On 9 August 2010, the Cincinnati Reds acquired Jim Edmonds for journeyman outfielder Chris Dickerson. Recently turned 40, Edmonds has put together one of the quietest cases for the Baseball Hall of Fame in recent memory.
A 7th round daft pick out of high school in 1998, Edmonds debuted briefly for the then California Angels in 1993, increasing his workload to 94 games and 300+ plate appearances in 1994 – that performance earned Edmonds 8th in that year’s Rookie of the Year voting (Bob Hamelin ran away with the award, garnering 25 1st place votes, Rusty Greer collecting the last 3 – a young Cleveland outfielder named Manny Ramirez (presumably being Manny) finished 2nd in the voting) (http://www.baseball-reference.com/awards/awards_1994.shtml#ALroy). The real break through came after the strike of 1994 ended – in the 1995 season, Edmonds posted a 290/352/536 slash line, playing 140 games in CF for the Angels. Edmonds was 3rd in Runs Scored (120), 6th in Total Bases and 9th in HRs (33) in the AL. For the rest of the decade, Edmonds consistently posted solid 4-5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) seasons, getting on base approximately 36% of the time and posting solid high 800s to low 900s on-base plus slugging (OPS).
Injuries wrecked most of Edmonds 1999 campaign, and as spring training began in 2000, the Angels moved Edmonds to St. Louis in exchange for Adam Kennedy and Kent Bottenfield. Though in some ways unheralded for anything other than highlight reel catches in the outfield, for six seasons Edmonds was the best centerfielder in baseball, by a considerable margin. Edmonds posted a combined OBP of .406 (2nd was Bernie Williams at .377), slugged .584 (2nd was Ken Griffey Junior at .539), hit 210 HRs (2nd to Andruw Jones’ 221, ahead of 3rd best Steve Finley’s 144) and scored 599 runs (2nd to Johnny Damon’s 705). Edmonds posted 43 WAR – Andruw Jones was second at 35, Carlos Beltran 3rd at 26).
The road since the end of the 2006 season has been less travelled to say the least. At 37, Edmonds posted a 252/325/403 season, good for an OPS+ of 88. Edmonds started the 2008 season with San Diego and appeared finished when released [check this], but was reborn after signing on with the Cubs, hitting 19 HRs in 85 games, putting up a 256/369/538 slash line, good for 2 WAR in half a season. After sitting out the 2009 season, Edmonds came back to the game, making the Milwaukee Brewers opening day roster. With nearly 250 plate appearances for the Brew Crew, Edmonds posted a more than respectable 122 Adjusted OPS, and will now try to help the Reds hold off his former team as both the Cards and Reds race toward the NL Central crown.
All tolled [through August 11th] Jim Edmonds has played over 92% of his nearly 2000 games in Centerfield. Among players that have played at least 1000 games and 75% at CF, Edmonds ranks 4th on the HR list (behind Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr and Andruw Jones). Edmonds .526 Slugging Percentage is good for 5th (DiMaggio, Mays, Junior, Earl Averill). His 68 WAR ranks 5th (Mays, Tris Speaker, DiMaggio, Junior). His eight Gold Gloves tie him with Barry Bonds, Paul Blair, Dewey Evans and Garry Maddox, and his Total Zone runs metrics demonstrate him at least the near defensive equal of universally accepted defensive stud Mike Cameron.
In terms of career WAR, how does Edmonds stack up against his contemporaries? Edmonds 68 WAR is the same as Derek Jeter (though Cap’n Jetes figured to continue accumulating) and Jim Thome, just barely ahead of Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez (two obvious first ballot hall of famers, putting aside the steroids question for the moment).
Unfortunately (for Mr. Edmonds), if you consider the typical cumulative categories, his resume lacks. Edmonds never finished in the top 5 for a season in Batting Average (best finish – 9th in 2002), Home Runs (best finish — 5th in 2004) or RBIs (best finish – 6th in 2004). Aside from his 4th in 2000 and 5th in 2004, Edmonds never sniffed an MVP award or a truly dominating season that might have opened some eyes about what has been a borderline Hall of Fame career. Sadly, I think Edmonds remains on the outside of that border, looking in toward the Hall.