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Is Jim Edmonds a Hall of Famer?
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Is Jim Edmonds a Hall of Famer?
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
Last Updated: June 3, 2009

I read a piece on Dugout Central about Jim Edmonds and his chances for the Hall of Fame. The author of the piece premised his opinion (that yes, Edmonds belongs in the Hall) principally on three factors: 1) Edmonds has the same number of career homeruns as Jim Rice, and Jim Rice is in the Hall of Fame; 2) Ozzie Smith and Brooks Robinson are in the Hall of Fame purely based on their defense, which necessarily means Edmonds has to be in, because in addition to matching Rice’s offense, 3) “Jim Edmonds is arguably the single greatest defensive player at any position in MLB history.”

Yikes.

As much fun as it would be to bash this guy in the head repeatedly – I mean, seriously, every sentence in his piece is assailable, including my favorite: "His over-the-head-and-shoulders-diving-head-long-into-the-centerfield-fence catch in Kansas City in 1997 while playing for the Angels is the stuff of baseball folklore. FOX Sports’ The Best Damn Sports Show Period voted it “The Greatest Catch in the History of Sports” beating out the likes of Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series and Dwight Clark’s 1982 NFC Championship game grab against the Cowboys." – I think the topic it raises is more important that the facile way in which the guy went about exploring the point.

Is Jim Edmonds a Hall of Famer?

My gut instinctively reacts in two ways – the first is, of course not. The second is, why not?

Edmonds offensive career track gives me lots of pause. He was twice the hitter in St. Louis after the age of 30 that he was in Anaheim in his twenties. In this era of baseball, you simply have to suspect a player of bad things when he goes from a solid-to-good hitter during his twenties, misses most of a season, and suddenly emerges better than he ever was after the injury. But he has been accused of nothing, and faded just like any normal ball player in his late-30s, so I can’t really discount him on this basis.

So what of his offensive career? Era-adjustments aside, 382 homeruns is historic for a centerfielder. Overall, 382 is good for a tie for 55th all time, with Jim Rice (Hall of Fame) and Frank Howard (not), one behind Larry Walker (not) and one ahead of Albert Belle (not). By my count, only Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey, Jr., Duke Snider, and Dale Murphy have more homeruns than Edmonds at the centerfield position (with Andruw Jones likely to pass him soon). He ranks 145th all time with a 132 OPS+, and amongst centerfielders he is behind Mays, Mantle, Griffey, Snider, Cobb, Speaker, Larry Doby, Wally Berger, Hack Wilson, Joe DiMaggio, and tied with Earl Averill. His adjusted batting runs are good for 106th all time.

Interestingly, and this is something we’re seeing a lot of in The Delgado Era, despite his impressive career numbers Jim Edmonds never led his league in any single offensive category. He hit 40 or more homeruns twice, he drove in 100 RBI four times, he scored 100 runs four times, his OPS was over 1.000 twice and he took over 100 walks twice. He was a very good offensive player, but his stats look a whole lot better all time than they do against his contemporaries (another product of the Delgado Era).

If he were merely an offensive player, I’d say he was a longshot for the Hall of Fame. But Jim Edmonds was also a tremendous defensive player. Edmonds won eight gold gloves, but he also had a reputation for timing his catches so that they would be more magnificent than necessary. I tend to not put much faith into either of those factors.

According to anecdotal evidence, Edmonds is one of the greatest defensive centerfielders in the televised era of professional baseball. That catch he made with his back to home plate against Kansas City was worth all the hyperbole that has been heaped upon it. He made many highlight real catches. And at least according to Baseball-Reference.com’s defensive statistics, he backed up the highlights with excellent defensive play. I think in my lifetime it is hard to find a better defensive centerfielder than Jim Edmonds and Andruw Jones, though I think it is unfair that guys like Devon White and Paul Blair often get swept under the rug.

At this point, it seems to me that Edmonds is primed for the Hall of Fame. So why is it that the part of my gut that thinks he doesn’t belong is still holding court over the part that thinks he does?

Well, for one thing, we don’t elect outfielders based on defense. Find me a single dominant defensive outfielder in the Hall of Fame who wouldn’t have made it on his offense alone. Can’t be done. We ignore bad defense when we put outfielders into the Hall, and we ignore good defense when we keep outfielders out of the Hall.

That having been said, Jim Edmonds’ offensive numbers simply are not amazing. No generation of hitters has seen more players with 382 or more homeruns than the one Edmonds played in. Hitting 382 homeruns in the Delgado Era is like hitting 250 in the Downing Era. A 132 OPS+ in this era is not as great as it was in previous eras, and not a Hall of Fame standard in any era. The number of hitters who were more successful than Edmonds who are not in the Hall of Fame is alarming: Tony Oliva, Reggie Smith, Ken Williams, Ken Singleton, Bob Johnson, Larry Walker, Jack Clark, Frank Howard, Darryl Strawberry, Jose Canseco, Darrell Evans, Dale Murphy, Tim Raines, Albert Belle, Juan Gonzalez, and Norm Cash are the most prominent ones.

Finally, how about some longevity issues? Anytime you have a guy with borderline rate-stats, you would hope he has reached some important milestones along the way. Edmonds finished his career with 7708 plate appearances, which puts him between Joe DiMaggio and Don Mattingly, most prominently. 382 homeruns rock, but as we’ve discussed 400 homeruns was never a lock for the Hall of Fame, and now it isn’t even a milestone, and he doesn’t have 400 homeruns. 1200 runs and 1100 RBI are impressive career numbers, but not automatic-type numbers. And forget 3,000 hits – this guy doesn’t have 2,000 hits. The most headway Edmonds has made on any given career list is in strikeouts, where with 1669 he is third all time.

I think Jim Edmonds was a very good hitter, but not nearly as good as he looks when you era-adjust his numbers. And I think Jim Edmonds was an excellent defensive centerfielder, but that has never gotten anyone into the Hall of Fame on its own. I think it is a tough call, I really do, but in the end, I don’t think Jim Edmonds is a Hall of Famer.

Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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