hitter belongs in the Hall of Fame."
That's nonsense. The best players belong in the Hall of Fame, with "best" measured by runs and (by extension) wins. The best DH doesn't automatically belong in the Hall of Fame any more than the best pinch runner or left-handed setup man belongs in the Hall of Fame.
With that out of the way, let's talk about Edgar Martinez.
He was of course a devastating hitter. Since 1900, there are 47 players with at least 7,500 plate appearances -- Edgar finished with 8,672 -- and at least 50 percent of their time at first base or DH. Among those 47, Martinez ranks sixth in OPS+ and ninth in runs created.
The names around Martinez in both categories do give one pause, though. Some Hall of Famers, sure. But also Todd Helton, Jason Giambi, Fred McGriff, Harold Baines, and Carlos Delgado. Martinez was a better hitter than all of those fellows ... but then again, all (or most) of them contributed more with the glove than Martinez did. How do we account for defense?
Shawn Smith's version of wins above replacement (WAR) does just that, and Martinez does finish ahead of all those players I named:
Edgar - 67.2
Helton - 53.1
Giambi - 52.3
McGriff - 50.5
Delgado - 43.5
Baines - 36.9
Ah, that's more like it. We might still ask a philosophical question -- Is a player who doesn't play defense more valuable defensively than a player who plays defense poorly? -- but by this measure, at least, Martinez separates himself from his peers who probably will not be elected to the Hall of Fame.
As you might guess, in terms of WAR there are players bunched around Martinez who are in the Hall of Fame (Carlton Fisk, Duke Snider, Eddie Murray) and players who aren't (Bobby Grich, Alan Trammell, Jim Edmonds). But the players who are in the Hall probably should be, and the players who aren't in the Hall probably should be, too.
I've been going back and forth on Edgar Martinez for years. Today, though, I'm convinced. He belongs. He wasn't nearly as valuable during his career as Frank Thomas or Jeff Bagwell, both of whom richly deserve enshrinement. But he was valuable enough.