Frank Thomas v. Edgar Martinez


I recently saw an article that attempted to break down the careers of these two fantastic hitters. The conclusion was, essentially: They were both DHs and were both really good, so it is ridiculous that Frank got 80+ percent of the Hall of Fame vote and Edgar Martinez got only 25% or so.

There are some logical problems with this, and I’ve seen the two compared enough that I wanted to address it.

First, the equivalency between the two is a false one. I have seen articles try to handwave away Thomas’ best seasons by saying, “Okay well sure, he was one of the best ever for the first 8 or so seasons, but he wasn’t as good after that and there were years Edgar Martinez was better!” I think the divide-and-conquer approach is asinine. If you take away the best from anything it is obviously vastly diminished. It is simply changing the facts that you are arguing to suit your point, not actually constructing a good argument. It is facile to say, “Y’know, if you take away rock, scissors is unbeatable!”

So, let’s just break it down as concisely and honestly as possible: Frank Thomas had a triple-slash of .301/.419/.555 over 10,075 plate appearances for his career. Edgar Martinez posted .312/.418/.515 in 8,674 plate appearances. 40 points of slugging over ~1,500 more plate appearances – essentially 2-3 more entire seasons of hitting – is much better.

Odd without a bat in his hands. (Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports)

Another logical fallacy is looking at their Hall of Fame tallies and saying their percentages should have been closer. Not necessarily at all. It’s a binary system with a cap at 10, and the ballot was infamously clogged. Let’s say that we could unanimously agree on the Top 11 players on the ballot – empirically, objectively, with no debate whatsoever. Like, Madden ratings basically. The players in the Top 10 should theoretically get 100% of the vote each and the 11th player should get 0%. Does that mean that players 1-10 are infinitely better than player 11? No. But structurally that’s how the voting works. You cannot give portions of votes saying, “I think Frank Thomas is 100% a Hall of Famer and Edgar Martinez is 95% of Frank Thomas, therefore etc. etc.”

Frank Thomas is clearly a Hall of Famer. Edgar Martinez was not as good, and it is not a linear function. Edgar Martinez is roughly equivalent to Larry Walker with the bat, but Larry Walker was a very good defensive right fielder and a very good baserunner. Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza are other guys with very similar bats to Edgar Martinez who contributed in other ways on the diamond that Edgar Martinez did not. And all of this is without mentioning Barry Bonds, or pitchers, or Craig Biggio. We should not be surprised at all that Frank Thomas crushed him in the voting this year.

I think you can make a case for Edgar Martinez as a Hall of Famer, and I’m a huge fan of his. Perhaps these arguments would be more compelling if he had gotten a full time job sooner in the majors – but once again, you have to change what really happened to get to that argument. I think comparing him to Thomas is specious and unhelpful, and unfair to Edgar Martinez, because you can make the argument for him without comparing him to a better player.