Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Thomas far better than advertised
By Rob Neyer ESPN.com
So many questions, so little time ... Yesterday, ESPN.com ran the all-time teams for every American League franchise (the National League's coming today), as excerpted from (the humbly titled) Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups. Aside from the obvious opportunity for self-promotion, I've been most thrilled by the reactions I've received, as I could spend a month writing columns just about the questions that have been raised by my choices for the all-time teams. (To answer one very common question, the all-time teams we're running consider only teams in their current locations, which is why, for example, Catfish Hunter rather than Lefty Grove is the No. 1 pitcher on the Athletics' all-time team. The book includes six separate chapters covering franchises that spent extended lengths of time in more than one city.)
Here's just one message I received yesterday, to which I'm responding today because it let's me deal with two arguments together ...
So Frank Thomas is a Hall of Famer, but Edgar Martinez isn't? Huh? Their career numbers are about the same. The only difference is that the Mariners had the sense to DH Martinez (and that Martinez can still hit).
-- Giuseppe Basta
Conventional Wisdom: Edgar Martinez can still hit, and Frank Thomas cannot.
Facts: Edgar Martinez can still hit ... and so can Frank Thomas.
In fact, Thomas's on-base (.426) and slugging (.561) percentages this season are right in line with his career marks (.432 and .568). No, Thomas isn't doing as well as Martinez ... but you know, he's not far off. The Amazing Ageless Edgar is third in the American League with a 1035 OPS, and with a 986 OPS, The Big Hurt is seventh.
The White Sox have been a huge disappointment this season, and since Thomas is their best-known player, why then of course it must be his fault, right? Except that Thomas is one of the only two hitters -- D'Angelo Jimenez being the other -- who actually is blameless. Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee, and Jose Valentin have all been mildly disappointing, while corner men Joe Crede and Paul Konerko have ranked among the very worst hitters in the majors.
Let's get back to the original question, though ... Does Thomas rank with Martinez as a Hall of Fame candidate, right now? Thomas' park-adjusted OPS is 63 percent better than his league. Martinez's park-adjusted OPS is 52 percent better than his league.
Surprised that Thomas has a substantial edge in park-adjusted OPS? You shouldn't be. Thomas has never played in a good hitter's park, while Martinez spent much of his career in the hitter-friendly Kingdome. More to the point, Thomas' un-adjusted OPS is 45 points higher, 999 to 955. Thomas has scored more runs than Martinez, Thomas has driven home a lot more runs than Martinez, and he's got nearly as many hits. Thomas has won two MVP Awards, and finished in the top 10 in the voting 10 times. Martinez has won zero MVP Awards, and finished in the top 10 in the voting two times.
Edgar Martinez has been a wonderful hitter for a long time, and I'll happily acknowledge that I might not be doing justice to his Hall of Fame qualifications. But I think it's difficult to make the convincing argument that he's the equal of Frank Thomas, who's five years younger, has more impressive numbers now, and is apparently still going strong.
Postscript: My current stance on Edgar Martinez and the Hall of Fame is a little embarrassing, considering that in the book I wrote, "If they ever let me vote for the Hall of Fame -- don't worry, it won't happen -- I'll put a check mark next to Edgar Martinez with nary a second thought."
So what's changed between 2002 (when I wrote that) and 2003? Well, one thing that's changed is that Edgar Martinez has just kept on hitting. Which doesn't exactly help my case. But another thing that's changed is that I've come to realize just how many hitters have put up big numbers since 1990 (or thereabouts).
When you look at the context, along with Martinez's general inability to stay in the lineup over the years -- he's played in 140 or more games only seven times in his career -- I think one can conclude that though Martinez certainly has been a great hitter, he perhaps hasn't been quite great enough for quite long enough to merit election to the Hall of Fame. Especially considering that his contributions on the basepaths and in the field are something close to nil.
All that said, I also can see the case for Martinez. I just don't think it's nearly as good as the one for Frank Thomas.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information, visit Rob's Web site.