On the ballot for the 8th time this past January, Edgar Martinez, a lifetime member of the Seattle Mariners, had never previously gained more than 43% of the vote and seemed like a long shot to make it into Cooperstown through the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) ballot.
What happened in the 2017 voting represented a massive change as Martinez enjoyed a net gain of 48 votes, spiking his vote share from 43% to just under 59%. Now in his 9th year on the ballot, that momentum has not seemed to abate. Based on Ryan Thibodaux‘s Hall of Fame Tracker, which has his publicly disclosed vote at nearly 78%, Martinez looks like he’s on a likely track to a Cooperstown plaque. Although still a bit of a long shot, it could happen as soon as tomorrow.
Cooperstown Cred: Edgar Martinez
9th year on the ballot (received 58.6% of the vote in 2017)
- .312 BA, 309 home runs, 1,261 RBI
- .418 career on-base% (4th best in last 50 years) (min 5,000 PA)
- 147 career OPS+ (tied for 9th best in last 30 years) (min 5,000 PA)
- 2-time batting champion
- Hit over .300 ten times
- Led league in on-base% three times
- 7-time All-Star
- 68.3 career WAR (Wins Above Replacement)
(Cover Photo: The News Tribune)
A .312 career hitter with a .418 on-base%, Edgar had always been tremendously undervalued: this was a pure, professional, dangerous hitter. His distinctive batting style (in which he held his hands very high), delivered him a career 147 OPS+, which means that he was 47% better than the average hitter. That is identical to the career OPS+ of Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, and Willie Stargell.
Martinez didn’t become a regular player until he was 27 years old (1990). He came up as a 3rd baseman and was a decent fielder at the hot corner but because of a myriad of injuries and the fact that the Mariners had another solid third baseman (Mike Blowers), Edgar became a full-time designated hitter in 1995, just in time for the best season of his career. In that sensational campaign, one in which he played every single team game, Martinez posted career highs in all three “slash” line categories, with a AL-leading .356 batting average, a MLB-leading .479 OBP and a .628 SLG. This translated to a major-league leading 1.107 OPS and 185 OPS+. In the meantime, Edgar led the majors with 52 doubles and the A.L. with 121 runs scored.
Martinez’s finest moment came in the fourth and fifth games of the ’95 Division Series, when he almost single-handedly lifted the Seattle Mariners (in the playoffs for the first time in their history) into the ALCS by defeating the Yankees. Edgar hit a 3-run HR and Grand Slam in Game 4, the latter of which (off closer John Wetteland) broke a 6-6 tie in the 8th inning. Of course, in Game 5, he hit the 11th inning game-winning double down the left field line immortalized by Ken Griffey Jr.’s amazing dash around the bases. As Sports Illustrated‘s Jay Jaffe noted in his book The Cooperstown Casebook, that moment is so iconic that “The Double” has its own Wikipedia page. Go ahead and Google it (“the double baseball”) and see what you get. The Double never gets old: you can watch it here.
Like recent inductees Mike Piazza, Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell, Edgar had a 10-year stretch where, by a variety of measures, he was one of the very best hitters in baseball. During those best ten years (1992 to 2001), only Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Frank Thomas bested his 159 OPS+.
|EDGAR MARTINEZ||1992-2001||Rank||Behind listed players (with min 3,000 PA)|
|Batting Average||.325||4th||Gwynn, Walker, Piazza|
|On-Base %||.435||3rd||Bonds, Thomas|
|OPS+||159||4th||Bonds, McGwire, Thomas|
|WAR||50.5||T-6||Bonds, Bagwell, Griffey, Lofton, Piazza (tied Biggio)|
Taking a shorter view, a seven year span that started during the Mariners’ magical 1995 season, Edgar was arguably the best overall hitter in baseball not named Bonds.
|EDGAR MARTINEZ||1995-2001||Rank||Behind listed players (with min 3,000 PA)|
|Runs Batted In||773||10th||(Sosa -- 1st) (Bonds -- 8th)|
|WAR||40.7||5th||Bonds, A. Rodriguez, Bagwell, Griffey|
Where Martinez falls short on these charts is in the traditional power statistics of home runs and runs batted in. Let’s tackle the RBI issue. Edgar ranked 17th in RBI from 1992-2001 and 10th from 1995-2001. Now, many sabermetricians will argue that RBI is an overrated statistic because it is too dependent on situations; needless to say a 4th place hitter gets more RBI opportunities than a leadoff hitter. But Martinez was a cleanup hitter more often than not and he was on a good offensive team.
When looking at his career splits on Baseball Reference, you can see that Edgar drew 57% of his career walks with men on base even though those only accounted for 48.5% of his career plate appearances.
More notable, Martinez drew 40% of his career bases on balls with runners in scoring position even though those situations only occurred in 29.5% of his plate appearances.
These type of splits are also seen with the incomparable Bonds: during Edgar’s 7-year peak of brilliance (in the table above), Bonds had only 9 more RBI than Edgar. Both men, despite playing on generally good teams with good supporting casts, were both feared by opposing pitchers and also extraordinarily disciplined hitters. Neither would swing at a bad pitch just in the effort to drive in the runners on base. Each would accept the walk if that’s all the pitcher was offering.
Anyway, in all other metrics besides HR & RBI, Edgar Martinez was simply one of the best hitters in baseball for a long period of time. To have posted the 5th best overall WAR for position players for a seven year period is remarkable for a designated hitter since WAR punishes hitters severely for not playing in the field. In the batting component of WAR, only Bonds was better for these seven years.
Anyway, as a potential Hall of Famer, Martinez’ candidacy suffers from two things: the DH factor and the fact that he didn’t become a full time player until the age of 27, which kept his overall numbers a little low. His 309 career home runs and 2,247 career hits are less than you would expect from a Hall of Fame hitter, although the hit total is artificially low because of his 1,283 walks.
Here are a few neat statistical nuggets:
- Despite his late start, his 3,694 career times on base is better than the career total of 96 Hall of Fame position players.
- As a late bloomer, Edgar is in some significant company. There have been 51 players in MLB history who have logged 5,000 or more plate appearances in their age 32 seasons and beyond. Edgar’s 153 OPS+ for those years is third best is the history of the game, behind Bonds and Babe Ruth and just ahead of Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.
- He’s also 4th in RBI (behind Cap Anson, Ruth and Bonds) for age 32+ players.
- He’s one of 15 players (minimum 5,000 PA) with a .310/.410/.510 (BA/OBP/SLG) slash line. The others? 10 Hall of Famers, Manny Ramirez, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Todd Helton (eligible for the Hall in 2019) and still active Joey Votto.
- Thanks to Ryan Spaeder in The Sporting News for this one: Edgar is one of five players in MLB history with at least six straight seasons with a slash line of .320/.420/.550. The others? Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and Ruth. You can see more in Spaeder’s Excellent Piece.
Why Edgar Martinez and not (fill in the blank)…..
We have a super-stacked ballot right now and, on my virtual ballot and the actual ballots revealed by many writers, Edgar makes the cut but outfielders Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker and first baseman Fred McGriff do not. (Walker, as you’ll see in the section below, is getting a big bump this year). So, let’s compare Edgar the DH to these four esteemed outfielders and McGriff.
The six named players are ranked by park-adjusted OPS+. The last column (Rbat) represents the number of approximate “runs above average” each player was; it’s the batting component of WAR.
On this list, Manny is clearly the best hitter. His WAR is only slightly higher than Edgar’s because Manny hurt his value by being a severely below average defensive player. But Manny also has failed two PED tests and is only on his second BBWAA ballot. There’s time for the collective voting body to determine if a two-time drug test loser has a place in Coopesrtown.
Regarding Sheffield, it’s a close call; he had a much, much longer career (which is relevant) but also hurt his value by being a poor defender. He also admitted using PEDs and was named in the Mitchell Report.
Sosa is one of the strangest Hall of Fame cases. His defensive metrics put him almost at the same level of the 7-time Gold Glover Walker. Obviously, Sammy has all of those home runs. He has not been definitively linked to PEDs but there’s something profoundly inauthentic about his three seasons with over 60 home runs. Edgar’s slash line is vastly superior; that’s good enough for me.
McGriff is a tough one for me. Like Martinez, he’s on the ballot for the 9th time but he got only 22% of the vote last year so it’s a lost cause for the Crime Dog via the BBWAA. Edgar’s slash line is significantly better; he was the better hitter. I’d like to see McGriff in the Hall and I think the “Today’s Game” Committee (the modern Veterans Committee) will smile on his candidacy the first time he’s eligible for that process in 2022.
Then there’s Walker, one of the most polarizing candidates on the current ballot. I’ve always held the years Walker spent in Coors Field against him, perhaps unfairly. Martinez also benefited from his home ballpark (the Kingdome) early in his career but spent the last 5 1/2 years of his career calling pitcher-friendly Safeco Field his home. I’ve done a lot of research on Walker and the Coors Field conundrum. Suffice it to say that Walker did receive a huge boost from Coors but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a terrific player. If you’re a Walker supporter, there’s room to check both his and Edgar’s names, even on this crowded ballot.
Could Cooperstown Happen This Year?
The question here is whether Edgar’s offensive numbers, depressed by not becoming a regular until he was 27, are good enough for Cooperstown enshrinement. For years, the answer seemed to be “no.” After debuting on the BBWAA ballot with 36% of all ballots cast in 2010, Edgar’s level of support didn’t grow for years, dipping to as low as 25% in 2014. But in the last couple of years, the tide has changed. He went from 27% in 2015 to 43% in 2016 to 59% in 2017 and, although it’s early, is tracking at just under 78% with approximately 51% of the ultimate votes revealed.
Why the big shift among the voters in the last three years? For me, there are a few reasons. First of all, he’s been endorsed by some of the greatest pitchers of his generation (see the final section below). Second, he’s a favorite in the sabermetric community, which has proven effective in creating a cause around a player (as happened with Tim Raines and previously with Bert Blyleven). Third, the fantastic final season of David Ortiz in 2016 has perhaps softened the anti-designated-hitter position of many voters. In Big Papi’s swan song, Edgar’s name came up constantly as the gold standard among DH’s. Upon Martinez’ retirement, the “Outstanding Designated Hitter Award” for the best DH in the game was re-named the “Edgar Martinez Award.”
“I love David. His career was amazing and Hall of Fame-worthy. (Laughing) In the end, it probably helps me that he will definitely get in.”
— Edgar Martinez (in The Sporting News, Dec. 7, 2017)
Having finished with 59% of the vote in 2017 the thought that Martinez could vault all the way above 75% twelve months later seemed highly improbable. The way it usually works is that the player, after a big spike, gains 10-to-15 points the next year, finishing in the high 60’s or low 70’s. This puts the player in position to pass the required 75% threshold in the following year; once you get 75% of the BBWAA vote, you’re a Hall of Famer.
The last time a player went from under 60% of the vote to over 75% the next year was in 1975, when slugger Ralph Kiner leapfrogged from 58.9% to 75.4%. The difference, though, is that Kiner had been holding steady between 55% and 62% for a five-year period. You have to go all the way back to 300-game winner Early Wynn to see a player go from 27% (which is what Edgar had in 2015) to over 75% in just three more voting seasons (Wynn went from 27.9% in 1969 to 76.0% in 1972). Either way, it’s been a long time since anybody accomplished what Edgar might in 2018.
Anyway, besides the big leap required to go from 59% to 75% of the vote, the other reason that an Edgar plaque in 2018 seems so improbable is that there are four other players who are likely to be inducted this summer. Chipper Jones and Jim Thome are virtual locks to be first-ballot Hall of Famers. In addition, Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero, both of whom finished with over 70% of the vote in 2017, have a long historical precedent on their side that predicts Cooperstown plaques in 2018. So that would make four potential Hall of Famers via the BBWAA ballot for 2018. If Martinez somehow managed to make it, it would be the first class with five members elected by the writers since the inaugural class of 1936 (which saw the induction of some stiffs named Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson).
The Hall of Fame Tracker
Although it’s still less than half of the likely vote and despite the historical winds blowing against him, the early returns on the BBWAA voting point positively for the longtime Mariner. Thanks to the #BBHOFTracker, created by the person I call the most interesting man of the Hall of Fame voting season, Ryan Thibodaux, we can see that so far Edgar’s momentum from 2017 has continued.
If you’re a Hall of Fame junkie, or even a mild Hall-oholic, this is a great site to get real-time updates on the voting. According to a piece in yesterday’s Seattle Times, Edgar’s wife Holli checks the Tracker frequently.
Anyway, here’s how the vote currently stands (showing the top 10):
Let’s say it again, it’s anything but certain, but when you’re at nearly 78% with just over 51% of the ballots revealed, you’re in a good position. Even former New York Times reporter Murray Chass, who infamously submitted a blank ballot in 2017, checked Edgar’s name for 2018, saying in retrospect he “probably should have” voted for him in the past. Chass is the ultimate “small Hall” writer, who believes that the institution for be for the “elite of the elite.” (Incidentally, he also checked Chipper’s, Thome’s, and Guerrero’s names this year).
Now, to throw some cold water on the 2018 Cooperstown dreams for Edgar fans. From the 245 pre-announcement ballots revealed by the Tracker last year, in 2017, Martinez had 65.4% of the vote; when the final tallies were revealed, however, he finished with 58.6%.
For whatever reason, writers who revealed their choices after the Hall’s announcement of the inductees only supported Edgar at a 48% level; writers who never revealed their ballots publicly only offered 50% support.
By comparison, among the first 245 ballots that were revealed in 2017, Hoffman had 72.5% of the vote and finished a little bit higher, at 74.0%, when the actual final totals were revealed. Hoffman received 78% support from writers who revealed their selections after the announcement and 74% from writers who never publicly revealed their ballots.
What’s the reason for this? This is a generalization, of course, but Martinez (with a high WAR, high OPS+ and high on-base%) is a favorite of the analytics community. Generally, members of that community are loud a proud. They want to explain their picks and they want to help influence and shape the Hall of Fame debate. What better way to influence the debate than to release your ballot and make your arguments while hundreds of other writers still haven’t submitted theirs?
Hoffman, as a relief pitcher who thus has a low WAR, is not as popular a pick with the sabermetric crew. His career, however, does resonate with the old-school writer who looks at his 601 career saves and doesn’t need to see anything else. Also Martinez, as a full-time DH, suffers from the bias that many “old school” writers have against players who ply their trade without playing the field.
This is all an over-simplification of course but I would expect the voting trends we saw in 2017 will be repeated in 2018. Therefore, I feel that the odds of Hoffman making it to Cooperstown this year are very high while the odds for Martinez joining him are low. Still, it looks like he’s going to get really close (over 70%) and, if he succeeds in doing that, he’ll likely get his plaque in 2019 with Mariano Rivera (and possibly Roy Halladay).
How will Edgar Martinez Finish in the 2018 Vote?
For Hall-oholics like myself, there are several statistically minded folks on Twitter who periodically share projections of the final Hall of Fame vote based on the current results on the Tracker. These are the most recent projections of a handful of prognosticators as of 8:30p PT on Monday, January 22nd.
- Marklit (@MarkNJLIT) is the most pessimistic, pegging the final total at 69.8%.
- Ross Carey (@Rosscarey) predicts Edgar will finish at 72%.
- Jason Sardell (@sarsdell) has him at 73%.
- Scott Lindholm (@ScottLindholm) has him at 74.3%.
- Nathaniel Rakich (@baseballot) pegs Edgar at 73.9%.
Based on the trends from 2017, I’m inclined to be on the pessimistic side; I’m predicting Martinez will wind up at around 70%.
Monday night, on the Tracker, I counted 65 voters who revealed their votes before the announcement in 2017 and had yet to do so in 2018. Of those, 43 voted for Martinez (66%). That’s good news but probably not good enough. As indicated earlier, it’s the “my ballot is none of your business” voters who will need to switch their votes in large numbers in order to make a Cooperstown plaque in 2018 possible.
Martinez will need about 71% of the currently unreported vote in order to make it to 75%. That means he’ll have to make greater gains (on a percentage basis) than he has already. It’s not likely to happen.
Don’t Take My Word For It
It is a fair point that perhaps Edgar’s career was just a bit too short to merit a spot in Cooperstown. For me, though, his dominant peak and status as one of the hitting savants in baseball is good enough. I’ve laid out my opinion. Here are the opinions of some people who know a little bit more about Edgar Martinez than I do. Look at what two of the recently inducted Hall of Famers (one a foe, one a teammate) plus one future Cooperstown inductee had to say about Mr. Martinez.
“The toughest guy I faced I think — with all due respect to all the players in the league — was Edgar Martinez. He had to make me throw at least 13 fastballs above 95 (each time we faced). I was hard-breathing after that. Edgar was a guy that had the ability to foul off pitches, and it pissed me off because I couldn’t get the guy out.”
Pedro Martinez (on MLB Network Jan 6, 2015)
“Edgar Martinez is, hands down, the best hitter that I’ve ever seen. I’m glad I didn’t have to face him too much. Having seen him play from ’89 to all the way when I left, I got to see him a lot against great pitchers. Like I said, hands down, he is the best pure hitter that I got to see on a nightly basis. And I hope that his time comes soon, that he gets a phone call stating that he’s a Hall of Fame player, because he is.”
Randy Johnson (on MLB Network Jan 6, 2015)
“The toughest – and thank God he retired – Edgar Martinez. Oh my God. I think every pitcher will say that, because this man was tough. Great man, though – respected the game, did what he had to do for his team. That’s what you appreciate about players, when a player come and do what is right for the game of baseball, for his team and teammates.”
Mariano Rivera (to the New York Daily News, in April 2013)
Regarding the Great Mariano, Martinez faced him 23 times in the regular season. He went 11 for 19 (.579 average) with 3 walks and one HBP. Included in those 11 hits were 2 home runs and 3 doubles. Edgar’s OPS against Rivera was 1.705, nearly 400 points higher than the next best hitter (with a minimum of 10 plate appearances).
I’ll go with Rivera’s, Pedro’s and the Big Unit’s endorsements here. Edgar Martinez belongs in the Hall of Fame and what a great day it will be this July if it happens in 2018. More likely it will be in 2019 and Edgar will go into the Hall with Rivera.
Thanks for reading.