This time next year, former St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds will find his name on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. Traditional voters will be quick to point out that Edmonds did not reach 2,000 hits nor 400 home runs. These same voters will bring up that Edmonds finished in the top-5 of MVP voting only twice in his 17 MLB seasons. Despite not reaching either one of these "milestones," the numbers Edmonds produced over the course of his career warrant serious consideration for the baseball Hall of Fame.
Over 17 seasons, Edmonds was worth 64.0 fWAR—the 12th most among MLB center fielders all time. From 2000 through 2005 (his first six seasons with the Cardinals), Edmonds was worth 39.6 fWAR—the third most in all of baseball behind Barry Bonds (54.8) and Alex Rodriguez (51.8). Breaking this down, Edmonds had six straight seasons with at least six wins above replacement (peaking at 8.0 in 2004). Of the center fielders with higher career fWARs than Edmonds, only three others (Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, and Willie Mays) also sustained streaks of six straight seasons worth at least six wins above replacement.
This is terrific company and one heck of a peak, and this only includes his time with the Cardinals. Technically, the start of his "peak," or what could be considered a rapid ascent to it, occurred in 1995 while he was still with the Angels—his age-25 season. From 1995 through 2005, Edmonds provided 58.2 fWAR—the third most in baseball behind, you guessed it, Bonds (92.5) and Rodriguez (77.6).
Edmonds' positive 17.9 ultimate zone rating (UZR) ranks eighth among qualified center fielders, as does his UZR/150 of 3.2. His defense is largely characterized by his "web gem" catches, but it is his arm that truly sets him apart in my opinion. It wasn't necessarily the strongest, but its accuracy, combined with more-shallow-than-normal positioning, allowed Edmonds to nail 114 runners from center field over he course of his career and accumulate 30.0 outfield arm runs (ARM)—the second most among those that qualify for the statistic, behind Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (34.2) who has ~1,700 more innings played at the position (editor's note: Of course, Edmonds has played more CF innings than Jones, but he had less CF innings classified by the ARM statistic than Jones due to when the statistic became available; see here).
Say what you want about the validity of the award, but no one can take away the fact that Edmonds won eight Gold Glove awards over the course of his career. From age-30 through age-35, Edmonds won six straight, and it was almost a given that he (along with Andruw Jones) would take home the award. His eight Gold Gloves ties him for fifth all-time in terms of most career Gold Gloves among outfielders.
No matter how you slice it, Edmonds was one of the best hitting center fielders of all time. Using integration in 1947 as a starting point, Edmonds' wRC+ of 132 and wOBA of .385 rank tenth and eighth, respectively, among center fielders. Edmonds finds himself one position ahead of Ken Griffey Jr. (131 and .384) in both categories, the star and virtual lock of the 2016 Hall of Fame ballot. During Edmonds' prime (1995 through 2005), he was a top-20 hitter (140 wRC+) in all of baseball, so the fact that he hit this well while still playing premium center field defense is especially impressive.
I am not entirely sure how much value voters place on postseason performance, so the following can largely be seen as supplementary material to his already impressive regular season numbers. Edmonds played in 64 playoff games (61 of them were with the Cardinals) and captured one World Series title in 2006. The following table shows how he performed in those 64 games:
These are pretty impressive numbers, but there are two moments, in the year 2004, that stand out in particular:
What about the media, especially voters?
"I think it's extremely legitimate. I actually have a lot of pages filed away on this subject."
"So much of the Hall of Fame is when you're there and who else is up, this idea I think we can only vote for four people and I think it's a lot bologna. If you're a Hall-of-Famer, you're a Hall-of-Famer."
Edmonds was one of the league's very best players for the majority of his career. When I look at Hall of Fame candidacy, I first look at historical value (already touched on above), but I also look at where the given player ranked among his peers, as the game is constantly changing. As shown by his 1995-2005 extended peak, Edmonds was superior to each one of his peers but two, Bonds and Rodriguez. This, in my opinion, makes him worthy of being enshrined in Cooperstown.
I will be looking forward to Mr. Gammons' full thoughts on Edmonds as 2016 Hall-of-Fame discussion heats up next winter. For the sake of Jimmy Ballgame, let's hope the other writers/voters in the BBWAA will be reading as well. As an aside, though this really should not matter in the slightest, the fact that Edmonds is a host on a sports talk radio show and a pre- and post-game analyst for Fox Sports Midwest will probably have a positive influence on a handful of voters as well.
Some notable articles regarding Jim Edmonds and the Hall of Fame
A Guide to Jim Edmonds' Hall of Fame candidacy - Dan Moore
Bert Blylevin and Jim Edmonds - Dan Moore
Is Jim Edmonds of Hall of Famer - Jason Rosenberg, ESPN SweetSpot
Looking ahead to the 2016 Hall of Fame ballot - Craig Calcaterra, HardballTalk
Hat tip to Kyle Reis for making me aware of the InsideSTL article on Edmonds with quotes from Peter Gammons