Edgar Martinez is in a bit of a crunch. He has one more year left on the BBWAA ballot after getting 70.4 percent of the vote in his 9th year of eligibility. We could treat him like every other Hall of Fame candidate and project him through the index, but that would shortchange the argument that he is spearheading. In short, we can start with the obvious. Should someone that spends the majority of his career as a designated hitter get into the Hall of Fame?
Well, that begins by asking another basic question: is the DH a real position or is it a strategy that is legal in half of baseball? Well, seeing him here in the midst of our section of third basemen is a bit of a clue to the answer. However, to prove my point I will change the order in which I normally do this. Let’s start with the fielding numbers so I can illustrate an important point when it comes to Martinez.
So, what does this all mean? In short, it means that Martinez did not spend long in the field, but when he played he was generally above average. The stereotype of the DH is of the 250 pound body builder that couldn’t even be a rover in beer league softball. In this case, the Mariners could have employed Martinez as a third baseman very easily, but decided it was better for him to serve as the DH.
Martinez spent considerable time on the disabled list in his first few seasons. The Mariners decided they would get more out of Martinez if they used him as a DH. That’s a strategic decision. So, we will consider Martinez as a third baseman and compare him to the third base universe. The defensive WAR and defensive win shares clearly demonstrate a very important point that needs to be levied in all cases involving DHs. Martinez did not derive any benefit from DHing. In fact, he was hurt by it more than anything.
There are two ways to look at a lack of fielding numbers and WAR and win shares represent each point of view. On the one hand, you have the idea if one does not perform defensively then they should have zero defensive value. If you do nothing you get nothing. The makers of WAR compare every defender to the replacement level defender at the average position. So, typically first basemen, left fielders, and sometime right fielders end up finishing below zero in defensive WAR. Obviously, that means designated hitters are worse than that. So, even though Martinez was above average when he played third, he registers as below replacement because the majority of his career was not spent in the field. This is dreadfully important as it pertains to him and other DHs because some people will mark him down twice. The WAR numbers do it automatically and then analysts will do it again in their mind. I’ll demonstrate this as we move through the index.
Normally, eclipsing 190 wins would make you a pretty solid Hall of Fame choice, but Martinez is obviously a different case. Unfortunately, some analysts view this kind of score as borderline and therefore reserve all ties with DHs as a firm no. Judging by the vote last year (70.4 percent) that isn’t a lot of voters, but it is enough to cost Martinez. This is where I remind everyone that the metrics above already penalize him for not fielding. So, doing so again is the proverbial double whammy. To put it another way, all of the others put these numbers up by fielding and hitting. So, imagine how good a hitter Martinez must have been.
In an earlier article I reintroduced the concept of bases per out. Essentially, outs are the blood currency of the sport. Every team gets 27 of them and they have to do as much as they can with them as possible. As with every metric, it has its strengths and weaknesses. The key is never to overreach with any individual number. For instance, BPO has problems when you compare players from different eras. However, when we compare Martinez with the best third baseman from the BBWAA list we find something interesting. Also, I’ll throw in another comparison just for fun.
Bases per out is calculated by adding total bases, walks, and hit by pitches and dividing it by outs. So, why did I include hits? Well, there are those that use hits as a barometer of whether someone deserves to be a Hall of Famer. Of course, it would be foolish to say that hits are meaningless, but their ability to project proficiency offensively clearly is suspect. The two players with the least number of hits were among the top three in BPO.
It might surprise some to see Martinez on top of the list. Naturally, some would point that he and Chipper Jones played in a better offensive period than the others. That’s fair. It’s also fair to point out that the volume of numbers was not the same either. We can address one of those concerns directly when we directly compare Martinez with two Hall of Fame quality teammates. So, who would you want strolling to the plate with the game on the line?
We could talk at length about ARod and whether he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. We will get there eventually. We could talk about how injuries derailed Griffey’s chances of being among the top five or ten players in the history of the game. This is all well and good, but the numbers above tell a very definite story. As great as those two were, you’d rather have Martinez at the plate everything else being equal. It is fair to point out their longevity in comparison to Martinez, but that is what peak value is for. Longevity and durability was the chink in Martinez’s armor. Let’s see how much it affected him.
The peak value reveals what we would expect to you. When you don’t field it is hard to build up huge value, but the results are still promising. A five-win player is usually an all-star every season and when all of those five wins come offensively it means you are one hell of a hitter. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s compare Martinez to those same Hall of Famers with the numbers we have been using to compare players across eras.
You could make a very compelling argument that Martinez is the best hitter in the bunch. Naturally, you could make the same argument for Mike Schmidt as well. Chipper Jones and Eddie Mathews are the neighborhood as well. Jones was arguably worth as much defensively at third base as Martinez was with a bat in his hand. The others brought a little more to the table with the glove, so they are more valuable overall.
The fact remains though that those players were well above the index borderline territory. So, it is not a crime to say Martinez is a cut below overall. Still, he was that good as a hitter and it seems criminal to keep someone of that quality out of the Hall of Fame. I’m no fan of the DH, but keeping Martinez out of the Hall of Fame out of some puritanical objection to the DH seems extremely petty. I’ll leave you with the final index tally below.
Hall of Fame Index
The 340 score puts him well within the Hall of Fame range. He isn’t an automatic choice, but we need to keep in mind that our sources have already penalized him for his lack of fielding record. So, a vote against him should be based on the relative brevity of his career and not a lack of fielding record.