July 22, 2014

One Short Argument for the Hall of Fame Candidacy of Designated Hitters

January 5, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

The debate over whether Edgar Martinez should be a Hall of Famer has typically swung on the question of the value of a designated hitter, and whether Martinez’s level of offensive production outweighs the loss of value from him not being available to play defense for the majority of his career.

A point in the debate that I haven’t seen emphasized (maybe I just haven’t looked in the right places) is the simple fact that American League teams are essentially required to have a designated hitter. (Rule 6.10 (b) in the major league baseball rulebook actually only says, “A hitter may be designated to bat for the starting pitcher and all subsequent pitchers in any game without otherwise affecting the status of the pitcher(s) in the game.” But of course an A.L. team that chooses not to use a dh puts itself at a substantial disadvantage to the other team.)

Martinez, Frank Thomas, Paul Molitor, David Ortiz and others aren’t invalids being artificially preserved by not having to go out and field a position: they’re filling a position on their team that someone has to occupy. This is not the case for one and (rarely) two-inning relievers with hundreds of saves, such as Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith, who are filling an optional, highly specialized role that actually arose after the role of designated hitter began in 1973. A designated hitter still isn’t doing as much for his team as a normal position player does, but when people accuse him of not pulling his weight, he can at least say that he has to be there at the position of dh.

Comments

4 Responses to “One Short Argument for the Hall of Fame Candidacy of Designated Hitters”
  1. CHRIS says:

    Instinctively, in your gut, I can see how people are resistant to accepting a DH as a Hall of Famer because the Hall is exclusive and for the very very best and if you don’t even play the field it seems counterintuitive to be labeled the very best or better put, wasn’t good enough to play the field. I can understand this visceral, gut reaction but people, HOF voters especially, should be able to think their way past this initial reaction and then come to a rational decision. The next issue is, Is Jeff Kent a more deserving hall of famer because he played an awful second base but hit the seams off the ball compared to OTHER second baseman or should we compare him to 1B’s who played a less demanding position and did it reasonably well but hit the ball a ton and therefore got into the Hall of Fame? SEE THATS THE CRUX IN THE ARGUMENT. Hall of Famers frame of reference is comparing other players at the same position. 250 Home runs at 2B is a heck of a lot closer to a hall of famer than 400 homers at 1B. The DH argument lacks this important reference point. Was so and so an elite above replacement player player? A DH doesn’t have a replacement player to compare to to give that frame of referrence. Then the issue is purely statistical numbers and there aren’t any DH’s who’s numbers FAR AND AWAY exceed the best hitters of all time. Is Edgar Martinez a FAR better offensive player than the elite offensive hall of famers of all time? No pure DH is. We don’t have a DH for the Hall of Fame candidate that has the offensive resume that shines as brightly as the best of the best sluggers of all time. Edgar is interesting but he isn’t in the Mantle/Ruth/Aaron/Ted WIlliams/Clemente class. If he was then I think DH’s would start getting considered but so far we do not have one. Edgar Martinez makes you wanna sayyy hmmmmm but he doesn’t woo you.

  2. It would seem at first glance that Edgar is exhibit A for the Hall’s tentative stance against DH candidates, mainly because of how accomplished he was with the bat. But his package does come with some “issues” aside from the DH. He was a poor fielder before injuries turned him into a permanent DH. He wasn’t the fastest athlete out there on the basepaths. He didn’t become a full-time starter until age 27, which impacted his accumulating stats. Then you have his abrupt power transformation at age 32 just when the “era of suspicion” was ascending (he became an avid weightlifter). Just saying, I think there’s more to Edgar’s candidacy then just the DH issue.

  3. Len Levin says:

    In all the debate over whether designated hitters belong in the Hall of Fame, why does no one ever mention Hall of Fame member Paul Molitor, who spent the last eight years of his career as essentially a DH?

  4. The irony with Molitor, Len, is that he was able to accumulate numbers that you cannot ignore largely due to being able to play so many more games without having to gimp his glass body out to the field. I often wonder what kind of numbers guys like Johnny Bench or Ralph Kiner (quick declines at earlier ages) would have put up if they didn’t have to go out to the field. Advantage, Molly.

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