Posted December 13, 2012

JAWS and the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot: Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez, Hall of Fame, JAWS, Seattle Mariners
Edgar Martinez's series-winning double in the 1995 ALDS was arguably the biggest hit of his career. (V.J. Lovero/SI)

Edgar Martinez’s series-winning double in the 1995 ALDS was arguably the biggest hit of his career. (V.J. Lovero/SI)

The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2013 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to JAWS, please see here.

The 2013 season will mark the 40th anniversary of the designated hitter’s introduction into Major League Baseball, a rule change that continues to rankle purists who apparently would rather watch pitchers risk injury as they flail away with ineptitude (though that’s a story for another day…). In that time, only one player who has spent the plurality — not the majority — of his time at the position has been elected to the Hall of Fame: Paul Molitor, who spent 1,171 of his 2,683 career games riding the pine between plate appearances.

When I reviewed Molitor’s Hall of Fame case in 2004 — in what was actually my Baseball Prospectus debut, at a point when my system wasn’t even called JAWS — I considered Molitor as a third baseman, because he had spent 788 games there, and the majority of his games playing somewhere in the infield. He had generated real defensive value (26 Fielding Runs Above Average according to the measure of the time) that strengthened a case that was virtually automatic by dint of his membership in the 3,000 hit club.

I have maintained that precedent in examining other candidates who spent good chunks of their careers at DH, mainly outfielders (Harold Baines, Jose Canseco, Chili Davis) with no real shot at gaining entry to Cooperstown, in part because JAWS enables easy comparisons with Hall of Famers not only at a given position but with the at-large field of enshrined hitters. I stick to that precedent in examining the case of Edgar Martinez, who ranks fourth on the all-time list for games by a DH at 1,403, but who also played 564 games at third base and another 28 at first base. I’ve compared Martinez to Hall third basemen, Hall corner infielders and Hall hitters in general, mainly because when properly used, JAWS is a tool used to build an argument, not a simple yes/no question.

No matter his position, Martinez could flat-out rake. A high-average, high-OBP hitting machine with plenty of power, he played a key role in putting the Seattle Mariners on the map as an AL West powerhouse, and emerged as a folk hero to a fan base that watched Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez lead the franchise’s charge to relevancy, only to force their ways out of town over contract issues. Today is Martinez’s turn at bat.

Player  Career Peak JAWS HR  SB  AVG OBP  SLG  TAv
Edgar Martinez 64.4 41.8 53.1 2055 2247 309 49 .312 .418 .515 .321
Avg HOF 3B 64.9 41.8 53.4                
Avg CI (1B+3B)  63.1 41.2 52.2                
Avg HOF Hitter 64.7 41.3 53.0

Though he was born in New York City, Martinez was raised in Puerto Rico, moving there as a young child after his parents’ divorce. He played ball at the island’s American College, and was signed by the Mariners as a non-drafted free agent in 1982 (not until 1990 did Major League Baseball make Puerto Rico subject to the amateur draft, a move that hasn’t worked out for the island’s best interests, baseball-wise). Just shy of 20 when he signed — old for a prospect — he didn’t break out until his age-24 season in 1987, when he was in Triple-A. He received cups of coffee from the Mariners in 1987 and 1988, and struggled so mightily in 1989 (.240/.314/.304 in 196 PA) after opening the season as the team’s third baseman that he was briefly sent back down. It wasn’t until 1990, his age-27 season, that he stuck in the majors, but he put up strong numbers (.302/.397/.433, 5.3 WAR, +13 defense according to Total Zone) that season, and a year later helped the Mariners crack .500 for the first time since their 1977 inception.

In 1992, Martinez won his first AL batting title, hitting .343/.404/.544 with a league-leading 46 doubles; his 6.3 WAR tied with 2013 ballot-mate Kenny Lofton for fourth, behind only Roberto Alomar, Frank Thomas and Kirby Puckett. Alas, Martinez was limited to just 131 games combined the next two seasons due to hamstring and wrist injuries as well as the players’ strike. The latter season led Seattle to relieve him of his defensive responsibilities; he was actually seven runs above average at the hot corner according to Total Zone, but his bat was far more important than his glove. It’s fair to say the decision paid off.

In 1995, Martinez set a career-high with 6.7 WAR, hitting .356/.479/.628, leading the league in batting average, on-base percentage, True Average (.359) and doubles (52), and helping the Mariners to their first playoff berth in franchise history. No hit of his was bigger than The Double off the Yankees’ Jack McDowell in the 11th inning of the decisive Game 5 of the Division Series, bringing home the tying and winning runs. The euphoria of that moment helped generate the groundswell of support that secured the Mariners a new taxpayer-funded stadium within a week of the series ending. Martinez was a one-man wrecking crew in that ALDS, batting .571/.667/1.000 with four-three hit efforts, reaching base safely 18 times in five games. He’s still the co-holder of the record for most hits in a Division Series, with 12, and his 21 total bases rank fifth. Meanwhile, the Double is on the short list of hits that have taken on a life of their own.

The 1995 season began a seven-year stretch in which Martinez hit a combined .329/.446/.574 while averaging 42 doubles, 28 homers, 107 walks and 5.5 WAR per year (38.6 total). Defensive value is built into WAR, but even with negative value in that area (he played 33 games at third and first in that span), he tied with Mike Piazza as the majors’ sixth-most valuable position player during over those years behind Barry Bonds (55.3), Alex Rodriguez (45.2), Jeff Bagwell (43.5), Ken Griffey Jr. (39.4) and Sammy Sosa (39.0). The Griffey comparison is particularly startling; the centerfielder on those Mariners teams won an MVP award and four Gold Gloves in that same span, and led the AL in homers for three years in a row (twice with 56) — and he was just a fraction of a win more valuable than Martinez during that period.

The Mariners reached the playoffs three more times in that 1995-2001 period, including their record-tying 116-win 2001 campaign after Johnson, Griffey and Rodriguez had all departed. Martinez was hardly a window dresser for that team, hitting .306/.423/.543 with 40 doubles, 23 homers, a .337 True Average (second in the league) and 4.5 WAR. He played three more seasons, hitting well for two of them, before retiring.

Martinez isn’t the first Hall of Fame candidate to benefit from spending his twilight years as a designated hitter; Molitor reached Cooperstown largely because of what he did there. Nonetheless, Martinez’s case is an interesting test for the voters. He played so few games in the field not only because he established himself at a relatively advanced age but because the risk/reward payoff wasn’t merited once he emerged as an elite hitter, though it’s likely the Mariners could have stuck him at first base — a much easier position than third, requiring less mobility — had they desired.

It’s also worth considering that Martinez played in an era of increased specialization, particularly with regards to bullpen roles. Teams concerned with the limitations of a pitcher’s stamina, health and/or repertoire often convert starters to relievers, who rarely produce enough value within their smaller roles to merit consideration for the Hall. Mariano Rivera is the best example; it’s quite possible he’d have never approached a Hall of Fame level had he remained a starter. Martinez was the Mariano Rivera of DHs, so good within his limited role that he produced enough value to transcend it.

(Oh, and by the way, he owned Rivera: .579/.652/1.053 in 23 PA. Small sample size, but wow.)

Martinez falls a few runs short of the Hall of Fame standards at third base, behind on career but dead even on peak. He’s slightly above the standards when compared to corner infielders, and a whisker above when compared to all hitters; such small differences to the right of the decimal either above or below are subject to the tiniest adjustment in WAR. While he’s borderline on JAWS, the weight of the non-JAWS factors — the late start to his major league career, the black and gray ink (two batting titles and a second place, three OBP titles and three second places, two True Average leads and seven top five finishes), seven All-Star appearances, his all-time rankings in OBP (15th among hitters with 7,000 PA) and True Average (31st), the impact of the 1995 postseason upon Seattle baseball history — augment his case enough to push him over the line.

Voters have been slow to come around to that conclusion, though Martinez does have a substantial bloc of support. Three years into his eligibility, his highest share of the vote has been 36.5 percent, just under half of what he needs. That’s not a lost-cause level in terms of modern voting history; Bruce Sutter (29.1 percent), Duke Snider (21.2 percent), Bert Blyleven (17.4 percent), Bob Lemon (16.6 percent) and Luis Aparicio (12 percent) all eventually were elected by the BBWAA after polling even lower in their third years, and Jim Rice was at 37.6 percent. Ten other players polled lower at that point but were elected via the various Veterans Committees.

It would be a shame if Martinez had to wait decades for such recognition. He was clearly one of the best hitters in baseball, not only of his era but all time. Though the bulk of his career was spent as a designated hitter, advanced metrics show that his superiority with the bat transcended the role. He belongs in Cooperstown.

8 comments
Ron aka Buddy
Ron aka Buddy

The DH doesn't even deserve consideration for the HOF. They're a one trick pony. They are the Field Goal Kickers of baseball. 

BrianOlson
BrianOlson

It is amazing to me how many so called sportswriters will vote for scum like Clemens or Bonds who lied, cheated and disgraced the game and not vote for a great ballplayer and better person like Edgar "Papi" Martinez over a position they don't appreciate.  Stats are stats, class is class and character should count.  Particularly in light of the events of this tragic week.  What Edgar este caliente and his wife and family have done for children and so many charities is the stuff of legends.     

Henry4
Henry4

Edgar Martinez deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF). In the two votings that he has participated he received about 30% of the votes, but many voters argue that since Edgar was mostly a Designated Hitter, he does not warrants it.  Personally, I think it is a wrong argument for in the same way that each defense position has a different value in the contribution to the game, so as pitchers have starters vs. relievers.  By definition, this is a dedicated position to bat.

An example of choosing according to the requirements of the position are Luis Aparicio, Maury Wills, and Ozzie Smith at shortstop, and Bill Mazerosky in second base, who are mostly in the HOF for their defensive skills, speed and longevity. None of them would be in the HOF if  their hitting numbers have been playing at first or third base, or in the outfield.

No one disputes that Edgar has been the best Designated Hitter in history. Not only did he win the award as the best DH on 5 occasions, but in 2004 MLB  put his name to the award.  MLB has only given the name of a player to 5 annual awards. Cy Young for the best pitcher, Hank Aaron for the best hitter , Ted Williams for the All-Star MVP and Roberto Clemente for the player demonstrating best values and humanitarian contribution to his team. Edgar won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2004.

So let's see how Edgar’s statistics compare with all the others that have hit in the history of the game. We will see that Edgar is among the best 160, which is in the top 1%. 

In summary, Edgar played 18 seasons, all with the Seattle Mariners, batting over .300 in 11 of them and winning 2 batting titles with averages of .343 And .353,  the second of them the only full-time DH to win a batting title.  Edgar led the AL twice in doubles with 46 and 52 and hit 52 doubles on 2 occasions. Leader in runs scored in the short 2005 season with 121 and leader with 145 RBIs in 2000, OBP Leader 3 times with .479, .429, .447 and finishing over .400 11 times. In 1995 he led OPS and OPS + with 1.107 and 185 respectively.

Edgar was chosen to 7-Star games and was nominated 5 times to the Most Valuable Player Award and won 5 "Silver Sluggers" award . In 2003 Edgar was elected to "Hispanic Heritage Baseball Hall Of Fame Museum "and in 2007 was elected to the Hall of Fame of the Seattle Mariners.

Here are the batting metrics that put Edgar among the best 160 hitters in history equivalent to being in the top 1%:

 

METRIC

VALUE

EDGAR’s Position

Batting Average

.312

94

On Base % (OBP)

.418

22

Slugging (SLG)

.515

66

On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS)

.933

33

Adjusted OPS (OPS+)

147

44

Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

67.2

99

Offensive Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

66.9

64

Doubles

514

44

Home Runs (HR)

309

119

Hits

2,247

160

RBI’s

1,261

120

Runs Scored

1,219

160

Bases on Balls Received

1,283

43

 

jcyzman
jcyzman

This is not a slight against baseball writers, but it seems they'll never be able to look past the - he was only a dh - crap, even though the DH has been in the game for 40 years(?) now.  They ignore cases like these because they are impossible to defend with any other argument.  Even Molitor - an All-Star in 7 seasons - was "officially" listed as a DH in - 4 - of those.  Never won a Gold Glove.  And since when is - defense - a prerequisite anyway?  I suppose Jim Rice is in the Hall because of his - defense?   I'm not saying Martinez belongs,...the argument I would make against him is he just doesn't have the overall numbers (2,200 plus hits?) but he also shouldn't be overlooked just because he played on teams that didn't need him to wear a glove.

Michael10
Michael10

Alas, this is why Edgar's not getting in anytime soon.  This has been a lead MLB article for two days and not a single comment.  Nowhere near as polarizing as Biggio or Morris, but not really on anyone's short list, either...

Once
Once

 @Ron aka Buddy Ron aka Buddy. Actually, Buddy, the NFL Hall of Fame has kickers in it.  And Jan Stenerud was nothing but a kicker.

 

By your logic, no AL starting pitcher should ever be enshrined in the Hall because of the too infrequent interleague or playoff plate appearances.  No AL or NL closer should be considered, your argument suggests, because they don't bat at all and they only pitch 3-5 innings a week, on a good team.

 

The DH is an official position.  Martinez' managers put him in that position each day on their lineup cards.  And Martinez excelled at what he was asked to do -- becoming the best to ever play that position.

 

The fact that you, or others, don't like the 40-year old DH rule shouldn't count against Martinez' Hall chances.

 

I would argue that if you are the best -- or even in the top ten -- at your position, when compared to those who have ever played that position in the history of baseball, you deserve a Hall nod.

 

Clearly, Edgar Martinez has earned his way into the Hall.

Michael10
Michael10

 @Ron aka Buddy Then Reggie Jackson, Willie Stargell, Orlando Cepeda, Billy Williams, Willie McCovey, Lou Brock, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson and many others were "one trick ponies" -- all of them had brick gloves and were in the lineup only for their offense.  There was no DH when these guys came up -- they had to play the field, just as Martinez would have if he had played in an earlier era or for an NL team.  He'd have been bad, but no worse than many Hall of Famers (even Mantle cost his team more than 10 wins in the field.

 

By your logic, pitchers who logged most of their innings in the AL should not be considered either (or relievers in either league).  All pitchers are really "one trick ponies," too, right?

Michael10
Michael10

 @Henry4 Edgar doesn't belong in the Hall because he is the greatest DH of all time -- he's not the best at his position because it's a non-position.  He is, however, AMONG the best hitters of all time and probably belongs for that.  He produced more value with his bat than most other players produce with their bat, legs, arm and/or glove combined, did it consistently (and for a single team), did it without hype or disgrace...