Geoff Baker: The case against Edgar Martinez
Edgar Martinez was an outstanding hitter. But we'll never know what kind of offensive numbers the former Mariners designated hitter would have put up if he'd played in the field regularly.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Hall of Fame case for Edgar Martinez was always going to be tough to make right away, given the uncharted territory he's navigating.
A designated hitter does not play the field day-in, day-out. Those who saw Russell Branyan's offensive numbers plummet last season as he valiantly played first base with a bad back that barked whenever he fielded a ground ball know how the daily grind impacts overall performance.
And when the hurts of baseball accumulate, the DH role can ease pain and pressure. Martinez reaped the physical benefits of a full-time DH job early on, after hurts in prior years.
Others, like Andre Dawson, enshrined Wednesday, did not have that luxury. Dawson overcame serious knee problems to post offensive numbers worthy of Cooperstown while playing outstanding defense.
In Martinez's case, his offensive numbers have to leap off the page because he has very little defensive history.
But while his batting average and on-base percentage are up there, we're left to guess at how good he'd have been if playing the field every night like Dawson did. Would Martinez have retired five years sooner? Legged out fewer doubles?
This isn't about how good a fielder Martinez would have been.
It's about how great a bat he'd truly have become if doing what every other Hall of Fame hitter had to. And how much higher the Cooperstown bar would be if every top hitter reaped the advantages a DH has.
A compelling argument for Martinez is that his park-adjusted on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS-plus) was 50 percent higher than his peers in eight different seasons. Only 23 others have done that, most in the Hall of Fame or headed there.
But again, not one played fewer than 1,300 games in the field. Mickey Mantle, one of the 23, spent 1,500 games in center field alone — nearly triple the 591 games Martinez had at any position.
We don't know whether Martinez would still be in that inner circle if subjected to the same rigors. Or, how many others could have reached that eight-season plateau — or maybe put up 10 or 15 such seasons — if allowed to DH.
Martinez has top credentials in some stats, but lacks the "other half" of the resume that impacts overall performance.
His supporters want new ground broken. And the burden is on them to show that defense and the physical effects of playing it should be overlooked in Martinez's case.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.