Should or Shouldn’t: Edgar Martinez
Much debate in recent years surrounds electing designated hitters to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. After playing 1,495 games as a position player, 1,173 games as a designated hitter (DH), amassing 3,319 hits, 234 HRs, 75.4 wins above replacement (WAR), and a .306 BA, Paul Molitor became the first designated hitter elected to the MLB HOF in 2004. Frank Thomas became the first player to appear in more games as designated hitter (1,310 games) than as a position player (971 games) to be inducted into the MLB HOF in 2014. “The Big Hurt” also won two AL MVP awards as a first baseman in 1993 and 1994, and is a member of the illustrious 500 Homerun Club (521 career HRs). Obviously, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWA), the MLB HOF’s electing body, still places extraordinary value on players attaining 3,000 career hits or 500 career HRs.
So, where does that leave Edgar Martinez, arguably the best designated hitter of all-time, who falls short of both statistical measures? “Papi” was a seven-time all-star, playing all 18 seasons of his career with the Seattle Mariners before retiring after the 2004 season. He earned AL MVP votes in six different seasons, with his highest finish coming in third place in 1995 – his first season as a full-time DH. He won the batting title that season with a .356 BA. Martinez finished his career with 2,247 hits, 309 HRs, a .312 BA, and 68.3 WAR. He also walked more times (1283) than he struck out (1202). After receiving 43.4% of 440 votes in 2016 (Martinez’s highest in his seven years on the ballot), it appears as though Martinez is running out of time. In 2014, the BBWA changed its qualifications, permitting players to stay on the HOF ballot for ten years as long as they receive at least 5% of the vote.
The case against Edgar Martinez’s election is one of voter discrimination against DH’s and a lack of requisite statistics. He was an error machine on the diamond, fielding just .946 for his career, and posting a -9.7 defense WAR. From 1995 until the end of his careeer the Mariners decided he was simply so poor in the field that the team would rather not put him out there. Can Edgar be a Hall of Fame player since he was a Hall of Fame hitter, but a “Hall of Shame” fielder?
In my opinion, Edgar Martinez absolutely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Even considering his poor defensive WAR, his overall WAR, which includes the defense metric, marks him as one of the top 80 players of all time. Larry Walker and Edgar Martinez are the only two players to slash .300/.400/.500 and remain knocking on the door of Cooperstown waiting for enshrinement. If you disregard Frank Thomas’ accolades and statistics as a first baseman, Martinez is the best DH among retired players (David Ortiz will go down as the best DH of all-time). While he played in a hitter-dominant era, eight times he posted an OPS+ of at least 150 (OPS+ is similar to OPS, but accounts for small factors that might affect OPS scores, such as park effects). He finished his career tied for 41st in career OPS+. Of the 40 players ranking above him, most are in the HOF, but some are still active or excluded for non-performance related issues.
While Edgar Martinez did not accumulate the gaudy statistics shared by traditional players enshired in the HOF, he enjoyed a career as such a consistent hitter that the Silver Slugger Award is named after him. His place in baseball history and impact on the game is clear. He should not be penalized for excelling in one dimension of the sport. The DH spot is more than just a place in the lineup for guys who need a day off from playing the field; it is a position for dominant offensive players. The Hall of Fame is more than a distinction for players measured by a few statistics; it is a distinction for those with incredibly consistent excellence and influence on the game of baseball. Edgar Martinez belongs in Cooperstown.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com