Let me begin with an obvious statement: Jim Edmonds won’t get into the Hall of Fame based on his career statistics. He’s not going to get 3,000 hits or hit 500 home runs, and there’s a good chance he doesn’t get 2,000 or 400. He wasn’t an everyday player until he turned 25, after which it’s nearly impossible to put up the big counting stats that punch most players’ tickets.
If he’s going to be a worthy Hall of Famer, he’s going to do it on the strength of his peak value–he’s Don Drysdale, not Don Sutton. So, how good a peak did he have? Some center fielders, using WARP3, once again, for lack of a better statistic. Five best years, consecutive and non-consecutive:
HOFer OPS+ G 5CON NON WARP Cobb 167 3035 54.3 61.4 189.8 DiMaggio 155 1736 57.8 59.3 119.8 Mantle 172 2415 63.1 65.0 155.1 Mays 156 2992 63.4 66.4 206.2 Speaker 158 2789 53.2 57.9 173.3 Griffey 141 2234 51.2 59.5 130.7 Edmonds 137 1697 51.2 52.0 103.8 Beltran 114 1176 43.8 48.2 62.4 Jones 117 1607 44.6 47.1 82.8 Murphy 121 2180 46.9 51.1 91.6 Williams 125 2076 46.2 47.3 106.3
That’s all there is. Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Tris Speaker, and eventually Ken Griffey, Jr. It’s important to not think in terms of being better than the bottom of the Hall of Fame barrel, and while Edmonds is outside of the Mays-Mantle-Cobb inner circle he fits pretty well into the second tier. Among the seventeen Hall of Fame center fielders who played in the majors–I have no idea about the Negro Leaguers–his peak places no worse than sixth. Ever. And he’s closer to the inner circle than most of the other Hall center fielders are to him.
But his career totals remain lacking. What are we really penalizing him for, here? He’s had ten full seasons, five of which rank among the best any center fielder has ever put together. They are not at issue here, but his counting stats are. He’s out of reach of the inner circle, but let’s say that, rather than bursting into the majors fully formed as a 25-year-old all-star, he spent two years in the majors putting up numbers roughly equivalent to what he did in 2006, projected to a full season. Above average, but nothing earth-shaking. The crux of the matter is that we would no longer be having this discussion; he’d have 2000 hits and 400 home runs and probably one of those gaudy late-90s Angels caps on his plaque, because in this alternate universe it would be even harder to mistake Darin Erstad for the superior player. Suddenly, two .257/.350/.471 seasons are a big deal, whereas presently such output represents Jim Edmonds as a shadow of his former self.
So that’s really the sticking point: bulk value. Is the difference, then, between a Hall of Famer and a Hall of Very Good player two seasons of Mark Kotsay? Are those enough to keep a player out, when so much of the rest of his resumé is gleaming? It’s not a rhetorical question. The answer is no, for me, but some people think less of peak value than I. The fact is that Jim Edmonds already has the meat of a Hall of Fame career, the part where the Hall of Famer stands head and shoulders over his contemporaries. From 2000-2005 he wasn’t just the best in the majors, he was rivaling the greatest players to ever patrol center field. Nobody would’ve kept Griffey out of the Hall if his legs had literally disappeared upon joining the Reds and he was forced to retire, instead of hobbling toward 500 home runs, because he had already defined himself. Edmonds did it backward, but the idea remains: a few extra years as a mortal, either way, shouldn’t be what defines the best of the best.