Baseball BeatJanuary 28, 2008
A Public Letter to Buster Olney
By Rich Lederer

Dear Buster,

Thank you for taking the time to engage me in a lively debate about Jim Rice and his Hall of Fame qualifications. I don't know about you, but I believe this discussion is actually about much more than whether Rice should or shouldn't be elected to Cooperstown. I maintain that what we are really at odds over isn't Rice as much as the way we go about evaluating players when it comes time to vote for MVPs, Cy Young Awards, and the Hall of Fame. Rice just happens to serve as an excellent example of the differences in the thought processes that go (or should go) into these decisions.

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that you mischaracterized my comments on Rice and Bert Blyleven in the opening paragraph of your latest response. Rather than incorrectly interpreting what I wrote, perhaps you should have quoted me or linked to my articles so your readers could see for themselves what it is I said or didn't say.

In any event, in the spirit of Bob Rittner's guest column last week, I want to acknowledge our common ground as it relates to Rice. There is no question that Jim was a very good hitter for the vast majority of his career with the Boston Red Sox in the 1970s and 1980s. I would even go so far as to say that he was an outstanding hitter from 1977-1979 and in 1983 as well. Rice led the American League in total bases in all four of those seasons. That is a terrific accomplishment.

As you have pointed out on at least one occasion, Rice also topped the majors in RBI and hits from 1975-1986 and placed third in HR and fourth in OPS during that 12-year period. All of these rankings speak well of Rice's hitting prowess.

However, in order to fully understand and appreciate Rice's value and place in baseball history, I believe it is important to put his stats into their proper perspective. I would like to do that by focusing on context, consistency (in the application of the stats), and comparability (to other players). Allow me to refer to them as the three Cs.


All players need to be viewed within the context of their era, league, team, place in the lineup, ballpark, and position. In the case of Rice, he played during a period that neither favored pitchers nor hitters. The second half of the 1970s and the decade of the 1980s were a fairly neutral time with respect to scoring runs. However, Rice benfited to a significant degree by playing his entire career in Boston. The team's home games were played at Fenway Park, which ranked as the AL's #1 or #2 most friendly ballpark to hitters in 13 of Rice's 14 full seasons (including nine years in which it was #1). As such, it follows that Rice's raw stats need to be adjusted.

Based on your skepticism of Adjusted OPS (or OPS+) as a measurement tool, I believe it is instructive to look at Rice's home (.320/.374/.546) and road (.277/.330/.459) splits to see how he performed in a more neutral environment. To the extent that Rice tailored his swing or game for Fenway Park, he should definitely get credit for his home performance above and beyond the park factor. This nuance is actually accounted for in Rice's career OPS+ mark because it only dings him about 3.5% or one-half of the average park factor of 107 and not for his total outperformance at home.

Sure, Carl Yastrzemski and Wade Boggs took advantage of Fenway, too. But Yaz and Boggs both had higher peaks and better career totals than Rice. Yastrzemski was a better left fielder and Boggs played a more vital defensive position to boot.

Context is also an important consideration with respect to counting stats such as runs batted in and hits. Opportunities play a big role in both. I covered these matters in detail two weeks ago and believe many of Rice's counting stats were largely a function of his opportunities. His career totals were definitely solid but not overly special. Combining counting stats with rate stats allows us to judge quantity and quality. A player's longevity, efficiency, and peak value are all part of the puzzle.

A player's position is another contextual item. The fact that Rice played LF for about 75% of his career and DH for the other 25% – and was generally viewed as a slightly below-average fielder – means he was basically a hitter and little else. I'm not arguing that he didn't hit; instead, I'm just trying to put his offensive contributions in their proper light. All else being equal, players on the left side of the Defensive Spectrum (DH | 1B | LF | RF | 3B | CF | 2B | SS) are less valuable than those on the right side.


In order to have meaning, statistics and statistical profiles need to be applied consistently from one player to the next. If using a 12-year period to measure Rice's worth is fair as you suggest, should we not apply this same window to all time frames and players?

Joe Carter, for example, led the majors in RBI for four consecutive 12-year periods (1984-1995, 1985-1996, 1986-1997, and 1987-1998). He also led the majors in HR for those first two 12-year periods. Carter was a better baserunner than Rice, played on two World Series championship teams, and slugged one of the most famous home runs in the history of the game. The point of this exercise isn't to suggest that Carter is a HOFer; rather, it is to downplay the significance of Rice's rankings during his best dozen years.

You have also made a big deal out of Rice's standing in so-called MVP Shares. Along the lines of your disdain for OPS+, "if this [is] your be-all, end-all statistic, keep in mind that" . . . Dave Parker had more MVP Shares than Jim Rice, Juan Gonzalez had more MVP Shares than Rickey Henderson, and George Bell had more MVP Shares than Robin Yount even though the latter won two MVPs and was a first-ballot HOF selection.


Is Rice the best player not in the Hall of Fame? Is he even the best outfielder not in the Hall of Fame? Seriously, is Rice really better than Andre Dawson, Dwight Evans, Dale Murphy, and Dave Parker? I don't see it myself. I will concede that a proponent of Rice could make a case that he is as good as these four outfielders (none of whom are in the HOF), but I can't for the life of me understand how somebody could claim that he was sufficiently better and deserved enshrinement over the others. By my way of thinking, if Rice is a Hall of Famer, then so are Dawson, Evans, Murphy, and Parker.

          POS      PA     TOB     TB     AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS+  WS   WARP3  
Dawson   CF-RF   10769   3474    4787   .279  .323  .482   119   340   105      
Evans      RF    10569   3890    4230   .272  .370  .470   127   347   120
Murphy   CF-RF    9040   3125    3733   .265  .346  .469   121   294    86
Parker   RF-DH   10184   3451    4405   .290  .339  .471   121   327    85
Rice     LF-DH    9058   3186    4129   .298  .352  .502   128   282    83

If Win Shares (WS) and Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP3) are too esoteric, that's fine. But please note that both measures account for defense as well. Three Win Shares equal one win. As such, both Win Shares and WARP paint a similar picture. Notably, scores of 300 WS and 100 WARP generally equate to Hall of Fame-caliber careers. There are exceptions on both sides of these magic numbers, particularly in the case of players that had short careers but extraordinary peaks (like Sandy Koufax).

I will grant that Rice may have been the best hitter of the fivesome (by the narrowest of margins), but he played the least important position and was the least competent defensively. Dawson, Murphy, and Parker were certainly better baserunners at their peaks, giving each of them a modest plus in this department as well.

Mix in the MVPs and Gold Gloves if you will, shake it all up, and how can one justify Rice's Hall of Fame worthiness over his fellow outfielders? A rational analysis would suggest it is virtually impossible. If you're a big Hall guy, then go ahead and continue to vote for Rice. But you should be voting and pushing for Dawson, Evans, Murphy, and Parker, too.

Although I don't expect to sway your vote as it relates to Rice, I'm hopeful that our debate will give you (and others) pause when filling out your ballot in the future. All of us love stats in one form or fashion, but they are most relevant when viewed in their proper context and applied consistently so that player comparability can be truly evaluated.

Respectfully submitted,

Rich Lederer


I miss the angry Rich

Is there any way to plug Dawson, Murphy, Parker and Evans into Rice's spot in the batting order for the length of his career to determine how they would have fared in a Red Sox uniform? I guess I'm thinking of some kind of OBI% comparison adjusted for ballparks. Except I suppose we'd have to make an assumption as to whether each player would have heeded his manager's mandate not to take walks.

Good one, Birdy. About the best we can do is to try and "neutralize" each player's stats. Thanks to, we can now do that.

           PA    AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
Dawson   10769  .288  .333  .498  .831
Evans    10569  .275  .374  .475  .849
Murphy    9040  .269  .350  .474  .824
Parker   10184  .297  .346  .482  .828
Rice      9058  .298  .352  .501  .853

The results are similar to the findings of OPS+ but expressed perhaps in a more understandable manner.

Reggie Smith was 32 and 33 years old in 1977 and 1978. There is a plausible argument that he was a better hitter than Rice was at his peak, and Smith had been a much better hitter earlier in his career than Rice would be later (plus he was a centerfielder). Fred Lynn was also better, for much the same reasons.

If you look at the outfielders who peaked in the late 70s and who are not in the Hall of Fame, you have Rice, Parker, Smith, Evans (who actually had his best year in 81) and Lynn. Smith and Evans are the best of them. Lynn and Parker follow with Rice narrowly behind those two.

What is most strange is not so much voting for Rice, but preferring Rice to Raines. The BBWAA electorate rightly preferred Gwynn to Rice the previous year, but couldn't get understand that Gwynn and Raines were approximately equal and miles ahead of Rice. The inference that I draw is that sportswriters as a group do not understand that .290/.380/.430 amounts to the same thing as .320/.380/.430. It is a pretty fundamental point when it comes to understanding how runs are created.

Shouldn't it be 3 win shares equals a win instead of 1/3 of a WS?

Given a choice between .290/.380/.430 and .320/.380/.430, I'd pick the second guy b/c a hit is better than a walk. Walks are good. Hits are even better, b/c they can advance baserunners.

I wonder... can you make the case that Jim Rice is clearly superior to Bernie Williams? I don't see one. I also don't see Bernie as a HoFer.

Shouldn't it be 3 win shares equals a win instead of 1/3 of a WS?

Yes. Thanks. Fixed.

Hmm. Back to .320/.380/.430 vs .290/.380/.430... of course the .290 hitter has more extra base power than the .320, since they have the same slugging %. So perhaps they both advance baserunners evenly and are really exactly the same. As a fan, I think I'd still want the .320 guy on my team, 'cause hits are more fun than walks.

Sometimes a walk is more valuable than a hit -- obviously a walk advances the runners sometimes, but a walk is also more valuable leading off the inning. The counting I've done is far from conclusive but it shows that more runs are scored in an inning after a leadoff walk than after a leadoff single. I don't know if there is really good data on the subject, though.

Great letter Rich. Glad you specifically asked Buster to link to your arguments - I read his Insider post a few days ago and wondered where he was quoting from.

rfs1962, that has little to do with the event itself, and much more to do with the the context of the event. If a pitcher issues a walk, it means he's more likely to be a pitcher who gives up a lot of walks, and the batter is more likely to be a batter who walks a lot. The former is indicative of a higher ERA, while the latter has little impact on the rest of the lineup coming up that inning.

In other words, a leadoff walk in 2007 was much more likely to be due to Daniel Cabrera on the mound as opposed to Erik Bedard. A leadoff hit would only indicate a slightly higher likelihood of the pitcher being Daniel Cabrera.

Completely speaking off the cuff, the end result, a leadoff walk or a leadoff hit, is the same, but I would value a leadoff walk higher because it implies the hitter took more pitches than a typical at bat. All things being equal, more pitches seen is better than less pitches seen.

Just wondering when you guys are going to change your motto from "Examining the Past, Present, and Future" to "Guys Continually Telling Us Why Jim Rice Doesn't Belong In The Hall Of Fame." Don't you think it's about time to move on to another subject?

I don't know about you, but I believe this discussion is actually about much more than whether Rice should or shouldn't be elected to Cooperstown.

Did you read Rich's letter?

Mike, Timkell --

Interesting thoughts -- I guess you could test the theory that it's more about the pitcher than the walk by isolating the pitcher: How many runs scored when Roger Clemens started an inning by issuing a walk vs. giving up a single? I have not done that work. But I think I like Tim's theory that the extra pitches help.

well played rich. i'm excited to see what kind of new stats or reasoning buster comes back with, maybe he'll go back to the "feared" stuff. and for someone who's blog is all links(which is a great blog by the way) it is curious as to why he didn't link to your articles during this little debate.

Good one, Rich. Where is C in the Defensive Spectrum?

I assume Rich left C off the defensive spectrum for this because it didn't pertain to the article (or maybe a simple oversight)... but it falls all the way to the right...
1B - LF - RF - 3B - CF - 2B - SS - C

James never meant for the position of catcher to be part of the Defensive Spectrum. Here is what he wrote in the 1982 Baseball Abstract:

There exists a spectrum of defensive positions, left to right, which goes something like this: designated hitter, first base, left field, right field, third base, center field, second base, shortstop. Catchers don't count; they're a special case. Along this spectrum, each position makes larger defensive demands than the position before it.

One could make a case that catcher deserves to be at the far right because it is the most demanding defensive position, but it really has its own set of skills that are not necessarily applicable to other positions.

The problem with catchers at the far right is that they generally do not have the athleticism or skills to play shortstop at the major league level. Biggio went from catcher to second base but that is a huge exception and not even close to the rule. Most catchers, at best, would switch to third base but, more realistically, left field or first base.

BP's Nate Silver created another version of the Defensive Spectrum, one that I called "convoluted" in this article. But to Silver's credit, it captures the position of catcher about as accurately as possible.

I stand corrected... I got my info from A Bill James Primer...

A Bill James Primer
Extracted from The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1988
Ballantine Books, New York
Copyright 1988 by Bill James


Is it possible Bill James changed his mind regarding the spectrum? The primer I was looking at that included the C position to the far right is linked to in your write-up of the 1988 Baseball Abstract..

No, James never changed his mind regarding the spectrum. Although I linked to that Baseball Primer, it was not created by James. He didn't even refer to the Defensive Spectrum in "the ten things that I have learned which I feel would have the most significance for a ball club." That Baseball Primer instead added it in the notes section below those ten items (although it turned #10 into six separate numbers, creating 15 items).

The following is from "A Glossary of Terms in Use in Sabermetrics" in the back of the 1988 Baseball Abstract:

Defensive Spectrum
An arrangement of defensive positions according to raw abilities needed to learn to play each. The spectrum has shifted at times throughout history, but generally reads "designated hitter, first base, left field, right field, third base, center field, second base, shortstop." Catcher is not a part of the spectrum.

"The counting I've done is far from conclusive but it shows that more runs are scored in an inning after a leadoff walk than after a leadoff single."

You are correct that it is far from conclusive.

In fact, the number of runs scored from a leadoff walk and leadoff single are virtually the same, if you look at it over a period of several years, both very close to around .400 runs.

Regarding the .290 vs. .320 question Rob brought up:

Over 600 PA, every .030 loss in BA will yield 18 fewer singles, but 18 extra walks and 18 additional extra bases, assuming the .380/.430 line from the example.

The question isn't whether a single beats a walk, but rather whether two singles beats a walk and a double.

tangotiger -- Is that info available someplace? I'd like to look at it.

Beautiful article, that just lays it out there. This should be required reading for anyone that votes for the HOF.

I for one firmly believe Dawson and Evans belong, plus Parker would have easily made it without the drug problems (and wasted years).

Just keep electing a couple of guys a year.

If Buster reads these pieces, as he must to respond to them, why can't he comment here? I'd love to hear his off-the-cuff opinions immediately following reading.

OK, so Buster says that we shouldn't hold Rice's low OBP against him because he was focused on driving in runs. He was great at driving in runs, egro he's a HOFer. Buster thinks Rice was great at driving in runs because of his high RBI totals, but Rich correctly points out that these totals were largely a function of Rice's large number of RBI opportunities. So I got to wondering how good Rice was at driving in runs when he had the opportunity. Over at BP they have a report showing OBI (Others Batted In), ROB (Runners On Base), and OBI% (Others Batted In %). I looked at Rice's career vis a vis these stats and learned that from 1974-1989 Rice had 1069 OBI and 6435 ROB for a OBI% of .166123. I then looked at the same numbers from 31 other players covering the same 1974-1989 period. (For the record they were Ted Simmons, Dave Parker, George Brett, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Bill Madlock, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, George Foster, Buddy Bell, Don Baylor, Robin Yount, Phil Garner, Gary Carter, Dave Concepcion, Mike Schmidt, Darrell Evans, Dwight Evans, Frank White, Willie Randolph, Chet Lemon, Keith Hernandez, Jose Cruz, Andre Dawson, Garry Templeton, Dale Murphy, Willie Wilson, Lou Whitaker, Eddie Murray, Alan Trammell, and Ozzie Smith.) When placed in order from highest OBI% to lowest, Rice came in at #8 of 32 behind Brett, Parker, Hernandez, Simmons, Winfield, Garvey, and Cruz, and just .000092 ahead of Foster. Now this is admittedly not the most complete or rigorous study (mostly because I don't want to put THAT much time into it), but it does suggest that Rice was good at driving in runners, but not great. If his candidacy hinges on being great at driving in runners, then that candidacy is in peril indeed.

Great article, interesting recent comment by RJ!

Further regarding the .290 vs. .320 question Rob brought up:

Tim Raines's basestealing was so superior that a lot of his walks were turned into doubles.

It's crazy that Tony Gwynn got 96% first ballot votes and Tim Raines got only 28% (or whatever).