Rich's Weekend Edmonds Beat
Lee Sinins provided the following table in his Around The Majors report yesterday when revealing that Houston Astros outfielder Lance Berkman had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee playing flag football.
Runs Created Above Average (2001-2004)
1 Barry Bonds 597
2 Todd Helton 284
3 Albert Pujols 281
4 Jim Thome 250
5 Manny Ramirez 240
6 Lance Berkman 236
7 Jason Giambi 225
8 Alex Rodriguez 218
9 Jim Edmonds 216
10 Gary Sheffield 210
Other than the fact that Barry Bonds has generated more than twice as many runs created above average as any other player in the major leagues over the past four years (if that's not a testament to how truly dominant he has been, I don't know what is), do you notice anything unusual? Well, what jumps out at me is the fact that Alex Rodriguez and Jim Edmonds are the only two players on this list who are not corner outfielders or first basemen.
While A-Rod has certainly received his due throughout his career, Edmonds is generally viewed as a good player rather than a great player. Edmonds' offensive productivity has essentially been the same as Rodriguez' over the past four years during a period in which the latter has won an MVP and led the league in home runs three times, runs and total bases twice, plus slugging average, extra-base hits, runs batted in, and runs created once each.
I'm not trying to take away anything from A-Rod. He deservedly is considered one of the two best players in all of baseball and the finest in his league. Rodriguez was also on pace to become one of the two best shortstops in the history of the game before shifting to third base last year in an attempt to win his first World Series championship. When A-Rod retires, he will be remembered as an inner circle Hall of Famer--perhaps one of the top 20 players ever.
Why then is Edmonds so overlooked? It's my contention that he unfairly gets grouped among all outfielders rather than just center fielders when discussing and comparing players. Comparing CF to LF and RF is almost like viewing SS in the same light as 1B and 3B. Just as not any infielder can play short, most corner outfielders are incapable of playing center. Saying that Edmonds "plays center" is an understatement. He has won seven Gold Gloves, including five in a row.
Although Edmonds ranks among the best outfielders as detailed in the table above, he has unquestionably been the best center fielder in the game over the past four years.
1 Jim Edmonds 216
2 Carlos Beltran 121
3 Bernie Williams 91
4 Lance Berkman 55
5 Mark Kotsay 51
Edmonds, in fact, has shown a similar superiority over his fellow center fielders as Bonds has over the entire field. Don't get me wrong here. I'm not suggesting that Edmonds compares favorably to Bonds. I'm only making the case that he has outdistanced his peers in CF by almost the same margin as Bonds versus all of baseball. In other words, if you think that there should be no argument about Bonds being the best player over the past four years, then there should be no debate that Edmonds has been the best center fielder during the same period.
What's even more amazing is the fact that Edmonds ranks number one among all CF in RCAA from 1994-2004, 1995-2004, 1996-2004, 1997-2004, 1998-2004, 1999-2004, 2000-2004, 2001-2004, 2002-2004, 2003-2004, and 2004. The only other player in baseball who can make such a claim over his position is Barry Bonds. (Had A-Rod not been moved to 3B, he would have also qualified--assuming that his offensive numbers would have been the same last year as a SS.)
While Carlos Beltran--who may be on the verge of signing a long-term contract for $100 million or more--is now all the rage, Edmonds has actually created more runs above average than his free agent counterpart every year since Carlos broke into the majors in 1998. I recognize that Beltran is seven years younger than Edmonds and arguably a more valuable property, but the truth of the matter is that the Cardinal slugger has been the more valuable player.
Not only has Edmonds outshone his contemporaries, he has now entered the pantheon of the greatest center fielders of all time. No? Let's take a look.
Center Fielders (Position Ranked By Career)
Runs Created Above Average (1900-2004)
1 Ty Cobb 1369
2 Mickey Mantle 1099
3 Tris Speaker 1053
4 Willie Mays 1008
5 Joe DiMaggio 708
6 Ken Griffey Jr. 547
7 Duke Snider 467
8 Earl Averill 391
9 Hack Wilson 367
10 Bernie Williams 361
11 Larry Doby 359
12 Jim Edmonds 353
As I have pointed out in previous articles (one of which was co-authored with Brian Gunn of Redbird Nation), the top five center fielders of all time (in alphabetical order, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Tris Speaker) are indisputable. You can rank them any way you like, but there really is no arguing which center fielders comprise the top five (unless one wanted to expand the universe to include players from the Negro Leagues, such as Oscar Charleston). It has also been my contention that the sixth and seventh best CF (Ken Griffey, Jr. and Duke Snider) have also earned their rightful places in history.
Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly clear to me with each passing season that Edmonds has a legitimate shot at becoming the eighth best CF in the majors since the turn of the 20th century. To wit, Edmonds may well pass Earl Averill in RCAA in 2005--thus becoming #8 on the above list of CF. (For the record, Edmonds already ranks in the top ten--ahead of Hack Wilson and Bernie Williams--when you sort for primary position by season rather than career.)
If Edmonds remains healthy and plays at or near his established level of play for another three years, it is conceivable that he could end up passing the Duke of Flatbush not only in terms of RCAA but possibly in runs, doubles, home runs, and walks. Although the run environments during the peaks of their careers favor Edmonds by approximately 4%, the home park factors give Snider about a 5% edge. As a result, I believe it is reasonable to compare their rate stats:
AVG OBP SLG OPS
Snider .295 .380 .540 .920
Edmonds .294 .384 .544 .928
As shown, they are almost identical. In fairness to Snider, Edmonds has not yet entered the decline phase of his career. At Snider's peak in 1957, his rate stats were .303/.383/.560 (.943). Whether Edmonds can build upon his career averages at the age of 34 remains to be seen, but it wouldn't surprise me if he maintains all but his batting average over the next few years.
My initial point though was not to suggest that Edmonds was the equal of Snider. Rather, it was to show that he has firmly established himself as the best center fielder over the last several years and now deserves to be mentioned among the top dozen all-time with the understanding that he could catapult into the top eight as early as next season.
Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]