The BBWAA Project: Third Base

Previously on The BBWAA Project:

First Base roundup
Second Base roundup
Shortstop roundup
And now …

Third base
Seven third basemen have been voted in by the BBWAA, five of them on the first ballot (Wade Boggs, George Brett, Paul Molitor, Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt).

Median Career: 84 WAR (High: Schmidt 103; Low: Pie Traynor 33.8)

25th percentile career: 72.6 WAR

Median Peak: 51.7 WAR (High: Schmidt 57.2; Low: Traynor 24.4)

25th percentile peak: 41.2 WAR

Here are the BBWAA third basemen as ranked by the fans on Baseball Reference's EloRater:

No. 17: Mike Schmidt
No. 18: Eddie Mathews
No. 22: Wade Boggs
No. 23: George Brett
No. 38: Paul Molitor
No. 58: Brooks Robinson
No. 215: Pie Traynor

Yowza … those are some SERIOUSLY high standards, you know, except for the Pie Man. It is well know that BBWAA has been ruthlessly tough on third basemen, and to this day Ken Boyer (No. 95), Graig Nettles (No. 114), Buddy Bell (No. 126) Darrell Evans (No. 130) and Joe Torre (No. 131) are not only missing from the Hall of Fame, but none of the group ever even came especially close (Torre and Boyer did stay on the ballot for a long time, but neither ever garnered much momentum). Ron Santo (No. 56) was voted in by the Veterans but he never got 50% of the vote.

Pie Traynor played in the 1920s and 1930s and well into the 1950s and 1960s was widely viewed as the greatest third baseman in baseball history. This probably has more to do with his .320 batting average and genial personality. He played in an era when the gloves were so flimsy, he would rarely backhand the ball, choosing instead to scoop it barehanded. In any case, he's a weird outlier for the BBWAA, who did not vote in Home Run Baker, Stan Hack or Heinie Groh, who were probably at least as good and also had good names/nicknames.*

*One point worth making about Pie Traynor -- in 1928 for Pittsburgh he had FORTY-TWO sacrifice hits. That's the most for any player since 1925 … though in in 1977 Bert Campaneris had 40.

The Veterans Committee is all over the place. As mentioned, they did finally elect Ron Santo, who was for a long time the best eligible player not in the Hall of Fame. But they also elected Freddie Lindstrom (No. 467) and George Kell (No. 431), two of the lowest value players in the Hall of Fame. The rest are Jimmy Collins (No. 243) and Home Run Baker (No. 105).

This year's candidate:

Edgar Martinez
Career: 64.4 WAR (minus 19.6 against Median)
Peak: 41.8 WAR (minus 9.9)
Ranking: No. 118.

Edgar wasn't really a third baseman -- he played only 564 of his 2,055 games at third. Still, he played third base way more than he played first base (28 games) and, frankly, we have to put him SOMEWHERE. Plus, I list Paul Molitor as a third baseman, and he played only 790 games at third (against more than 1,000 games at DH). This seems as natural a spot for Edgar as anywhere.

But … putting Edgar here rather than at first base badly hurts his Hall of Fame candidacy. Judged against the BBWAA first basemen, his case looks quite strong. His career value is almost 10 wins above the first base median. His peak is about three wins below the median. The point is, he's in the ballgame.

Here at third base? He's nowhere near the median. The third base standard is SO high because of Schmidt and Brett and Boggs and Brooksie and Mathews that there's no way Edgar Martinez can compete. He was not nearly as good as any of those players. He hit a baseball about well as any of them, more or less. But he didn't play the field, couldn't run, and that hurts his case a lot.

As mentioned, I think Molitor is probably the closest comp. In that comparison, Molitor played for a longer time and played more in the field and could run -- so has a higher career value and a key Hall of Fame statistic (3,000 hits). But Edgar had a better peak and was better at hitting baseballs.
I think this is Edgar's biggest problem as a Hall of Fame candidate. He was a truly incredible hitter -- historically great as a hitter. But how do you fit him into the Hall of Fame? Who do you judge him against?