Atlanta Braves Blog

The Atlanta Braves blog by David O'Brien, baseball writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Edgar Martinez over McGriff? Crime Dog, Andruw getting short shrift


 

I’m tired of hearing that Edgar Martinez got cheated when the longtime Mariners designated hitter was named on 70.4 percent of the ballots in his ninth and next-to-last year on the ballot, falling less than five percentage points shy of being elected to the Hall of Fame. First of all, Martinez is almost certainly going to get elected next year. And secondly – the real reason I wrote this – he is less deserving than many whose vote totals to this point indicate it'll be impossible for them to be elected, and less deserving than some who are already off the ballot.

No, Martinez didn’t get screwed. Fred McGriff and Andruw Jones did, with their ridiculously low vote totals. And Dale Murphy did before them. And just so you don’t think I’m being biased toward former Braves, Jeff Kent is also getting cheated by voters – and Kent is a guy I didn’t particularly like, as far as being a prickly personality, but the performance speaks for itself. More on that in a moment.

A quick couple of facts: When Chipper Jones was elected last week with a whopping 97.2 voting percentage, he joined Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz to make the Braves the first team in history to have four first-ballot Hall of Famers who spent at least 10 years apiece with the same team in the same era. Not to mention the manager, Bobby Cox, and general manager, John Schuerholz, who were also elected to the Hall by its era committees, formerly known as the veterans committee.

There are many who believe the Braves should have a fifth Hall of Fame player from that team, 10-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder Andruw Jones. But since he was named on just 7.3 percent of the ballots last week in his first year of eligibility, it would take a monumental shift in voters’ opinions for him to eventually reach the 75 percent required for election.

His best hope, and the best hope of McGriff (23.2 percent in his ninth and next-to-last year on the ballot), and the only hope for Braves icon Murphy, a two-time MVP who somehow spent 15 years on the ballot without ever reaching 25 percent, is the erstwhile veterans committee at some point in the future.

Same for Kent, a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger  Award winner and 2000 NL MVP who played 17 seasons and had a .290 career average and .855 OPS with more homers (377) than any other primary second baseman. The dude was named on just 14.5 percent of ballots in his fifth year of eligibility.

Meanwhile there's Martinez, who served as a DH in about three-fourths of his career games and finished with a .312 average and .933 OPS but totaled 68 fewer homers and 257 fewer RBIs in 18 seasons than Kent in 17. And did we mentioned he didn’t play in the field for three-fourths of his career?

No, Martinez didn’t get screwed. Andruw Jones, arguably the best defensive center fielder of all time, who hit 434 home runs and won Gold Gloves annually for a decade, got screwed. And McGriff, who had a slash line of .284/.377/.509 in a 19-year-career,  hit 30 or more homers 10 times, drove in at least 100 runs eight times, had six top-10 MVP finishes and played first base in 2,239 off 2,460 regular-season games and would've had 500 career homers if not for the 1994 strike, got screwed.

By the way, McGriff also played in 50 postseason games and was even better there: .303/.385/.532 with 10 homers, 37 RBIs. (For those wondering, Martinez played  34 postseason games and hit .266/.385/.508 with eight homers and 24 RBIs.)

Martinez and McGriff came in with relatively close percentages in their first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, Martinez getting 36.2 percent in 2010, dipping as low as 25.2 percent in 2014 and 27 percent in 2015, then climbing sharply, making jumps of 13 percent, 15 percent and 12 percent in the next three years.

McGriff, on the other hand, came in with 21.5 percent in 2010, got to 23.9 percent in 2012, dipped as low as 11.7 in 2014, and barely moved the needle higher in his past three years, going from 20.9 in 2016 to 23.2 last week. That's just not right. As a voting body, the BBWAA has failed McGriff, by all accounts one of the best teammates anyone had on any of the six teams he played for, and an impact guy whose bat was feared year after year.

But getting back to Martinez and what upsets me about this whole thing. Kent played a decent second base and hit more homers than anyone in history at his position. McGriff played solid defense at first base and hit 30 homers year after year. Andruw played otherworldly defense in center – ask any of the three Hall of Fame pitchers he played behind how important he was to their success – and was a big power threat at the plate.

Martinez did not play defense for three-fourths of his games. He batted four or five times a night for most of his career, and that is all he did in those games, other than cheer on his teammates. He batted. He didn’t pick up a glove and go in the field for what is the other major part of the game – playing defense.

I mean, if we’re just going to line up WAR and vote accordingly, OK. But that seems rather shortsighted. That's having a severe blind spot if you’re a voter, not taking into account a non-pitcher's overall impact, at the plate and in the field. We’ve got to consider if a guy played in the field every inning and hit 4-5 times a game, compared to the DH who only hit and could spend the rest of his time studying the opposing pitcher, going over scouting reports again when a reliever entered a game, staying loose in the cage before at-bats – or relaxing and eating sunflower seeds if he wanted to once in a while.

I mean, like I said, Martinez is likely to be elected to the Hall of Fame next season, and David Ortiz will likely be elected the year he's eligible or soon after, yet they DH’d for the vast majority of their careers. Meanwhile, Andruw busted his ass in the outfield, playing center field like few if any had played it in more than a century of baseball, banging into walls and landing on the ground while making diving catches so many times that he busted up his shoulders, a big reason for his late-career falloff.

Andruw never complained about it, but the guy was playing in pain for much of the second half of his career. Murphy was much the same – came up as a catcher, moved to outfield early in his career, then hustled and got the most out of a big-boned, 6-foot-4 body. Not blessed with great speed, he made himself into a five-time Gold Glove winner who maximized what he had, sprinting, diving,  leaping for catches on a regular basis.

And he did all that in the field between his at-bats. And in the batter's box, Murphy was as feared as any hitter in the National League for much of a decade.

All those diving catches, leaps into the wall and running throughout games in the outfield takes its toll eventually. In the cases of Murphy and Jones it undoubtedly slowed them significantly in the second half of their careers, when either could have hung it up and had better batting averages, on-base percentages, slugging percentages and OPS stats than they ended up with. And yes, better WAR.

If a DH plays in pain, it’s most likely from a muscle strain or other injury caused as much by getting older as anything else. Of course Ortiz and Martinez had amazing career longevity. But if you don’t think serving as DH for most of their career and not enduring the strains of playing nine innings in the field had anything to do with that, well, just talk to some players who’ve played a position every day into their mid- to late-30s.

Think about it this way: What kind of career offensive stats might Murphy have had if he’d switched to DH after a couple of seasons in the big leagues and never dealt with the wear and tear of playing in the field? Not saying that it made them unique, just saying that when people start voting for designated hitters over multi-Gold Glove defensive players simply because of their career OBP or OPS or offensive WAR, well, it just doesn’t seem a fair way to judge a baseball player’s overall contributions to his team and the game.

Position players are ballplayers, not simply hitters. And for the most part, designated hitters are ballplayers who couldn’t do half of the hitting-and-defense combination very well. Or else they’d have been out in the field with their teammates for nine innings at least until the latter stages of their career, when a move to DH is understandable for an accomplished hitter who can still contribute plenty to his team if he’s lost the physical skills to play in the field.

But to move to DH early in one’s career and spend the majority of that career as a DH, then get rewarded with a spot in the Hall of Fame ahead of a guy who was a superb defensive player as well as a dangerous hitter? Just doesn’t seem right to me, WAR be damned.

Sure, there’s room for great designated hitters in the Hall of Fame. But not at the expense of guys who excelled on both sides of the ball for the bulk of their careers, many of whom paid a heavy price for that work in the form of wear-and-tear that slowed them for several years at the end or ended their careers a little sooner than expected.

The axiom is that defense wins championships. Well, maybe so, but it sure doesn’t help some guys win prosper respect from a lot of Hall of Fame voters.

• The great Lucinda Williams had a birthday on Saturday. She is simply terrific, one of the finest singer-songwriters in America and has been for a long time. Check her out in this one from years ago, one of my favorite songs of they many, many timeless ones she's penned and sung.

"LAKE CHARLES" by Lucinda Williams

He had a reason to get back to Lake Charles

He used to talk about it

He'd just go on and on

He always said Louisiana

Was where he felt at home

He was born in Nacogdoches

That's in East Texas

Not far from the border

But he liked to tell everybody

He was from Lake Charles

Did an angel whisper in your ear

And hold you close and take away your fear

In those long last moments

We used to drive

Thru Lafayette and Baton Rouge

In a yellow Camino

Listening to Howling Wolf

He liked to stop in Lake Charles

Cause that's the place that he loved

Did you run about as far as you could go

Down the Louisiana highway

Across Lake Ponchatrain

Now your soul is in Lake Charles

No matter what they say 

Did an angel whisper in your ear

And hold you close and take away your fear

In those long last moments

He had a reason to get back to Lake Charles

He used to talk about it

He'd just go on and on

He always said Louisiana

Was where he felt at home

Did an angel whisper in your ear

And hold you close and take away your fear

In those long last moments

Did an angel whisper in your ear

And hold you close and take away your fear

In those long last moments


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About the Author

David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.