Designated HitterDecember 28, 2009
Edgar Martinez and the Hall of Fame
By Michael Weddell

Edgar Martinez is listed for the first time on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. While Martinez is a very long shot for actually earning 75% of the writers’ votes in his first year of eligibility, I believe that Martinez meets the historical standards for Hall of Fame entry and should earn one’s vote.

Evaluating Edgar Martinez’ career presents some fairly unique challenges.

  • Martinez played the majority of his career at DH, eventually finishing third behind Harold Baines and Hal McRae in career games played at DH. How do we evaluate a player who made no defensive contributions for most of his career?

  • If one votes for Edgar Martinez, does that open the door for too many other candidates, such as Fred McGriff who also makes his debut on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot?

  • Martinez had a somewhat short overall career compared to other Hall of Fame caliber players. How does he compare to position players with roughly comparable career length?

  • Even measuring Martinez’ offensive contributions can be a bit tricky because he excelled at getting on-base and hitting doubles during an era better known for home run hitting.

Let’s start with that last challenge, and then we’ll work our way backwards through the remaining challenges.

First a Detour: wOPS+

I love using the OPS+ statistic (called adjusted on-base + slugging percentages) compiled at It does most of the heavy lifting for us since it is adjusted for ballpark effects and the offensive context of the league and year. It’s readily accessible, because one can easily sort and filter based on it. The scale is also easy to grasp: 100 is average, and OPS+ scores above 100 are better than average.

The problem with OPS+ is that using on-base percentage plus slugging percentage just isn’t very accurate to start with. On-base percentage is considerably more important for creating runs. How much more important? Well, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. Tom Tango wrote recently that one can greatly improve OPS+ by weighting the on-base percentage by 1.2 and the slugging percentage by 0.8. We’ll call it weighted OPS+ or wOPS+. To be precise, we’ll define it as:

100 * (1.2 * OBP / lgOBP + 0.8 * SLG / lgSLG -1)

This will give us a statistic adjusted for offensive levels and home ballpark, is an accurate reflection of offensive contributions toward creating runs, and is still fairly easy to compute. We use just four pieces of input data, all of which are readily available in the Special Batting section of player batting data on

We’ve got our shiny new hammer. Now let’s go find some nails.

Edgar’s Moderately Short Career

One objection to Edgar Martinez’ possible Hall of Fame credentials is that his career was a bit short by Hall of Fame standards. Martinez totaled 8,672 plate appearances, which isn’t too short. Let’s look at those with 7,500 – 9,500 plate appearances who played since 1901 and see where Martinez’ career batting quality ranks among those with similar career lengths.

Name wOPS+
Rogers Hornsby 171
Mark McGwire 157
Manny Ramirez 152
Joe DiMaggio 149
Jeff Bagwell 147
Edgar Martinez 147
Harry Heilmann 145
Jim Thome 145
Alex Rodriguez 144
Jason Giambi 142
Chipper Jones 142
Willie Stargell 141
Brian Giles 139
Mike Piazza 139
Larry Walker 137
Duke Snider 137
Arky Vaughn 136
Norm Cash 136
Will Clark 136
Jack Clark 136

These are the best batters in baseball history with career lengths roughly similar to Edgar Martinez’ career length. Obviously, it includes active players, with statistics through 2009, many of whom will retire with longer careers but with somewhat lower wOPS+ as they complete their decline phases.

Where’s the cutoff between the Hall of Famers and the non-Hall of Famers? If we ignore steroid problems, everyone above Brian Giles appears to be a Hall of Famer, although others may read the data differently. Jason Giambi’s Hall of Fame credentials are questionable, but he had a very high peak, with three consecutive top 5 MVP ballot finishes.

Below Brian Giles on that last table, one can still be a clear Hall of Famer by batting well and playing a premium defensive position, such as Piazza and Vaughn did, but we start to enter a gray area. There are many, many Hall of Famers below the top twenty that I listed, but it’s a dicey proposition the further down one goes. Incidentally, new Hall of Famer Jim Rice has a career wOPS+ of 124 on this list, not that he represents the dividing line between whether a guy comfortably fits into the Hall of Fame.

Edgar ranks sixth, surrounded by Hall of Fame caliber players. Here’s our starting point, that Edgar Martinez had a Hall of Fame caliber career based on the quality of his batting.

Edgar versus Crime Dog

Another worthy objection to letting Edgar Martinez into the Hall of Fame is that we end up with far too many modern batters in the Hall. Edgar wasn’t really that special, right? For example, looking just at the newcomers for next year’s 2010 ballot, if one votes for Edgar, doesn’t one first have to vote for Fred McGriff?

Not necessarily.

Comparing career wOPS+ totals shows a clear advantage to Martinez. However, now that we are comparing McGriff, a guy with a much longer career, that may not be a fair comparison. Edgar had an unusual career progression, with his early years spent clobbering minor league pitching and a short decline phase at the end of his career. Let’s instead look at individual years to see, in their best seasons, which player was a better batter. Here are all of their seasons where they had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title (502 in most years, but less for 1994-95 due to shortened seasons):

Name Year wOPS+
Edgar Martinez 1995 184
Edgar Martinez 1997 166
Edgar Martinez 1996 166
Fred McGriff 1989 163
Fred McGriff 1992 161
Edgar Martinez 1992 161
Edgar Martinez 2001 160
Edgar Martinez 1998 157
Edgar Martinez 2000 155
Edgar Martinez 1999 153
Fred McGriff 1988 152
Fred McGriff 1994 151
Fred McGriff 1990 150
Fred McGriff 1991 146
Edgar Martinez 2003 142
Fred McGriff 2001 141
Fred McGriff 1999 140
Edgar Martinez 1991 139
Fred McGriff 1993 139
Edgar Martinez 1990 134
Fred McGriff 2002 122
Edgar Martinez 1994 121
Fred McGriff 1995 118
Fred McGriff 1996 117
Fred McGriff 1998 112
Fred McGriff 2000 110
Fred McGriff 1997 106
Edgar Martinez 2004 95

I don’t know whether Fred McGriff will eventually be in the Hall of Fame or not, but this table rather clearly shows that Edgar was the better hitter, with 8 of the 10 best seasons between the two of them. Martinez shouldn’t have to wait in line behind McGriff on anyone’s Hall of Fame ballot.

Stop Ignoring the 600-Pound Gorilla in the Room!

Probably the biggest objection to voting Edgar Martinez into the Hall of Fame is one that I’ve ignored so far: he spent the bulk of his career as a designated hitter.

How much is a player with no defensive value worth? According to Tom Tango’s positional adjustments, which are used for the Win Value metrics on, a DH is 22.5 runs per season worse than the average non-DH position player. However, Tango added back in another 5 runs for the difficulty of batting as a DH, resulting in a -17.5 runs per season positional adjustment.

What is so difficult about being a DH? It’s a little bit like having to be a permanent pinch hitter, and we all recognize that it is more difficult to perform well as a pinch hitter coming in cold off the bench. As summarized on p. 113 of The Book by Tango, Lichtman and Dolphin:

Players also lose effectiveness when being used as a designated hitter; the DH penalty is about half that of the PH penalty. This does vary significantly from player to player – some players hit as well as a DH as they do otherwise, while others perform as badly as pinch hitters.

So there can be a unique skill at batting well as a DH.

The result is that an average DH is worth about five runs per season less than an average fielding first baseman. Yes, that’s a disadvantage, but it isn’t huge. A DH can be more valuable than a below average first baseman with comparable batting statistics because the difficulty of batting as a DH partially offsets the defensive value of a below average fielding first baseman.

Being a DH is a negative marker for a Hall of Fame candidate, but, viewed rationally, it shouldn’t be an impossible hurdle.

Comparing Edgar to Other DHs

Perhaps the easiest way to evaluate Edgar is to just compare him to other DHs. We have to have some designated hitters in the Hall of Fame, right? Paul Molitor is already there and a plurality of his games played, including most of his best seasons, were when Molitor played primarily as a DH. Frank Thomas played over half of his career as a DH and he’ll be in the Hall eventually. It’s not unreasonable to think that we ought to have a couple of Hall of Fame DHs considering that the American League has had designated hitters since 1973, a span of over 35 years.

So here’s a list of the top 20 seasons for designated hitters, again using our wOPS+ rate statistic:

Name Year wOPS+
Edgar Martinez 1995 184
Frank Thomas 1991 180
David Ortiz 2007 169
Edgar Martinez 1997 166
Edgar Martinez 1996 166
Travis Hafner 2005 164
Milton Bradley 2008 163
Frank Thomas 2000 160
Edgar Martinez 2001 160
Travis Hafner 2004 159
Travis Hafner 2006 159
Edgar Martinez 1998 157
Manny Ramirez 2001 157
David Ortiz 2006 157
Edgar Martinez 2000 155
Rafael Palmeiro 1999 154
David Ortiz 2005 153
Edgar Martinez 1999 153
Hal McRae 1976 153
Jim Thome 2006 152

These are very fine seasons. You may remember that Milton Bradley led the American League in raw OPS in 2008, yet his season ranks only seventh on this list.

I don’t have any trouble eyeballing this list and concluding that Edgar Martinez has had the best career as a DH of any player in history so far. The best DH in history is not Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, nor future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. It’s not Harold Baines, the longevity leader, or David Ortiz, the popular current star at DH. It’s Edgar Martinez.

That’s a Hall of Famer.

Other Considerations

According to the Hall of Fame:

Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

As far as integrity, sportsmanship and character go, let’s point out that Edgar Martinez was once honored with the Roberto Clemente Award for charitable contributions to his community. I also am unaware of any claims that Martinez used performance-enhancing drugs, for those inclined to go there. I don’t see much room for debate: character issues will not hurt Martinez’ candidacy.

While I would be surprised if the BBWAA membership agrees with me, in my opinion, Edgar Martinez is a Hall of Fame caliber player and should be voted in.

Michael Weddell is one of the Research & Analysis columnists for the fantasy baseball website and a contributor to Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster: 2010 Edition. Michael roots for the Tigers with his wife and adult children in metropolitan Detroit.


Yay Edgar. I think he belongs in too. Great worthy stats (as you've shown) and he was always a very feared slugger in his years.

Martinez is a puzzler.

Some of the more comprehensive metrics give mixed signals. Rally WAR has him as the #66 non-pitcher of all time - a definite Hall of Famer. BP's WARP has him on the fence (at 64.3 - probably enough to get him in). But with Win Shares - at 305 career and only one season above 30 - he seems to fall short.

I'd agree that he surpasses McGriff as a candidate. He gets the nod over Dawson too. I'd put him in line behind Raines, Alomar, Larkin, and Trammell though.

Rally's WAR does get Edgar to #66 among non-pitchers, but two caveats. First, that rank does not necessarily make hiom an obvious BBWAA inductee. The BBWAA has in its history elected only 73 non-pitchers, so #66 all-time is not necessarily a slam-dunk choice. Second, Edgar only gets as high as 66 because Rally does add that DH adjustment, giving DHs extra credit because stats show that on average players hit less well at DH than when playing on defense. That's a philosophically controversial adjustment to make. It's certainly not a sabermetrically necessary one, though it is a sabermetrically defensible one. My guess is that without that adjustment, Edgar drops to a WAR that would make him no better than a questionable BBWAA candidate.

For what it's worth, I think Bert Blyleven is the only slam dunk candidate on this year's ballot. The rest depend on how big or small one prefers the Hall of Fame to be. Since you cited Rally's WAR, make sure you see the wonderful graphs at this website, if you haven't already:

I think Edgar Martinez is not an easy case, but I do think he is above the de facto standard currently used to divide HOFers from nonHOFers.

Regarding the DH adjustment, in my opinion that's a matter of looking at the statistics. If it's controversial, the controversy ought to be why was the adjustment reduced arbitrarily? I think the adjustment was computed by Tom Tango and Fangraphs and Rally used Tango's adjustments. The adjustment was reduced because part of the DH penalty might be because those players were not 100% healthy when DHing, but the magnitude of that adjustment was a judgment call and a desire to err on the conservative side, not really an adjustment supported by the data.

-- Michael Weddell (Detroit Michael)

Birtelcom - That's a good point about the DH adjustment for Rally WAR - I agree that the adjustment is philosophically questionable. I think that's one reason why it is nice to have several metrics to take into account.

I'm not sure logically that you should deduct anything from a DH for the fact that he didn't play in the field. It seems to me that that penalizes a player for something they weren't required, and had no opportunities, to do. Do we accordingly deduct the value of AL pitchers because they never hit? Dave said they gave DHs the -17.5 rating because most of them are failed LFs or 1Bs. William Faulkner said that he wrote novels because he was a failed poet, and novels are easier than poetry. Does that make him any less of a writer? Should we penalize him accordingly in LM+ (adjusted literary merit)?

It seems to me that the whole discussion is predicated on the sentimentalist view that sees the DH as an aberration, but it isn't. It's a been a recognized role for nearly 40 years now. It's different from the other positions played by other players and should be treated as such.

Looking at Edgar Martinez and I mean looking; the positives and the negatives, realizing he was not brought up to senior baseball until age 27 and the impact he had on his team and the total person concept, HE SHOULD BE IN. I am impressed that as a DH, just how many times he walked and then figuring the averages of not walking and how they would relate to the stats he had; unbelievable the numbers would have been. I really like the other players but Edgar Martinez, though a DH, is what BASEBALL is about and what the HALL OF FAME is about. Good luck to them all.