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We Need Better Arguments for Keeping Edgar Martinez out of the Hall

Peter Abraham is a writer who, even if you disagree with him (which I do on many issues), you have to respect for one simple reason: transparency.

Abraham is very good about disclosing how he votes on post season and Hall of Fame ballots and then providing the reasoning behind his votes. That's more than we see from many writers.

Abraham recently disclosed his Hall of Fame ballot for the class of 2012. In that article, he does an about face on Jeff Bagwell's candidacy. Outside of some typical moralizing about PED use, Abraham is upfront about how leaving Bagwell of the ballot last year was a mistake.

In the same article, Abraham provides his perspective on players that didn't make his ballot. One of them is Edgar Martinez, the long time DH for the Seattle Mariners. Abrahams has this to say about Edgar:

Edgar Martinez will go down as one of the best designated hitters in history. But if he spent his career at third base or first base, he's a borderline Hall of Famer. Being a career DH means you're a lousy fielder, not worthy of extra consideration.

This strikes me as wrong on a number of levels, and arguably Abraham skirts the DH issues just as much as he skirted the PED issue with Bagewell last year.

First, the claim that had Martinez spent his career at first or third base he'd basically be a borderline Hall of Famer.

The easiest way to compare Martinez offensively to other non-DH players is to look at OPS+, which adjusts a player's OPS to the league and home ballpark they played in. Martinez had a career OPS+ of 147, which means his OPS was 47% better than his contemporaries when adjusted for era and park.

How does that stack up historically?

Among current Hall of Fame players, Martinez would be tied for 21st among all position players with >6000 plate appearances. 21st compared to ALL position players.

If we assume, as Abrahams seems to, that corner players have a higher offensive bar to clear, we find Martinez would rank 5th among Hall of Famers with >75% of games played at either first or third.

If Martinez's OPS+ of 147 is too light for a corner infielder, than say goodbye to Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Wade Boggs, and a host of other notables.

Second, if Abraham thinks that DH's are just one-dimensional players and therefore don't deserve to get in to the Hall, what about the other side of that coin? There are plenty of light-hitting players that currently reside in Cooperstown. In fact, there are 14 whose career OPS+ was below 100--meaning, they were below average hitters relative to their peers their entire career. Of those whose OPS+ was near or below league average, we find such fielding luminaries as Ozzie Smith and Brooks Robinson.

If these seemingly one-dimensional players are rightful Hall of Famers, why not one-dimensional players who excelled offensively instead of defensively?

Finally, we can compare the total contribution of Edgar Martinez to other Hall of Famers by looking at Wins Above Replacement (WAR).* Using Baseball-Reference's version of WAR, we find that Martinez accumulated 67.2 WAR for his career. That would rank him 45th out of all non-pitchers in the Hall of Fame with >6000 plate appearances.

If we look at WAR per 150 games played, Martinez jumps to 33rd all time among Hall of Famers with 4.9 WAR/150.

Bottom line is, taking all factors into account including era played and performance relative to peers, Edgar Martinez stacks up incredibly well to the very best currently in the Hall of Fame.

This debate wouldn't be a debate had Martinez played the field, say, 60% of the time instead of roughly 30%. Paul Molitor, inducted into the Hall in 2004, played 43% of his games at the DH position. As far as I can tell that's the most for any player in the Hall of Fame. (Jim Rice has the second most at 25%).

The real issue here isn't that Edgar Martinez couldn't field, but rather that writers haven't really had to deal with this issue until now. Only six players in history have amassed >6000 plate appearances and played >55% of their games at DH: Frank Thomas, David Ortiz, Hal McRae, Harold Baines, Don Baylor, and Edgar Martinez.

Martinez is a rarity. Even today, we don't find many players that DH for more than half of their career. It seems silly to me to punish Martinez for being unique, simply because we cannot get our heads around how to value his contributions on the field.

If we're going to do it, we should at least come up with better arguments.


Grant has some good thoughts on this as well (which I somehow missed earlier today).

*Now, this gets tricky when dealing with DH's, since the defensive adjustment for these players is essentially neutral--they can't save or cost runs for their teams because of their defense. However, we assume too much if we say that DH's must have been terrible fielders or else they would be in the field. They likely weren't great, but they could easily have been average or just below average and been asked to DH had their been a teammate that was above average playing at the same time. Also, as a DH he's already getting dinged due to the positional adjustment.