Now that that’s out of way…
Randy Johnson‘s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame last week was significant for Seattle sports fans, because it was the first time somebody who played a substantial portion of his career with the Mariners received such an honor (though I did love me some Rickey Henderson in the 2000 ALDS). And it begs the question: Who’s next? But this actually isn’t a very interesting question, because Ken Griffey Jr. is on the ballot next year — maybe he’s not an absolute, bet-your-life-on-it lock, but I think the odds are greatly in favor of him being elected.
So if we assume Junior gets in, then who’s next after him? This is a slightly more interesting question, but I think there is still an obvious favorite: Ichiro Suzuki. My prediction is that he retires next year after reaching the 3,000 hit plateau — a remarkable achievement, by the way, given he was 27-years-old when he played his first major league game — and then is voted into Cooperstown on his first ballot in 2021. I further predict that Ichiro’s 3,000th hit will be in a Mariners uniform, which is a sad prediction, if you think about what it says about the state of the M’s next season.
It’s also a sad prediction because, if accurate, it means Edgar Martinez will not be getting into Cooperstown any time soon. This is what my baseball head tells me, even if my baseball heart disagrees. He just hasn’t come close to the 75% vote threshold needed for induction (his high is just 36.5% in 2012). Is this just? Probably not. But even the staunchest ‘Gar supporters, if they are objective, will concede that he’s a fringe candidate.
The argument in favor of Edgar is pretty simple: He was an awesome hitter — better than 99 of 100 major league ballplayers ever. Among the 3,426 “qualified” players since 1893 (the year the mound was moved to 60′ 6″ from the plate), Edgar is tied for 34th in FanGraphs’ wRC+ stat (a decent catch-all for general era-dependent hitting goodness), with a mark of 147. This puts him almost exactly in the 99th percentile. And the players who have the same wRC+ as Edgar are Honus Wagner, Ralph Kiner, and Mike Schmidt, so … yeah. Hall worthy, if you ask me.
The argument against Edgar is more complex, and it’s generally not a single argument, but multiple arguments. I’ll give the most prominent of these arguments below, with a rebuttal — a rebuttal not so much about why the argument isn’t validate, but rather why it’s not necessarily a big point against Edgar. I’m not contending the arguments wrong; I’m contending that they don’t carry the weight the anti-Edgar crowd (there’s an anti-Edgar crowd — right? — even if it’s just Jack McDowell) thinks they do.
1. Edgar didn’t have the counting stats
For being a great hitter for many years, he didn’t come close to 3,000 hits (2,247) or 500 home runs (309). But he did hit over 500 doubles and walk over 1,200 times. And he put up over 68 total WAR and 56 JAWS almost exactly on par with the average Hall-of-Fame third baseman. So it’s not that he didn’t have good counting stats; it’s that he didn’t have the counting stats traditional voters prefer.
Another thing to consider about Edgar is that, through no fault of his own, he did not get a full-time gig in the majors until 1990 when he was 27-years-old. He logged nearly 3,000 plate appearances in the minors before finally playing a full season in the big leagues — and it’s not like he was struggling, he had a .944 OPS in four seasons with Triple-A Calgary.
No, the problem wasn’t Edgar, it was the Mariners’ upper management. They allowed Edgar to be chalk-blocked by a hacker named Jim Presley. Presley, despite being a below-average ballplayer (he was the type of low-OBP slugger who fooled GMs thirty years ago, but wouldn’t be much more than a bench bat today), was Seattle’s regular third baseman for five-plus years, while Martinez toiled in the minors. Give Martinez another 2,500 big-league plate appearances in his mid-20s, and his career totals would look much gaudier. But how does one account for this? How do we adjust for grievous mishandling by management? What’s Edgar’s xGMM?
2. Edgar disappeared in the ALCS
It is true that Edgar hit a measly .156/.239/.234 in the Mariners’ three ALCS appearances (’95, ’00, ’01) — all losses. The counter to this is that it’s a relatively small sample (71 plate appearances), and in another relatively small sample, the ALDS, Edgar hit equally lopsided, but in the other direction, .375/.481/.781 in 77 plate appearances. When it comes to poor performances in the ALCS, Edgar was a victim of his own success; if he wasn’t so amazing a round earlier, his career ALCS slash line would have been undef./undef./undef., because the Mariners never would have made it that far.
3. Edgar was just a DH
This argument is the one I find most unfair, for the simple reason in the American League that somebody has to play DH. If the Mariners were at their best with Edgar at DH, then why should this be held against him? Contrary to popular belief, Edgar was not a disaster at third base, when he played. In fact, the advanced metrics paint him as better than average — he actually had pretty decent range. It’s possible that Edgar could have played third base (or first base) deeper into his career, but the M’s had better options at the hot corner.
This is also why the position adjustment component of WAR can be tricky (and Edgar’s is very much in the red for his career because he played at DH so frequently). It compares players to a theoretical “replacement player” at a given position. But teams don’t have theoretical players. They have real players and not every situation is the same. It’s possible a player could be penalized individually for helping his team win. For example, suppose Edgar insisted on playing third base in 1995, and let’s say, for the sake of argument, he was not great, but not awful — something like -0.4 dWAR, meaning his defense would cost the team about four runs a season more than the average third baseman. The Mariners, in real life, had Mike Blowers play third base in ’95, and he put up -0.2 dWAR (about two runs a season surrendered more than the average third baseman). So, in our scenario, he was a little better than Edgar would have been, meaning the team benefited from Edgar DHing and Blowers playing third base as opposed to vice-versa. But, since Edgar DHed in 1995, his dWAR (because of positional adjustment) was -1.4. So, individually, Edgar looks worse by a full dWAR by DHing even though his team was better off for it. Does that make sense? I dunno. Like I said it’s tricky.
4. The HOF voters can only list ten players and Edgar isn’t one of the ten best players on the ballot
This is the best anti-Edgar argument. It’s one I mostly agree with. If I had a vote last year, ‘Gar wouldn’t have made my ballot (1. Randy Johnson, 2. Pedro Martinez, 3. John Smoltz, 4. Mike Piazza, 5. Barry Bonds, 6. Roger Clemens, 7. Curt Schilling, 8. Mike Mussina, 9. Alan Trammell, 10. Jeff Bagwell, if you were wondering). But the thing about this is that it’s not Edgar’s fault. It says little about his Hall of Fame worthiness. It’s a result of MLB’s and the Hall of Fame’s failure to account for the PED guys. Guys like Clemens and Bonds and Mark McGwire are clogging up the ballot, siphoning off votes, without a realistic hope of getting in, because more than 25% of the electorate (as presently constituted) will not vote for any of them under any circumstances. In the past, players of this caliber wouldn’t be on the ballot at this point, because they would have been shoo-ins years ago. MLB and the Hall of Fame could address this very easily simply by upping the number of players a voter can select — just going to 15 would do the trick, although I wouldn’t be opposed to removing the cap altogether.
With all this said, if ever there was a time for Edgar to make a Hall push, it’s over the next few years. In 2016 and 2017, the best first ballot guys are Griffey (yes), Jim Edmonds (no), Ivan Rodriguez (yes), and Vlad Guerrero (probably not). After that, when guys like Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Roy Halladay, and Mariano Rivera become eligible, it’s going to get much tougher. So, who knows, maybe Edgar sneaks in. I hope he does. But I think he probably doesn’t.