When I started blogging I was a big fan of Rich Lederer—then of Rich's Baseball Beat, I think, now of Baseball Analysts—and that meant that, before long, I was also a big fan of Bert Blyleven, in whose defense Lederer eventually mustered the entire online baseball community. Blyleven was a great pitcher who fell into a lot of easily diagnosed BBWAA blind spots—he didn't quite win 300 games, he never "felt" like a Hall of Famer because he played for bad teams, et cetera. Lederer fought past those blind spots, over six solid years, by writing about Blyleven a lot.
A lot. He's on Blyleven's wikipedia page, which he may well have written, and if you googled "bert blyleven hall of fame" a month ago his blog would probably dominate the first five pages.
I have no such wikipedia ambitions, but I do want to use the Lederer Method for JIm Edmonds. And while he hasn't even retired yet, I think we'll need to start early for Edmonds, who didn't even come close to winning 300 games, and remains seven home runs from 400. The Edmonds Hall of Fame bandwagon has been puttering along since the middle of his enormous 2004 season—Lederer and Brian Gunn wrote a wonderful piece about it which I can't for the life of me find online, and I remember, around the same time, writing some blog entries on Get Up Baby! which demonstrated mostly that I'd just bought the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia. Now's the time to ensure he doesn't go the way of Kevin Brown, who just got one-and-doned while Jack Morris motors on.
So here are some reasons why Jim Edmonds is at least worthy of 5% of the votes, five years after he retires following that World Series pinch hit home run for the Cardinals in 2014. I'm not aiming, right now, to put him in the company I think he deserves—this is a matter of proving, first, that he's worth discussing. So let's start by comparing him to Juan Gonzalez, who got exactly as many votes as he needed to stay on the ballot for 2012. I think there are a lot of people who think Juan Gonzalez was a better player than Jim Edmonds, and I say this as someone who typically has a lot of faith in the human race.
Jim Edmonds and Juan Gonzalez
Jim Edmonds and Juan Gonzalez both carried similar baggage over the course of their careers—they were injury prone, occasionally malcontent, and often accused of playing the game the wrong way. Edmonds is still a short-career candidate, but at this point—after putting up a .254/.340/.460 line across 424 games since the abrupt end of his run as one of the best players in baseball—he's played 322 games more than Gonzalez, who is just a really-short-career candidate.
We're really close, is what I'm saying, to being able to make blunt-force comparisons between Gonzalez and Edmonds's careers, but Gonzalez had the misfortune of losing the rest of his decline phase by making the mistake of running out a groundball in his first and final at-bat of 2005. Cut off Edmonds's actually-pretty-good last three seasons and we're within about 200 plate appearances, which is perfect.
Here are the differences between that Jim Edmonds and Juan Gonzalez. I'll start with the pro-Juan-Gone slate: Gonzalez, who hit 40 home runs four times in his career (despite playing at least 40 games about four times in his career—a truly remarkable feat), has 84 more home runs. Per XR, the easiest to calculate of the linear weights formulae, that's worth 121 runs. He hit 131 more singles, eight more doubles, four more triples—that's 76 runs more. I'll even give him the 16 extra HBPs and the 20 extra sacrifice flies, for an extra 13 runs, and his 239 fewer strikeouts were worth 23 additional runs.
So we give Gonzalez a 233 run lead over Edmonds for his strengths.
The Edmonds section is easier. Edmonds walked 421 times more than Gonzalez, for 143 runs. (That's 36 fewer walks than Gonzalez managed in his career.) He grounded into 81 fewer double plays, for 30 runs. Most importantly, he made 661 fewer non-strikeout outs, which adds 60 runs to his side. That covers Gonzalez's advantages exactly, and Edmonds contributed those runs in 259 fewer plate appearances. If you like your hitting stats pre-assembled and compared to league-average, Edmonds contributed 330 batting runs over that period, to 266 for Gonzalez.
Jim Edmonds was a better hitter than Juan Gonzalez at his best; he remains a better hitter than Juan Gonzalez on a per-PA basis despite playing for 825 additional plate appearances. Now, prospective BBWAA Jim Edmonds voter, throw in whatever you think eight Gold Gloves are worth, and subtract whatever you think Gonzalez cost his teams in the field—Total Zone Rating would suggest 91 runs for Edmonds, and 76 runs against Gonzalez—and add an adjustment for Edmonds playing center and Gonzalez playing right.
Jim Edmonds is better than players who typically get five percent of the vote. I'm not confident in his ability to get five percent of the vote after a year in which John Olerud got exactly four votes.
Jim Edmonds and recent Hall of Famers
The two most recent Hall of Fame outfielder selections are sabermetric punching-bag picks, and there's good reason for that, I think. I don't think you should campaign for a player entirely because he's better than the worst of the Hall of Fame—if I did, this would be a Ray Lankford polemic, not a Jim Edmonds polemic—but what I want to make clear to people who are not members of the Jim Edmonds choir is that he fits well within the standards the Hall has implicitly espoused over the last several years.
For that, I think it's worth talking about Jim Rice and Andre Dawson. Jim Rice was an excellent player, and he's got a ton of black ink—he led the league in hits and triples once, in home runs three times, RBIs and slugging percentage twice. He was a solid corner outfielder and a better runner than most sluggers. Andre Dawson was a fine defender at his best, played forever, and hit for average and power.
But everything good they did is easily discerned from a glance at the baseball card stats. That's what always amazed me about the intangible-laden argument that led to Rice's election, mocked and oversimplified on BTF as a sportswriter insistence that Rice gave pitchers a bad case of "TEH FEAR!!!"—Rice did very little that didn't show up in the box score. He didn't play a defensively challenging position; he didn't walk very often; he hit more home runs than doubles and once led the league in GIDP four consecutive seasons. Dawson's the same way—Hall voters took into account the fact that he had to move from center because his knees were shot, but only, strangely, as a positive, an example of his intestinal fortitude; they didn't take the next step and consider the number it did on his defense.
As with Gonzalez, any advantage Rice or Dawson might have over Edmonds is neutralized by those skills that people who self-identify as non-statheads love to talk about but don't love to value. Edmonds has taken 2789 fewer plate appearances than Andre Dawson did, but he's made 2476 fewer outs—to repeat the game we played with Dawson and Mark McGwire last year, you could add two full years of empty plate appearances to Jim Edmonds's career, 643 outs per season, and you'd end up with an on-base percentage, .323, identical to Andre Dawson's career average. All those outs add up—for all their extra extra-base hits, neither Dawson nor Rice was as effective a power hitter as Edmonds.
Then there's defense. Rice played left field and DH; Dawson spent the second half of his career in right because he couldn't run. Edmonds, who sometimes appears unable to walk, played 52 games in center last year, not that I'm condoning that.
I haven't even gotten into the case for Jim Edmonds, which is dependent not on his superiority to a Mitchell Report slugger and two marginal Hall of Famers but an outstanding, historic peak. But the case against Jim Edmonds is the ultimate stathead Hall of Fame argument—it's an insistence that all that matters in valuing baseball players is numbers, namely the ones we've tallied for a long time. To use the typical anti-stathead argument, get your nose out of a spreadsheet and watch a game every once in a while—things like getting on base and staying out of the double play and playing defense count. Jim Edmonds was, after all that, great at the little things.