Center fielder and Cardinal great Jim Edmonds is retiring. After deciding his injury is too severe to risk a comeback, the eight-time Gold Glove winner is retiring as a member of the team he is most associated with. It’s a shame, too, as he was very productive last year with the Brewers and Reds.
Nevertheless, as with all retiring greats, talk now moves to Edmonds’ chances to make the Hall of Fame. And if you don’t think of Edmonds as a good choice for the Hall, you may want to reconsider.
His straight counting stats do not immediately jump out as Hall of Fame numbers; he only reached 393 home runs and 1949 hits. His .284 batting average may also seem lackluster.
However, there is much more to these facts than meets the eye.
For example, as Aaron Gleeman at Hardball Talk notes, Edmonds compares quite well to center fielders already in the Hall.
Only seven center fielders have 350 or more home runs and most of those are considered legends. In some cases, they are even recognizable by one name: Mays, Griffey, Mantle, Dimaggio and Snider. The only other player on that list is active outfielder Andruw Jones.
Additionally, his offensive case is strengthened by 998 career walks and 3615 total bases, giving him a .376 on-base percentage and a .527 slugging percentage. His .903 on-base plus slugging is already remarkable; when accounting for league and home park, Edmonds had an OPS+ of 132, meaning he was 32% better than an average hitter over the entire course of his career. That ties him with Hall members Joe Morgan, Al Simmons and Tony Gwynn, and puts him ahead of Rod Carew (131), Wade Boggs, Roberto Clemente, Dave Winfield (all 130), Eddie Murray and Carl Yastrzemski (129), to name a few.
Of course, his offense is only part of his case, as Edmonds is also noted for his incredible defense.
Over his career, he won eight Gold Gloves and was a nightly fixture on Web Gems. More advanced stats agree on his defensive reputation; for example, Total Zone has that Edmonds saved 91 runs over the course of his career with his glove, the equivalent of over nine wins. And this came while manning a demanding position (most analysis has center field roughly on level with third base for difficulty to field, with both just after second base).
As an all-around player, Edmonds is definitely worthy.
One final note; a newer stat, Wins Above Replacement or WAR, encompasses a player’s offense, defense and position to determine roughly how many wins they are worth to their team.
60 WAR is usually where a player enters into the Hall of Fame discussion, and 70 WAR is usually where players are considered a lock for Cooperstown. Edmonds has 68.3 career WAR, putting him in a virtual tie with Hall members Luke Appling, Brooks Robinson, Tony Gwynn, Duke Snider, and Carlton Fisk and contemporaries Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez and Barry Larkin.
In fact, Edmonds has a serious claim as seventh-best center fielder in baseball history. Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Joe Dimaggio are all clearly better. After them, Edmonds and Snider are neck and neck (Snider was the better hitter, but Edmonds was easily the superior fielder).
As a Cardinals fan, Edmonds brought an excitement to the game through his excellence in every part of the game.
Hopefully, in five years, the BBWAA will realize this and make the right choice.