The Edgar Martinez debate

January, 19, 2009
Already looking ahead to 2010, Larry Stone wonders what will happen when Edgar Martinez first appears on the Hall of Fame ballot:

    A closer examination of [Jim] Rice's statistics, under the lens of recently developed analytical tools, caused many in the sabermetric community to conclude he wasn't Hall worthy. In the same sense, I believe that statistical scrutiny will benefit Martinez, whose numbers look better the closer you examine them.

    "Exactly the same could be said of Tim Raines, and see how poorly he's doing," countered ESPN's Rob Neyer, who is at the forefront of statistical analysis.

    Neyer is also a first-year BBWAA member as the organization last year allowed Internet reporters for the first time. Only 10-year members of the organization are eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame. He said he is still undecided on Martinez but has little doubt he will be denied in the first year.

    "If you look at other candidates and how they've done, it's hard to imagine him getting anywhere near 75 percent," he said.


    I solicited one more opinion. I asked Edgar himself if he thought he was a Hall of Famer. Granted, it's a ridiculous question, putting him in a no-win situation. But I wanted to hear his answer, which predictably was humble and wise.

    "I don't know. I don't know how to answer that question," he said. "It's just about comparing numbers, I guess, and whether they compare to someone already in the Hall. People will probably measure whether I belong or not by the numbers.

    "I've heard in the past the argument I don't have enough numbers to be in there. It's a great honor to at least have people talk about it."

    The conversation is just beginning, Edgar.

I think that's right: the conversation is just beginning. I don't mean to suggest that smart people haven't analyzed Edgar's career. They have. But look at the work that's been done on Bert Blyleven just in the past four or five years (here's just a small but delicious taste). We'll know a lot more about Edgar Martinez in five years than we know now.

I told Larry Stone that I'm undecided because I am. You might wonder how someone who does what I do could still be undecided about Edgar Martinez, four years after his career ended. Well, it's because I believe his case is borderline. This is not an insult. When I say a candidate is borderline, I'm not thinking of someone like Freddie Lindstrom or George Kelly, who clearly fall below the established standards of the Hall of Fame. By borderline, I mean a candidate who might lift the standards slightly, or might lower them slightly.

And where Edgar Martinez falls, I just don't know yet. I haven't done the hours of work necessary to find out. If I had to vote tomorrow, I would do that work. But I don't, and by the time I have to vote, that work will have been done. So yes, at the moment I'm undecided. But I'm absolutely sure that Edgar won't get a great deal of support in his first year of eligibility. He did one thing superbly: he reached base more than 40 percent of the time. Or to put it another way, he superbly avoided making outs.

Unfortunately for Edgar's candidacy, that just happens to be the one important skill that Hall of Fame voters have habitually ignored. Look at some of the most egregious snubs -- Tim Raines, Darrell Evans, Bobby Grich -- and it's impossible to avoid the conclusion that BBWAA members, as a group, have never truly appreciated the most basic building block of the whole game.



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