The National Baseball Hall of Fame is a sensitive and controversial topic, regardless of which player, era or concept is up for discussion. As the baseball community reacts to the 2014 induction list, one thing is certain: At some point, a designated hitter will be inducted into Cooperstown.
When that day arrives, former Seattle Mariners great Edgar Martinez should be the man to carry the torch into baseball's hallowed hallways.
After researching the respective careers of the top designated hitters in baseball history, Martinez and David Ortiz, it's clear which player should be the first in Cooperstown. The voting public may react differently over the next 10 years, but the facts are undeniably in the favor of the currently eligible Martinez.
With no disrespect to Ortiz, the idea of Big Papi paving the way for designated hitters in the Hall of Fame is backwards. After all, it was Martinez who redefined offense at the position, dominated American League pitching for years before Ortiz's ascension and put up staggering numbers that few hitters in baseball history have ever matched.
Before breaking down why Martinez is deserving of induction in Cooperstown, this disclaimer is necessary in the interest of clarity: David Ortiz is on the path to the Hall of Fame, regardless of where the numbers and facts currently stand. If he continues to mash AL East pitching over the next few seasons, his accolades will be too hard to ignore for the BBWAA voters.
Of course, Edgar Martinez's numbers should be too hard to ignore now.
In baseball history, only 19 hitters with a minimum of 5,000 career at-bats, regardless of position, have posted a career slash line of at least .300/.400/.500. Edgar Martinez is one of those hitters. The names on the following chart comprise the most dominant offensive performers in the history of the sport.
|Shoeless Joe Jackson||.356||.423||.517|
Currently, the average Hall of Fame hitter has produced approximately 69 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. Martinez, despite making his name as a designated hitter after injuries and failed attempts at playing the infield during his youth, retired with a career WAR of 68.3, virtually identical to the average HOF mark.
Over the years, my stance on Martinez's candidacy has shifted. Reliving his career through statistics, video and columns from his playing days has provided clarity on the kind of impact performer he truly was for the Seattle Mariners. That impact, similar to what Ortiz has meant to the Boston Red Sox, can't be overlooked.
After acknowledging Martinez's rightful place in Cooperstown, the topic shifts to his place among all-time DH's, specifically in reference to the path Ortiz is currently blazing through the sport.
Let's take a look at four key areas (peak, late-career dominance, October success and total value) to assess why Martinez, not Ortiz, is the rightful king of the DH throne.
When at their respective bests, both Martinez and Ortiz were middle-of-the-order stars, run producers and nightmares for opposing pitchers. Although a dip in Ortiz's performance, followed up by a current resurgence, made comparing their six-year peaks difficult, the numbers don't lie: During their best, Martinez had more of an impact than Ortiz.
While a fair argument can be made that Martinez's best years coincided with one of the biggest offensive booms in history, OPS-plus or adjusted OPS, takes that into account. Even after resetting the league standards, Martinez was 12 percent better than Ortiz during their most dominant seasons.
This piece, specifically when comparing career excellence of both designated hitters, produced some surprising numbers. None of which was more eye-opening than the perception vs. reality look at how each hitter performed during the late stages of their career.
Admittedly, Ortiz's most recent success, capped off by another dominant run to a World Series ring, led me to believe that his late-career dominance was pushing him past Edgar Martinez. As Ortiz ages, he seems to get keep improving. In a twist of irony, Martinez did the same. In fact, he was even better from age 35-37 than Ortiz has been.
If there's an area where Ortiz closes the gap, in a significant way, it lies in October. Over the course of his career in Boston, David Ortiz has surpassed Reggie Jackson to become the true Mr. October. That feat, while difficult to parlay within a discussion of regular-season dominance, is part of Ortiz's ledger, undoubtedly part of the reason he'll eventually land in Cooperstown.
Martinez, despite a few gigantic postseason series, including the 1995 ALDS that put the Mariners franchise on the national map, didn't come close to replicating the success that Ortiz put forth when championships were on the line. If we call Martinez a good playoff performer, it's necessary to call Ortiz an elite October hitter.
Finally, there's the subject of value. Although Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs have varying degrees of WAR and calculating the true value of players, their respective systems paint a very similar picture of the two DHs in question. Without a doubt, Martinez provided more value than Ortiz. In fact, the gap isn't even close.
To be fair, Ortiz's career isn't over. With the way he's hit over the last few years, projecting three or four more years of value onto his career ledger isn't outlandish. Yet even if he can produce 3.8 WAR per year (his average value over the last two seasons) for the next three years, his career mark will still be well below the average hitter in the Hall of Fame.
Who should be the first DH in the Hall of Fame?
Depending on your take on postseason accolades, Ortiz is likely poised to parlay his championship rings, Mr. October moniker and importance as a central figure in Red Sox history into a future Cooperstown induction ceremony. If, say, Ortiz retires within 10 WAR of Edgar Martinez, the pomp and circumstance around his fame and October genius will even the playing field.
If that occurs, Ortiz will have done enough to catch Edgar Martinez as the greatest DH ever. When that day arrives, Ortiz should join Martinez in Cooperstown, not be forced to knock down the door for a hitter of Martinez's caliber.