Heartfelt congrats go out to Andre Dawson on his Hall of Fame election. I think he’s more of a “close but no cigar” candidate, but I don’t think his election is an injustice by any means. Dawson was a very, very good baseball player for a long part if his career. I remember tuning into day games on WGN as a kid just to watch Dawson and Sandberg, and to listen to Harry Caray. I loved Whiteyball, but I envied the Cubs middle of the lineup. We had the “rabbits”, they had the thump.
“The Hawk” is only the seventh center fielder the BBWAA has ever elected into the Hall of Fame. The Veterans Committee has added more, making it 18 major league HoFers who played most of their games catching flies in center. With Dawson’s induction I thought to myself, “where does Jim Edmonds fit in this group?”. His rise was swift, as was his decline, but for a sustained period Edmonds was one fantastic ballplayer. (Side note: Thank you Matt Holliday for changing your number to 7. Retire 15!)
Recognized as a fine player, but people have a tendency of overlooking Edmonds as being truly great player for a number of reasons. He was never really known for being the best player on his team, neither with the Angels or Cardinals. He didn’t win an MVP, set any records or reach any major milestones. He was neck and neck with Andruw Jones for as being recognized as the best center fielder of his era, and he won a slew of Gold Gloves (8) and he will always be remembered for some of his highlight reel catches. But at the end of the day, I’m afraid not enough writers will recognize Edmonds for the truly great player he was. We’re just four years out, so let’s start the stumping now.
Here are all the MLB Hall of Fame center fielders, as found on Baseball-Almanac.com:
|Name||WAR||Year Inducted||Highest% of vote||Yr. of Ballot|
|Ty Cobb||159.3||1936||98%||1st ballot|
|Willie Mays||154.7||1979||95%||1st ballot|
|Tris Speaker||132.8||1937||82%||2nd ballot|
|Mickey Mantle||120.2||1974||88%||1st ballot|
|Joe DiMaggio||83.4||1955||89%||4th ballot|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||79.2|
|Duke Snider||67.2||1980||87%||11th ballot|
|Hugh Duffy||49.6||1945||33%||Old Timers|
|Kirby Puckett||45||2001||82%||1st ballot|
We see several legends on here – Mays, Mantle, Cobb, Speaker and The Yankee Clipper. (Can you believe it took DiMaggio four tries before the BBWAA gave him passage into the Hall of Fame? Four times he had to save his speech for another year! Take heart, Robbie Alomar.) I included a few of Edmonds’ contemporaries, some of which are in their twilight as major leaguers. Edmonds obviously isn’t in any of the legend’s class, but he’s right there with Duke Snider and is well ahead of the newly-minted Dawson. He’s well ahead of anyone the Veteran’s committee elected, except for Hamilton, and is also well ahead of Puckett, who had his career cut short, no thanks to glaucoma.
I was curious to see how Edmonds compares to some of the most illustrious hitting center fielders in the history of the game. I headed over to Baseball-Reference.com to fiddle with their Play Index tool. I looked up those who played at least 80% of their games in CF, and had at least 4,000 plate appearances for their career and sustained an OPS+ of 130 or better.
(For the uninitiated, OPS+ for the most part does a good job of neutralizing context. Because of the deviation between run-scoring environments over the decades, between the different league and between the wide range of past and present ballparks, the offensive value of a .300/.400/.500 hitter playing 1/2 his games in Dodger Stadium in 1968 obviously would not be equal with the offensive value of a hypothetical .300/.400/.500 hitter playing half his games in Coors Field in 1998. OPS+ accounts for this by neutralizing each of these effects and allows us to set side by side the hitter’s performance whom would otherwise be hard to compare. It’s simple – an OPS+ of 130 is 30% better than average. 70 would be 30% below.)
Edmonds fares well with the big heavies.
That’s some Hall of Fame company. Out of this group, only the unrecognized George “Piano Legs” Gore is not in the Hall of Fame, and he played in 1800′s. Now factor in the fact that Edmonds has eight Gold Gloves. Top 8 hitting true CFer + 8 Gold Gloves. That’s as many Gold Gloves as Andre Dawson earned, and Dawson’s career OPS+ is 119. If you think Dawson is a Hall of Famer, I won’t throw stones at you. But if Dawson deserves a plaque in the Hall of Fame, then you should have no question about Edmonds’ worthiness.
Finally, I put together this WAR graph (with the help of Justin Inaz’s template) comparing Edmonds with other Hall of Fame center fielders, and with first ballot Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn for good measure to show that defense matters.
(I know some of you do not like the alphabet soup or just aren’t up on it. To put it as simple as possible, WAR is a metric that even an old school scout should love. It factors not only batting, but fielding and even baserunning and then uses linear weights to come up with how many runs a player was above average in those important categories. It also factors in position, so a left fielder with an equal batting line of a center fielder, or another more difficult position isn’t treated as equally valuable. Then you find out how much Joe Triple-A would hurt you if given the same opportunity. Add it all up, with ten runs equaling one win and that’s WAR in a nutshell. Obviously, there’s a lot more arithmetic involved, but this is the gist. You can read up on it here and here.)
This is each players best to worst season, left to right. The WAR numbers are found at BaseballProjection.com.
Thanks to his good defense, patience and power, Edmonds is right up there with Tony Gwynn. Tony Gwynn, Mr. Lifetime .338 batting average and first ballot Hall of Famer!
I’m sure I’ll get on this subject again, cover it from as many angles as I can between now and when Edmonds is eligible. Hopefully we can start spreading the word early. I’m not nuts enough to believe Edmonds will make it on his first try, but hopefully if people will start arguing his case so we can spare him some of Snider’s or Dawson’s agony.