The Case for Cooperstown: Edgar Martinez
With the release of the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, Waiver Wire writer Greg Kaplan will explore the candidacy of numerous names on the ballot. Points for and against induction will be presented, and we’re forcing him to make a decision at the end of each post to decide if that player should be placed alongside the immortals that have played baseball throughout history.
Year(s) on ballot – 4th (36.5% of vote last year)
Credentiasl - 18 years in MLB (all with Seattle Mariners), career .312/.418/.515, 309HRs, 1,261RBIs, 514 doubles, 2,247 hits, seven-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger, two-time American League batting champion
The Case For
Edgar Martinez was a fantastic hitter throughout his career. There’s no getting around that. Twice Martinez won the American League batting title (’92 and ’95) and three times he finished with the league’s highest on-base percentage. Eight times in his career, Martinez ended the season with an OPS+ above 150, including a league-best 185 in 1995.
Though Martinez wasn’t your conventional designated hitter in terms of home run totals, he still compiled 309 in his career, including five seasons of 25+, hitting a career best 37 in 2000. However, while the home runs weren’t there, his .515 career slugging percentage was largely maintained by his 514 career doubles. Five times Martinez hit 40+ doubles in his career, including two years of 50+.
To add to the credentials, Martinez had six seasons of 100+ RBIs, including an American League-leading 145 in 2000. He also had five seasons of 100+ runs scored, with an American League-leading 121 in 1995. And, despite not playing a defensive position for the majority of his career, Martinez still put together a career WAR of 64.4.
The Case Against
As great of a hitter Martinez was, that’s all he was. He was exclusively a designated hitter during the peak of his career, and when he played the field, he was very poor. I mean, there’s a reason the Mariners saw more value in using him as a hitter only. This truly is the first case the writers have seen in which they need to determine the inherent worth of a true designated hitter.
The other problem for Martinez comes from the players he had as teammates. Edgar Martinez, to no fault of his own, was never the best player on the Seattle Mariners and on teams that never found extensive success in the post-season. For better or worse, one of the judgements players are put through on the Hall of Fame ballot are both of those factors. Early in his career, Martinez played on Ken Griffey Jr.’s and Randy Johnson’s Mariners, a team that would get to the ’95 ALCS, losing to the Cleveland Indians.
When those players were traded out-of-town, Alex Rodriguez became “the guy”, and again led the Mariners to the top of the division. Almost immediately after A-Rod left Seattle for his uber-contract in Texas, the team’s reigns were handed to Ichiro Suzuki, not Edgar Martinez, and once again the Mariners found success.
Is that necessarily a knock against Martinez? No. Nor is it his fault that, throughout his career, he’s played with four sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Famers (depending on your opinion of Rodriguez and his PED use). However, the knock comes in that the Mariners never got over the hump and won a title while these players were at their peak. There are plenty of third and fourth bananas in the Hall that played on championship teams, but there aren’t many at all that were on very good teams that never captured rings.
I do, however, feel that a good amount of Martinez’s worth comes directly from the other players that were put in the line-up around him. Pitchers would rather face Martinez as opposed to either Griffey or A-Rod 10 times out of 10. When his worth is only offensive, and he was never the best offensive option his Seattle Mariners teams had, it’s hard to consider him a Hall of Famer.
Edgar Martinez was, to date, the best full-time designated hitter the game of baseball has seen. Unfortunately, it’s beginning to feel that Martinez will be used as the benchmark for designated hitters in the future. You will have to be better than Martinez was to make the Hall of Fame, and anything less will fall short.
And it seems as though Martinez is going to fall short as well.