Jim Edmonds

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Let me first begin by thanking Erik for giving me the opportunity to contribute to Gas House Graphs. Perhaps surprsingly, I have no vested interest in the Cardinals. I’m just another Red Sox fan living in New England. But I’m also obsessed with the Baseball Hall of Fame. Specifically, I like to give an objective vote of confidence to players who have been wrongly passed over, are struggling to get inducted, or I feel will have trouble getting in.

Today, I want to talk about Jim Edmonds. I figured you guys wouldn’t mind.

In 2009, I first came into contact with Wins Above Replacement (WAR). When Sean Smith later published historical WAR data for all players back to 1871, it was like a switch was flipped—this was what I was waiting for. It is the perfect data set for constructing and debating Hall of Fame cases.

The fun in those early days of sifting through WAR data was two-fold. First, it was wonderful to see “the eyeball test” validated. Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger really were that good on defense. Ozzie Smith deserved his reputation. Dwight Evans really did have a magnificent arm. Roger Clemens really was a monster. Mariano Rivera certainly is the greatest of all relievers.

But the second part of it was finding the surprises. After Bert Blyleven (who, of course, has since been inducted), Rick Reuschel is the most valuable eligible non-Hall of Fame pitcher. Lou Whitaker was criminally underrated (more than we even thought). And Bill Dahlen? Who knew?

One of those surprises for me was Jim Edmonds. Check out how he rates among center fielders in history:

(Note: To me, a “center fielder” is a player who played at center field more than any other position.)

There’s the duo of Cobb and Mays. They are obviously in the conversation of the greatest players ever. Next is the duo of Speaker and Mantle, another pair of greats. Then there’s another duo—DiMaggio and Griffey. I don’t know about you, but these rankings feel right to me so far.

Then there’s a trio that’s very close together. Duke Snider, of course, is quite famous. Then there’s Billy Hamilton. He’s highly regarded, though may be overlooked because he played in the 19th century. And we have Edmonds. Right there. Eighth place. All time. I was surprised.

Edmonds’ WAR figure happens to be 63rd all time. There are 143 position players in the Hall of Fame (counting just MLB players that were inducted as a player). That tells me that not only does he deserve to be in the Hall of Fame upon his retirement, but there really shouldn’t be any question.

As I mentioned, I’m not in Cardinals Country. So, when I mention to friends and relatives that Jim Edmonds should be a Hall of Famer, I am met with disbelief. It goes a little something like:

ME: The numbers say Jim Edmonds should be a Hall of Famer.
THEM: No way. Besides, I don’t buy into that new-fangled defensive stuff.
ME: It has nothing to do with defense. Do you even realize that his career OPS was over .900?
THEM: Over .900?
ME: Yup.
THEM: Hot damn.

It’s true. Edmonds seems to be known for his defense (at least outside of St. Louis). He has the eight Gold Gloves to prove it. But there appears to be this accusation that he positioned himself so that he would have to dive for balls, just to get on SportsCenter. That sounds pretty ridiculous to me. But it causes some people to downplay his defense contribution. Here’s the thing.

It doesn’t matter.

Remember that .900 OPS? Well, that translates to 341 batting runs. What other players are between 330 and 350 Batting Runs? That’d be Dwight Evans, Ken Singleton, Norm Cash, Joe Medwick, Reggie Smith, Rusty Staub, and Keith Hernandez. Interestingly, I see a few players (notably Evans, Smith, and Hernandez) in that group who were underrated offensively and also provided quite a bit of defensive value. That sounds a lot like Edmonds to me. The big difference is that Edmonds did it at a premium position. Edmonds’ Total Zone runs add up to 91 runs—impressive, but just 20.6% of his overall runs above average.

As Andy recently wrote here, I’ve been using a stat called wWAR (Weighted WAR, or Peak-Adjusted WAR) to see what kind of case for the Hall of Fame a player has. I explained wWAR over at Beyond the Box Score, and here’s the gist:

WAR can be rather kind to “compilers”. Hall of Fame voters, of course, look for peak performance in addition to longevity. The idea behind wWAR is to give extra credit to excellent seasons [WAE—Wins Above Excellence, which is single-season WAR over 3.0] and then even more credit for MVP-type seasons [WAM—Wins Above MVP, which is single-season WAR over 6.0]. The formula is ridiculously easy and seems to work well. It is simply:

wWAR = WAR + WAE + WAM

What I expected to see is some modern players be hurt by wWAR, as their careers tended to be longer and their value was more spread out. Did this happen to Edmonds? Let’s see:

(Note: The bars, from left to right, represent Wins Above Replacement, Wins Above Excellence, and Wins Above MVP.)

Cobb and Mays swap spots at the top. Otherwise, the two big differences are Snider leapfrogging Edmonds and Hamilton and Lofton dropping behind Andruw Jones and Jimmy Wynn. Snider had a bit better peak than both Hamilton and Edmonds, but these three players are still ridiculously close together on both lists. It’s essentially a wash. So, while Edmonds appears here as the 9th best center fielder by wWAR, he’s really within spitting distance of #6. Does that sound like a borderline Hall of Famer to you?

Nope. Edmonds is a No-Doubter.

There are 46 Hall of Fame position players with a wWAR better than Edmonds. Forty-six. Out of 143.

The player this second list hurts the most is Lofton. And when I say “hurts the most”, I mean he goes from being the tenth best center fielder of all time to the twelfth. But I’ll bang the Lofton drum at a different time and on another blog.

Richie Asburn. Hugh Duffy. Larry Doby. Max Carey. Earl Averill. Kirby Puckett. Ed Roush. Earle Combs. Hack Wilson. Lloyd Waner.

They’re all in the Hall of Fame. And Jim Edmonds is better than all of them.

Photo of the interior of the Baseball Hall of Fame

Image via Wikipedia

Erik: The Veteran’s Committee has some interesting choices to make this winter with 12 people on their ballot, including former Cardinal great Ted Simmons. The backstop with the caveman hair of amazing-ness never got the credit he deserved, having played his career in the shadow of Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter.  Simmons also played for some forgettable Cardinals teams and suffered a bum wrap for his defense, which I don’t think is as horrible as critics make out.

I’ve covered Simba in more depth in an earlier post. Then I thought he wasn’t quite up to snuff, but I’ve softened my stance. Why? Simmons ranks 9th among catchers on Baseball Reference‘s WAR leader board. The 8 players ahead of him: Bench, Pudge Rodriguez, Fisk, Gary Carter, Yogi, Piazza, Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane, all Hall of Famers or very likely future Hall of Famers. A total of six 6 Hall of Fame catchers are below Simmons. My objection to Simmons making the Hall might be that out of the 21 seasons he played, only 6 of them were seasons he posted 4 WAR or higher. He also never really had an MVP caliber-season, although he was excellent in ’77-’78. ( around 6 WAR per season)

To close, he’s no slam dunk, but because Simmons was a one of the best offensive catchers ever to play the game, I say “aye” for induction, not that it matters. What say you fellas?

Andy: I won’t pretend to be an expert on Hall of Fame credentials and who is deserving of entry, but type, “catcher hall of fame standards,” into Google and the first result is an article about Ted Simmons’ worthiness.  Maybe it’s because I sought out sabermetric analysis, but it seems just as hard to argue against Ted Simmons’ credentials than deny him HOF enshrinement.  Some argue that he spent too much time playing DH/1B to be considered a full-time catcher, but his numbers were slipping when he occupied the DH spot in the latter years of his career.  It’s not as if he was just padding his statistics during those years.  In fact, Simmons actually lost 26.8 batting RAR from 1984-1988.  Offensively, Simmons posted a career wOBA (.346) right in line with Fisk (.354) and Carter (.341).  Although Carter and Fisk’s defense are universally regarded as better than Simmons, I feel uncomfortable denying him entry into the HOF based on defensive metrics that are even more tenuous for catchers than other defenders.  Thinking more like the voters, Simmons’ traditional stats even seem HOF worthy.  Judged against his peers (Berra, Fisk, Carter, and Bench), Simmons tied Berra for the highest AVG (.285) and only trailed Berra in RBI’s.  I see how voters would be on the fence about his induction, but he certainly deserves more consideration than he’s received to date.  If I had to go one way or another, I’d vote yes.

Steve: Like Andy, I’m not a Hall expert, but I do have access to Baseball Reference just like my two colleagues.  As Erik mentioned, Simmons sits behind only Hall of Famers on the career totals for catcher rWAR.  I think this graphic portrays the situation rather well

The graph shows the WAR totals (ranked best season to worst season) of the players 2 above and 2 below Simmons on the career catcher rWAR list.  As mentioned, Dickey and Cochrane are in the HOF, as is Hartnett.  It seems to me that Simmons is in a dead heat with those that are in the Hall (I’d say he’s better than Hartnett, with the other two questionable).  My personal opinion is that none of these guys probably should be in the hall, but that’s an argument for a different day.  Given that 3 of the 5 are though, and have set the standard for inclusion, I have to vote yes on Simmons as well.

I’ve been on a bit of a Browns kick lately. Ever since the word got out that Andre Dawson was going into the Hall of Fame as a Montreal Expo, I’ve thought often of St. Louis’ own relocated team. There are still some angry Expo fans who refuse to let go, and I can’t blame them, but the rest of Brown fans who still care is probably a small collection of old guys who get together once a year to reminisce over Ned Garver and Wally Judnich. And there are dorks like me who obsess over random baseball history.

Anyway, I asked myself the question “who was the greatest Brown?” I know the knee-jerk response is to say “Gorgeous George Sisler, stupid”. He’s the only Brown to get elected by BBWAA, he hit over .400 twice, posted a lifetime .340 batting average and hit over .300 over six seasons in which he had such severe sinusitis that at times he suffered from double vision. While Sisler was a hit machine, he has just a career OPS+ is just 124, tied for 245th career all-time. He gets bashed a bit in the saber crowd for not drawing walks, hitting for power all at the wrong end of the defensive spectrum.

On the flip side, you have Bobby Wallace, one of the finest defensive shortstops of his era. Total Zone has him worth 9.5 runs above average per season (700 PA). While his offensive numbers are less than stellar (career OPS+ of 102), he did post some solid seasons in a less than hitter friendly era.  We’ll take a closer look at both players at some point as I add more players in my revolutionary and sometimes controversial Hall of Excellentitude, but in the meantime I just wanted to throw some numbers out for your consideration before you say with certainty that Sisler was the King of the Browns.

Total WAR WAR/700 5-Yr. Peak WAE “RJAWS”
Sisler 50.4 4 35.5 24.6 48
Wallace 60.4 4.5 25.7 21.4 49.4

If you’ve read this site for long, you’re familiar with these numbers. Here we have total WAR, average WAR/700 plate appearances, or WAR per season, each player’s five-year peak, or five-best consecutive seasons, Wins Above Excellence, which is how many wins a player has above three in a season, though his season total can never be below zero. We’re using this to give credit for great seasons while disregarding any season where a player is merely average or below. It doesn’t add for hinder a player’s case for greatness and doesn’t handicap a player for his decline.

Lastly, I have rJAWS, which is basically Jay Jaffe’s JAWS score – [best seven seasons WARP + career WARP/2]. Only instead of using BPro’s iffy WARP, we’re using Rally’s WAR. Go, go gadget bullet-points -

  • Wallace racked up 10 more WAR than Sisler, but it took him 8 seasons to do so.
  • Wallace had twelve seasons where he was an above average player, Sisler only had seven. That’s a big reason Wallace comes out half a win better on average per season.
  • There’s a ten win gap between each player’s five-year peak. Sisler’s five best seasons were 9.2(!), 8.8 (!), 6, 5.9. 5.6. In other words, during that span Sisler was Albert Pujols-good for two seasons and Kevin Youkilis-good for the other three. Wallace’s best was an 8.1 WAR season, followed by some 4-5ish WAR seasons.
  • Sisler has the slight edge in the Wins Above Excellence Category. His best seasons were out of this world good, while Wallace racked up a lot of “good” seasons (3-5.5 WAR range).
  • When it all shakes out, Wallace wins out (barely) in JAWS.

Finally, here’s a WAR trajectory graph.

So what say you? I think it’s fair to say Sisler was the more talented player, and who knows what would have happened had he stayed healthy. But that’s a lot of “what might’ve been”. Wallace on the other hand gave more total value over his career, and while he had several seasons of excellent play, he had only one truly great season.  It’s all a matter of what you value, “greatness” and peak over steadily good production in determining who was greatest.

I’m not sure there’s a right answer here, but I think it’s clear that there’s a lot more of an argument about who was the greatest Brown than what the crowds would tell you.

[polldaddy poll=2633713]

Quick takeoff on Danup’s post earlier in the week at VEB.  Here’s the stock HOF chart pitting the two against each other.

Seems like Rolen’s bad years were better while Santo’s good years were better.  In the end I’d expect Rolen to overtake Santo on the career totals as he probably can put together a couple more 2-3 WAR seasons.

Cro-Magnon, switch-hitting catcher. Oog.

When you bring up the subject of Ted Simmons’ Hall of Fame worthiness, the consensus among fans I get is a resounding “uh, I’m not sure. I guess he’s worthy.” It’s not like anyone is really incensed that he’s not in. He has some nifty baseball card numbers. Simba has more hits (2,472) and doubles (483) than any catcher in the Hall of Fame, and he’s second to Johnny Bench in RBI (1,389).  He also was an 8-time All-Star, hit over .300 seven different times in his career, and slugged over .500 four times in a row.

Simmons’ OPS+ of 117 is equal to Carlton Fisk’s and slightly higher than Gary Carter’s (115). Because of his hitting accomplishments, Simmons’ Hall of Fame Monitor score is 124. That ranks him 109th overall, slightly ahead of Andre Dawson and even Carlton Fisk. That doesn’t mean he’s the 109th best baseball player that ever lived; it’s just a predictive tool that says Simmons should have been a near lock for the Hall based on the voter’s tendencies. You know the story – Simmons instead got bounced off the ballot in his first year of eligibility, getting just 3.7% of the vote. How lame of the BBWAA for not living up to their own goofy, little predilections. Looking back, Simmons got overlooked for a few reasons, most of which you’ve heard by now -

  • Simmons played in a Golden Age of catchers – Bench, Fisk, Carter and even Munson.
  • Simmons played on some forgettable Cardinal teams.
  • Simmons’ defense rated somewhere between iffy to crummy. He did allow a high amount of passed balls, and his CS% is lower than the average catcher in his time.

Statistically minded fans have taken worthwhile looks at Simmons’ Hall of Fame case in times past, but now we have The Uber-Stat, WAR. You know I am going to go there, but first, let’s look at the defensive part of Simmons’ WAR and see if Simmons was a butcher behind the plate.

Innings Catch Catch/1000
I-Rod 19159.1 155 8.1
Bench 14488.1 97 6.7
Carter 17369 106 6.1
Yogi 7620.2 33 4.3
Freehan 13437 26 1.9
Fisk 18511.2 30 1.6
Simba 15092.1 -10 -0.7
Piazza 13555 -61 -4.5

This is only catchers who have their innings count available on Baseball-Reference.com.  This list includes some surefire Hall of Fame catchers (Piazza, Pudge Rodriguez), and Bill Freehan, who is in the Hall of Merit. As it turns out, at least according to this measure, Simmons’ defense is hardly awful, just a little below average. Simmons had two good years where he was a +6 defender. 1975 was his worst year, in which he posted a minus 10.

“Catch” is defined as:

Catcher ratings based on stolen bases allowed, caught stealing, errors, wild pitches, passed balls, and pick-offs. Catchers are compared to the yearly league average, with the averages splits catching left-handed and right-handed pitchers.

You can read more on Sean Smith’s catching metric here.

Now let’s look at the bigger picture, their various WAR figures:

Name WAR WAR/600 5-Y WAE
Bench 71.2 5 31.9 31.3
Fisk 67.5 4.1 22.8 17.8
Carter 66.2 4.5 31.6 28.2
Berra 61.6 4.5 27.7 19.2
Dickey 54.3 4.6 28.4 14.2
Ewing 51.8 5.4 22.6 13.8
Cochrane 51.2 5 27.3 17.9
Simmons 50.8 3.2 24.3 14.4
Hartnett 50.2 4.2 18.6 8.3
Bresnahan 41.5 4.7 22.3 10.2
Lombardi 39 3.7 17.6 4
Campanella 36.3 4.5 27 13.5
Ferrell 22.9 2 12.1 0
Schalk 22.7 2.2 13.7 0.4
Average 49 4.2 23.3 13.8
Glossary: WAR is career wins above replacement. WAR/600 is WAR per 600 plate appearances, or WAR per season. 5-Y is their five-year peak, which are consecutive. WAE is Wins Above Excellence. It’s how many wins a player has above three in a season, though his season total can never be below zero. We’re using this to give credit for great seasons while disregarding any season where a player is merely average or below. It doesn’t add for hinder a player’s case for greatness and doesn’t handicap a player for his decline.

The Veterans Committee and their favorite pets. Sigh.  Without the two Hall of the Average Catchers, the averages go up to 53.7, 4.6, 25.2 and 16.2.  Quick thoughts:

  • Simmons is slightly below average the Hall of Fame average for career WAR, and the bar will only go up when Piazza (59.1) and I-Rod (66.6) eventually find their way in.
  • Simmons per season average is completely unimpressive, as he played a few too many years past his expiration date. The fact that Simba was the Brewers’ designated non-hitter in 1984, a season in which he hit like Jason LaRue, didn’t help.
  • The “Greatness” stats don’t really set him apart. Sure, he’s better than the Bresnahans of the world, but does that prove Simmons was a Hall of Fame player? It’s iffy.  Simmons was more of your “very good” type of player whose WAR total is a bit enhanced by him having a career that spanned three decades.

Finally, a WAR graph.

No, he didn’t deserve to get bounced off the ballot so quickly. Yes, he’s better than a handful of Hall of Fame catchers, but there’s just not any one aspect that sets Simmons apart. He is by far the far the best catcher ever to don the Birds on the Bat, and by reason that he’s in some solid Hall company is enough for me to enshrine him into the Hall of Excellentitude. But as for the Hall of Fame, I’ll just say that Simmons’ induction wouldn’t really lower the bar for future Hall of Fame catchers, but it wouldn’t really raise it, either.

It will be up the Veteran’s Committee to decide upon in 2011. Godspeed, Simba.

[polldaddy poll=2594890]

Or how Edmonds is more Duke than Dewey.

Last time we looked at some of Jim Edmonds’ context-neutral career numbers in arguing his case for the Hall.  But let’s face it – just looking at career numbers alone doesn’t always make the point. Most of the time, for a player be recognized as Hall of Fame worthy, that player will have needed to prove greatness for a sustained period, not pad their WAR totals with a long career of solid but unspectacular seasons.

One of the commenters from the last post mentioned Dwight Evans as a possible comparison to Edmonds. Dewey Evans had a terrific career and I don’t want to downplay it, but he never really separated himself as a Hall of Fame caliber player in the minds of the voters; thus he lasted only through three ballots before falling off.  I would say Duke Snider is a better comparison for Edmonds, and I think the numbers bear this out.

I don’t think anyone will argue that Duke Snider doesn’t deserve being in the Hall of Fame. When Bill James published his New Historical Abstract in 2001, he ranked Snider as the 6th best CF of all time, followed by Griffey Jr. and Puckett. Bill may consider moving Junior ahead of Snider now, but suffice to say that Snider is rightly regarded as one of the best center fielders of all time.

Charted below is Edmonds, some of his contemporaries (Andruw Jones and Bernie Williams), some Hall of Famers, Dale Murphy and Dwight Evans. We’re looking at career best WAR, their 5-year peaks and Wins Above Excellence, a stat Sean Smith recently concocted. It’s straightforward: It’s how many wins a player has above three in a season, though his season total can never be below zero. We’re using this to give credit for great seasons while disregarding any season where a player is merely average or below. It doesn’t add for hinder a player’s case for greatness and doesn’t handicap a player for his decline.

Name Career High 5-Year Peak Wins Above Excellence Career WAR
Jim Edmonds 8.4 36.5 31.4 66.6
Duke Snider 9.5 38.6 31 67.2
Andruw Jones 7.9 33 28.5 58.4
Dale Murphy 7.5 26.6 20.7 44.4
Andre Dawson 7.3 30.6 18.3 56.8
B. Williams 6.1 26.8 16.6 47.1
Dwight Evans 6.8 22.2 16.2 61.7
Kirby Puckett 7.2 23.2 13.8 45

We see that as it turns out, Edmonds was the most dominant center fielder of his era, although Andruw Jones is right there. We see that Edmonds outclasses Kirby Puckett by a long shot, both in his five-year peak and the Wins Above Excellence group. Dawson had a strong five-year peak and still falls short of Edmonds’ peak, and he doesn’t come close in WAE, Excellentitude, or whatever you want to call it. Dewey Evans had a lot of good seasons, but nothing that matches the quality of excellence of Edmonds.

Jim Edmonds comes out slightly ahead of Duke Snider to take the lead in the “Wins Above Excellence” category, although Snider’s five-year peak was better, but not by a long shot, just two WAR. Let’s take a closer look at the 5-year peaks of Snider, newbie HoFer Dawson, and Edmonds.

Duke Snider

Year Age Tm Lg PA RC RC/G BA lgBA OBP lgOBP SLG lgSLG OPS lgOPS OPS+ OWn%
1953 26 BRO NL 680 154 9.8 .336 .278 .419 .349 .627 .433 1.046 .782 165 .786
1954 27 BRO NL 679 158 10.3 .341 .279 .423 .351 .647 .431 1.071 .782 171 .803
1955 28 BRO NL 653 145 9.7 .309 .270 .418 .342 .628 .428 1.046 .769 169 .793
1956 29 BRO NL 652 128 8.3 .292 .274 .399 .342 .598 .433 .997 .775 155 .756
1957 30 BRO NL 592 106 7.3 .274 .279 .368 .344 .587 .432 .955 .775 143 .695
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/9/2010.

Jim Edmonds

Year Age Tm Lg PA RC RC/G BA lgBA OBP lgOBP SLG lgSLG OPS lgOPS OPS+ OWn%
2000 30 STL NL 643 137 9.5 .295 .276 .411 .353 .583 .450 .994 .804 146 .741
2001 31 STL NL 608 121 8.7 .304 .268 .410 .340 .564 .440 .974 .780 149 .732
2002 32 STL NL 576 117 9.1 .311 .264 .420 .337 .561 .419 .981 .756 158 .762
2003 33 STL NL 531 106 8.3 .275 .265 .385 .336 .617 .425 1.002 .762 160 .723
2004 34 STL NL 612 144 10.6 .301 .270 .418 .341 .643 .437 1.061 .778 170 .798
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/9/2010.

Andre Dawson

Year Age Tm Lg PA RC RC/G BA lgBA OBP lgOBP SLG lgSLG OPS lgOPS OPS+ OWn%
1979 24 MON NL 684 91 5.0 .275 .268 .309 .333 .468 .397 .777 .730 111 .553
1980 25 MON NL 638 105 6.6 .308 .267 .358 .329 .492 .387 .850 .716 136 .694
1981 26 MON NL 441 83 7.8 .302 .264 .365 .329 .553 .378 .918 .707 157 .761
1982 27 MON NL 660 106 6.3 .301 .268 .343 .331 .498 .389 .841 .721 132 .676
1983 28 MON NL 698 113 6.2 .299 .262 .338 .330 .539 .388 .877 .719 141 .670
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/9/2010.

(OWn% is Offensive Winning Percentage, a Bill James creation. Offensive Winning Percentage equals the percentage of games a team would win with nine of that player in its lineup, given average pitching and defense. A .750 OWP will usually put you in the top five in your league in any given year.)

Edmonds won a Gold Glove each of the five years of his peak, Dawson won four of five.  The first Gold Gloves were given out in 1957, but according to Total Zone, Snider was worth 32 runs above average during that span, a very good number. Edmonds was good for 29 runs above average in his peak, Dawson had 36. (In 2005 Edmonds was +15, just throwing that out there.)

While Edmonds didn’t have Snider’s five-year peak, he’s pretty close, and you can argue that he displayed equal greatness on the ball diamond in his glory days, and he was definitely a more dominant player than Andre Dawson.  The Dwight Evans comparison doesn’t hold water, as it turns out. Edmonds is more than just a merely good player who had a long career. For a good while, he was one of the upper echelon players of his time. That’s the main part of what the Hall of Fame is about honoring, which is why I’m starting to bang the drum now.

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
Billy Hamiton 69.6 1961 3% Vets
Duke Snider 67.2 1980 87% 11th ballot
Jim Edmonds 66.6
Andruw Jones 58.4
Richie Ashburn 58 1995 42% Vets
Andre Dawson 56.8 2010 78% 9th
Max Carey 50.6 1961 51% Vets
Hugh Duffy 49.6 1945 33% Old Timers
Larry Doby 47.4 1998 3% Vets
Bernie Williams 47.4
Edd Roush 46.8 1962 54% Vets
Earl Averill 45.2 1975 5% Vets
Kirby Puckett 45 2001 82% 1st ballot
Earle Combs 44.6 1970 16% Vets
Hack Wilson 38.8 1979 38% Vets
Lloyd Waner 24.1 1964 23% Vets

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.

Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age AB HR BB BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Tris Speaker 157 11988 1907 1928 19-40 10195 117 1381 .345 .428 .500 .928
2 Willie Mays 156 12493 1951 1973 20-42 10881 660 1464 .302 .384 .557 .941
3 Joe DiMaggio 155 7671 1936 1951 21-36 6821 361 790 .325 .398 .579 .977
4 Ken Griffey 136 11196 1989 2009 19-39 9703 630 1303 .285 .371 .541 .912
5 Larry Doby 136 6302 1947 1959 23-35 5348 253 871 .283 .386 .490 .876
6 George Gore 136 6104 1879 1892 22-35 5357 46 717 .301 .386 .411 .797
7 Earl Averill 133 7215 1929 1941 27-39 6353 238 774 .318 .395 .534 .928
8 Jim Edmonds 132 7708 1993 2008 23-38 6612 382 974 .284 .377 .528 .905
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/8/2010.

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.

© 2011 Gas House Graphs Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha