Baseball BeatJanuary 17, 2008
Another Helping of Rice
By Rich Lederer

How do you like your Rice? I'll take mine fried, thank you. Buster Olney, on the other hand, has a completely different recipe for his Rice.

With the above in mind, Olney responded today to my two-part retort to his posts about Jim Rice's Hall of Fame worthiness last Friday and Saturday.

• Rich Lederer strongly disagrees with what was written here in the Jim Rice HOF debate last week, in a couple of pieces you can locate through this link. It's interesting that he says he played APBA and counted the "on base numbers" on the card, an acknowledgement which, as a baseball board game nerd, I fully appreciate. In playing thousands of games of Strat-O-Matic Baseball, and drafting dozens of teams, the system I have always used to evaluate players before any draft (until this moment a closely guarded secret from my Strat-O rivals) was to add up the number of points based on the possible rolls of the dice. In other words, in the '80s, if Wade Boggs had hits against right-handers in Column 1 in slots 5 through 10 (I'm sorry, but anybody who hasn't played Strat-O is going to get lost in this part of the conversation), a walk or hit in Column 2-6, and hits or walks on Column 3-5 through 3-10, he scored 59 on that side of his playing card -- six points for every roll on a No. 7, five points for any roll of Nos. 6 or 8, four points for any roll of Nos. 5 or 9, three points for any roll of Nos. 4 or 10, two points for any roll of Nos. 3 or 11, and a point for a roll of Nos. 2 or 12.

I'd go through all the cards and calculate these ratings of all pitchers and hitters versus right-handers and left-handers. This, of course, was a Strat-O-Matic version of calculating on-base percentage. I loaded up on guys who scored the highest in this system, including platoon monsters like Jeff Leonard and Al Newman (who killed lefties) and Dwayne Murphy (who drew tons of walks against right-handers on his '87 card), and I'd trade to get Boggs and Tim Raines; my teams always fared very well. In the early '80s, I drafted Gene Tenace as a backup catcher to pinch hit, because he drew walks, and I would effectively pair him with Ron LeFlore, who I'd keep as a fourth outfielder and as a pinch-runner because of LeFlore's high Triple-A stolen-base percentage. In a close game in the late innings, Tenace could come off the bench to draw a walk and LeFlore would swipe second, and I'd be in business.

But regardless of how Rich or I preferred to play our board games, the reality is that in the '70s and early '80s, many of the executives who ran teams and the managers who managed and the players who played did not value walks the way walks are valued these days. This is partly a function of how the game was played -- the strike zone was larger, there were fewer pitches per plate appearance, and there was more pressure on the hitter to swing the bat. The conventional wisdom was that a middle-of-the-order hitter who took a lot of walks was actually hurting his club (especially if he was a cleanup hitter on a team in a lineup without a lot of depth). Now, was that philosophy flawed, in part? Sure. Folks in baseball should've absorbed Bill James' Baseball Abstracts from the outset (I got my first as a high school graduation present in the spring of '82). But the bottom line is this: Rice's approach to hitting was engrained in the game; guys in the middle of the lineup focused on generating RBIs.

During Eddie Murray's batting practice sessions, he would take a round in which he focused on practiced emergency swings -- awkward hacks at pitches off the plate, or pitches on which he was fooled -- in order to put the ball in play. Why? Because he considered himself an RBI guy, and if there was a runner at third, his focus was to do everything he could to drive the run in. Despite breaking into the big leagues under a progressive manager like Earl Weaver, Murray wasn't thinking about on-base percentage; he defined himself by RBIs. He didn't say at the end of the year, Hey, I had an OBP of .380 and I feel damn good about that.

His first responsibility to the team, he felt (and according to colleague Peter Gammons, Rice had an approach similar to that of Murray), was being in the lineup every day as a reliable teammate, and in this role, he measured himself by RBIs -- more than 80 in 17 of the first 19 seasons of Murray's career. As Peter remembers, Rice felt enormous pressure to drive in runs, and this was not merely self-inflicted. With runners on first and second base and one out and the Red Sox down a run and the count 2-1, he was going to swing at a fastball on the outside corner with the intent of driving in the run.

Rich might not like it, and it might not make a lot of sense in today's OBP world, but that is the way sluggers were taught and expected to think. Ted Williams was one of the sluggers who took walks, refusing to swing at pitches out of the strike zone. Look at the year-to-year leaders and you can see that the elite players tend to walk and strike out more than they used to.

Football has some parallels. Johnny Unitas is regarded, in football history, as one of the greatest quarterbacks in history. And if you look at his completion percentages and quarterback ratings and interception rates, you could, at first glance, ask: What's the big deal? There were four quarterbacks who had higher ratings this year than Unitas did in his best season. His completion percentage would be pedestrian in the modern game, a skill that you might think would translate in a conversation about eras, in the same way that you might think that Rice should've drawn more walks.

But if you talk to anyone affiliated with the NFL in Unitas' era and what they will tell you, without hesitation, is that Unitas was The Man. The game was just different.

There was one thing that Rich wrote that really caught my eye, about past MVP Award results: "At the risk of speaking on behalf of serious fans and students of the game, I believe we would all like for the MVP voting to be a 'barometer' of Rice's [and everyone's] play. We're not 'ignoring the MVP voting entirely.' Instead, we're just discounting it."

I'm sorry, but I guess I'll never be such a serious fan or student of the game that I would discount the information generated in hundreds of MVP votes cast in 14 AL cities during Rice's time as a player. I'll never be such a serious student of the game that I would presume that the past voters like Peter Gammons, Ross Newhan, Tim Kurkjian, Tracy Ringolsby, Ken Rosenthal, Richard Justice, Gerry Fraley, Moss Klein, Bob Nightengale, Bob Elliott and others who spent 10-12 hours a day in ballparks eight months a year didn't know what they were watching. I'd never presume they were simply ignorant in giving Rice all those MVP votes he collected through the years.

And I've always assumed there is plenty of room for opinion and interpretation in the game. Rich's point of view is not wrong; it's his opinion. And I have my own.

Olney and I clearly disagree on Rice's value and place in baseball history. Even though we both own the 1982 Bill James Baseball Abstract, we also don't agree on how an offense functions.

As it relates to APBA and Strat-O-Matic, I never drafted or traded for Jim Rice in my ten-year stint in the Greater Los Angeles APBA Association. I just was never attracted to the fact that he was a below-average ("OF-1") or average ("OF-2") fielder, a below-average ("S") or average baserunner (neither "S" or "F"), rarely walked (averaged 2 "14"s on his card), didn't steal bases (never had an "11" and rarely had a "10"), and grounded into lots of double plays ("24"s). His strengths were limited to the fact that he had three or four "power numbers" ("0-6") on his card and normally had a couple of "7"s (which generally resulted in singles against most pitchers).

Just like in "real" baseball, Rice was a low on-base, high-slugging type hitter. Yes, he could drive in runs but wasn't adept at creating as many runs as the best players. I was much more attracted to players who could hit for power and get on base. Walks were valuable back then. It didn't matter if one was managing an APBA or major league team.

In Rice's rookie year, the Cincinnati Reds led the major leagues in walks and won the World Series (ironically beating the Red Sox in seven games). The Reds also led the majors in BB the following year while winning the World Series once again. Throughout baseball history, teams that have ranked at or near the top in drawing or preventing walks have won much more often than they have lost. For offenses, getting on base is of paramount importance – it always has been and always will. For defenses, keeping runners off base is basically what it has been, is, and will always be about. It's just a simple truism.

As it relates to my APBA playing days, I traded for two of Rice's fellow outfielders – Dwight Evans and Fred Lynn – yet never even thought about acquiring him. Like in "real" baseball, he was a good hitter but was limited in all other phases of the game. Evans and Lynn also hit well but got on-base more often via walks and were significantly better defensive players. In my mind, Rice was basically the equal of George Foster – and I never traded for him either. However, I owned Dave Parker during his peak years because he was a better hitter, better baserunner, and a better fielder than Rice.

Following the 1981 season, I made sure to trade for the number one draft pick and took Tim Raines even though many other league members were partial toward Fernando Valenzuela. Raines was one of the very best players in the game. He got on base frequently, stole bases often and at a record clip, and was as valuable at scoring runs as the Rices and Fosters were in driving them in. I knew what was important back then, and I know what is important today.

With respect to the Johnny Unitas example offered by Olney, I think he is missing the point. Johnny U. was outstanding in his day and remains one of the top QBs in the history of football despite the fact that present-day passers have surpassed his records. Relative to his era, Unitas was fantastic. Nothing will ever change that. The fact that his "completion percentage would be pedestrian in the modern game" has zero impact on his status as one of the all-time greats of the game.

I respect many of the writers Olney mentioned, and I value their opinions. It's not a matter of whose viewpoints carry more weight as much as it is about understanding and appreciating what wins and loses games. Just as no one stat is says it all, no one person or groups of persons knows it all. Beat writers, baseball columnists, statisticians, analysts, scouts, players, managers, coaches, umpires, general managers, owners, fans . . . all of us have a perspective that is neither better nor worse than the others based on our employment alone.

My Dad was a sportswriter who covered the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1958-1968. He never missed a game in 11 years. As such, he probably saw more games than any other beat writer during those years. A member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, he voted for MVP and Cy Young Awards in his day. He also voted for the Hall of Fame up until his death in 1978. Dad was also the statistician for the Dodgers, maintaining game logs, home and road, left- and right-handed splits, etc. well before doing so became popular.

A little bit of my Dad rubbed off on me. I grew up going to games at the Coliseum and Dodger Stadium, and playing Little League, Pony League, Colt League, Connie Mack, American Legion, and high school baseball. I played fast-pitch softball for 10 years. I played APBA during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. I have been a participant in one of the longest-running fantasy leagues for more than 25 years. I coached my son's Little League team. I have attended dozens of games every year of my adulthood and have subscribed to MLB Extra Innings since 2001. Heck, I've even dabbled as a writer and analyst for the past five years.

I own all 12 of the Bill James Baseball Abstracts, and have read every book from cover to cover. I'm not an expert, but I pride myself on having an open mind when it comes to learning more about this great game. I can only hope that those who have been given the privilege of voting for MVPs, Cy Youngs, and Hall of Famers will be equally open minded when it comes time to fill out their ballots.

[Additional reader comments at Baseball Primer Newsblog.]



I didn't get the impression Rich was 100% against Rice's election, just that he was trying to lay out the facts.

Anyway, it looks like Rice is going in next year, so we all have to come to terms with that.

Buster needs to read up on his argument fallacies. He might kick off with argumentum ad verecundiam.

Buster was actually making a very good point by arguing that Rice's hitting style was influenced by the preferences of the time period during which he played.

He then went on a tangent about Unitas and MVP votes, but he did bring up an interesting idea that deserves to be explored.

I'm not particularly sold on Rice being a HoF after reading Olney's above argument (Olney's argument would have made a lot more sense if Rice had played in St. Louis, Houston or KC, which were large parks conducive to putting the ball in play, and teams comprised of speedy players. That was not the case with the BoSox or with Fenway Park during Rice's day), but his point deserves to be analyzed, since baseball does change over time.

The problem, JRVJ, is that just because a certain style of thinking ruled the day, it does not change what, in actuality, produced runs.

Dwight Evans and Bobby Grich walked all the time back then and their teams were better for it. Am I to accept that they were not as good as modern analysis would show them to be because walks were not fashionable at the time?

I'm a believer in rewarding people for doing their job better than anyone else. This partly means helping their team win... but it means other things too.

Tony Gwynn didn't have a spectacular OPS+ because he was focused on hitting, and didn't draw a lot of walks. But wow, was he a great hitter. Even if he wasn't one of the best X players of all time, I'd support putting him in the HoF because he was one of the best ever at a particular aspect of baseball, and was just plain "good" in the rest. Likewise with Nolan Ryan.

So if Rice's job was to be an RBI man, I think part of our evaluation has to look at that. If his manager told him not to walk with a man on 2nd and 2 outs... well that was his job.

The issue is that he really wasn't great at that. Joe Posnanski has a nice analysis on his site, a sort of +/- for hitters based on the RBIs they'd be "expected" to get, given league-average RBI percentages. And Rice is fine at this, but certainly not overwhelming or one of the best ever.

Olney makes a good point in my eyes, that we shouldn't punish Rice for his philosophy (much like we wouldn't punish hitters in the 1910's for not hitting HRs). But the problem is, Rice just wasn't one of the best of all time at executing his philosophy either.

Sully - they were just as good as modern analysis suggests. But, as stupid as it sounds, it wasn't their JOB to walk. The people who signed their paychecks would rather Jim Rice swing away with a man on base than take a walk and let the next guy try to drive someone home (and possibly contribute to a big inning).

I'm fine with rewarding Evans in hindsight for his contributions, but I'm not as into debiting Rice for his hitting philosophy that was only partly his idea. Again - I agree with Olney's sentiment, but I disagree with his analysis (or lack thereof) of the stats.

I guess I am not comfortable assuming Rice had a particular skillset when he never displayed it.

Because that's what you are saying, right? That Rice could have walked if he wanted?


Baseball changes over time. This is a fact.

Some styles of baseball made more sense at the time than the current OBP/SLG mindset (think Maury Wills in the 1960s in Dodger Stadium - and no, I'm not espousing Maury Wills was a great player, just that he was particularly tailored to his time).

Mike makes a good point (that Rice was not truly an elite player by the standards of play of his day), but he goes at the issue in what I think is the right way - by comparing him to the playing style of his day.

Phrased differently, part of the point of OPS+ and ERA+ is to compare players relative to their era (since you can't really compare players relative to players from other eras). But when comparing players to their era, it is insightful to understand the underlying tenets of that time period in baseball history.

If nothing else, Olney's anecdote about E. Murray (clearly, Murray was an elite player, much moreso than Rice) gave me a bit of insight into that time period that I was unaware of....

Some styles of baseball made more sense at the time than the current OBP/SLG mindset

When did it make sense not to get on base and not to hit for power?

When hitting for power is terribly difficult to do, and runs have to be manufactured via bunts, steals, etc.

(I'm not suggesting that getting on base is or has ever been wrong. I AM suggesting that getting on base and staying put there while waiting for a slugger to drive that player in in was not a good strategy in - say - 1968).

From 1975-1986, Rice was 53rd in MLB in BBs despite leading MLB in PA, with only 560 BBs. Mike Schmidt led MLB with 1181 BBs during the same time period. Olney's insistence that BBs were less valued during Rice's time is merely clouding the relevant issue - that, compared to his peers, Rice did not walk much at all. This detracted from his value and should not be ignored. Whether or not Rice *could* have walked more is a non-issue.

Let's run with 1968, JRVJ.

That season, in the National League, Cincinnati led the league in runs and the Mets had the fewest. Here is how they ranked in a few categories.


OBP: 1
SLG: 1
SB: 5


OBP: 9 (there were nine teams in the NL)
SLG: 9
SB: 4

In the American League (10 teams), Detroit led the league in runs and the White Sox had the lowest total.


OBP: 2
SLG: 1
SB: 10


OBP: 10
SLG: 10
SB: 4

You mean the 1968 where the most runs scored in the NL were 690 by Cin and 470 by LA? (not the Mets, who were second to last at 473 - the Mets seem to have played one more game, though)

The average runs scored by a team in the NL was 3.43. Cincinnatti was materially better (4.23 per game), almost half a run over the second best team (the Cubs at 3.75 with 612 runs in 163 games), and 1.33 runs per game more than the worst two scoring teams.

Cincinnatti was also the worst team at allowing runs, at 673 runs allowed, for 4.13 runs allowed per game. That was 0.7 more than the rest of the league, and 0.38 more than the second worst pitching team (again, the Cubs).

The Cubs and Reds finished 3rd and 4th in the NL that season, 13 and 14 games out of first.

The Cards were the best team in 1968, by allowing 2.91 runs per game (almost half a run less than the league average, 1.22 runs per game less than the Reds) and scoring 3.67 runs per game (slightly above the average per game that season). They were also decidedly middle of the road in slugging (.346, with the league average being .341) and OBP (.297, when the league average was .300).

The second best team that season (the Giants, 9 games out) were the Giants, which were a little over the league average in runs scored (3.67) and the third best team in runs allowed at 3.25. The Giants were also middle of the road hitting wise, as they were right at league average in re: slugging (.341) and a bit above league average in re: OBP (.304, when the league average was .300).

Compare that to 2007, where the highest scoring team was Philly (5.51 R/G), and the lowest scoring team was Washington (4.15 runs per game). The league average was 4.71 R/G.

Yes, Washington scored almost the same number of runs as the Reds in 1968, and they were the worst team at run scoring in 2007.

The best pitching team in 2007 were the Padres, which allowed 4.09 runs per game (not far away from what the Reds scored per game in 1968), and the worst pitching team were the Marlins (5.50), for a league average of 4.71.

Don't know about you, but that's a pretty different playing field than today's, and I certainly don't see the correlation between high OBP, high SLG and winning in the 1968 NL (I will grant you that sucking at the plate, like the Mets did in 1968, was not/is not conducive to winning games).

So if runs were at a premium and we agree that scoring runs is the byproduct of getting on base and slugging, then doesn't that place even more of a premium on those skills in 1968?

He was a terrific player and the world was different then. But:
--He played one of the easiest positions in all of baseball, left field in Boston.
--He profited to an unusual degree from his home park.
--He stopped hitting before he turned 35. Lost it completely and all at once -- it wasn't a downhill glide. To me it takes extraordinary production (Sandy Koufax) to overcome that deficiency.

The main problem I have with Olney's argument (and others like him) is that act like getting a hit and walking are mutually exclusive. If you decide to walk, you aren't getting a hit and vice-versa. But it doesn't work that way. You want a batter that swings at hittable pitches, not just anything that the pitchers throw. I don't remember enough about Jim Rice to know what kind of hitter he was -- whether he was a hacker or someone who just never missed at pitches he swung at.

Secondly to ignore the number of outs Rice made is kind of weak. An out hurts the offense more then a single base helps it so what kind of argument is it when you completely ignore the fact that Rice made tons of outs?

Sully - I'm saying it's irrelevant whether he could walk or not. He wasn't asked to.

My opinion is that I think it's fair to evaluate someone based on how they did at the job their were given. Evans might have found a better way to help his team win than the prevailing wisdom of the time - and I'm all for giving him credit for that (regardless of his motivation for drawing walks). But I don't think you can discount Rice because he didn't do something that, as far as we know, he was never asked to do.

But this is just a gut opinion on what I think is "fair" in terms of evaluating someone for a particular honor. I don't fault Eddie Gaedel for having a .000 career batting average, because he was never asked to hit the ball. And I don't fault Rice for not walking a lot, because I don't think he was asked to walk.

I have to disagree with you Mike. Just because a manager told him to do something like be an RBI doesn't make him more of a hall of famer anymore then if a coach tells you to move the runner over. Is Bert Campaneris a Hall of Famer?

And even it that is your argument, then Rich shoots it down in his first article when he looked at others batted in a showed that Rice really wasn't that good of an RBI man considering how many opportunities he had. So the question is, if you took someone with similar numbers to Rice less RBI's from another team and put him in that Red Sox lineup does that make him a Hall of Famer? If the answer is yes then ok, if not, then no. I go with no

Runs were certainly at a premium in 1968, but I don't agree that scoring runs in 1968 was the sole byproduct of getting on base and slugging.

What IS bizarre, is that there were only 116.4 base stealing attempts per team in the 1968 NL (with a sucess rate of 60%), while there were 129.3 base stealing attempts per team in the 2007 NL (with a sucess rate of 75%).

I'm not entirely sure why that was (perhaps there were better throwing catchers in pre-expansion 1968 than 2007, which meant runners were caught more often, thus depressing SB totals; maybe the balk rules were enforced more stringently in 1968; maybe pitchers had better pick off moves in 1968 than in 2007), but it does seem that 1968 baseball was a boring affair (if you have neither muscle ball or speed ball baseball, you end up with a pretty boring game, such as the year of the pitcher's).

If Rice was told to hit with men on base rather than to walk because his job was to get RBIs, it would seem that he was somewhat unique in 1978. Here are the big RBI hitters on other AL teams that year, batters who usually batted cleanup:
Murray: 70 BBs/610 ABs
Thornton: 93/508
Thompson: 74/589 or Staub 76/642
Otis: 66/486
Baylor: 56/591
Hisle: 67/520
Reggie: 58/511

Rice walked 58 times in 677 ABs. Was Boston the only team that urged their cleanup hitter to swing rather than walk?

As an additional comment to my last post, 1980 is another good year to compare different baseball styles, because the steal totals seem to have exploded that year (though they'd been trending up since the 1977 expansion).

There were 2674 steal attemps in the 12 team NL (that's 222.83 steal attempts per team!!!), with a 68.77% sucess rate, and 2230 steal attemps in the 14 team AL (that's still a healthy 159.28 steal attempts per team), with a 65.2% steal rate.

The NL R/G average was 4.03 per game, which is almost exactly in the middle between R/G for 1968 (3.43 R/G) and 2007 (4.71 R/G).

OBP and SLG in the 1980 NL were not that far away from the 1968 numbers (.320 OBP in 1980 vs. .300 in 1968 and .374 SLG in 1980 vs. .341 in 1968), and actually not that far away from the NL 2007 OBP numbers (.334), though there was a bigger difference in SLG between the 1980 NL (.374) and the 2007 NL (.423).

Good point by Bob R.

IMO, the best way to check this is the walk/AB comp, and the spread between hitting average and OBP of Boston regulars.

So in that note:

C Carlton Fisk 71 BB / 571 AB / .082 spread between BA/OBP

1B George Scott 44 BB / 412 AB / .074 spread between BA/OBP

2B Jerry Remy 40 BB / 583 AB / .029 spread between BA/OBP

SS Rick Burleson 40 BB / 626 AB / .047 spread between BA/OBP

3B Butch Hobson 50 BB / 512 AB / .062 spread between BA/OBP

OF Fred Lynn 75 BB / 541 AB / .082 spread between BA / OBP

OF Dwight Evans 65 BB / 497 AB / .089 spread between BA / OBP

OF Jim Rice 58 BB / 677 AB / .055 spread between BA / OBP

DH Yaz 76 BB / 523 AB / .090 spread between BA / OBP

The team totals are as follows

582 BB / 5587 AB / .069 spread between BA/OBP.

The difference between Rice's BA and OBP and the Red Sox team BA and OBP is .014 (.055 vs. .069).

HOWEVER, the difference between Rice's slugging percentage in 1978 (.600) and the Red Sox's team SLG average (.424) is huge (.176). Heck, the second best regular player on the BoSox for SLG in 1978 (Fred Lynn - .492 SLG) was .108 worst than Lynn in SLG that year.

IMO, Rice was slightly below average in the spread between BA / OBP in 1978 versus his teammates, but was MATERIALLY a better slugger than his teammates in 1978.

(BTW - I don't think Rice is a HoF, but the 1978 numbers seem to hint that Rice was told to swing for the fences that year).

I think my biggest problem is that Buster completely ignored the best reason for discounting MVP voting: the MVP has always relied primarily on a very flawed statistic, Runs Batted In. No one is denying the ability of every-day baseball writers to know what they are seeing, but usually at the end of the year the players with the most RBIs are at the top of the MVP voting, whether or not they were "most valuable" to their team's success. This is why Rich is "discounting" MVP voting, and rightfully so.

Then again, according to Dan Shaughnessy, we all need to work together and figure out what color the sky is...

But to rely strictly on what you see is terribly flawed. Dan Shaughnessy saw Rice play, and saw Dwight Evans play, and came to exactly the wrong conclusion about their values because he didn't comprehend what he was seeing.

Think about when you see a guy make a fantastic catch -- you remember it, and you don't remember the guy who made eight routine plays because he was positioned correctly. That's the danger in relying on your own eyes. You remember the homer and not necessarily the walk that preceded it.

RBIs only guage the ability of your top order hitters to get on base. Driving in runs is not necessarily a proven skillset and should have nothing to do with Rice's candidacy. He is NOT a HOFer, end of story. Dawson was better than him and he was not a HOFer either. But he was a much better defender and defense counts. And it's funny how Olney wrote that piece the year BoSox won the WS with a team near the bottom of the stat he was pushing - LOL.

Gauging defense by what you see is dangerous, unless you see a lot of games. Case in point from the Dodgers of the 1970s. Ron Cey had an excellent fielding percentage for a third baseman and the range of a hockey net. If the ball was hit to him, he made the play, but he didn't cover much ground. Bill Russell had a lousy fielding percentage but good range and a very strong but erratic arm. See Russell on a good day, when he backhands the ball on the outfield grass and makes a good throw, and you'd think he was a good fielder. See him when the throw went into the dugout, and you'd think he was lousy. And the truth is probably somewhere in between. And maybe that fantastic catch was because a fast player overcame a lousy jump (Juan Pierre) to make a diving catch, or a slow player barely reached a ball an average defender would have handled easily.

Gold Gloves are heavily influenced by batting stats, far too much so in my opinion. But when Gold Gloves are given to players who aren't also winning Silver Slugger awards for their position, like Dwight Evans or Ozzie Smith, then they are usually pretty reliable. Maybe a more worthy candidate exists at those positions, but I don't remember any terrible Gold Glove winners who weren't also great hitters.

Rice missed the '75 postseason because of an injury. In the '86 World Series, he hit the emptiest .333 (9 for 27, 0 RBI) imaginable.

Marty Barrett was smoking hot in the Series. Batting second, Barrett was 13 for 30 with 5 walks (.433 BA, .514 OBP) ahead of Buckner and Rice, who combined for one (1) RBI. Boggs also put in a decent performance as a tablesetter, going 9 for 31 with 4 walks (.290, .371).

How many chances did Rice blow to help the Red Sox break the curse of the Bambino? I did an interview with Barrett some years ago for Baseball Digest and asked him how he got on base 18 times and scored once.

Being tactful, Marty replied "That's a weird statistic. I don't know how it happened." It's obvious how it happened. Buckner and Rice did zilch with runners in scoring position.

One unproductive World Series isn't enough to keep a deserving player out of Cooperstown, but Rice falls short of a HOF caliber career. The '86 Series is just another nail in the coffin.

I can't agree with using MVP votes for evaluation because, best I can figure, no two MVP voters agree on the criteria for MVP. Some take it literally, others believe it means "best season." And that's incredibly subjective too. So far, I'm with Rich.

The fundamental difference here seems to be that Olney believes that players should be evaluated according to what was the valued during their playing time. Rich, on the other hand, believes we should evaluate players according to the best modern conception of value.

The disconnect seems to be that Olney sees Rich arguing for evaluating players based on walks and sees this as trying to place players from a previous era into todays game. This is what he is implying with his Unitas analogy: Unitas' numbers look shabby when compared to today's quarterbacks since they are playing a different game, but that doesn't change the fact that Unitas was a premier QB in his day and one of the best all-time.

However this misses the point. What Rich wants to do would be analogous to comparing Unitas's QB rating to those of Namath and other contemporaries; he's using modern statistics (or perhaps more accurately, modern perceptions of value) to compare Rice to Rice's contemporaries.

So what it basically comes down to in my eyes is that Buster wants to induct individuals into the HoF based on how good their peers thought they were (ie, using perceptions of value, however flawed they may be, from that player's ear) whereas Rich wants to use whatever standard is currently believed to be most accurate to assess a player's value.

I tend to agree with Rich. Just because some people believed that walks from a clean-up hitter were bad doesn't mean we should be forced to use their standards. If we know better, we shouldn't feign ignorance. And so what if Rice tried to "put balls in play" in rather than walking because that's what he was told to do? It's what you actually produce on the field that matters, not that you sincerely had the best interest of the team at heart when you rolled into a 6-4-3 after lunging at ball 4 because you really wanted to bring home the runner on 3rd.

I went back to the play-by-play of the '86 playoffs and studied all of Rice's at-bats. The link is here if you wish to look at it, but here are the highlights.

Game 1 -- 4-0-0-0, Sox lost 8-1.

Game 2 -- 5-2-2-2, Sox won 9-2, Rice homered in the 8th with the Sox up 5. He struck out with the game tied in the 5th and Buckner on 1st.

Game 3: in a big AB, doubled Barrett to third with the Sox down 4-1, scored 2 runs. Sox lost 5-3.

Game 4: stranded Boggs at 3rd to end the 4th scoreless; grounded out to end the 6th with runners on second and third; grounded out to end the 10th with the bases empty.

Game 5, one of the most famous games in history: singled and scored on Gedman's homer in the 2nd; struck out looking in a huge at-bat in the 9th with Buckner on first and the Sox down 3. It was the first out of the inning. In the 10th, Rice ended the inning with a 6-4-3 double play in another huge AB (tie game, runners on 1st and 3rd). In the two biggest ABs of his life of one of the two most celebrated games he ever played in, Rice made 3 outs.

Game 6: RBI groundout in the second; fielder's choice (Barrett out at home) in the third but the Sox got 5 anyway.

Game 7: B4, homer to left with Sox already leading 4-0.

In the Series, Rice scored the only run of Game 1.

In Game 2, the Sox scored 3 in the second before Rice flied out.

In Game 3, with the Sox down 3, he stranded two runners with a groundout to end the inning.

In Game 4, he walked in the 1st with Barrett on third. Barrett didn't score. Doubled in the 8th with the Sox down 6.

In Game 5, he singled, tripled and walked as the Sox won.

In Game 6, he struck out to lead off the 9th in a tie game. In the 10th, he flied out to right with two on and two out with the Sox leading 5-3. Again, another huge game, two more enormous ABs and no success.

In the 3rd inning of Game 7, Rice was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. So even though he was 9-for-27 officially in the Series, he was effectively 8-for-27 with two XBHs.

IMO, this is not the sort of performance that lifts a fine career into the Hall of Fame.

Trenchtown, we're in agreement on the results. See my first post again:

Olney makes a good point in my eyes, that we shouldn't punish Rice for his philosophy (much like we wouldn't punish hitters in the 1910's for not hitting HRs). But the problem is, Rice just wasn't one of the best of all time at executing his philosophy either.

Bob - I don't see what's "unique" at all about his numbers in that context. He was within 10% of half the guys on your list, and he beat Baylor.

Dear Buster,

Let's presume that you are right, that Rice's mindset regarding walks is that he didn't properly value walks, and therefore, approached each at bat suboptimally (even if Eddie Murray and Mike Schmidt were able to approach the at bat more optimally). That is, Rice was not well-educated, and therefore, let's not hold the student accountable. I'll grant you all that.

At the same time, if there are no runners on base, Rice must realize that his job is to get on base, to not make an out, right? "A walk's as good as a hit" has been drummed into my head since I was a little boy. That couldn't have been a saying that was local to Montreal, was it? I'm guessing the rest of America was parroting the same thing? Surely, Rice is not thinking that he needs to put the ball in play with no one on base.

Jim Rice, with bases empty, drew 310 walks on 4429 PA, or an average of 42 walks per 600 plate appearances.

Jim Rice, with men on base, drew 283 walks on 4552 PA, or an average of 37 walks per 600 PA (excludes IBB).

Jim Rice, with RISP, drew 186 walks on 2646 PA, or an average of 42 walks per 600 PA.

Exactly why do you think that Rice thought that the walk had less value when he was up at the plate as an RBI man? Rice drew walks at the same rate, regardless of the base/out situation. And why did he do that? Because he approached the game as optimally as he could, and drawing walks was not something he was able to do. If he were able to, then he'd do it when his RBI-manhood wouldn't come into question.


No, Mike. You are looking simply at total walks. That is why I indicated ABs. He walked much less frequently per AB than the other power hitters, except for Baylor who was not noted for walking a lot. To take the extreme example, Andre Thornton walked an average of once every 5.46 ABs or every 6.46 plate appearances if you prefer. Rice did so once every 11.67 ABs (12.67 PAs). Had Thornton come to the plate as often as Rice, he would have walked 114 times, nearly twice as often as Rice did.

My point is that the argument that power hitters or cleanup hitters eschewed the walk to drive in runs is not supported by the evidence. It appears that in his best year, other cleanup hitters were walking considerably more often than Rice. I think it unlikely that only in Boston was a player encouraged to avoid walks so he could drive in runs.

I will concede, by the way, that I have read articles criticizing Ted Williams for being a selfish player because with men on base he would not expand his strike zone to try to drive them in. Ted was unimpressed with that viewpoint, and his advice to hitters always remained, "get a good pitch to hit", which meant not just avoiding balls, but letting pitchers' pitches go by also.

Buster's implication that Eddie Murray's RBI focus kept him from walking is incorrect - he walked 70 or more times in 11 different seasons, and led the AL in walks and on-base average in 1984. Jim Rice's career high in walks was 62.

Bob R.,

I don't know if you looked at the above numbers that I ran for the 1978 BoSox.

As the numbers show, Rice hit the tar out of the ball in 1978 (both compared to his general team numbers and the 2nd best slugger on the team, Fred Lynn), so in the context of his team (the 1978 BoSox), it certainly made a lot more sense for him to swing for the fences.

If Rice had kept on slugging at that pace for the rest of his career, the Rice-in-the-HoF argument would have a lot more credit to it.

He didn't, so it doesn't.

Tom - I heard the same phrase when I was growing up. But that's because I sucked at baseball. My brother mashed the heck out of the ball, and no one ever told him a walk was as good as a hit. Again - we know, because we've looked at the linear weights, or baseruns, or whatever, that a walk is almost as good as a hit. But in little league, the guys who could hit probably figured it would be better to go for the double or home run, even with the bases empty. Your stats are compelling, but if I think I'm good enough that going for a double or homerun is a better strategy than trying to eke out a walk, I think it's reasonable to believe I'll be the same way with the bases empty.

One thing the anti-Rice people tend to do is discount his high RBI numbers because he lad a lot of ROB when he came up to bat.

Well, Joe Posnanski did a quick study of actual RBI versus expected RBI based on ROB and the league-wide percentage of runners driven in from each base. Pretty much every year, Rice exceeds his expected RBI totals, and not by a small margin.

He WAS a legitimately great RBI man, much in the vein of Albert Belle or Igor.

When you base someone's H.O.F. case using strat-o-matic strategies, I stop listening. I've played fantasy baseball for at least 15 years, but there's more to the player than just numbers. They are important, but it's not the entire case. Rice was the most dominant hitter in basball for a decade, that's a Hall of Famer.

Rich mentioned strat-o-matic to refute Buster's claim that on-base/walks was not in vogue at the time.

Maybe Buster didn't value walks, maybe Jim Rice didn't, hell maybe John McNamara didn't, but plenty did.

Steve, I think you're misinterpreting JP's results. He wasn't really "great" at all. He was certainly above average almost every year. In fact, he ranked: 28, 41, 14, 2, 5, 37, [bad], 29, 6, 4, 47, 34. Dave Parker destroys him at this. Dave Parker.

Sully - do you really think MLB managers were playing strat-o-matic in their spare time, and using that to inform their managerial decisions and philosophy?

Anyways I think we're going in circles here, because we're debating things that are either subject to interpretation of history (prevailing wisdom of the time, managerial style, etc.), or personal opinion (whether that stuff should matter in HoF evaluation).

Personally, I'm on the side that doesn't feel Rice belongs in the HoF, but Buster's argument has some merit at least. If you look at OBP's for the American League during Rice's heyday, most years, they are .010 to .015 points lower than league OBP's today. That's obviously very rough, and I'm not sure how much it tells us about managing philosophy, but it does say something about players' willingness and ability to take walks in those years, despite the fact that getting on base is a key part of run scoring.

That being said, Rice's OPS+ was still not great considering he didn't play good defense and wasn't a good baserunner, so I wouldn't vote for him, I'm just giving Buster some credit for his "RBI-men weren't supposed to take walks" argument.

Universal Baseball truth - Getting on base any way you can has ALWAYS been valuable. A walk is particulary valuable because it is a means of getting on base without putting the ball in play, and thus, offers the defense no chance to convert said ball-in-play into an out. It's really that simple. Is a walk always the best outcome of a PA? No, but it sure beats the hell out of a GIDP, doesn't it?

Sorry, for the obvious statement, I just had to write it for those out there that just don't get it. You there, Buster???

This just in. Tim McCarver says that he was surprised to learn that when Jim Rice walked with the bases empty to lead off an inning, his team was more likely to score multiple runs then when he lead off the inning with a home run.

One of the things I would have really liked to see Rick talk about in this piece is the consequences of a Jim Rice induction--ie, by 'throwing open' the doors of the Hall, who is better htan Jim Rice that would have to go in? Let's see a comparison of Jim Rice to these other guys; The Hawk, Fred McGriff, etc

Well, Tom Tango pretty much blew Buster's argument out of the water, so until Buster comes up with a decent response to him I'm probably just wasting my time.

Nevertheless, a couple cents:

Buster is certainly correct that players should be evaluated in the context of their time. For example, before Babe Ruth came along it was considered unseemly -- almost oafish -- for players to try to hit home runs. We now know that a hard, slightly uppercut swing is beneficial to scoring runs, and Ruth should be honored for both putting runs on the board and changing the game. Nevertheless, it does not make sense to go back and penalize players from the Dead Ball Era who, partly b/c of the way balls were manufactured and maintained, and partly because of the CULTURE that existed at the time (which is what Buster is talking about), home runs were not encouraged.

But that's NOT a good analogy for Buster's argument regarding Jim Rice. See, before Ruth NO ONE was hitting home runs. In 1909, for example, Ty Cobb hit 9 home runs and led the American League. Nowadays 9 HRs from a corner outfielder (Cobb played every game in RF that year) would be terrible. But back in Cobb's day, because of the culture of the time, those home runs were useful -- they contributed to wins; they should be counted when arguing for Cobb's merits as a hitter. And no one should criticize Cobb for being "unenlightened" about the benefits of hard, uppercut swings b/c his approach was still winning ballgames. And a player's job is always, whether it's 1909 or 2008, to win ballgames.

And that's where the Rice analogy breaks down. Sure, we can forgive Rice for his approach at the plate. Walks weren't encouraged in the 1970s the way they are today. But the bottom line is, his lack of walks was NOT helping to win games.

What's more, players in the 1970s WERE walking and were helping their teams win games because of it. In Jim Rice's best year, 1978, Jeff Burroughs walked 117 times. Mike Hargrove walked 107 times. Darrell Evans walked 105 times. And so on. Should we disregard all those walks b/c walks weren't valued back in the day? Or should we acknowledge the simple fact that, all else being equal, it was better in 1978 for Ken Singleton to reach base in 41% of his plate appearances than it was for Jim Rice to reach base in 37% of his, regardless of whether Pete Gammons and Ross Newhan would have said so at the time.

Wade Boggs was worthless at the top of a Strat lineup as he was mollasses on the basepaths.

It seems to me that there is a slight disconnect in the thought that players are "deciding" to walk or not walk. For the most part, walks are a function of patience at the plate. A patient hitter looks for a pitch that he can drive. The count situation dictates the degree to which that patience can be executed. On the first pitch and subsequent pitches in hitter's counts, the hitter can be more selective. As the count favors the pitcher, the hitter is has to accept the reality that he is less likely to receive the ideal pitch.

Many hitting coaches teach you to begin by looking for a pitch in an exact location -- essentially a spot that fits the exact size of the ball. As you lose your advantage to the pitcher, you expand the size of that area. With two strikes, you are virtually compelled to swing at anything in the strike zone, thus "protecting the plate."

The Jim Rices of the world had less plate patience than the Eddie Murrays. Ted Williams was one of the most patient of all time. His patience and understanding of the strike zone and what he expected to be able to do with pitches in different locations was brilliantly illustrated in his strike zone graphic where he shows his expected batting average if he were to swing at pitches in each possible location.

We always batted Boggs second, though some folks might have put him at leadoff. The Rice for HOF case is pretty silly. I've never seen people stretch things, and fight so hard for a guy who has 398 career homers. So he hit 48 homers once. That's nice. Brady Anderson hit 50 once. Roger Maris hit 61 once. Lots of folks have had a big season or two. Rice had an unexceptional career. Regardless of what who told him to do when, and how he was told do do it ('Sir, yes sir!'), Rice still did a whole lot of things to hurt hits team, and only a couple of things to help it. He made a whole lot of outs, and he didn't run or field well. All he did was swing a [sort of mean, but not so much truly mean really over the span of his career because a lot of single season superstars topped him with their briefly mean sticks, and other, legit HOF players were better over the long haul with their always mean sticks, so in the end it appears that Rice was only occasionally wielding a] mean stick. With a stick so mean, Rice should've had more than 3 superb seasons. I don't fully buy into the East Coast bias, or, more specifically, the North-East coast bias. But, this sure seems an awful lot like a lot of good old boys lobbying hard for their favorite player, or a player they saw play an awful lot, or a player that the folks they know and trust said was good and that's enough for me. If Rice had played in, I don't know, Atlanta would folks be fighting so hard for his inclusion? Cuz there was a guy named Dale Murphy who was pretty much the exact same player, and who also had a kind of mean stick...

Oh yeah, and Dale had kind of a mean arm too, and he had some pretty mean patience at the plate, and also some meanness in his legs when he was young. Oh, and he had twice as many MVPs as Rice, and stuff like that. And, in reality Rice only hit 382 homers (his meanness added 16 to my memory), as it was Murphy who had 398. But, growling pittbulls his stick was mean. A mean old, big old, meanstick of meanness. HOF stick meanness...

If you are going to discount Rice's OBP as a strategic decision based on the information/strategy of his era, then you have to accordingly discount his batting average somewhat. Logically you would assume that most of this "swing away" mentally would really manifest itself in the "hitters counts" where he supposedly would have to decide that hitting would be a better move than walking. I also think its reasonable to assume that he would not swing at balls above his head or clearly outside the strike zone in these counts to "avoid" walks. Thus, you would expect him to hit for a higher average in these counts and, if he was a smart hitter at all, for more power/slugging since he could "zone up" on certain pitches or locations. Maybe someone should look up his BA and Slugging on what we would consider "hitters counts", the 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, and 3-1 to verify this.

Lastly, OBP is hardly the only problem with the Rice argument, I think most people would be able to get past a low OBP back then if the rest of his numbers were outstanding, which they weren't.

Gotta agree with John. If Rice had slugged .600 (or .593 or .596, which is what Rice slugged in 1977 and 1979) during his 12 year "peak" (1975-1986), he'd be in regardless of walks.

Heck, if he'd had 3 or more seasons like 1983, he might have sneaked in.....

Buster failed to mention that Murray drove in all those runs while walking about twice as often as Rice reaching a high of 107. The two stats are not mutually exclusive.

The part I don't with Olney's argument is that he's assuming that the only reason Rice didn't walk was because he wasn't asked to walk. Others seem to think that this expands to other sluggers of the day, that if only they had been asked to walk, that they would have.

Doesn't it make more sense to assume that, back then, teams didn't value walks and OBP as they should have and, therefore, didn't promote players from their minor league system who had high OBP? Perhaps they didn't even draft or sign players that had legit OBP but didn't hit for as high of average, for example.

It makes the most sense to assume that Rice (and every other player that has played at the professional level) is attempting to play the game as best as they can. That's proabably how they achieved so much in the game. It's been shown on the page how plenty of sluggers of Rice's day knew how to draw walks and must have considered drawing a walk as part of playing as well as they could.

Rice didn't walk because he wasn't that good of a hitter - Ockham's Razor. Don't virtually all arguments for Rice in the Hall come down to someone trying to find a explaination for why he wasn't as good as he could have been?

Very good career. Probably not good enough to be in the Hall.

I concur with Dave. The 12 years -- that's all there is. There's no postseason excellence. There's no longevity of the kind typically associated with the Hall. It's like going to a fine restaurant and getting a fine steak but ... no salad, no side dishes, only water to drink, no dessert. At the risk of overcooking my analogy, two doors down there's a much better place -- Dewey Evans' Diner.

Mike wrote: "My brother mashed the heck out of the ball, and no one ever told him a walk was as good as a hit...But in little league, the guys who could hit probably figured it would be better to go for the double or home run, even with the bases empty."

There isn't much to be learned about MLB strategy from Little League. Poor defense makes putting the ball in play way more valuable than it is at higher levels. Plus you can use the hidden ball trick more times in a game than Dave Bergman did it in his career.

For those of you who have extreme interest in Jim Rice's 1986 postseason, I've updated listing all of his ABs in those two series.

I added win expectancies (from this very cool database) before and after each AB and boldfaced the ABs where the win expectancy changed by more than 5 percent. I also added a Game Value to each game of the series, with Game 7 having a value of 1, based on how much the game affected the outcome of the series.

The findings didn't change my opinion much. Rice was 0-for-3 in three huge at-bats in ALCS Game 5, the least important of which was his K in the ninth inning, which reduced the Sox' chance of winning from 4.6 percent to 2.8 percent (-18 basis points). The most important was in the 10th, when his double-play ball knocked the Sox down from 67 percent to 34.3 percent -- an astonishing 327-point swing in favor of the Angels. Rice just about gave away the series.

One way to look at the game is to say the game starts with the visitors at 0.460; that is, a 46 percent chance to win. The Red Sox won the game, so during the course of the game they increased their chance of winning by 540 basis points. Jim Rice's at-bats in this game totaled a negative 382 basis points, forcing his teammates to come up with 928 basis points. Ouch.

Rice also had two excellent chances to bury the Angels in Game 4 but failed on both occasions, racking up -167 basis points as the Sox lost.

In Game 7, Rice got 56 bp's for reaching on an error and 61 for his homer that extended a 4-0 lead to 7-0. But the Sox overcame a lot of Rice negatives to get to that position.

He was better but not great in the Series, with an important triple in Game 5 (66 bp's) and a big single (84) to bring the tying run to the plate in the 8th inning of Game 7. Evans followed with a huge (194 bp's) double to close the gap to 6-5, but the Mets got three quick outs and scored 2 in the bottom of the 8th to win 8-5.

those words in a different sense. In the last chapter of the fourth book, I proportion between the value of gold and silver and that of goods of any

Jim Rice led his league in total bases four times. Only a handful of very elite players have done that four or more times, and all are in the Hall except Rice:

Players Who Led Their League in Total Bases Four or More Times
Hank Aaron - 8 times
Roger Hornsby - 7
Babe Ruth - 6
Stan Musial - 6
Ted Williams - 5
Alex Rodriguez - 4
Lou Gehrig - 4
Chuck Klein - 4
Jim Rice - 4

(And the list who did it 3 or more times is not shabby: Of them, four are in the Hall: Joe DiMaggio, Joe Medwick, Willie Mays and Duke Snider. The fifth, Albert Belle, had his career cut short, while the sixth, Dave Parker, suffered from on-the-cusp stats acquired over a long career and a bad image due to his cocaine problems.)

Now, I would not say Rice having done this four times means he automatically has to be in the Hall. But it shows the strength of consideration he deserves and it reveals that he really was a dominant, "most feared" level of hitter in his prime.

Those are basic numbers that don't lie.