The new class of Hall of Fame candidates was announced today. Jim Edmonds‘s name was on that list. Conversation amongst staffers here at Baseball Essential soon followed, debating if he was a legitimate candidate to achieve the 75% vote within 10 years of ballot eligibility. In short order, a near consensus was arrived upon. To quote a fellow staffer, who summed it up nicely, “I feel like he’s ‘Hall of Very Good’ worthy, not Hall of Fame.”
I’d like to point out, though, that this conclusion was reached with very little statistical conversation. So, let’s take a quick look at Edmonds’s career and see if it gives him a valid shot at Cooperstown.
Let’s start with some of those vaunted, traditional hallmark numbers. Edmonds falls well short of 3,000 hits with 1,949. In the traditional voter’s mind, that’s a strike against him. His 393 homers are more respectable, but still short of the 500-homer line drawn in the imaginary sand. A career .284 hitter probably doesn’t garner much attention from voters either. However, the rest of his slash line — .376 OBP and .527 SLG — are a bit prettier. Polish that off with a .903 OPS and 132 OPS+ and he looks a little more enticing to fence-sitters.
None of those numbers mean a whole ton without some context.
How about that career 132 OPS+? Well, Kirby Puckett was a first-ballot inductee (82.1% of the vote in 2001) and owned a 124 OPS+ in his 11-year career. Sure, Puckett had more hits (2,304) and hit 30 points higher in average, but Edmonds has power in his favor. Ten of the 18 Hall of Fame centerfielders have a career OPS+ higher than Edmonds. Some of the names on that list include Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Tris Speaker, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, and Hack Wilson. I’m not willing to say that puts Edmonds north of 75% in the next 10 years, but it at least makes for an interesting argument for some time to come.
Here’s another interesting tidbit in regards to power numbers. Only four Hall centerfielders have more home runs than Edmonds’s 393. That’s Mays, Mantle, Andre Dawson, and Duke Snider. “Jimmy Baseball” has 32 more career bombs than Yankee icon DiMaggio, while only 265 less hits. For those who weigh their votes with postseason success, Edmonds’s lone World Series ring looks paltry compared to DiMaggio’s nine rings. Again, not sure there’s anything definitive here, but the argument looks more and more interesting.
In the media age, we all remember Edmonds as a stellar playmaker in centerfield. The following play may be the signature highlight of Edmonds’s career.
According to advanced defensive metrics, he may not have been all that awesome after all. He has a career -7 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved over at FanGraphs) and 58.1 FRAA (Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average). Mays, another guy who made an iconic catch and happens to be in the Hall, has 111.2 FRAA, for some perspective (DRS was not computed for Mays). A more illuminating comparison is Aaron Rowand, a contemporary of Edmonds. Rowand, who is doubtful to ever appear on a Hall of Fame ballot – no offense Aaron – has 19 DRS and 27.4 FRAA. That’s in six less seasons, 653 less games played, and about 30% less cartilage in his nose.
Then again, I’m not sure how much defensive prowess affects most voters’ process.
Lastly, I think taking a peek at Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system might be useful. The average career WAR for all 18 centerfielders in the Hall is 70.4. Edmonds’s 60.3 is a highly possible strike one. Then Jaffe looks at WAR7, which is the peak seven years of WAR for a player’s career. The Hall CF average is 44.0 and Edmonds clocks in at a respectable 42.5. I don’t think that gap hurts him as much, but it’s not a clearcut case either way. Finally we get to JAWS, which is where Jaffe averages a player’s career WAR and WAR7. Hall average for centerfielders is 57.2. Edmonds seems like a decent outside shot with a 51.4 JAWS. That is also better than Puckett’s 44.2 and Hack Wilson’s 37.3.
Looking back at all this, I can’t say he’s as much a definite “no” as the initial conversation arrived at earlier today. Would you vote for him if you had a ballot?