By almost any standard, traditional or sabermetric, Edgar Martinez has numbers that make him a genuine Hall of Famer and could finally get needed votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
To portray Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame chances in baseball terms, he’s down a run in the bottom of the 11th inning with two runners on base, his team on the brink of elimination, and facing a recent Cy Young-winning pitcher.
In other words, he’s in surprisingly good shape. Just ask the ’95 Yankees.
This year’s Hall of Fame ballots, which went out last week, are due by Dec. 31. It’s getting down to crunch time for Martinez, who has just two more cracks at getting the necessary 75 percent of votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) to make it to Cooperstown. If not, Edgar heads to the Veterans Committee, which hasn’t elected a living player since Bill Mazeroski in 2001.
Yes, it’s going to be tense. But I’m here to say that I truly feel in my heart he’s going to make it through the BBWAA – something I didn’t believe two years ago. Since then, the trends and the momentum have swung dramatically in Edgar’s favor. In 2014, not only was he stymied at an alarming 25.2 percent, but the Hall of Fame knocked the years of ballot eligibility down from 15 to 10. It looked dire for Martinez.
Now he’s on the rise, surging to 58.6 percent last year. That’s a better spot than Tim Raines (55 percent) was at with two years left. Raines was elected last year with 86 percent. That’s where I think Edgar is headed, too – maybe not this year, but by 2019.
And now I’m going to do something I haven’t done before: I’m going to implore my fellow BBWAA members to vote for Edgar. It’s time, and I think it’s more clear-cut than ever: Edgar Martinez is a bona fide Hall of Famer.
What’s so encouraging is that so many influential analysts and baseball thinkers agree. It’s fair to say that Raines’ case was greatly aided by the support from the likes of Jonah Keri and Ryan Spaeder, who wrote essays and spewed stats, via the internet, that made an incontrovertible case for him. Bert Blyleven was similarly benefited in his waning days on the ballot by a grass-roots campaign.
Now, happily, Martinez has become the focal point of many analysts who are determined to spread the virtues of Martinez. That includes Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated, who wrote a long piece this week, headlined, “Edgar Martinez is one of the greatest hitters of all-time. It’s time to send him to Cooperstown.” And Spaeder, the stats whiz known as “The Ace of Spaeder” and author of “Incredible Baseball Stats: The Coolest, Strangest Stats and Facts in Baseball history,” who told me in a phone conversation Tuesday, passionately, “To me, it is so evident this guy is a Hall of Famer.”
Please, throw out the designated hitter bias – as Jaffe says, Martinez transcends the limitations of the DH. Jaffe makes the case that even when you factor in the significant penalty that is built into the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat for designated hitters, he more than holds his own with the elite position players of his era – including teammate Ken Griffey Jr. Jaffe writes that Griffey “won an MVP award and four Gold Gloves during that stretch (1995-2001) and led the AL in homers for three years in a row (twice with 56)—and he was more valuable than Martinez by an annual margin of roughly half a run.” (emphasis his).
Spaeder has tweeted out an array of astonishing stats to make Martinez’s case. My favorite is to list a series of Hall of Famers with their career statistics in a number of categories, both traditional and sabermetric – and to show that Martinez equals them all:
Hall of Famers
Johnny Mize – .312 AVG
Stan Musial – .417 OBP
Willie McCovey – .515 SLG
Mike Schmidt – 147 OPS+
Ernie Banks – 67.4 rWAR (Baseball Reference WAR)
Tony Gwynn – 65.0 fWAR (FanGraphs WAR)
Willie Stargell – 145 wRC+ (weighted runs-created plus)
Hank Aaron – .403 wOBA (weighted on-base average)
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Spaeder also goes to great length to prove that Martinez’s credentials are demonstrably stronger than those of David Ortiz, a DH who is considered a Hall of Fame shoo-in. He points out that Ortiz had just one season (2007) in which he equaled each leg of Martinez’s CAREER slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging).
And, Spaeder has written, “Ortiz would have to opt out of retirement, return to baseball … and reach base safely in 664 of 664 plate appearances to pass Edgar in career on-base percentage.”
The more you delve into Martinez’s statistics, the more impressive they become, across the board. He has virtually the same career WAR (68.3) as Tony Gwynn, who no one would ever argue is not a Hall of Famer. Another gem from Spaeder: Martinez would have to return to the majors as a DH and go 0 for 660 and never draw a walk or get hit by a pitch to have a worse career on-base percentage than Gwynn.
“Gwynn is revered, rightly so, as the greatest hitter of his generation,’’ Spaeder said. “I consider Edgar Martinez a better batsman.”
Spaeder believes, as I do, that Martinez will make it in the next two years. But he frets, as I do, that some BBWAA members might stubbornly cling to their notion that DHs don’t belong in the Hall of Fame. Spaeder has a strong response: If you believe that, you can’t ever vote for a reliever or a one-dimensional player.
He uses as examples of the latter Willie Stargell, Derek Jeter and Ted Williams.
“These guys were horrible defensively, and among the greatest bats of all-time,’’ he said. “Edgar was not a bad defensive player; they took him out of the lineup so he wouldn’t get hurt.”
Spaeder is ready to preach it to the world: Martinez is a Hall of Famer by any measure. I’m ready to preach it, too.