Hall of Fame season is upon us, which means voters are making their ballots public, which means we, the public, get to exert our right to pass judgment on those corncobs who don’t vote Edgar. It is time again for the tiresome argument about “not playing the field” to be taken out of mothballs and propped up in the parlor, a threadbare reference for those who haven’t paid attention to baseball since ERA and RBI were king, but are nonetheless entrusted with a voice in the highest honor the sport has to give.
[Don’t twitter search “DH Hall of Fame” Kate, don’t do it, come on, it’s too late and you shouldn’t retweet ding-a-lings just to make fun of them, just this once listen to the better angels of your nature and NO NO I MUST RAGE RAGE RAGE AGAINST THE IDIOTS]
Okay, sorry, where were we? Ah yes: the DH penalty. As Jay Jaffe showed in his seminal article on JAWS and Edgar’s HOF case, which is absolutely required reading if you haven’t read it and I want to print it out and paper every single BBWAA writer’s bathroom with it, Edgar was such an exceptional hitter he was able to still put up HOF-worthy WAR with the DH penalty added. Oh, it’s worth reading, even if you’ve read it before:
Within its positional adjustments, the Wins Above Replacement system levies in a substantial penalty for not playing the field. Even with that penalty applied to his annual WAR, and even after getting such a late start that his first season with at least 100 games didn't come until age 27, Martinez comes out valuable enough to merit a bronze plaque. A two-time batting champion and seven-time All-Star, he put up eye-opening numbers even in an era full of them, and created enough value even while riding the pine between trips to the plate to score well via advanced metrics — better than many of the current ballot's more celebrated position players.
So the question of Edgar not playing the field isn’t even relevant. He might have brought all his value with the bat, but he brought so much value with the bat as to equal the contributions of other players who are already enshrined. Furthermore, by punishing him for being only a DH, voters are punishing Edgar for helping rather than harming his team, as Matt Snyder points out:
If the threshold for a player to make the Hall was putting up spectacular numbers both defensively and offensively—and if we somehow had a magical, all-encompassing defensive statistic that everyone agreed upon, although that’s a different argument—then fine. The Hall would be Clemente, Mays, Griffey, and...I don’t know, Ozzie Smith? It would be a pocket-sized Hall, all ready for Altuve. Gerard Farek argued in a piece from earlier this year that DHs don’t belong in the Hall because a true Hall of Famer needs to contribute both to run production and run prevention. Even a reliever, argues Farek, contributes to run prevention by fielding his position, even if it’s for just an inning (no mention made of how pitchers contribute to run production; I suppose for him, the Hall of Fame is an NL-only endeavor in addition to being a DH-free zone?). This is a reasonable enough argument in theory, but breaks down on closer examination. Is the player who creates 30 runs over a season from a combination of offense and defense more valuable than a player who puts up 30 runs on offense alone? What about the player who generates 30 runs vs. a player who generates 50? Paul Molitor put up a 122 career wRC; Edgar, 147. Were Molitor’s contributions in the field really so valuable as to make up those 25 extra runs?
The argument against the DH simply doesn’t make sense. The Hall of Fame is meant to honor players who made the greatest contributions to their teams and to the sport itself. Nowhere in the guidelines does it specify, “but only if they also played a fair-to-middling first base.” Edgar made the DH position a bastion of offensive glory, so much so that the award for the best DH is named after him. His contribution to the Mariners is undeniable, but so is his contribution to the sport itself. The arguments against enshrining a DH fall apart under any sort of rigorous scrutiny; so too do the arguments against enshrining Edgar.