On Edgar Martinezby Richard Barbieri
January 19, 2012
In the last round of Hall of Fame voting, Edgar Martinez set a new high in his percentage for the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, for Martinez, that percentage was barely more than a third of eligible voters. While usually such predictions are left to our Nostradamus of the Hall of Fame ballot, Chris Jaffe, it seems a safe bet that, though Martinez will spend the full 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, his chance of being elected is relatively low.
And if it were up to me, that’s just the way it should be. Though Martinez has his adamant supporters—his Baseball-Reference page is sponsored by a fan linking to an article by ESPN’s David Schoenfield in favor of Martinez’ case—I remain largely unimpressed.
Before we get into the reasons I don’t believe Martinez belongs in the Hall of Fame, it is only fair I point out that were he to earn election, he would hardly be the worse choice. The list of players worse than Martinez in the Hall is not a short one and includes names like Lou Brock, Ross Youngs and everyone’s favorite recent inductee Jim Rice.
Having said that, there are three reasons I believe Martinez does not belong in the Hall. These are presented in no particular order, although I’m saving the most subjective—and by extension, probably most debatable—point for last.
(1) He Didn’t Play Enough
This was part of the comment I made explaining why I did not support Edgar in the THT Hall of Fame vote. It was not until Martinez was 27 that he received 500 at-bats in a season. It is almost indisputable that Martinez should have been playing long before that. In 1987, coming off a year when he put up a .329/.434/.473 line at Triple-A Calgary, Martinez earned a September call-up with the Mariners. In just under 50 plate appearances, Martinez hit .372 and slugged .581 for a mediocre (78-84) Seattle team.
|Like Edgar Martinez, David Ortiz does not spend enough time doing this (Icon/SMI)|
Instead of giving their obviously ready young hitter a chance, in 1988 the Mariners stuck with the dreadful Jim Presley who hit .230 and posted a .635 OPS—worse than all but fourteen batting title qualifiers that year. In a related story, the Mariners went 68-93. Meanwhile, Martinez proved he had nothing else to learn at Triple-A, hitting .363 with a .983 OPS, putting the power into the Calgary Cannons.
The Mariners still didn’t learn from this as it was not until 1990—at age 27, as I mentioned before—that Martinez finally earned a full-time job. Unfortunately for Martinez, though he would be a regular when healthy for the rest of his career, health issues (and later interleague play) limited his action. Martinez played until he was 41 but still only had 10 seasons of 550 or more plate appearances.
For his career, he only came up to the plate 8,672 times. Had the Mariners given Martinez a job when he deserved one—likely before the ’87 season—and he had the benefit of better health, that might be enough to push him over the top of Hall of Fame worthiness.
(2) His Best Wasn’t Quite Great Enough
There’s no denying that at his best Martinez was a tremendous hitter. In 1995, he won the American League batting title, while also leading in good measure in runs, doubles, and slugging percentage. Just to prove this was no fluke of the hitter-friendly Kingdome, Martinez led the league in OPS+ by six points over Frank Thomas. Further cementing his legend, Martinez terrorized the Yankees—and by extension, my 11-year old self—in the ALDS putting up a ridiculous .571/.667/1.000 line which included the series-winning double.
Despite this, Martinez simply does not have the numbers to support his induction. As someone whose Hall of Fame has to be defined entirely by offensive production—and despite playing in a strong hitters ballpark for much of his career—Martinez’ ranks in offensive statistics are underwhelming. In the “Black Ink Test,” which rewards a player for leading his league in meaningful statistics, Martinez accumulated fewer points in his entire career than names like Ryan Howard and Don Mattingly. As great as Martinez could be, he was never quite as dominating a hitter as people sometimes remember.
(3) Being a DH is Easy
As mentioned earlier, this one is subjective. Nonetheless, I think it is a major part of why Martinez does not belong in the Hall of Fame. For his career, Martinez played less than 600 games in the field. After suffering an injury—something of a fluke owing to a temporary field at Vancouver’s BC Place stadium—before the 1993 season, Martinez was essentially finished as a defensive player. Martinez’ last season of more than 100 defensive games was in 1992, and by the time the strike was resolved prior to the 1995 season it was clear that Martinez’ days as anything but a DH were essentially over. (And indeed, from 1995 until he retired, he played well under 50 games in the field.)
This means that from 1995 on, Martinez had all the benefits that being a DH has. He could train in the off-season able to focus entirely on hitting, with no concerns for his defense. Martinez never had to come to the plate after spending a day in the field in roasting August heat or freezing April sleet. A DH never has to bat having just endured a rough slide on a double play, nor had the wind knocked out of him diving for a ball in the outfield.
Most statistical measures attempt to account for a DH in some manner, usually centered on penalizing them for their defense—or lack thereof. This is something which obviously needs to be accounted for, but I remain convinced that the standard for a full-time DH needs to be set tremendously high when you consider the multitude of inherent advantages.
As I said at the outset, while Martinez would hardly be the worst choice for the Hall of Fame—I’d still rather see him in than Jack Morris—I would not be giving him my vote, a view it appears I share with the majority of the Hall’s voters.
Questions, comments and thinly veiled threats can be mailed to Richard on the back of a twenty dollar bill or e-mailed to him at RichardBarbieri@yahoo.com