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Edmonds in 2014

January 8, 2010

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.

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8 Comments
  1. January 8, 2010 1:30 AM

    It wasn’t until I started really researching the possibilities of Dawson, Murphy, et al for this year’s ballot that I truly realized the excellence of Jimmy’s career.

    Like you write, he has all the highlight reel catches, but even I have chalked that up to a little hot-dogging over the years.

    His rank in career WAR was astounding to me.

    I’m on board, no convincing necessary. #JimmyBaseballforHOF

  2. eccard permalink
    January 8, 2010 4:05 PM

    Compelling argument. I’m not sure I buy into all the new-fangled sabermetrics et al. Everyone has a better way to figure out who the top talent was. How about plain old production stats? That seems to be a non-factor in all this stuff. Those stats say Dawson is a HOFer. Being one of only three players to be a member of the 300hr/300steals club with Willie Mays and Beroids Bonds says a lot too.

    Jimmy in his prime was truly one of the best. I kind of liken him to Dewey Evans of Boston. Elite defensive performers that were under appreciated with the bat. I wonder how the two compare and how Evans would show up on your chart?

    • January 8, 2010 4:22 PM

      A fair point and that’s what I was trying to explain about why we should be looking stats such as OPS+ and WAR. The problem with plain ol’ production stats, the numbers you’d read on the back of a baseball card, is they don’t take into account the era the player played in, the ballpark or the competition. I think we all have a sense of these things in our minds, but we’re just simply using or best guess or hunch. These numbers actually quantify it for us so we can more fairly and accurately make comparisons.

      As for Dewey, I am afraid Edmonds may share his fate, which is something Evans didn’t deserve. Evans has more career WAR (61.7) than Dawson. Here’s a graph:

    • January 8, 2010 5:12 PM

      furthermore, Edmonds had a better five year peak, and more seasons where he was just out of his mind, while Dewey was more or less consistently very good but not particularly outstanding.

  3. January 9, 2010 1:06 PM

    Jim’s peak was just remarkable—and he was subjectively such an exciting player to watch that I’m stunned he’s gone underappreciated. That distinctive, whirling home run uppercut, the slow-guy/great-reflexes plays in the outfield… I guess this is the bad side-effect of running for your entire peak with McGwire, Pujols, or Rolen batting in front of you.

  4. bigchieftootiemontana permalink
    January 9, 2010 1:15 PM

    Nice to see some love for Edmonds, he was a scary , important f eature of the MV3 years with his glove and bat.
    Evans sure got dissed in HOF voting, I think he was better than Rice.

    By the way there is a discussion going on over at Baseball Think Factory about your Edmonds post.

  5. eccard permalink
    January 10, 2010 12:22 AM

    Thanks Erik, I didn’t think you’d actually do the comparison so props man. Actually Jim Ed monds and Jim Ed Rice kind of both had the awesome years with the bat and then tailed off badly at the end. I understand the reasoning of the HOF vote for Rice saying he was one of the very best in the game for a 10 year run, which he was. He was indeed deadly with the bat, but that said his career production is equal to Dwight Evans(and yes the HOF voters slapped him in the face BigChief).
    The difference was the defense. When Rice was in left everyone ran on him, while very few coaches sent their runners against Dewey. He had that amazingly accurate cannon for an arm. I grew up in the northeast and got to watch that Red Sox dynasty; Yaz, Rice, Evans, Lynn, Fisk, Burleson, Scott, Hobson, El Tiante. My favorite world series of all time: 1975 Reds and Red Sox. Oh man could those two teams mash.
    Yaz in left could handle the green monster, Lynn in center and Evans and his eight GG’s in right. That was defense! Lynn could lay out for a ball coming in like no other. Edmonds on the other hand was better going back. Now that you make me think about it Edmonds defense is definitely HOF quality. NO arguement. Keep beating the drum Erik, #15 doesn’t deserve the Dewey slight anymore then Evans did.

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  1. Jim Edmonds and Greatness « Play a Hard Nine

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