Bags & Edgar

(Warning: Lots of baseball statistics herein.)

Typically thoughtful post up from Joe Posnanski about the Hall of Fame today and the prospects of several players. My Dad has always been a small HOF type of guy, someone who thinks that the honor should be reserved for the truly greatest of the great and I’ve inherited that sentiment to a large degree. Still, looking over the career numbers of Jeff Bagwell and Edgar Martinez, I think I’d vote ’em in were I a BBWAA member.

Bagwell’s numbers seem unspectacular for his first two years on the Astros (BA of .294 and then .273 with OPS of .824 and .812, respectively) but those years also had OPS+ splits of 139 and 135, respectively, which is surprisingly excellent.

But then take ’93 to ’04. Those numbers are astounding. OPS highs of 1.2 (!!!), 1.02, 1.01, 1.045 and 1.039 while OPSing below .900 only three times, twice of those barely (.894 and .897). And then the only other sub-.900 season is Bags’ second-to-last one, where he scores in at a still-very-respectable .842. His career OBP is over 400. Bags’ career SLG is .540.

Those are terrific numbers, but his stats are even more impressive when you look at his WAR. Here’s an eleven-year span, starting with ’91 (his rookie year) and ending in 2001, after which Bagwell played four more years, two of ’em at a very respectable level: 4.7, 4.7, 5.1, 8.9, 5.4, 8.3, 8.1, 6.7, 7.7, 5.5, 5.3. Those are monster numbers. That’s eleven straight All-Star caliber years (at minimum, ‘cuz rule of thumb for WAR is that 5 = AS) and three years at MVP-level with a fourth (the 7.7 being borderline MVP).

Bagwell may have only played 15 seasons, but for eleven of those he was one of the game’s absolute best. Doesn’t matter to me that he didn’t get 500 HRs. And my view on the steroid stuff is the same as Posnanski’s.

I think Edgar is a bit of a harder case. Playing at DH, there is that stigma. And although I agree with Posnanski that the “if X is in, Y HAS to be in” line of argument can be dumb for the reason that he writes out, you can’t really help but do that I’m going to do exactly that right now. Take Paul Molitor’s numbers, because Molitor is one of the few (the only?) DHs in the HOF. Career line of .306/.369/.448. That’s good but far from spectacular. Molitor, though, got to 3,000 hits, topping 200 in a season four times and three times leading the league in hits. Pretty damn good.

But now look at Edgar’s numbers. Edgar didn’t break in until he was 24 and wasn’t a full-time starter until 27. But then look at his stats from ’92 ’til 2003: his OBP was over .400 in eleven of those thirteen years. Starting in ’95 (an absolutely ridiculous [and strike-abbreviated] season for Edgar in which he posted an OPS+ of 185), the OBP numbers are: .479, .464, .456, .429, .447, .423, .423, .403, .406. That’s nine seasons in a row with an OBP above .400. Molitor achieved an OBP better than .400 three times in twenty-one years. Edgar Martinez did it in twelve out of his eighteen seasons.

Now, Edgar Martinez never reached 200 hits in a season, something that surprised me at first. But now, looking at his best year, I’m amazed that Edgar was able to get as many hits as he did. From ’95 to ’98, Edgar had 182, 163, 179 and 179 for hits, while walking more than a hundred times each season. The next two years he had 169 and 180 hits with 97 and 96 walks, respectively. So, a big part of the reason that Martinez didn’t reach 3,000 hits like Molitor did was 1) he became a full-time player at a later age (27 vs 21) and 2) his exceedingly high walk totals took away a lot of singles. Edgar Martinez walked 1283 times to Molitor’s 1094 in about 3,500 fewer plate appearances. Martinez also slugged better (.515 vs .448) and their WARs are comparable (Molitor’s 74.8 to Martinez’s 67.2).

Again, I know the “if X yes, then Y must be” argument is a cheap one, but that’s not all of my argument. Edgar Martinez may have numbers that stack up more favorable than those of Paul Molitor in terms of dominance and that’s an argument in Edgar’s favor. But the bottom line, as Posnanski writes, is that Edgar Martinez is one of baseball’s greatest hitters by pretty much any metric you want to use.

Bagwell and Edgar Martinez are in for me.

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