Using the newer statistics that are common around baseball these days, Edgar stacks up with the best who have played the game.
Ken Griffey Jr. was on the field with him. Randy Johnson praised him on the big screen. Cal Ripken Jr. narrated his video tribute.
On the night Edgar Martinez’s No. 11 was retired at Safeco Field, some of the best to ever play the game of baseball took the time to honor their friend. And though it was touching, the truth is this: They should have been honoring their fellow Hall of Famer.
Before Martinez, the Mariners had a strict policy when it came to retiring numbers — you had to have a bust in Cooperstown. It’s the reason that, in addition to Jackie Robinson’s 42, Ken Griffey Jr.’s 24 was the only number hanging in left-center.
L.A. Angels @ Mariners, 1:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
But the Mariners’ reasoning for making an Edgar exception was as simple as it was justified — Martinez should be in the Hall of Fame. And an objective look at his accomplishments says that they’re exactly right.
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The fact that Martinez hasn’t been inducted yet is inching toward the point of absurdity. The archaic criteria certain voters use has kept a worthy man out while less-deserving players sneak in.
This isn’t myopic homerism. This isn’t an argument fueled by the emotion of Saturday night, either. This all comes down to the numbers, and the numbers say Martinez helped you win as much as just about anyone.
The all-encompassing statistic used to measure a player’s value these days is Wins Above Replacement (WAR). You study a player’s hitting, his speed, his defense and, through a fairly objective formula, determine how many extra victories he provides for his team.
Well, Martinez’s lifetime WAR is 68.3, which is tied for 77th all-time among position players. The two players he’s tied with are Eddie Murray, who was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Carlton Fisk, who made it on his second try.
Want to hear some other names? How about Ivan Rodriguez, who, with a WAR of 68.4, became a first-ballot Hall of Famer this year? Or Willie McCovey and Dave Winfield, each of which played longer than Martinez and still have lower WARs? There’s also Harmon Killebrew, a man who slugged 573 home runs in his 22-year career, yet is responsible for more than eight fewer wins than Edgar.
Sabermatricians have made baseball a whole lot smarter over the years. A revamped style of analyzing the game has put money into the pockets of players who might have been previously overlooked.
So if general managers are willing to concede that conventional statistics and traditional scouting are outdated, why can’t Hall of Fame voters?
It’s irrelevant that Martinez didn’t have 3,000 hits or 500 home runs, the milestones that typically solidify one’s enshrinement in Cooperstown. These are arbitrary numbers that, while impressive, often speak to longevity as much as they do dominance.
But a deeper dive into Martinez’s career shows you that, while his traditional statistics don’t pop off the page the way other inductees’ figures might, he’s about as efficient a player as they come.
He is one of just 21 players in major-league history with a career average over .300, an on-base percentage over .400 and a slugging percentage over .500. He is one of just four players since 1945 with an on-base percentage of at least .418 — the other three being Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle and Frank Thomas.
This isn’t a guy hacking away at every pitch in an attempt to stuff the stat sheet. This is a guy playing baseball exactly how a Little League coach would want him to.
Not that the traditional numbers weren’t there, too. Martinez won two batting titles and five Silver Slugger awards. He was a seven-time All-Star who, amazingly, went 10 for 16 lifetime against Mariano Rivera. He led the American League in doubles twice, and his walk-off double that eliminated the Yankees in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS is the most famous hit in Mariners history.
So why isn’t he in the Hall? How come after eight ballots, Martinez managed just 58.6 percent of the vote last January?
Because he was a designated hitter! naysayers will squawk. He got to forgo half of the game!
Another outdated argument. In terms of WAR, a DH is actually penalized for not playing in the field. But despite that penalty, Martinez’s offense was enough to put his WAR at a Hall of Fame level.
Did you know that David Ortiz, the former Red Sox DH who played 20 seasons and racked up 541 home runs, has a career WAR of 55.4? That’s almost 13 fewer wins than Edgar, who played two fewer seasons.
Sorry, but this shouldn’t really be a debate. An intelligent examination of the data says Martinez — who has two years of Hall-ballot eligibility left — should have been in Cooperstown a long time ago. He was among the best in the game at the height of his career, and put up lifetime stats that outshine myriad HOFers.
Toward the end of the video tribute Saturday, Ripken said to Martinez, “We’ll be there when your name echoes through the Hall.”
Cal said it as though it’s a foregone conclusion. Which it should be.
Because if Martinez going to the Hall isn’t an inevitability, then it’s an injustice.