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Building a Case

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I'm a Hall of Fame snob, which is probably a bit unfair. I haven't played baseball since, oh, Little League in junior high, and I was fairly terrible back then. I umpired youth baseball for a few years after the fact and I'm in no way qualified to judge players based on my own skills, much less argue against players receiving baseball immortality.

That said, I do it anyway.

For me, a Hall of Fame vote requires a complex vetting, much like a Supreme Court nominee gets from the White House. EVERYTHING must be analyzed. Only the greatest players should get in.

But that's not the standard that we use, so I adjust a bit. The only players that you will see me blindly advocating for the HOF are Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera, both deserving enshrinement as testaments to an era where great relief pitchers had one job - finish the game.

There's another player whose HOF credentials interest me a great deal. He's still going strong; he's hitting .290/.403/.545 and he's a career .294/.385/.543 hitter. He's also one of the better defensive outfielders that I've ever seen. He has a career WARP3 of 91.8, and the HOF average for centerfielders is at 112.2.

This player is, of course, Jim Edmonds.

Edmonds is not quite there yet, but I wanted to take a look at the Keltner list, from Bill James' must-read Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?.

A lot of these questions can't be answered yet, but I thought it would be nice to take a look at what we CAN answer...

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was still active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

Edmonds was never really considered the best player in the game. He played in an era of some of the greatest players the game will ever see. Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Albert Pujols are three of the most notable players with whom he shares the spotlight, and he has never been in their class.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

During the mid-90s, Edmonds was probably the best player on his team once. Tim Salmon had a few exceptional seasons, most notably in 1995. Edmonds, though, considering his defensive prowess, was the best player on his team in at least one or two of those seasons. His health was always fairly unstable, very frequently because of some of the seemingly reckless plays that he made in the outfield. In 2000 with St. Louis, he was probably the team's best player, with McGwire struggling to stay healthy. By the end of 2001, the "best player" honor on that team had been passed to the indomitable Albert Pujols. In summary, Edmonds was a "transitional" best player on his team. He rarely kept the distinction for very long, if at all, and always shared the spotlight.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

For much of his years in California / Anaheim / Los Angeles / San Luis Obispo / Pomona / other California city, Edmonds was not the best centerfielder in the game or in the league. There was another one who was just a bit better... Ken Griffey Jr. was still scaring pitchers in those days and cementing HIS Hall of Fame career back then. But when both players moved to the NL, Edmonds surged to be the best centerfielder in the NL and probably in baseball. I would have thought that Carlos Beltran would have supplanted Edmonds by now, but he has not done so this year. Andruw Jones is the other candidate, but Jones, for all of his defensive skills, has never quite been the player that Edmonds is. He could be seizing that title this year, but Jim Edmonds, for several years, was the best centerfielder in the NL. From the AL, Bernie Williams challenges formidably, but while he was comparable to Edmonds offensively, even with the Gold Gloves, was never the great defensive player that everyone made him out to be.

By VORP (ML rank among CFs):

  1. 3 (Giles, Hidalgo)
  2. 1
  3. 3 (Bernie, Berkman)
  4. 3 (Wells, Beltran)
  5. 1
Accounting for his defensive skills, Edmonds has a fair case as the best CF in the bigs for the last 5 years and, considering his consistency, it's difficult to argue against him.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

The Cardinals were a playoff team in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2004, and they look to be one again in 2005. Edmonds has been one of the two or three best players on the team in each of these seasons. More specifically, Edmonds won Game 6 of the 2004 NLCS on a walk-off homer in the 12th inning, leading the Cardinals to the series win and the NL pennant. He passes both tests - general and specific.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

Edmonds is still in his "prime" as a hitter. I think it's more adequate, when looking at Edmonds, to consider him a late bloomer. We will see how well he ages in the future, but, so far, we can't formulate a fair answer.

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the HoF?

Probably not. Bert Blylevin is the constant argument from many people. More importantly, Edmonds is still not eligible, so we really can't answer this one either.

7. Are most of the players who have comparable career statistics in the HoF?

On his "Similar batters" list via Baseball Reference, we see three Hall of Famers who scored as "similar" or "essentially similar" - Hack Wilson, Larry Doby, and Ralph Kiner. It's good company. Seven others aren't quite at that level - we see David Justice and Shawn Green finding their way onto the list. Edmonds current stats aren't quite enough to get him into the HoF, based on this list.

8. Do the player's numbers meet HoF standards?

Edmonds meets 36% of HoF standards, according to Baseball Reference.

9. Is there evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

I haven't watched Edmonds play enough and I don't put too much stock into "clubhouse prescence" or anything, so I will not alter what the statistics say.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the HoF but not in?

It's a distinct possibility, but he's not done yet.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did the player have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Edmonds has been a Top-5 MVP vote-getter twice in his career - 2000 and 2004. He was a legitimate candidate in both years. Edmonds has the handicap of playing in the same era as Barry Bonds. It is difficult to vote anyone for MVP besides Barry Bonds because of the difference he makes for the Giants. We're seeing that a lot this season...

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did the player have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the HoF?

Some stats from Edmonds: AVG/OBP/SLG (ML VORP rank, CF)

  1. .290/.352/.536 (2)
  2. .304/.375/.571 (7)
  3. .291/.368/.500 (5)
  4. .307/.368/.506 (4)
  5. .295/.411/.583 (3)
  6. .304/.410/.564 (1)
  7. .311/.420/.561 (3)
  8. .275/.387/.617 (3)
  9. .301/.418/.643 (1)
At least 8 of those seasons are All-Star caliber, probably all 9 of them. The only year in the last 10 in which Edmonds has not been All-Star caliber was for his breakdown in 1999, when he only played 55 games.

He was an All-Star in 1995, 2000, and 2003, assuming I didn't miss anything via Baseball Reference.

13. If this man were the best on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

I would say that you could build a team around Jim Edmonds over this stretch of his career. It hasn't happened; he's played second fiddle to Albert Pujols in St. Louis, but it's a great offensive core.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Edmonds may have popularized a way to play defense and has always been a fixture on "Web Gems," but, otherwise, no.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the HoF, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

I know no strikes against Jim Edmonds.

I entered this discussion with an expectation about Jim Edmonds, and he has exceeded it, slightly. I was expecting to say that Jim Edmonds will need a few more very good years to get him in. Assuming he finishes up this season as he has started it, I believe that he is a borderline Hall of Famer right now. One more excellent year would make his case very strong.

If Edmonds plays into his late 30s and does well, it will be extraordinarily difficult to keep him out of the Hall. It's still too early to say, but Edmonds has compiled an excellent career and is certainly a RLWotHOF player at this point.

One final fact about Edmonds was how friendly his PECOTA was this year:

Breakout: 20%
Improve: 59%
Collapse: 5%

Considering his age and how great a season he had last year, I was very surprised to see that. Edmonds is finally starting to get the acclaim this year as he ranks 2nd among NL outfielders in All Star voting, but for much of his career, he played without a great deal of fame and recognition. Best of luck to Jim Edmonds. Even as a strict HoF defender, I am intrigued by Edmonds' credentials and will follow with interest.