Baseball BeatSeptember 05, 2004
When 40 = 300
By Rich Lederer

Jim Edmonds became the 103rd member of the 300-HR club on Saturday night when he hit a two-run shot in the second inning off Kazuhisa Ishii to propel the St. Louis Cardinals to a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The win gave the Redbirds a record of 91-44 (.674), a won-loss percentage better than any St. Louis team since the 1942-1944 dynasty that captured three N.L. crowns and two World Series titles.

Edmonds' blast was his 40th of the season--giving the Cardinals their first pair of 40-HR men in franchise history--and his ninth in 10 games. JimmyEd only trails teammate Albert Pujols and Dodger third baseman Adrian Beltre (with 43 each) for the major league lead in home runs.

In less than five full seasons with the Cardinals, Edmonds has now hit 179 dingers. He ranks ninth in the majors during this period and is the only non-corner outfielder or first baseman other than Alex Rodriguez in the top twelve.

Notably, Edmonds is one of only five center fielders in the history of baseball to hit 40 HR in a single season more than once. He joins Ken Griffey Jr. (7 times), Willie Mays (6), Duke Snider (5), and Mickey Mantle (4) in a select group of power-hitting CF.

There have been just ten other center fielders who have hit 40 home runs in a single season. Hack Wilson and Joe DiMaggio each hit 40 once and also had seasons in which they totaled 39 in a 154-game schedule (the equivalent of 40 over 162 games).

The 34-year-old Edmonds ranks ninth all time among CF in career home runs.

CENTER FIELDERS
CAREER HOME RUNS

                                 HR     
1    Willie Mays                 660   
2    Mickey Mantle               536   
3    Ken Griffey Jr.             501   
4    Duke Snider                 407   
5    Dale Murphy                 398   
6    Joe DiMaggio                361   
7    Ellis Burks                 352   
8    Fred Lynn                   306   
9    Jim Edmonds                 300

Only Mays, Mantle, Griffey Jr., Snider, and DiMaggio accumulated at least 300 HR in seasons in which their primary position was CF. (Edmonds hit five four-baggers in 1994 as a corner outfielder for the Angels.) Murphy played a couple of seasons early in his career at 1B and two more at the end of his career in RF. Burks had his biggest HR output ever as a LF with the Colorado Rockies, and he also played three seasons as a RF and three others as a DH. Lynn hit 42 HR in seasons in which he played more games in RF or LF than CF.

According to Bill James' The Favorite Toy, Edmonds has a better than 80% chance of hitting 400 HR and a nearly 20% shot at 500. This method gives Edmonds almost a three-in-four odds of surpassing Snider for fourth place on the career home run list for center fielders. Yes, that's right. Mays, Mantle, Griffey, and. . .Edmonds.

Edmonds is on pace to hit .310 with 48 HR and 125 RBI in 2004. Among CF, only Hack Wilson, Mickey Mantle (twice), and Willie Mays have had individual seasons reaching those levels before.

CENTER FIELDERS
SINGLE SEASON
BA >= .310, HR >= 48, RBI >= 125

                              YEAR     AVG      HR       RBI    
1    Hack Wilson              1930     .356     56       191   
2    Mickey Mantle            1956     .353     52       130   
3    Willie Mays              1955     .319     51       127   
4    Mickey Mantle            1961     .317     54       128

Before arguing that Edmonds has benefited from an era of high-powered offenses, consider that Wilson's campaign occurred during the most hitter-friendly year in baseball history and Mantle's numbers in 1961 were produced in the first year of an expansion that increased the number of teams in the A.L. by 25%.

Loosen the criteria to .300/45/120 in case Edmonds falters a tad down the stretch, and the club also admits Hank Aaron (in 1962 when he played 83 games in CF and 71 in RF), DiMaggio, and Griffey. Welcome aboard!

Edmonds has a .424 OBP, .678 SLG, and a 1.102 OPS through September 4. Believe it or not, his slugging average currently ranks fourth among CF in modern baseball history.

CENTER FIELDERS
SINGLE SEASON
TOP TEN SLUGGING AVERAGE

                              YEAR     SLG    
1    Hack Wilson              1930     .723   
2    Mickey Mantle            1956     .705   
3    Mickey Mantle            1961     .687   
4    Ken Griffey Jr.          1994     .674   
5    Joe DiMaggio             1937     .673   
6    Joe DiMaggio             1939     .671   
7    Willie Mays              1954     .667   
8    Mickey Mantle            1957     .665   
9    Willie Mays              1955     .659
10   Duke Snider              1954     .647

Furthermore, if Edmonds maintains his on-base plus slugging average, his 2004 season would place sixth among CF from 1900-on.

CENTER FIELDERS
SINGLE SEASON
TOP TEN OPS

                              YEAR     OPS    
1    Hack Wilson              1930    1.177   
2    Mickey Mantle            1957    1.177   
3    Mickey Mantle            1956    1.169   
4    Mickey Mantle            1961    1.135   
5    Joe DiMaggio             1939    1.119   
6    Mickey Mantle            1962    1.091   
7    Ty Cobb                  1911    1.088   
8    Joe DiMaggio             1937    1.085   
9    Joe DiMaggio             1941    1.083   
10   Al Simmons               1927    1.081

Last month, Brian Gunn and I co-authored an article on our man Jim Edmonds. The Most Under Over Underrated Player in Baseball was featured on Brian's Redbird Nation. We made a case for Edmonds ranking as one of the two best CF of his era and among the top dozen ever.

The article, which was featured on The Wall Street Journal's Daily Fix website and by Eric Neel on his ESPN Page 2 column, caused many readers to question placing Edmonds in such hallowed company. Importantly, we never claimed that he was in the same class as Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Tris Speaker or even Ken Griffey Jr. or Duke Snider. However, I have yet to be convinced that there is a more deserving candidate than Edmonds as the eighth-best center fielder of all time (notwithstanding Billy Hamilton of 19th century fame or Oscar Charleston of the Negro Leagues).

Heck, if Jimmy Edmonds played center field in New York, they would be writing songs about him. If the sweet-swinging lefty played his entire career in his home state of California, he would be a candidate to become Governor. I ask, what does the guy have to do to get some respect? Why is it that we hold today's players to loftier standards than those before them?

Does anyone out there really believe that Richie Ashburn, Earl Averill, Max Carey, Earle Combs, Larry Doby, Kirby Puckett, Edd Roush, Lloyd Waner, and Hack Wilson--Hall of Famers all--were truly better than the man who is on track to produce his fourth consecutive season with an OPS+ of at least 150?

As we noted in the article, using Wins Above Replacement Value (WARP) and Equivalent Average (EqA) as proxies for counting and rate stats, how many readers realize that there are only six CF who exceed Edmonds rankings in both categories?

Jim Edmonds also ranks among the top ten CF in Runs Created Above Average, one of the best measures of offensive production. In addition, he is a six-time Gold Glove winner who stands a good chance of bagging his seventh this year. In other words, the guy can beat you in about as many ways as I can sing his praises.

The only player standing between Edmonds and the Most Valuable Player Award this year is Barry Bonds, who is a virtual shoo-in to earn his seventh MVP this year. Barring a collapse, Edmonds, Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Beltre are the most likely players to finish in the top five behind Bonds for the N.L. MVP. Too bad Edmonds doesn't play in the A.L. or else he would be the odds-on favorite to win this coveted award.

Whether Edmonds plays in the N.L. or the A.L., he is in an elite league when it comes to center fielders.

Tables created via the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia.

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