Friday, December 20, 2013

The Keltner List: Edgar Martinez

I was lucky enough to move to the Northwest in time to see Edgar Martinez at the end of his career. I immediately realized the greatness of Dave Niehaus and to this day remain a closet Mariner fan, but would I vote for Martinez for the hall of fame?

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball?

Martinez suffers in this first and most difficult question in that he spent 1463 games of his career at DH. Martinez was a third baseman from 1989-1994 and a DH thereafter. He was considered the best DH in the AL in the late 1990s, but not the best player.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

One of the Great Questions of the Universe is this: "How did the Mariners NOT win a World Series between 1995 and 2001?" There are multiple reasons, the best being:

1. They could never find a left fielder. Ken Griffey and Jay Buhner were excellent at their spots. In left it was a revolving door featuring the likes of  Vince Coleman, Glenallen Hill, Rich Amaral, Stan Javier and Rickey Henderson.

I mean, Griffey left and Mike Cameron became Griffey-lite, Ichiro arrives like a tornado that spits line drives and the Mariners have a 116 win season with 8 players starting games in left field. Listen, I love Al Martin and was thrilled when he came up with the Pirates. But in 2001 he was 33 years old with bad legs and hit .240...for a team that won 116 games. 

2. The bullpen.

3. The Yankees and the Indians. 

That team had several great players (and yes, I would include Buhner on that list) and Martinez was a cornerstone. On a team with Griffey, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Ichiro, Martinez was not considered the best player on the team. Following the 1995 season, though, Martinez was its soul. 

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

If the position is the DH, yes on both counts. There were DH's that hit more home runs, had gaudier numbers, but it the position is designated hitter. Outside of Albert Pujols, Edgar Martinez is the best right handed hitter I have ever seen. Even when he was old, it seemed like the line drives Martinez hit had extra. He was not a large man (6'0, 175-185 lbs) but his wrists were incredible. He was patient, and he hit gap shots in the Kingdome that would still be rolling if not for the wall. In 1992, and from 1995-2001, Martinez was the best DH in the AL, making him the best DH in baseball.  

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Before 1995, the Mariners had two winning seasons in franchise history. On August 23rd, the Mariners were 11.5 games out of first with a record of 54-55. The Mariners won 20 of their last 29 games to tie with the Angels and force a playoff. The M's thumped Mark Langston 9-1 to go to the postseason. Martinez hit well in September (.308/.387/.505) and went 2-3 in the playoff. Gar probably kept the Mariners alive that season, as he won his first batting title. 

Then came the classic five game division series against the Yankees; Martinez was a machine and drove in 10 runs in five games. It is fitting that the best hitter for the Mariners (.571, 2 HR, .667 OBP) drive home the tying and winning runs with The Double in the 11th inning of game 5 to win the game for Randy Johnson, who pitched three innings of relief. This is still the most exciting play in Mariner history, and any Mariners fan can hear Dave Niehaus going absolutely beserk (I DON'T BELIEVE IT! IT JUST CONTINUES!).

Martinez hit poorly in the 1995 ALCS. In 1997, Martinez went 3-16 in the ALDS but two of those hits were HR. In the 2001 ALDS, Martinez broke a game 1 tie in the 10th inning of game one with a HR, setting the stage for a Mariners sweep.  In 1997, Martinez posted a 1.037 OPS in September and October as the M's won their division by six games after being tied on August 5th.

5. Was he good enough to contribute past his prime?

Martinez led the AL in RBIs at age 37 (somewhat a function of his team), was elected to his last all star team at age 40 and won a silver slugger award at DH that same year.  Martinez is a great case of a very good player waiting for the rest of his team. All of his 100 RBI seasons come after the age of 30. Of course, Martinez did not become a full time player until he was 27 years old. 

6. Is he the best player in history not in the hall of fame?

No. 

7. Are most players with similar statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Of Martinez top 10 comps, none are in the hall of fame. Many will get votes (Bernie Williams, Scott Rolen) some didn't do very well (Will Clark got 4.4% in 2006, Jon Olerud 0.7% in 2011). It is to be honest, not a very exciting list. Clark should have got more consideration than he did, in my opinion.

8. Do the players number meet hall of fame standards?

Martinez is at a 50 on hall of fame standards, right at the level of the average hall of famer. He is at 132 on the hall monitor, which is very respectable. His monitor score is the same as David Ortiz, who passed Martinez' record for RBIs from a DH in 2011. 

9. Is there evidence to suggest he was much better or worse than his statistics?

Martinez is a player who is hurt by having played in the steroid era. In 2000, Martinez hit a career high 37 HR; 4 of the players ahead of him on the leaderboard are known or suspected users of PEDs. Martinez was a line drive doubles hitter playing in a time that awarded and played to the long ball. Martinez was helped by playing in the Kingdome, and won his two batting titles there, with his OPS in the Kingdome being roughly 10% higher than his career mark. 

Looking at his splits, Martinez was consistent: .906 OPS on Grass, .967 on turf, .313 high leverage situations, .313 in medium and .309 in low leverage, a .900 OPS in every month of his career except April. .311 BA at home, .312 on the road. The man could just flat out hit. That sort of consistency for a period of years was lost in the scramble to new and greater HR totals in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Martinez was also a full time DH for 10 seasons, which in the minds of some voters does not make him a hall of famer. Paul Molitor was a full time DH for 8 seasons, and he is a hall of famer. Molitor played over 700 games at 3B as a league average player in the field. Martinez played 549 games at 3B as a slightly less than league average player, one who got to a lot of balls and made a lot of errors. 

10. Is he the best player eligible who has not been inducted?

I would argue no.

11. How many MVP type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP Award? If not, how often did he come close?

Martinez never won an MVP an finished in the top 10 twice and in the top 20 three other times. He was the silver slugger recipient four times, once at 3B and three times at DH.

In 1995, Martinez finished third behind Mo Vaughn and Albert Belle. Both Belle and Martinez were more deserving than Vaughn. Martinez had more doubles (52-28), won the batting title, led the league in OBP and OPS, scored more runs (121-98) and had more hits in 40 fewer at bats. Oh yeah, he also struck out 63 fewer times than Vaughn. However, Belle hit 50 HR and Vaughn played in Boston.

12. How many all star type seasons did he have? How many All Star teams did he play for? Did most other players selected to that many All Star games get elected to the Hall of Fame?

Martinez made the all star team 7 times, starting at DH four times. In 1999, he was kept off by Rafael Palmeiro but wrecked havoc on the AL in the second half of the season to the tune of a 1.015 OPS. Seven is a respectable number for a hall of fame player, and four starts is the same amount as Craig Biggio, Jim Rice, Dave Parker and Ron Santo

13.If this man was the best player on his team, could his team win the pennant?

The team would contend, I think. I don't think it would win. I REALLY would love to see a 1995 Martinez on one of Whitey Herzog's teams. That would be absolutely outrageous; Coleman on second, McGee on first and here is Martinez, one of the best gap hitters in baseball. I sense a Strat-o-Matic season coming on!

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history?

Martinez is the most beloved man ever to play for the Seattle Mariners; grown men cry when they speak of Papi.  That 1995 Mariner team solidified the place of  major league baseball in the Pacific Northwest. For years before that season, there were people who argued that MLB could not survive in Seattle. The late Dave Niehaus mentions this on the youtube video of his 10 Best Mariner Memories.  He was a key contributor to the team with the most regular season wins in baseball history. 

15. Did the player uphold the standards of the Hall of Fame?

While Alvin Davis is "Mr. Mariner", Martinez was and is a steady contributor to the Seattle community. His charity work earned him the 2004 Roberto Clemente Award. 

I would vote for Martinez. He played clean, was a great citizen and a wonderful hitter.  He may not have the false qualifier of 500 HR, but his career adjusted OPS of 147 is tied with four hall of famers and is in the top 45 marks of all time. A career mark of that level is excellent. His production was done at a time of very high offensive output, but the adjusted OPS mark does not lie. I would think that Martinez, with good eyes, quick wrists and the ability to spray line drives into the gaps could be marked down for a .295 average, 35-45 doubles and 15-20 HR every year in any decade since 1920 (with some time out in the 1960s). Before the DH, Martinez would have been hidden away at first or third and been allowed to hit the crap out of everything for 10-12 years before the pitchers mutinied. 

Martinez suffers from the Seattle management. He spent parts of four seasons in triple AAA, playing 276 games and hitting .344 with an OPS of.944. He struck out 108 times in 950 AB and drew 182 walks. In 1986, Jim Presley had his best year as a Mariner (.265, 27 HR, 107 RBI) and for the next two seasons the Seattle management waited around for him to do it again. He did hit 24 HR in 1987, but that power came with an OBP south of .300 with 157 Ks. In 1988, Presley had an OPS of .635.  In 1989, Presley sank to 12 HR, 21 BB in 390 AB and an OBP of .275. This is the man who kept Martinez off third base for two seasons. To be fair, in 65 games in '89 Martinez was at best average. And in 1989, Martinez was overshadowed by the 19 year old Ken Griffey Jr and Buhner. That is the story of Gar's career; outside of Seattle, he was overshadowed by The Kid, Bone, The Big Unit and Ichiro. He was a great player, for all that. 

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