Jim Edmonds had an unusual career. Not just unusual because he was great and that is a terribly difficult bar to reach, but unusual because of the way his career transpired. Edmonds had an unusual start and finish to his career, and that, along with poor voting rules, could cause Edmonds to fall off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year. Not unlike many of Edmonds' catches, it is ridiculous.
Joe Schwarz took a look at Edmonds' candidacy in January, and with the voting underway, it is a good time to revisit that candidacy.
Note: Much of the facts and figures below have already been made public on @JImEdmondsHOF.
He had his first full season in the major leagues at Age-24, except it was not a full season because of the strike in 1994. A somewhat late start plus the work stoppage meant he did not get his first true full season until Age-25, and he played very well. He lost most of a prime season in 1999 due to injury, but was otherwise fairly durable and healthy throughout his career, averaging 587 plate appearances per year from 1995-2005, excluding 1999. Edmonds slowed down a bit at the end of his career, sitting out 2009 because he did not get a contract he wanted. At Age-40, he became one of only 22 position players to have a 2+ WAR season. After attempting to come back the next season, he called it quits.
Edmonds' late start, the strike, and taking off a year at Age-39 are apparently very harmful to his candidacy. Jay Jaffe does a fantastic write-up of all the potential Hall of Fame players, and his piece on Edmonds is very good, stating that Edmonds' lack of 2,000 hits and 400 home runs in particular hurt his case due to a lack of plate appearances:
The foot injury that forced him into retirement left Edmonds seven homers shy of 400 and 51 hits shy of 2,000. The latter is of great significance, as the BBWAA has yet to elect a player with fewer than 2,000 hits whose career took place entirely in the post-1960 expansion era. Edmonds fell short of that mark in part because he walked in 12.5% of his plate appearances and averaged 92 passes a year during his first six seasons in St. Louis, but the bigger issue is simply playing time: Kirby Puckett is the only expansion-era Hall of Famer with fewer plate appearances than Edmonds's 7,980.
I get why that matters, but I questions whether it should. For starters, if you include the playoffs, Edmonds has more than 400 homers, more than 2,000 hits, and more than 1,000 walks. The only other center fielders to hit each of those marks are Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Ken Griffey, Jr. are the only other center fielders to do the same.
Why is it a mark in Andre Dawson's favor that he got 270 more hits and 39 more home runs in the last four years of his career despite being below replacement in every single season. If Jim Edmonds had gotten a couple extra months in 1994 and another season in 2009, and ended up 2,100 hits and 415 home runs, then he has a good case for the Hall of Fame, but because he did not spend enough time being a below-average player compiling stats, he has no shot? It does not make sense.
I really like the JAWS system that factors in both peak and career totals, but in Edmonds' case it sells him a little short. For one, Jaffe uses the average Hall of Famers' numbers at the position. In Edmonds' case, that position is center field, and three of the top six position players of all-time are centerfielders in Willie Mays, Tris Speaker, and Ty Cobb, distorting the average. If we use the median for the 18 center fielders in the Hall of Fame, Edmonds comes out ahead in overall bWAR (60 to 59) and JAWS score (51 to 49). There is also the matter of relying solely on bWAR as by fWAR his total WAR (65) and JAWS score (55, if it used fWAR) are considerably higher, although these points are minor, comparatively.
Jim Edmonds had one of the greatest peaks of all time:
That is the full list of players who had an uninterrupted six-year peak better than Jim Edmonds. Of course that means there are a lot of really good players below him.
Of course, to be a Hall of Famer it likely requires more than just a great peak, even if everyone ahead of him is worthy of the Hall of Fame. When we talk about the Hall of Fame, often time we talk about greatness, yet when we compare numbers, we use replacement-level, rewarding mediocre seasons to pad overall stat lines. What if we just compare runs above average? Over the last 100 or so Hall of Famers, Jim Edmonds is 33rd in runs above average.
And how does that compare with players on this year's ballot?
It is better than Mike Piazza, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, and Tim Raines, all players who should garner significantly more support than Edmonds.
Edmonds also had a unique and rare combination of offense and defense.
Let's take a look at how that combination looks when comparing all players. The graph below takes every player with at least 5,000 plate appearances in the majors, essentially a ten-year career and an excellent accomplishment in and of itself.
Again, Edmonds fits right in with the Hall of Famers, yet he is very serious danger of falling off the ballot entirely. Ryan Thibs (@notmrtibbs) has been tracking public Hall of Fame ballots for several years, and thus far he has collected around 50 out of the 450 or so expected ballots. Of the ballots he has collected, Edmonds has been named on just one. I realize that getting Edmonds elected to the Hall of Fame is an uphill battle, but the difficulty in getting the 23 votes or so necessary so that we can even continue to have this discussion is really unfortunate.
At his best for more than half a decade, Edmonds was one of the greatest baseball players of all-time. From 1995-2005, only Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds had a higher fWAR than Jim Edmonds, and it is even possible that Edmonds is underrated by WAR as the metrics in place before UZR in 2002 rate Edmonds as merely above-average. Edmonds should not be punished for the strike in 1994 or sitting out a year at Age-39. It is what happened in between those years that really mattered, and in those years, Jim Edmonds played like a Hall of Famer.
Note: I already packed in a lot of information in this post, so I will likely do a few more showing Edmonds' ranks amonf center fielders and outfielders as well as a visual look at how Edmonds ranks among the Hall of Fame outfielders elected in the last 20 years.