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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?
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.