David Schoenfield Nails It

Dave · December 29, 2009 at 9:04 am · Filed Under Mariners 

With ballots due in just a few days, it’s probably too late to convince any voters to add Edgar Martinez to the list of guys offered a ticket to Cooperstown, but David Schoenfield penned a tremendous look at why he’s deserving anyway. It’s well written, logical, and hard to argue with.

For me, the key point in the article is the comparison to relief pitchers. The biggest argument against Martinez’s induction is that he spent most of his career as a Designated Hitter, which makes him less than a complete player in the eyes of some voters. There are those who have stated outright that they don’t feel a DH belongs in the hall, because they added no value in the field, and were only contributing value in a portion of the game.

However, those same voters continue to send relief pitchers to Cooperstown. Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, and Bruce Sutter all have plaques because of what they accomplished as specialist bullpen arms, pitching two to three innings at a time (at most), and racking up a counting statistic that requires them to only face three batters. Lee Smith got support from 45% of the voters a year ago. There is little doubt that active relievers such as Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are going to end up in the Hall.

As Schoenfield notes, there is simply no way you can argue for a specialist pitcher and then exclude a specialist hitter. If you won’t put a DH in the Hall of Fame, you can’t put any closers in there either. And that’s not the standard that the Hall has set. Closers are in, so designated hitters have to be as well.

This is going to be the key issue on whether Edgar gets in or not. There’s no denying his contributions as a hitter. At the plate, he’s an inner circle Hall of Famer, one of the best right-handed hitters of all time. Those who would choose to not vote for him will do so on the basis of his status as a hitter-only. We should do as Schoenfield does here, and make them defend their stance in regards to relief pitchers as well. There’s no logical ground to stand on – once they admit that players who are great at a specific role are indeed induction worthy, then Edgar gets in.

Great job, David. We’ll be bringing this article back out of the archives every winter until Edgar gets elected.


75 Responses to “David Schoenfield Nails It”

  1. Toddk on December 30th, 2009 8:41 am

    Although I might also add Russ Davis to that list…since I’m still at a loss after all these years to figure out what exactly he specialized in.


  2. dawsonct on December 30th, 2009 8:46 am

    Good point (12/29, 11:09 A.M.) TumwaterMike, not only do AL pitchers participate in only 50% of the game, as only 20% of the rotation an AL starting pitcher really only is on the field for the start of 10% of any team’s games. Not exactly Ripkenian numbers.

    Until ‘Gar is in, all post 1970 AL pitchers should be excluded. Period.

  3. dawsonct on December 30th, 2009 8:57 am

    Joser, I think using Dennis Eckersley as an example of specialization among pitchers is a bad idea. He may very well have made it into the HOF even if he had remained a SP all his career.

  4. Mike Snow on December 30th, 2009 9:15 am

    Come on – Eckersley purely as a starter was headed for maybe 250 wins, a 3.60 career ERA, and 2,000 strikeouts (with my apologies for resorting to the default statistics that still dominate Hall of Fame voting). And that’s a best-case scenario. Wipe out his run as a closer, and as an integral part of very successful Oakland squads, and there’s nothing left to distinguish him as a candidate. He’d be well back in a line that includes not just Blyleven, but Tommy John, Jack Morris, and assorted other other good but not historically great pitchers.

  5. dawsonct on December 30th, 2009 9:25 am

    Though he appeared in a few hundred MORE games as a DH, I think Frank Thomas is viewed by many as a 1B.
    He can’t hold Edgar’s jockstrap, though. Inside pitches that had Big Frank bailing out of the box, looking indignantly at the ump and the catcher than glaring at the pitcher, Edgar would have turned on and hit it out.
    EG: 1997 Cleveland AS Game, Greg Maddux pitching, the reaction in the dugout afterwards by Sandy Alomar.
    The inside pitches Edgar COULDN’T hit, hit Edgar.

  6. dawsonct on December 30th, 2009 9:34 am

    Agreed, Mike. It would have been close, but my point was more that Eck was a damned good SP before he became a GREAT closer. Not a huge Eck fan (still hold him responsible for every successful close he had against the M’s), but I felt Joser was selling him short as SIMPLY a closer. He had a no-hitter as a SP; hard to do that on luck alone.

    He was the Edgar Martinez of closers.

  7. Evan on December 30th, 2009 10:00 am

    If you want something strictly analogous to the rule-change creating the DH, then why not look at AL pitchers post 1970?

    Since the DH rule, AL pithers don’t hit. Does that not render them equally ineligible?

  8. Mike Snow on December 30th, 2009 10:13 am

    By not batting, AL pitchers don’t detract from their team’s offense. It stands to reason that they should be given extra consideration for the value they manage not to subtract this way. That would balance out the penalty being imposed on the DHs for their failure to add value by playing the field.

  9. GarForever on December 30th, 2009 10:17 am

    1. Joser, thanks and kudos for the link to the case the M’s sent to the BBWAA. Despite my obvious bias, it convinced me even further that Tango is right: a vote to deny Edgar is a demonstration of ignorance.

    2. Schoenfield has done a great job of making those who would vote for closers and Paul Molitor (who was, as he notes, a great player and deserving) defend their logic. Having spent time in a previous life as a sportswriter, though, I fear that trying to persuade those with a (stupid) philosophical bias that they’re wrong is an uphill battle. I even worked on a desk with guys who were pretty rational by the standards of the industry, and at times is was still like the Family Guy scene where a man tries to argue with a mule.

    3. The most persuasive case for such people is probably not to be made (sadly) on things such as WAR and OPS+, which they don’t understand and have no desire to, but rather the case made at the top of page 2 of the M’s presentation, and you can even add to that an additional wrinkle: six guys eligible for the Hall of Fame had a career batting average over .300, OPS over .400, SLG over .500 with 300+ HR, 500+ doubles, and more than 1,200 RBI. Edgar is one. The other five: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Rogers Hornsby, the last of whom is the only other RH hitter in the bunch. These are the kinds of “count stats” the DH-haters can surely get their heads wrapped around at this point.

    4. If being a DH allows one not to be a “complete” player” (which necessarily implies that someone who is somehow deficient could conceivably do it), why is it there are so few consistent good ones? Why, 36 years after the institution of the rule, do we just now have someone good enough playing primarily as a DH as a legitimate HoF candidate? And why do so many active players who could clearly stand to be in the dugout while the rest of their team is in the field refuse to DH? Because it ain’t as easy as it looks.

    PS — Tony LaRussa pisses me off. If he were managing in the AL he would be one of the staunchest defenders of the DH. I’d call him a hypocrite if I didn’t have so much respect for him as the man who invented baseball.

  10. illdonk on December 30th, 2009 12:11 pm

    First, I would love to see Edgar Martinez in the Hall of Fame, and if he does make it (or even if he doesn’t) I would highly recommend that anybody who can attend the ceremony in Cooperstown. I went to four of them, and it’s a wonderful day.

    That being said, this argument seems to have taken a strange turn, going from saying that Edgar shouldn’t be penalized for being primarily a Designated Hitter, to somehow arguing that the DH is a specialized position in line with being a closer, and that being a consistently great DH is somehow a Hall of Fame qualification.

    Since people keep making the comparison, here’s the difference between a closer and a DH: the closer role is specific and obvious, with the ball in his hand at the climax of the game. If he succeeds, the team wins; if he fails, they lose. It’s almost certainly somewhat artificial and overrated, but having watched many Yankees and Mariners games over the past 20 years, I can’t argue it’s imaginary.

    The DH role is defined only by what the player does not do. It is not specialized. The player is specialized; the role is not. The DH bats like any other hitter on the team; the difference is that the player makes no defensive contribution. The Mariners aren’t grooming any AA players to someday take over the DH position, the way they might look to groom a young reliever to be the closer. I love the DH (I grew up watching Phillies pitchers strike out four times a game), but when we say that a player should be a DH, we don’t mean it as a compliment. We mean that he can’t contribute in a significant part of the game the way other hitters can.

    In fact, I don’t understand Schoenfield’s argument. He points out that no player who was primarily a DH has ever been elected, as if this somehow proved anti-DH bias as opposed to the fact that Edgar is the first reasonable candidate to fit this qualification. He then immediately brings up Paul Molitor as if it contradicts the voters’ anti-DH bias, rather than the possibility that there’s no anti-DH bias at all. Frank Thomas will be elected on the first ballot (with an OPS 40 points higher than Edgar, which I suppose allows him to hold Edgar’s jock).

    Edgar was an incredible hitter. As a Mariner fan, I hope his OPS ability will gain him significant support. There are significant negatives, though. He made no defensive contribution for two-thirds of his career. Even with this, his career was short for a Hall of Famer (to counter this argument, Schoenfield compares him to a dozen players who still had longer careers, including several who missed time for WWII), with relatively low career totals. He did not win an MVP award or do well in the voting. He never won a championship or even a pennant; in fact, his might have been the most underachieving team in history, and his terrible ALCS performances have to be considered a big part of this. I think these are reasonable points.

  11. DMZ on December 30th, 2009 12:31 pm

    here’s the difference between a closer and a DH: the closer role is specific and obvious, with the ball in his hand at the climax of the game.

    The climax of the game is not coming in with a three run lead in the ninth. Beyond which, anyone on the pitching staff can come out for those last outs. It’s the pinch-hitter of the pitching staff.

    If we’re going to recognize players for their ability to play roles regardless of their actual contributions to the team, then why not elect lesser pitchers for being really, really good #2 pitchers for long periods of time? It’s just as artificial a created role. Mark McLemore should be elected as the greatest super-sub. Dave Roberts, Hall of Fame pinch-runner.

    I cannot see how you can argue that the closer is “specific and obvious” when the DH occupies a lineup position announced at the start of the game, in a position with limitations specifically outlined in the rulebook. Teams don’t announce that the starter is Joe Schmucko and the 9th inning pitcher will be Bob Closer and face penalties if they don’t pitch Bob.

    And if you think Frank Thomas is a lock on the first ballot after what we’ve seen to other power hitters of the same era, well… I don’t know what to tell you. Thomas and Edgar have similar problems, though much different career selling points.

  12. Pete Livengood on December 30th, 2009 1:08 pm

    illdonk – the argument has NOT turned into one where “the DH is a specialized position in line with being a closer” and nobody is saying that excelling as a DH is the qualification for HoF induction. Rather, the qualification is excellence, without regard to position (except insofar as the way a player played that position contributed to a player’s excellence, which for a DH doesn’t apply, or at least only applies to his offense). And, the argument with respect to closers is that the same voters who have been willing to elect closers, who occupy a more limited role with even less contribution to winning than DHs do, while shunning DHs like Edgar with little to no regard for his excellence, simply because he was a DH and therefore played some limited, less than full, role. That is the only reasons closers have even been brought up in this discussion – glorifying the limited role of the closer with seveal HoF inductions, while arguing that the best DH of all time should not be considered simply because he was a DH (while his numbers, if an exactly-neutral contributing 1B, for instance, would likely get him strong first-ballot consideration) makes exactly ZERO sense.

  13. illdonk on December 30th, 2009 1:56 pm

    W/R/T Frank Thomas, players with 500 HRs, .300 average, two MVPs and no steroid issues are fairly safe bets, though anything can happen, of course.

    the same voters who have been willing to elect closers, who occupy a more limited role with even less contribution to winning than DHs do, while shunning DHs like Edgar with little to no regard for his excellence

    Voters haven’t shunned DHs while electing closers. Edgar is the first majority DH up for consideration. We should probably wait for the actual voting and explanatory arguments before we assume what happens. [long link]

  14. DMZ on December 30th, 2009 3:01 pm

    w/r/t Thomas, though, is a guy who played a terrible, just absolutely what-is-this-leather-thing-on-my-glove-style 1B and then spent most of his career at DH should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, when Edgar’s the subject of controversy over whether his career, which has a good initial defensive batch of seasons, should be discounted for his time at DH.

    Edgar is the first majority DH up for consideration.

    Molitor played 1,174 games at DH. Second-most frequent position was 3B, at 791 games appeared. In terms of fielding:DHing, it’s barely fielding.

  15. Pete Livengood on December 30th, 2009 3:25 pm

    illdonk, I hope you are right that the voters have not made up their minds (as many casual fans have) in a way that is biased against DHs. I agree that Edgar is one of the first tests of this, even though others (Molitor, as Derek points out, though he played enouogh in the field that voters could “hook” onto that in a way that Edgar’s ~600 games played at 3B/1B apparently doesn’t allow; Baines, though he isn’t nearly the player Edgar was; even Rice played a significant part of his career at DH though was never thought of as a DH, much as Frank Thomas will not be even though he really is).

    I do think that there is already strong evidence that Edgar’s role as a DH is a significant hurdle for his candidacy. Larry Stone has written countless articles over the last ten years, surveying voters w/r/t Edgar’s HoF candidacy, and it is always mentioned prmoninently as a reason why a significant portion of voters will not vote for Edgar. Ignoring that, and saying “you can’t criticize voters for doing something they haven’t done yet” doesn’t wash for me.

    Edgar will be lucky to get 25% of the vote on his first ballot attempt, and it is a shame, and IMO indefensible, that he doesn’t get something closer to double that, at least. And the DH rule (and people’s opinions and perceptions of it), rather than anything Edgar did or didn’t do, will be the single biggest reason for that.

  16. illdonk on December 30th, 2009 3:34 pm

    If Frank Thomas had Edgar’s stats, he’d be facing some of the same questions about defense. Thomas was a better hitter (I mean, if you want to talk about OBP…) with two MVPs. And I’d argue that even playing a subpar defense allows for some important flexibility to the team.

    Paul Molitor played more games in the field than as DH. He actually played decent chunks at every position other than catcher.

  17. illdonk on December 30th, 2009 3:39 pm

    Correction: I’ve been wrong in saying that Edgar is the first majority DH to be considered for the Hall. Harold Baines would obviously qualify.

  18. DMZ on December 30th, 2009 3:40 pm

    But that’s the thing. He’s a better hitter and such a wretched fielder it wipes out a lot of the value of his hitting in his 1B years, where Edgar’s hitting stats at 3B were pretty great and he played good defense at a more valuable position.

    Why does the advantage in value go to Thomas automatically?

    I think, of course, that this points out one of the very real problems of the HoF voting, that offensive milestones are these obvious, easy-to-evaluate marks, while defense only seems to enter the conversation if they were amazingly stellar (ie, Ozzie)

  19. illdonk on December 30th, 2009 4:00 pm

    I think it becomes a sort of value discussion: can a subpar defensive player still be said to be contributing value defensively, in comparison to a DH?

    I think he can. It’s somewhat laughable to discuss Manny Ramirez’s defensive value, but his being out in LF did allow David Ortiz to bat every day, a huge factor in two championships. I don’t think we can give Manny credit defensively, exactly, but there was definite value in that flexibility Boston had.

    As for Frank Thomas, he was simply a better hitter than Edgar. 200 more HR. A career OPS 40 points higher, leading the league four times to Edgar’s one. I’m not sure how much value we can wipe out for his defensive failings that would bring him in line with Edgar. If you could only pick one, who would you go with?

  20. DMZ on December 30th, 2009 4:58 pm

    There’s the rub, though: you have two absolutely horrible defenders. Does the one that blunders around in the field that day get credit for being at least not hypothetically as bad as the one that happens to DH, while the one that DH is penalized even more? What if it’s a good defensive player getting the “half-day” off, as when Ichiro infrequently does? Do you dock him that day for being the worst defensive player on the team?

    At some point, no matter what penalty you decide you’re going to apply to being a DH compared to the value of being even awful anywhere else, you have to evaluate candidates using it. What I want from people who say that a DH is worth less than a bad fielder is an answer to “how much?”

    Because at that point we can at least have a discussion. Right now it’s just a hand-waving thing, where Molitor is in but Edgar somehow is not.

    I don’t really care so much if Thomas was a better hitter in raw terms, for the sake of this argument: he played nearly 1,000 games at first over his career and was a butcher. Edgar was (checking) 563 at third (Thomas was 971 at first) and certainly at the start he was good. What do you spot him for that, 10, 20 runs?

    And the 200 more HR thing.. I don’t care. Just rate stats: Edgar’s way ahead on career batting average, they’re 21 and 22 in career OBP, and Thomas is way ahead on slugging. How much do you dock him for playing first over third when he played, though?

    Anyway. I think they’re in very much the same consideration set. Fortunately you’re not limited to voting for one or the other, so I’m not going to have to say anything I don’t want to.

    Fun point to consider, though: if you take one of those two guys out: Thomas wins the OBP title in 1995, or Edgar then wins the OBP title in 1997, depending on which is removed.

  21. Breadbaker on December 30th, 2009 10:52 pm

    I’ve always considered two things about the DH: one, if you have it and you have a player who can’t play the field (or, like in Edgar’s case, wouldn’t be able to maintain himself in the lineup if he had to take the field), then it’s a good thing to have that person at DH. There shouldn’t be a penalty for it because it’s an authorized position in the league. Two, it’s not as easy as it looks. As I recall, Frank Thomas was one of those who didn’t like to be a DH because he thought it diminished his hitting to not play the field, no matter how bad he was in the field. Edgar was a career DH in part because he actually could play the position well and consistently for many years. Not a whole lot of people could do that (and compare that to the closers, who are everywhere). Yes, there are teams who don’t have a fulltime DH because there are often roster reasons for that, but in many cases it’s because no one can play the position. So being able to perform consistently at DH is a skill, and the best ever at that skill should be honored.

  22. Pete Livengood on December 31st, 2009 2:09 pm

    Before I comment on the substance of your post, Breadbaker, I just want to say that I would be careful not to imply that Edgar would not have been able to stay in the line-up had he not been moved to DH. I am fearful that those in the anti-DH/anti-Edgar for HoF crowd would use that to say that, but for “playing only half the game” at DH he never would have been able to accumulate the statistics that he did. Apart from the fact that this argument is the (hypocritical) logical opposite from an argument this same crowd is eager to dismiss (that Edgar should be given some credit for what would have been productive MLB years languishing in AAA hitting .360+ while the immortal Jim Presley was producing three consecutive seasons with OPS+ in the 75-85 range), I just don’t think it is true.

    Although Edgar was famously hurt in both 1993 and 1994, both were the results of flukey injuries (as was the injury in 1996 when he collided with the late John Marzano while trying to catch a pop-up at 3B). The memory of Edgar as chronically injured is mostly due to things that happened very late in his career, in his late 30s and early 40s. Before that, he was mostly healthy. Do you know who holds the Mariners record for most consecutive games played? Yep, it’s Edgar (293, between June of 1994 and July of 1996, when the fluke play caused by Marzano being out of position ended his streak). From the point he became a regular in 1990, Edgar played in 83% of the Mariners games; if you don’t count 1993 and 1994’s fluke-injury-plagued seasons, he played in 88% of all Mariner games between 1990 and 2004, and if you look only at the 7-year stretch most consider Edgar’s peak (1995-2001), he played in over 91% of all of the Mariners’ games (remember, the Mariners only played 112 games in 1994 and 145 in 1995 due to the strike – 67 games smack dab in Edgar’s peak that he missed through no fault of his own).

    Rather than because Edgar was injury-prone, Edgar was moved to DH and kept there, as you say, because (a) the DH is a position that needed to be filled and Edgar filled it exceptionally well, and (b) because the Mariners had a good replacement for Edgar at 3B in Mike Blowers.

    And yes, you are absolutely right about DH being a difficult job, and one that even a great hitter like Frank Thomas could not do to the standard set by Edgar Martinez (more on that later). Thomas hit .275/.394/.505 as a DH in nearly as many games and PA as a DH as Edgar (1310 games and 4678 PA for Thomas, to 1403 games and 6218 PA for Martinez). His OPS+ as a DH was 15% worse than his overall OPS+. In contrast, Edgar was really good at being a DH, hitting .314/.428/.532 career there, with an OPS+ 6% better there than his overall career OPS+. Even though they had a pretty similar number of GP and PA as DHs, Edgar outshone perhaps the greatest right-handed hitter of his generation in that role, by a long-shot: significantly better AVG, OBP, SLG, well over 300 more hits, nearly 120 more 2B, nearly twice as many 3B, ~120 more RBI,~150 more runs, and nearly as many HR (243, to Thomas’ 269) as one of the most feared home run hitters of the era. If being a DH is so easy, why is it that a hitter as accomplished and widely-heralded as Frank Thomas saw such a steep dive in his production when asked to do it?

    I fully agree with your conclusion that Edgar’s ability to perform and perform well in the DH role provided more value and flexibility to the Mariners than the “ability” of guys like Manny and Ortiz to bumble around in the field and therefore allow both to be in the line-up did the Red Sox. That argument ignores the fact that Edgar could have fulfilled the same role Manny/Ortiz did – with a lot more defensive skill, even – had the Mariners been in the same roster position the Red Sox were. BUT THEY WEREN’T, and it makes no sense to hold that against him.

  23. WordPlaze on January 1st, 2010 12:13 pm

    I’m really happy to see the home team bias here – I would love to see Edgar in the Hall. Again, I must respectfully point out the inconsistencies in the remarks.

    This forum often points out that resources should not be spent on a DH, since pretty much anyone who can hit at AAA level can be one.

    Also, I don’t know how much stock you put in “The Baseball Reference”, which uses Bill James’ method of comparing players. Of the ten players rated most similar to Edgar, only Orlando Cepeda is in the Hall, and he is the TENTH most similar player, meaning he barely made the list.

    For Molitor, seven of the most similar players are in the HOF, with one more that might get in (Biggio).

    For Thomas, there are two similar players in the Hall, but with four that have a good shot.

    For Baines, its four, with one more possibility.

    Bill James assigns a zero value to the position of DH.

    At the risk of being flayed alive, I would like to suggest that Edgar is STATISTICALLY borderline, even if the Designated Hitter bias is tossed out. He has eight more hits than John Olerud, and two less than Bert Campaneris, and I don’t hear any clamoring for these two players in the Hall.

    RBI-wise, he is behind Dale Murphy and Paul Oneill and ahead of Bernie Williams and Zack Wheat (I have discounted Ivan Rodriguez, who has three more RBI’s than Edgar, since Rodriguez will probably play until he meets the mandatory retirement age of 68).

  24. Pete Livengood on January 1st, 2010 2:08 pm

    [own post now, thanks man]

  25. DMZ on January 1st, 2010 3:52 pm

    This forum often points out that resources should not be spent on a DH, since pretty much anyone who can hit at AAA level can be one.

    That’s not quite right.

    Our position, if I may speak for myself and Dave, is that you can very easily find a below-average DH every season. And from there, with some modest additional effort, you can find players who will do pretty well, or a way to use the DH to platoon guys, or figure something out along those lines.

    There’s no reason to ever spend on Carl Everett, then, or Jose Vidro, or (no baseball reason) Ken Griffey Jr. And many teams do: DH makes a lot of money relative to other positions. If you’re going to spend on the DH, the return needs to be better (and differently considered) than other positions.

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