Appreciating Jim Edmonds

Hall of Fame voting season is over, the results are out, but Hall of Fame discussion season isn’t over quite yet. Maybe that irks you and you just want this all to go away, but if that’s the case, you probably didn’t click on this post to begin with. If you did, just think of this more as the appreciation of a career, tied to some voting results.

It should come as no real surprise that Jim Edmonds fell off the ballot in his first year of eligibility, receiving just 11 votes (2.5%). If you’d been following Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker, you’d have long seen this coming, and it never seemed realistic that Edmonds would actually make it in in the first place. But it’s kind of sad, because Edmonds had a remarkable career, one that stands head and shoulders above the typical “fall off the ballot in the first year of eligibility” career, yet here we are.

It’s not the first time it’s happened. A couple years back, it was Kenny Lofton who fell off in his first year of eligibility. A couple years before that, and perhaps most egregiously, it was Kevin Brown. Dwight Gooden‘s first-ballot exclusion may have come as a bit of a surprise in 2006, and maybe the most famous example of this phenomena was Lou Whitaker’s first-year showing of 2.9% that dropped him from the ballot in 2001.

Edmonds isn’t the first player with a borderline Hall of Fame-worthy career to receive just one turn on the ride, and he won’t be the last. Some of Edmonds’ detractors will reference his laissez-faire, some might characterize it as careless or lackadaisical, attitude. If that’s the case, maybe we care about this more than Edmonds himself. And in some ways, maybe falling off the ballot on your first year is better than falling off in year two or three. Guys who fall off the first time around were never going to make it anyway, and there’s less recognition for the guy who falls off in year three after clinging onto the 5% threshold in years one and two. You fall off in year one with a legitimate case, and you get used as an example in an article.

Any ballot I work up will remain an imaginary one until the year 2027, but if I had a ballot that counted in the present, Edmonds would’ve been on it. Edmonds had the kind of career that seems to get overlooked by the BBWAA come Hall of Fame time, though. Extremely well-rounded players who were never the best or “most feared” hitter in the game tend to get passed up, as was the case for Lofton in 2013 and Whitaker in 2001.

But the thing is, while Edmonds was very well-rounded — that’s what really made him so great — it’s not like many folks would quibble with his career WAR because it was propped up by defensive metrics, a positional adjustment or baserunning numbers. As a bit of an aside, I grew up as a kid in northeast Ohio in the ’90s, so Kenny Lofton is one of my all-time favorite players, and one of the reasons why I fell in love with the game of baseball in the first place. But I’ll be honest, I don’t totally see his Hall of Fame case, and Lofton’s is probably the one you’ll hear most compared to Edmonds’. Lofton was a fantastic, exciting player, certainly worthy of Hall of Fame discussion, but in my opinion it’s hard to make a compelling argument for a guy who wasn’t much more than a league-average hitter unless there are extreme circumstances in the defense, peak years, or baserunning departments, and Lofton wasn’t a true outlier in any. Hitting is the most important part of a position player’s game, and I don’t think one can become a Hall of Famer on elite well-roundedness alone. That’s just me. Feel free to disagree.

Edmonds, though. Edmonds was a true slugger. Edmonds finished his career with a wRC+ one point better than Ken Griffey Jr. I know, I know, Griffey’s last few seasons in the league skew that number down a bit, but you get the picture. There was never a large disparity between Junior’s offensive ability and Edmonds’. Fred McGriff received nine times as many votes as Edmonds this year and remained on the ballot for a seventh consecutive year. McGriff was a career first baseman with no speed, so it stands to reason his votes are coming almost exclusively for his bat. Yet, McGriff was no better a hitter than Edmonds:

  • McGriff: .284/.377/.509, 134 wRC+
  • Edmonds: .284/.376/.527, 132 wRC+

Granted, McGriff has about an extra four year’s worth of playing time on Edmonds, so McGriff clearly has the edge in career offensive value, but Edmonds was far from a glove-first center fielder. He was a bat-first center fielder with an amazing glove, and that’s a generational talent.

One hundred and twenty-six center fielders have accrued more than 5,000 plate appearances in the modern era (1921-present). Edmonds ranks as the tenth-best hitter of the group with his 132 wRC+. His career slash line, home run, RBI and run totals are indiscernible from Hall of Fame center fielder Duke Snider. Say what you will about defensive metrics, especially pre-Defensive Runs Saved, but nobody questions Edmonds’ abilities in center, and the numbers say he added the 14th-most defensive value in the history of center fielders.

While he may never have had the reputation as one of the game’s “feared” hitters, there’s no doubting that for a long stretch, he was one of the best. Using FanGraphs WAR and Baseball-Reference WAR, Edmonds had the 52nd-greatest five-year peak by a position player in nearly a century. Edmonds’ peak comes in better than Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and countless other Hall of Famers. In a six-year stretch from 2000-05, only Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez were more valuable than Edmonds. During that time, there wasn’t much that set Edmonds apart from his teammate Albert Pujols at the plate. He was one of the 10 best hitters in the game over that six-year period, and was the only one of the top 10 sluggers to play a premium position up the middle.

Edmonds made one of the best catches many of us have ever seen, the kind of career highlight play that cements a player in a group of fan’s heads for eternity:

He was robbing home runs like Kevin Kiermaier or Mike Trout when Kevin Kiermaier and Mike Trout were still in middle school, hoping that one day they could rob a home run like Jim Edmonds:

Not only is he a world champion, but he has a heroic, signature postseason moment, in a game that helped his team advance to a World Series:

At his best, Jim Edmonds was one of the most exciting players in the game. His career stands up to some of the greatest center fielders we’ve ever seen. In the end, though, it wasn’t deemed worthy of an eternal place in Cooperstown. Injuries held Edmonds back from racking up the kind of counting stats voters like to see; he fell seven homers shy of 400 and 51 hits shy of 2,000. Some folks had a hard time getting past his body language. He never won an MVP, and he was never considered the game’s best player, or even one of the game’s few best players.

But that doesn’t mean that Jim Edmonds didn’t do it all. He was a world champion, a four-time All-Star and an eight-time Gold Glover. He had the well-rounded, complete game of a Hall of Famer. He had the bat of a Hall of Famer, and he had the glove of a Hall of Famer. He had the peak years of a Hall of Famer, and he had the signature moments of a Hall of Famer. He’ll always have all of that. He just didn’t have the support of a Hall of Famer.

We hoped you liked reading Appreciating Jim Edmonds by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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zxlkho
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zxlkho

“He was a world champion, a four-time All-Star and a six-time Gold Glover.”

He actually had 8 gold gloves. 6 in the NL, 2 in the AL.