Since drawing a dismal 25 percent in 2013, Edgar Martinez has surged in Hall of Fame voting and now finds himself on the brink of Cooperstown.
Along with everyone else in the baseball universe, the Mariners find out Wednesday (3 p.m. PT, MLB Network) if Edgar Martinez, their All-Star designated hitter (1987-04) and current batting coach, will make it to the Hall of Fame. Martinez is on the ballot for the ninth time, and all available evidence suggests the vote is close.
Martinez requires a thumb-up from 75 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America membership to earn enshrinement in Cooperstown. Martinez needs a 16.4 percent increase over the 58.6 percent of the vote he received last year.
The good news: According to methodical tracking by Ryan Thibodaux, a 36-year-old stat maven from Oakland who plays with baseball numbers mostly as a hobby (this is his BBHOF Tracker), Martinez is a yes on 79.7 percent of the 198 BWAA ballots made public as of Monday, a 21.1 percent hike over his final score in 2017.
The caveat: Fewer than half the ballots have been counted or made public. Martinez had 161 votes and needs an estimated 318 of the expected 424 that will be cast.
The bad news: Edgar’s 79.7 percent may be misleading. The ballots made public early a year ago showed a largely negative disparity from the actual final results.
Of the eight players in 2017 who drew the highest percentages of the vote without getting elected, seven had significantly (three to eight percentage points) higher marks in early public voting than in final voting, with only relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman getting an uptick, from 72.7 to 74 percent.
Martinez received 65.9 percent in voting made public before the 2017 class was announced. But in the final tally, Martinez fell to 58.6 percent. A similar trend might be afoot now. Friday, Martinez had 80.8. Three days later, he had 79.7.
A similar drop would leave Martinez at 72.4 and place him in a position similar to a waif with his nose pressed against a bakery window, but with no invitation to step inside. If Martinez misses for the ninth year in a row, he would have one more year remaining on the regular BWAA ballot and its 10-year eligibility limit.
Martinez appeared unlikely as a HOF member following the 2014 vote, when he received a dismal 25.2 percent, a decline of 10.7 from his 35.9 total in 2013. After creeping up to 27 in 2015, Martinez soared to 43.4 in 2016, to 58.6 last year and now to the tentative 79.1.
Two factors fueled the surge. Nearly a decade has elapsed since Martinez first appeared on the HOF ballot. In that time, many older voters who held fast to judging candidates with traditional statistics, where Martinez comes up short, have departed.
They have been replaced by younger voters who are not intimidated by advanced stats and sabermetrics, where Martinez does much better (the New York Times reported earlier this year that 22 first-time voters joined the BWAA last year and eight more this year).
The Mariners have utilized advanced stats in a relentless HOF educational campaign on Martinez’s behalf. It has been so effective that Martinez has gone from receiving a quarter of the vote four years ago to the brink of induction without once picking up a bat.
Resistance to Martinez’s inclusion often stemmed from the fact he spent most of his career as a designated hitter, a position that carries a long stigma when it comes to HOF voting (the HOF includes only one full-time DH, 2014 inductee Frank Thomas, whose slash line of .301/.419/.555 is almost identical to Edgar’s). Curiously, if not absurdly, no such stigma is attached to another specialist, the closer.
Speaking of closers, Martinez posted a slash line of .579/.652/1.053 (1.705 OPS) in 23 plate appearances against the greatest of them, Mariano Rivera, who famously said in 2003, “Edgar had more than my number. He had my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He got everything from me.”
Rivera isn’t the only future or current Hall of Famer to endorse Martinez’s candidacy.
“Edgar was the best hitter I’ve ever seen,” said former Rivera teammate Jorge Posada. “He was tough to get out. He was prepared. He gave Rivera a lot of trouble. He gave a lot of us a lot of trouble. He was unbelievable.”
“The toughest guy I faced — with all due respect to all the players in the league — was Edgar Martinez, ” said 2015 Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. “He made me throw at least 13 fastballs above 95 . . . Edgar was a guy that had the ability to foul off pitches, and it pissed me off because I couldn’t get the guy out.”
“I remember when I was coming up, I used to watch a guy like Edgar hit and I was like, ‘This is ridiculous.’ He’s a .312 career hitter, ” said David Ortiz, a likely HOF shoo-in in 2022 when he will appear on the ballot for the first time. “When you’re a career .312 hitter at this level, that means you pretty much got everything down.”
Accolades aside, Martinez failed to produce any of the numbers popularly associated with induction, most especially 500 home runs (Edgar hit 309) or 3,000 hits (Edgar had 2,247). Had his first full year in the majors occurred before his age-28 season (1991), 500 and 3,000 might have been within his reach. On the other hand, 78 non-pitcher Hall of Famers hit fewer than 309 home runs and 46 had fewer than 2,247 hits, so his totals wouldn’t be a statistical eyesore.
Ryan Spaeder, a Sporting News contributor, had a great line in making the point that Ortiz, also a full-time DH, will easily enter Cooperstown when he becomes eligible while Martinez has always been a bubble guy — if that — in the minds of many voters.
“We cannot discount that Ortiz hit 541 home runs,” Spaeder wrote. “Ortiz has the kind of numbers that are hard to ignore, while Martinez has the kind that many, for some reason, refuse to see.”
Attempting to make people see, Spaeder offered this: In order to surpass Martinez’s .418 career on-base percentage, Ortiz (.380) would have come out of retirement and reach base in 665 consecutive plate appearances. As for career WAR, one full season –162 games — by Martinez is worth 234 played by Ortiz.
Also from Spaeder: If Martinez returned to the majors, he would have to go 0-for-660, and not draw a walk or get hit by a pitch, for his career on-base percentage of .418 to dip below Tony Gwynn’s .388. Gwynn entered the Hall of Fame in 2007 with 97.6 percent of the vote, owing mainly to his 3,000-plus hits.
For all nine of Edgar’s years on the ballot, the Mariners have banged home the obvious superlatives about his career: Seven All-Star games (1992, 1995-97, 2000-01, 2003); five Silver Sluggers (1992, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2003); 2004 Roberto Clemente Award; two AL batting titles (1992, 1995); 21st all-time in on-base percentage (.418); 47th all-time in walks (1,283); 53rd in doubles (514); 69th in slugging percentage (.515); 92nd in average (.312).
On top of all that, the Edgar Martinez Award is presented annually to baseball’s top DH.
Impressive stuff, but those numbers won’t move the HOF needle much.
The Mariners offer a key example of what should move the needle: Martinez is one of only 14 players since 1901 to post a slash line of at least .310/.410/.510, ending his career in 2004 at .312/.418/.515.
Of the 13 others, nine are in the Hall of Fame, a 10th (Shoeless Joe Jackson) would be if not for the Black Sox scandal, an 11th (Todd Helton) is not yet eligible, and a 12th (Joey Votto) is active. No. 13 Manny Ramirez served two long drug suspensions, the last in 2011 that forced his retirement and all but disqualified him from HOF consideration.
To put a finer point on that, among players with 6,000 career plate appearances, only six have bested each leg of Martinez’s slash line: Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Votto — in other words, only one player (Votto) since World War II.
Another way to measure Martinez’s HOF worthiness is to compare some of his numbers to those of a few enshrined members:
(BA=batting average; OBP=on-base percentage; SLG=slugging percentage; OPS=(on-base percentage+slugging percentage; RC=runs created; WAR=wins above replacement):
|Stat||Edgar||Hall of Famers|
|BA||.312||Jackie Robinson, .311; Paul Molitor, .306; George Brett, .305|
|OBP||.418||Stan Musial, .417; Wade Boggs, .415; Tony Gwynn, .388|
|SLG||.515||Willie McCovey, .515; Jim Rice, .502; Ernie Banks, .500|
|OPS||.933||Hank Aaron, .928; Frank Robinson, .926; Ken Griffey Jr., .907|
|RC||1631||Rod Carew 1,595; Roberto Alomar, 1,575; Joe DiMaggio, 1,569|
|WAR||68.3||Eddie Murray, 68.3; Andre Dawson, 64.5; Dave Winfield, 63.8|
Consider OPS. As the chart shows, Edgar not only finished with a better career mark than Aaron, Robinson and Griffey, but all entered the Hall of Fame with better than 89 percent of the vote, Griffey collecting 99.3, Aaron 97.8.
Martinez also had a higher career OPS than Mike Schmidt (.908), Boggs (.858), Brett (.857), Gwynn (.847), and Cal Ripken (.788). Their percentages of the HOF vote: 96.5, 91.9, 98.2, 97.6 and 98.5, respectively. Vladimir Guerrero, on the ballot this year and currently polling at 94.6 percent, had a .931 OPS.
Different era, different game, but what the heck: Ty Cobb .928, Edgar .933.
Five players earned election in their ninth time on the ballot: Hank Greenberg (1956), Joe Medwick (1968), Tony Perez (2000), Goose Gossage (2008) and Andre Dawson (2010) . . . Apart from Martinez, three former Mariners are on the ballot, SS Omar Vizquel (1989-93), LHP Jamie Moyer (1996-05) and Kevin Millwood (2012). Vizquel was a three-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner after the Mariners traded him to Cleveland for Felix Fermin. Moyer won 145 games for Seattle. Millwood pitched the first six innings of a combined, six-man no-hitter against the Dodgers June 8, 2012. Vizquel, Moyer and Millwood are all first-timers on the ballot . . . If Martinez is on the ballot in 2019, his first-time competition will include Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
Edgar’s Hall of Fame vote totals, percentages
|Year||Votes||Pct./Vote||Top 3 vote-getters by percent of vote|
|2010||195||36.2||Andre Dawson 77.9, B. Blyleven 74.2, R. Alomar 73.7|
|2011||191||32.9||Roberto Alomar 90.0, B. Blyleven 79.7, B. Larkin 62.1|
|2012||209||36.5||Barry Larkin 86.4, Jack Morris 66.7, Jeff Bagwell 56.0|
|2013||204||35.9||Craig Biggio 68,2, Jack Morris 67.7, Jeff Bagwell 59.6|
|2014||144||25.2||Greg Maddux 97.2, Tom Glavine 91.9, Frank Thomas 83.7|
|2015||148||27.0||Randy Johnson 97.3, P. Martinez 91.1, John Smoltz 82.9|
|2016||191||43.4||Ken Griffey Jr. 99.3, Mike Piazza 83.0, Jeff Bagwell 71.6|
|2017||259||58.6||Jeff Bagwell 86.2, Tim Raines 86.0, Ivan Rodriguez 76.0|