Let's start by breaking down the numbers on Edmonds. The Jaffe WAR system (or JAWS) rates Edmonds as the 14th best center fielder of all-time. The list in front of him includes Mays, Cobb, Speaker, Mantle, DiMaggio, Snider, Ashburn, Dawson, and Billy Hamilton (Sliding Billy). Throw out those nine and Edmonds would be fifth amongst modern center fielders behind Griffey, Beltran, Lofton, Andruw Jones. No problem conceding the top spot to Griffey. That's not a debatable point. After that each of the three remaining players have positives and negatives to be made for their case as Hall of Famers and "Best of Their Generation" types of talent.
There are several statistics which support Edmonds laying claim to the top spot in center field behind Griffey and should merit Edmonds receiving Hall of Fame consideration in time. One knock against the Edmonds Hall of Fame profile is longevity. He played from 1993 through 2010, but their were several partial seasons and lots of wear and tear on the eight time Gold Glover. For example, Beltran has played the same number of years as Edmonds, but has almost 1200 more plate appearances. Mainly, the lack of plate appearances hurt Edmonds with counting number stats, but they are still strong. He's only 7 home runs short of 400, 20 more than Beltran, and only about 40 short of Andruw Jones. To get a better idea of the production Edmonds provided the Angels, Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers over his career, a better picture emerges when you simply look at his sabermetric stats.
I am going to focus in on three areas: OPS+, OPS, and WAR7. Let's look at OPS+ first. Remember that a mark of 100 represents an "average player", so possessing a mark over that shows an above average players. Edmonds comes in with a career mark of 132 which easily puts him ahead of Beltran (122), Jones (111), and Lofton (107). In fact, Edmonds is only slightly behind Ken Griffey in this area (136). Break it down by the top 3 OPS+ numbers posted by the players during the players career and it would look something like this:
Again, Edmonds stands out above this crowd and ranks much closer to Griffey than the other three modern center fielders in this discussion. Lofton, Jones, and Beltran's top three numbers would not place on Griffey's chart, nor Edmonds, but Edmonds top season is equal to Griffey's top mark on this statistic. The OPS discussion breaks down much the same way.
Griffey has a top 10 OPS with a .907 mark. All of the center fielders ahead of Griffey's mark are either Hall of Famers or Mike Trout. Edmonds is just a shade behind Griffey at .903 for 11th all-time as a center fielder. The rest of the players in this discussion are much further down the list measuring by this statistic. Beltran ranks 24th all-time with an .850 mark (just ahead of Ray Lankford at .840) and Andruw Jones ranked 39th with an ,823 mark. Lofton is 76th.
While the career marks of Griffey and Edmonds are near on OPS they each got to their number in a different way. Edmonds had two seasons north of 1.000 and 8 seasons above .900. Griffey had 4 seasons above 1.000 and 10 seasons above .900. Breaking this stat down into it's original two components of on base percentage and slugging shows Griffey at a career OBP of .370 and a SLG of .538. Edmonds had an OBP of .376 and a slugging of .527. Clearly both players got on base, both players hit for power. Griffey just hit for a lot more power.
Final statistic and the best argument for Beltran and Lofton. If you have never looked at the WAR7 stat on Baseball Reference you should take time to explore a little bit. I am a big fan. While I think longevity is an important factor in consideration for the Hall of Fame, I do not think it's the end all, be all in the conversation. The statistic is actually quite simple. It's the sum of the best seven WAR seasons for a player. Here are the top 20 center fielders with the WAR7 stat highlighted next to the player's career WAR.
This is the one weak area for Edmonds that I have brought up tonight, but he is still in the same ballpark as Andre Dawson. He was pretty good. Lofton and Beltran look good here, but this is also a stat that can be helped out by longevity, which I already mentioned Edmonds lacks.
So what does all of this mean? In my opinion, Edmonds is not too far behind Ken Griffey and should end up in Cooperstown sooner than later. The last few years have brought out tons of baseball fans in support of a Hall of Fame with Carlos Beltran, but Edmonds is clearly a much better player. Carlos does have a great track record in the post season, but Edmonds did one thing in the post season that Carlos never got around to.....
Which also brings up another question: Why are Jim Edmonds rookie cards available for $2 and $3? Sure, they are 1993 issues, which means there are probably 100,000 of each, minimum, but this guy is awesome. Buy his cards.