Ortiz versus Edgar: Who is best DH?

At the age of 36, David Ortiz is having one of the finest seasons of his distinguished career. He's hitting .309/.399/.628 with 21 home runs and leads the American League in OPS and runs scored while ranking second in slugging percentage and total bases. Because he's putting up these numbers in a lower run-scoring environment then a few years ago, his season is comparable to 2006, when he hit 54 home runs, or 2007, when he hit .332 with 35 home runs.

Ortiz homered on Wednesday on an inside pitch -- his 11th such home run, tying Ryan Braun for the major league lead -- showing that he still has the bat speed to turn on a pitch when he's busted inside. Not bad for a guy some Red Sox fans wanted released a few years ago after hitting one home run through May of 2009.

The other day on the Baseball Today podcast, Eric Karabell and I briefly touched on Ortiz and Edgar Martinez, asking: Who is the best designated hitter? With the Red Sox opening up a series in Seattle, it's the perfect time to run through a comparison between the two ... especially since Ortiz was originally signed by the Mariners (he was traded to the Twins while still in Class A ball and still went by David Arias).

By the time he's done, Ortiz is a good bet to approach 500 home runs and he should easily top 1,500 career RBIs, both numbers well beyond Martinez's career marks. But you'll notice one significant difference between the two: Martinez's career WAR is nearly 30 wins better than Ortiz's. How can there be such a large spread?

1. Martinez's advantage in on-base percentage is more significant than it appears upon quick glance. Ortiz's career OBP is an excellent .379; Edgar's is a Hall of Fame-worthy .418. For sake of comparison, Ortiz has ranked in the top 10 in the AL in OBP five times (including 2012) while Martinez did so 11 times, including six seasons where he ranked first or second. So factor in that Ortiz makes more outs and Martinez was more productive -- over his career Ortiz has created 7.5 runs per 27 outs while Martinez created 8.3.

2. Run scoring environment. Ortiz has played in a time where the league average has been a .340 OBP and .434 slugging. For Martinez, the figures are slightly lower: .336 OBP, .420 slugging. You also have to factor in home park. Throughout his Red Sox career, Fenway Park has favored hitters. Martinez played first in the Kingdome, which was essentially neutral (it was a good home run park, but hurt batting average and doubles), and then Safeco, which favored pitchers. So that makes Martinez's runs more "valuable" since they came in a more difficult run-scoring environment.

3. Positional advantage. Remember, before he became a DH, Martinez spent four seasons as a third baseman. The first three of those, 1990 to 1992, came before the offensive explosion. Martinez's numbers those years don't jump off the stat sheet -- he averaged .318/.402/.477 -- but those were extremely valuable seasons as he compiled 17.5 WAR.

Anyway, in my book, it's pretty clear that Martinez's career value has been higher and he's a deserving Hall of Fame candidate.

What about Ortiz? His WAR total leaves him far short of Hall standards, but he'll have other arguments on his side:

  • The possibility of 500 home runs and 1,500-plus RBIs.

  • High finishes in MVP voting: From 2003 through 2007, he finished fifth, fourth, second, third and fourth.

  • Reputation as a clubhouse leader and clutch hitter, as exemplified by some big postseason hits.

  • Key member of two World Series champions with good postseason numbers.

  • He was famous, which is not irrelevant.

What do you think?