Why don’t people think the hot corner is that hot?   Leave a comment

In my last baseball post, the spotlight was on Alan Trammell, the only shortstop currently on the BBWAA ballot.  He’s been stuck in Hall of Fame voting limbo for years now, never garnering more than about one-third of the total votes cast.  Unfortunately – and perhaps mercifully – Trammell is going to fall off the ballot soon.

In this baseball post, I’m going to write some words about Edgar Martinez.  Like Trammell, he is capturing about a third of the vote, far short of the necessary 75%.  However, he is relatively new to the BBWAA ballot, as this is just his fifth year on the list of eligible candidates.  He is also the only third baseman on this year’s ballot, though many would argue that he should not be considered as such:  Martinez played in 2,055 MLB games, but only 560 games as an infielder.  The rest of his action was spent at the designated hitter position, a term I didn’t feel the need to use quotation marks for.  The DH has been a part of professional baseball since 1973, when the American League instituted the rule.  Given the choice, a manager will always use a position player at this spot rather than his starting pitcher.  Pitchers pitch, hitters hit… unless they play in the National League.

And boy, did Martinez hit.  Even in an era where high batting averages, gaudy home run figures, and football-like scores were prevalent, Martinez’s numbers stand out.  A lifetime .312/.418/.515 hitter, with an OPS+ (adjusted on-base/slugging percentage) of 147, he hit 309 home runs, drove in 1,261 runs, and walked more times than he struck out.  He played for the Seattle Mariners for his entire career, making seven All-Star teams.  He also earned 66.4 offensive WAR (as per baseball-reference), ranking him 67th all-time (tied with Ron Santo, and ahead of other Hall of Fame mashers such as Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell, and Eddie Murray).

They even named the annual award that goes to the best designated hitter the Edgar Martinez Award upon his retirement.

I wrote about Martinez’s Cooperstown case here, three years ago.  I hope that you take a look at it.  For those of you who don’t read it, I’ll sum it up here:  Edgar Martinez is getting overlooked because voters have refused to vote for what they consider to be a strictly one-dimensional player who didn’t put up overwhelming career numbers.  If he just played third base, or if he just hit another 200 or so home runs, his vote totals would undoubtedly be higher.  However, the two factors conspire against him.

Bill James ranked him as the 31st best third baseman of all-time in 2001, and Martinez played four more years after that period.  Based on his bat alone, I daresay James would cut that rank in half, and put him in the mid-teens; in fact, using the WAR / WAR7 / JAWS rankings at baseball-reference, Martinez is as close to an “average” Hall of Fame third baseman as there is, falling considerably short of a Mike Schmidt or Eddie Mathews, but well ahead of Jimmy Collins and George Kell.  Martinez is also in a group of his peers shown in the chart below, still active or recently retired, and that will be taken into consideration as well.

Third basemen have had the toughest time getting into Cooperstown (there are only 13 of them), and I don’t understand why.  Maybe it’s due to the fact that only a select few players accumulate the innings there; they either move to first base later in their careers (hi, Miguel Cabrera!), or move from another position (hello, Cal Ripken!) there.  Perhaps the skills necessary to play the hot corner – quick feet, strong arm, fast reflexes – are underappreciated, because voters think a third baseman needs to do all of those things and also hit like a prototypical first baseman.  I’m not sure.  I do know this – putting Martinez into the Hall wouldn’t diminish the standards of the institution.  However, this year, and in later years, he will have a difficult journey up an increasingly loaded ballot.

First Last Position Top 100 WAR, Total % WAR,
  Season Season Rank Rank 2001-now WAR post-Abstract
Edgar Martinez 1987 2004 31 n/a 10.4 68.3 15.23%
Chipper Jones 1993 2012 28 n/a 52.7 85.1 61.93%
Adrian Beltre 1998 current n/a n/a 63.1 70.5 89.50%
Scott Rolen 1996 2012 n/a n/a 50 70 71.43%
Miguel Cabrera 2003 current n/a n/a 54.6 54.6 100.00%
David Wright 2004 current n/a n/a 46.6 46.6 100.00%
Troy Glaus 1998 2010 n/a n/a 27.7 38 72.89%
Evan Longoria 2008 current n/a n/a 36.3 36.3 100.00%
Average WAR, 3B = 67.4

Recent retiree Chipper Jones will have a far easier time earning votes into Cooperstown.  In 2001, James ranked Jones just ahead of Martinez, at 28.  However, the longtime Brave played far longer after the book’s publication date, and all of those seasons occurred in the field as well.  Thus, Jones’ statistical totals, both traditional and advanced, exceed Martinez’s quite handily – and indeed, just about every other third baseman who ever played the game, too.  Jones is, by all measures, amongst the ten best, and he will probably be inducted the first year he is eligible.

Scott Rolen is going to be an interesting case.  He and Jones both retired in 2012.  Jones was the superior hitter, but Rolen was the far superior fielder, earning eight Gold Gloves.  Rolen’s hitting credentials are nothing to sneeze at, either:  he was a lifetime .281 hitter, with 316 home runs, 1,287 runs batted in, over 500 doubles, and he reached base over 3,000 times.  He was a seven-time All-Star, but never did well in individual awards voting;  a fourth-place MVP finish in 2004 was his best performance in that vote.  (By comparison, Jones won an NL MVP award, and had five other top-ten finishes.)  Rolen’s strong blend of power and defense put him in elite company, as per the triple-slash third base WAR / WAR7 / JAWS totals; tenth, 14th, and tenth, respectively, in those categories land him amongst peers such as Martinez, Ron Santo, and Paul Molitor.

Adrian Beltre is a guy that, up until recently, I never even considered as a Cooperstown candidate.  However, his baseball-reference scores are higher than Martinez, higher than Rolen… he is easily a top-ten all-time third baseman right now.  He will turn 35 early in 2014, and probably has another two or three very good years left in him.  If he plays at a similar level as, say, his last five years would suggest, he might even catch Jones in terms of career value (a nebulous term, but let’s use it) when he finally hangs up the cleats.  Beltre is building his case late, and the fact that his resume doesn’t include very many individual honors will probably lessen his case in the eyes of some voters.  Despite his excellent fielding – both actual and in reputation – he has only won four Gold Gloves in his 16-year career.  His only three All-Star game appearances have come in the last three years.  He has led the league in home runs once, and in hits once; he has four top-ten MVP finishes, but never won; he doesn’t have a World Series ring.  I think he has a very strong case already, but as with Rolen, I don’t know if the BBWAA voters will agree.

Miguel Cabrera will not go into the Hall of Fame as a third baseman, but make no mistake, he will have a plaque there.  I only included him in this section because he has played more games at third base than anywhere else.  I am also assuming that he has at least five great seasons left; he turns 31 in April.  Therefore, I don’t think it’s necessary to expound on the resume of a Triple Crown-winning, two-time MVP (with six other top-5 finishes!) who most closely resembles (as per the Bill James similarity scores, by age) Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Frank Robinson.

The last three men on the list – David Wright, Troy Glaus, and Evan Longoria – did not make James’ top 100.  It’s a given that they would be in his book today, scattered in the top 40 (Wright highest, Glaus lowest).  Of the three, the 31-year-old Wright has the best shot of being inducted into Cooperstown.  He has only played for one team in his career so far (and voters like that), totalling 222 home runs, 876 RBI, and 183 stolen bases; per 162 games, he averages 26 bombs and 103 runs driven in, with a slash line of .301./.382/.506.  He has also played in seven All-Star games, won a pair of Gold Gloves, and has four NL MVP top-ten finishes, reaching as high as fourth in 2007.  Wright needs continued good health to make the Hall – and a few more individual accolades would not hurt, either.

Longoria just turned 28, and has six MLB seasons under his belt.  A three-time All-Star, with three 30-homer seasons to his credit, Longoria has also won a pair of Gold Gloves, and is generally acknowledged as one of the best third basemen in the game today.  He is still building his resume – let’s get back to him in about a decade.  If he keeps it up, he should be a shoo-in… but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Glaus had an outstanding career.  It was a short one as well.  Glaus retired in 2010, at the age of 34, with 320 career home runs and 950 runs batted in.  A true slugger, he hit 29 or more home runs six different times.  He also made four All-Star teams and won a World Series ring with the Angels in 2002 (and he deserved it, hitting three home runs and driving in eight in the seven-game series).  Glaus will probably make it onto the ballot in a couple of years, but I don’t think he’ll get that far in the voting process.

Not as far as Martinez, at least.  A guy who, for about ten years, was as feared at the plate as they come.  A Hall of Famer?  I think so.

martinez

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Posted December 28, 2013 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

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