Duke Snider, recently deceased, is a baseball legend. He roamed center field for the famous “Dem Bums” Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1950’s, and found himself with an extremely well-deserved spot in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, his playing days came before my birth, so it’s difficult to really grasp what type of player he was. Thankfully, we have baseball-reference’s amazing tool, the “similarity score,” which compares players’ careers and finds the most similar people throughout history.
Two other center fielders rank as extremely similar to the Hall of Famer Duke Snider: Ellis Burks and Jim Edmonds. The comparison doesn’t factor in the run-scoring situation of the league or the ballpark or anything like that, but that’s where our personal interpretation comes in. Ellis Burks benefited from peaking in the offensive explosion of the late 1990’s and playing that period at Coors, so his similarity is less interesting. Jim Edmonds, on the other hand, didn’t have those same benefits. His career was on only about 5 years later than Burks’, but his peak came in the early- to mid- 2000’s, when the steriod era was already on its way out.
Here is how close they actually are:
Jim Edmonds: 17 seasons, 393 HR, .284/.376/.527, 132 OPS+, 8.8 dWAR, 68.3 WAR
Duke Snider: 18 seasons, 407 HR, .295/.380/.540, 140 OPS+, -2.1 dWAR, 67.5 WAR
Duke was ever so slightly the superior hitter, but Jim’s defensive prowess makes up for that, giving him a slight edge in overall career WAR, despite playing one season fewer. So, how is it exactly that Snider is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but many decry Jim Edmonds’ Hall case?
Well, the only real argument I’ve heard is that “Jim Edmonds wasn’t the dominant player in his era, so he can’t be a Hall of Famer.” Anybody who says that really has a poor concept of history, though. During Duke Snider’s career, he actually had just the 3rd highest WAR among center fielders. In fact, he was the 3rd best center fielder in New York (Willie Mays for the Giants and Mickey Mantle for the Yankees both out-performed him). Among all batters, he was 6th in WAR during his career.
Jim Edmonds, meanwhile, was the best center fielder during the years of his career. Ken Griffey’s career started 4 years earlier, but over the course of Edmonds’ years, Jimmy outplayed Junior. Looking at all batters, he places 7th on the list. He stacks up very well with the Duke, if you ask me.
In terms of their primes, there’s a little give-and-take. Snider’s best years were better than Edmonds’ best. Duke had 4 years above 7.7 WAR, including one season at 9.5. Edmonds peaked at “just” 8.4. However, Jim had more prime years, with 6 seasons above 6.5 WAR compared to just 4 for the Dodger.
Before you get the wrong idea, I am NOT telling you that Jim Edmonds was better than Duke Snider. But they were really close. And if Duke Snider is a Hall of Famer, how can you keep the equally-deserving Jim Edmonds out?