Edgar Martinez presents one of the most interesting debates about the hall of fame to date. Certainly, he was a hall of fame caliber hitter, regardless of the metrics you use. For his career, he hit .319 with 309 HRs, 514 2B, and 1261 RBI. His career OPS .933 is fantastic. His career wOBA was .405 – over 8600 plate appearances over 18 seasons, he produced at the level of Alex Rodriguez in 2009. This is phenomenal, especially when considering that this includes both his pre-peak and post-attrition numbers. His 544 wRAA translate to nearly 54 wins added with his bat alone, before considering credit for playing time and defense – he did play third base for roughly 4 full seasons and according to Sean Smith’s TotalZone (seen here), he was a plus fielder.
Of course, Martinez is not known for his defense, and any argument against his hall of fame candidacy rests upon the fact that Martinez spent a large majority of his career – 1412 of his 2055 games – at the DH position. In the end, the decision of whether or not to vote for Martinez really comes down to a philosophical view of what the designated hitter position really means to baseball.
The dilemma of differentiating between positions is a difficult one in the first place. It’s obvious that a shortstop is more valuable than a first baseman given equal hitting lines due to the relative difficulty of SS and ease of 1B. Similarly, CF is more valuable than LF/RF, and a SP is more valuable than a middle reliever. One solution is the idea of the positional adjustment, which we employ in our WAR valuation here. It’s one way to quantify the value from playing a position given the scarcity of players that can adequately play it.
When it comes down to the designated hitter, there is no longer an issue of scarcity. Anybody in the major leagues can be slotted into the designated hitter position with no defensive detriment to their team. With players like Martinez and David Ortiz who have little to no defensive value, the question of how to properly value them is interesting. Firstly, they can only play in the American League. Secondly, roster flexibility is lost. Clearly, a designated hitter that can play no other position has a lower value to his team than other players.
Still, that doesn’t allow us to take away from the fact that the rules of the American League allow for Edgar Martinez, David Ortiz, Frank Thomas et al. to devastate pitchers and continually produce runs and wins for their teams. As mentioned above, Martinez produced about 54 wins with the bat alone. With Sean Smith’s position adjustment, Martinez produced 67 wins above replacement (vs. roughly 81 wins without any position adjustment). Most players within 5 wins of that mark are either in the hall of fame or will be once they become eligible.
This is where the baseball philosophy comes in. Unlike players like Tim Raines, whose wins were produced via methods unrecognized by traditional metrics, Edgar Martinez’s hitting accomplishments are hall-of-fame caliber by any metric. I believe that Edgar is a hall of famer because he was such a fantastic hitter that any detriment caused by his position is cancelled out. The question is whether or not the BBWAA will agree.