Was Frank Thomas that much better than Edgar Martinez?


It has been more than a week since the Hall of Fame ballot results were announced and some of us are still scratching our heads. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas were all elected in their first year of eligibility. Everyone else was left on the outside of Cooperstown looking in.

I don’t have a problem with any of the three new inductees, but I do believe several other players were also deserving of enshrinement. Looking strictly at the hitters, I have to ask one simple question. Was Frank Thomas that much better than Edgar Martinez?

Thomas made the cut quite easily, getting 83.7% of the vote in his inaugural appearance on the ballot. Meanwhile, Martinez dropped to only 25.2% of the vote in his fifth year of eligibility. That’s quite a disparity for two players who had similar careers. Sure, Thomas had more power, but Martinez rates closely with Thomas in several hitting categories.

Yes. Hitting. Edgar Martinez spent nearly his career as a designated hitter. In years past, that fact has been pointed to when trying to explain the reasons why Martinez garnered so little Hall of Fame support. No player who spent the bulk of his career as a DH has been able to gain entry into Cooperstown. Until now.

photo by clare_and_ben via flickr

Thomas played almost two-thirds of his career as a DH. The other third was spent dragging down the fielding percentages of his White Sox teammates as he attempted to play first-base. Thomas is in the Hall of Fame for one reason — his offense. So, why does Edgar Martinez continue to suffer?

Martinez was a .312 hitter with a .418 OBP and a .515 slugging percentage over his 18 seasons in the big leagues. He won two batting titles. Thomas hit .301/.419/.555 during his 19-year career. Thomas piled up 521 homers and 1,704 RBIs. Impressive totals — and considerably more than Martinez.

However, a closer look at the numbers shows that Thomas was a phenomenal player for the first half of his career and the numbers took a sizable drop off in the second half of his career. Thomas failed to lead the league in any category after his age 29 season.

Conversely, Martinez continued to produce well into his thirties. Edgar led the league in almost every offensive category in 1995 as a 32-year old. He also led the league in OBP twice after the age of 35 and won the RBI crown as a 37-year old.

Frank Thomas was a great player. What he did over the first eight to ten years of his career was unprecedented. But, when looking at the overall body of work, I think Martinez is at least in the same ballpark. The BBWAA members obviously feel differently.

If we are going to put Thomas in The Hall for what he accomplished in his first ten seasons, then we have to change the rules for everyone. Jeff Bagwell comes to mind.

What if we take into account Thomas’ first 10 phenomenal seasons and his next five mediocre ones, (trimming away the final four and slightly less productive years of his career) and compare those 15 seasons to Bagwell’s entire 15-year career? Thomas still comes out on top in the percentage based categories, posting a slightly better than career slash line of .308/.420/.567. Bagwell’s totals are close (.297/.408/.540). But Thomas totaled only 436 homers and 1,439 RBIs through his first 15 seasons compared to Bagwell’s totals of 449 and 1529. Bagwell was also a plus fielder and baserunner while Thomas was anything but.

I’m not saying that Frank Thomas doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. But for him to get more votes than Martinez and Bagwell combined smells of something rotten. Please join me in forwarding this and Chris Perry’s blog post to as many people as you can. Maybe together we can make a difference.