Baseball BeatJanuary 22, 2008
Search for the Truth
By Rich Lederer

In Rob Neyer's Friday Filberts, he made a keen observation that perhaps has been lost in the debate over Jim Rice's Hall of Fame worthiness.

• Rich Lederer and our own Buster Olney have devoted space this week in their respective venues to an entertaining back-and-forth that's ostensibly about Jim Rice but is really about something much deeper than one man's Hall of Fame candidacy. Highly recommended for the quality of the writing alone, and here's hoping it lasts the rest of the winter.

I totally agree with Rob's take on this matter. I'm not nearly as interested in whether Rice gets elected to the HOF as I am in shaping the thought process. If Rice gets in, he gets in. I'm not going to lose any sleep over the matter. I just don't want to be standing in the way of the cattle call when Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Dwight Evans, and even George Foster storm the front door to Cooperstown.

Although Olney and I disagree on the bottom line (i.e., Rice's inclusion or exclusion), in some ways, it's neither here nor there. What is here and there is the way we go about evaluating players. Despite protestations to the contrary, those of us who oppose Rice's candidacy are not viewing him through a "time-machine prism" or "offensive formulas tailored for the way the game was played in the '90s."

For proof on this very subject, let's take a look at what Bill James had to say about Rice in the 1985 Baseball Abstract:

Virtually all sportswriters, I suppose, believe that Jim Rice is an outstanding player. If you ask them how they know this, they'll tell you that they just know; I've seen him play. That's the difference in a nutshell between knowledge and bullshit; knowledge is something that can be objectively demonstrated to be true, and bullshit is something that you just "know." If someone can actually demonstrate that Jim Rice is a great ballplayer, I'd be most interested to see the evidence.

How great is that? I mean, Bill's not saying that now. Instead, he made that statement 23 years ago while Rice was still playing!

And, again, it's not about Rice per se. It's about the search for the truth.

James opened up our eyes – and our minds – by challenging the conventional wisdom and proving it wrong in so many cases. More than anything, he taught us to ask questions. Thanks to Bill, we have learned the importance of dealing with questions rather than answers.

With the foregoing in mind, here are eight questions for Rice's supporters and undecided voters to ponder when filling out their ballots next year:

  • To what extent were Rice's career totals positively affected by playing home games his entire career at Fenway Park, known as a hitter friendly ballpark?
  • If Rice gets credit for leading the majors in RBI from 1975-1986, then shouldn't he be debited for topping all players by an even wider margin in GIDP during that same period?
  • Was Rice as great as his RBI totals would indicate or were they heavily influenced by the fact that he ranked in the top seven in runners on base in nine of those 12 years?
  • Can we ignore that Rice produced the second-most outs during these same dozen years?
  • Did Rice play a difficult defensive position?
  • Was Rice a Gold Glove-caliber fielder?
  • Was Rice a "plus" baserunner?
  • In other words, was Rice really as good as advertised?

The greatest change since Rice's playing days hasn't been the acceptance of OBP as a noteworthy stat as it has been in recognizing that many long-held beliefs based on traditional stats are as much a function of the era, league, team, lineup, and ballpark as anything else. Stats don't tell the entire story but the *right* stats tell us most of what we need to know.

Take, for instance, Bert Blyleven and Jim Palmer. One of the knocks against Blyleven is that he wasn't one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. The conventional wisdom says that Palmer was dominant and Blyleven wasn't. To that, I say, "Really?"

Can we accept a stat that measures the number of runs that a pitcher saved versus what an average pitcher would have allowed (adjusted for park differences) as a reasonable proxy to judge effectiveness?

Well, if we can, what would you say if I told you that Blyleven led all pitchers in Runs Saved Against Average from 1973-1977? Yes, all pitchers. Not just Palmer. But Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, and Don Sutton, too?

Furthermore, what would you say if I told you that Palmer won three Cy Young Awards during those five years and that Blyleven received one third-place vote during that same time? I mean, would you scratch your head and wonder if the Cy Young voting process was flawed? If nothing else, wouldn't you want to consider facts outside the simple tasks of counting CYA and All-Star games?

Moreover, what would you say if I told you that Blyleven led the majors in RSAA in not just one five-year period but in four consecutive five-year periods? Yes, it is a fact. Blyleven saved more runs than any pitcher from 1971-1975, 1972-1976, 1973-1977, and 1974-1978. It seems to me that he was probably the best pitcher during that time period, no? If Bert wasn't the greatest, he was certainly one of the most dominant, don't you think?

In the spirit of asking questions, is it possible that Palmer benefited by working his home games in a ballpark that was more friendly to pitchers than Blyleven? The answer is "yes." Palmer pitched in Memorial Stadium while Blyleven toiled in Metropolitan and Arlington Stadiums. The difference in park factors averaged a tad over 7% per year.

Is it also possible that Palmer benefited by having a superior defense playing behind him? During his Cy Young seasons, Palmer had Mark Belanger at shortstop, Bobby Grich at second base, and Paul Blair in center field. He also had Brooks Robinson at third base in two of those three years. Belanger, Grich, Blair, and Robinson are among the best defensive players at their position in the history of the game. Blyleven, on the other hand, had Danny Thompson and Rod Carew as his middle infielders.

You see, there are answers in these questions. Better yet, knowledge.

As for my *debate* with Olney, I'm proud that we behaved in a mature and civil manner while arguing the message and not the messenger. Writing opposing views in a public discourse like this is healthy and can go a long way in our search for the truth, which is what these exercises should be all about.


Great article, Rich. As you pointed out, it was a real plus that you and Buster Olney remained civil despite your differences on Jim Rice. Both of you conducted yourselves with class.

What I don't get is the writers who think that Morris belongs in the HoF but not Blyleven. The "winningest pitcher of the '80s" had a 3.66 ERA during that decade and Blyleven's was 3.64 (and the '80s were hardly his best decade). I know these guys don't understand complex metrics, but they understand ERA don't they?


Have you ever written a piece combining all of your arguments for Blyleven? You have the "Bert Blyleven Series" on the left side of the page, but is there a single argument available anywhere on the web?

I agree that Blyleven is a HOFer. I think a strong case can be made that he was more productive, over the course of his career, than Palmer, Sutton, Niekro, or Ryan. It is not fair to withhold votes for him due to the quality of the teams for which he played.

Having said that, I think it is misleading to select specific five year, ten year, or twelve year periods to make a point. This type of selection almost always benefits the player in question, e.g. Jim Rice's offensive totals 1975-1986, or Mattingly's from 1984-1989. The four five year periods that you mentioned during which Blyleven led the league in RSAA all included 1974, which was an off year for Palmer in which he missed some time due to injury. Palmer had nine very strong years during the ten year period from 1969 through 1978, but that one off year that fell in the middle of the period makes it difficult to construct a "best" five year period for him.

This may not interest anyone but me, but on opening day, 1977, Three friends and I traveled to Baltimore. On the day of the game, we purchased seats that were three rows from the field, behind the third base dugout, for less than ten bucks each. Starting pitchers that day? Bert Blyleven and Jim Palmer. Final score was, I think, 2-1, Rangers. I believe it also was Eddie Murray's first game in the majors, but the rookie who received the most attention that day was Bump Wills of the Rangers, who appeared on SI's cover around that time.

Good column! The HoF discussions SHOULD go on all year, not just in the months leading up to voting.

Today I went to and studied the Boston Red Sox team pages from 1973 to 1990, with emphasis on what Jim Rice and Dewey Evans contributed to their team each year. In the following years, Rice clearly outcontributed Evans offensively: 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1983, and 1986. On the other hand, Evans outperformed Rice in 1974, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1988, and 1989. In 1975, 1980, and 1985, their offensive accomplishments were basically equivalent; in three years at the beginning and end of Evans's time, Rice couldn't make the team.

Evans was not only able to play longer, he had an OPS+ of 126 over that longer period; Rice's OPS+ is 127. And Evans was an outstanding defensive outfielder. Career win shares for Evans, 347; for Rice, 282. Win shares per 100 plate appearances: Evans, 3.28; Rice 3.11. Total player rating from the 1991 edition of Total Baseball, Evans, 32.8; Rice, 30.9.

If Jim Rice is going to get 75% of the vote, Dwight Evans had better get 75%, too.

"This type of selection almost always benefits the player in question"

Rich has made this same argument against other people. However, in this little argument, he uses four consecutive 5-year periods to offset that "favoritism"

To me, the truly revolutionary thought in the article has to do with defensive analysis. Belanger played briefly in Dodger Stadium at the end of his career, and despite being "old" he was so clearly a better defensive shortstop than Wills or Russell that it was staggering. In hindsight, maybe the lousy infield of the Dodgers was left that way in order to minimize other teams' defensive advantages. Then they completely replaced all the infield dirt (truer hops) when they had Beltre and Izturis, the best left side of the infield the Dodgers have ever fielded in my memory. But I digress.

The thing is, when dealing with starting pitchers who do not have great defenses or parks behind them, they have to cultivate strikeouts. The LA Dodgers had many great strikeout artists, and it might have been from necessity. Blyleven, of course, was one of the best of all time. And then you start looking into characteristics of strikeout pitchers. The major defining characteristic is a pitch that hitters will often swing at and miss. For Ryan, that pitch was a fastball, and there's little downside to not throwing the fastball perfectly, especially if it has lots of movement on it. But for Blyleven, the great pitch was the curveball.

If you have to try for more K's because you pitch for the wrong team, and thus you have to throw more curves because it's your K pitch, some of them are going to be muffed. And a hanging curve ball often ends up in the bleachers. So with Blyleven, you get more homers from his quest for K's. With Ryan, you get more walks, because his fastball is still hard to hit, and if released badly is likely to be way outside the zone.

Where does that lead us? One thing is obvious: some kind of team defensive adjustment would be helpful. But I suspect that the better pitchers have adjusted their style to their team, so in some respects it's a vicious circle. A Blyleven tries for more Ks because of lousy defense leading to more hanging curves (because of more curves total) leading to more hard hit balls that cannot be fielded leading to the infield looking worse than it really was.

Nonetheless, I'd like to see a team defense and park adjusted ERA ranking.

1. I think 90% of the regular posters here know Dewey was better than Rice.

2. Maybe 95% of this site's readers know Blyleven is ridiculously overqualified for the HOF. (A little refresher article could be in order however.)

3. I think the most imporant question about Rice is where exactly does he rank in offensive production in the AL from say 1973 to 1992? He is up there somewhere, definitely not in the top 5, but maybe the top 10. Of course some non HOF players are ahead of him like Dewey and how about Ken Singleton?

P.S. I like it when 1 to 3 HOF are elected each year, and I believe that should be kind of the "rule of thumb".

I am convinced the voters should, for every ten year period, elect a representative group of players covering all the positions (enough to field one full team for each ten year period). This would include roughly 4 or 5 starting pitchers. This just hasn't happened recently, which begs the question of the voters: How do you field a HOF team without sufficient representation from each position?

Not to bring this back to Rice or anything, but I think the whole 1975-1986 most RBIs argument has not been discussed enough yet. Or should I say debunked enough. I think this is obvious among most of the readership here, but I don't think it's been laid out for the Rice supporters fully.

The "pro" side is relying on it heavily, so it might be helpful for it be addressed in full.

We can all admit that it sounds very impressive when you first hear that Rice lead all players in RBI from '75-'86, but RBI are a counting stat. When you choose specific consecutive years for counting stats, you're automatically excluding most players who may have played some of those years but not all of them.

According to baseball-reference (if I did my query correctly-feel free to double check for me), there are only 99 non-pitching MLB players whose careers started on or before 1975 and ended on or after 1986. Of those, only 29 played more than 1600 games during that window. Rice played 1766 games and only 2 players (Schmidt and Garvey) played more games than Rice over that same time period.

More data points, but you get my drift...

Nitpick: Bert didn't play in the Metrodome until his second stint with the Twins (it wasn't even opened until 1982).

btw, who might be up for election next year? having a hard time comming up with guys that retired in 2003....

Thanks, Sean. I made that fix. My brain knows better, but my fingers led me astray on that one.

Courtesy of the Baseball Hall of Fame's website, here's a partial list of players who will be eligible for consideration:

2009: Steve Avery, Jay Bell, Mike Bordick, John Burkett, David Cone, Ron Gant, Mark Grace, Rickey Henderson, Charles Nagy, Denny Neagle, Jesse Orosco, Dean Palmer, Dan Plesac, Rick Reed, Greg Vaughn, Mo Vaughn, Matt Williams, Mike Williams.

2010: Roberto Alomar, Kevin Appier, Andy Ashby, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Shane Reynolds, Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile.

2011: Wilson Alvarez, Carlos Baerga, Jeff Bagwell, Bret Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Marquis Grissom, Al Leiter, Tino Martinez, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Benito Santiago, Ugueth Urbina, Larry Walker.

2012: Vinny Castilla, Bill Mueller, Brad Radke, Tim Salmon, Ruben Sierra, Bernie Williams, Tim Worrell.

A better way to analyze the Rice 75-86 RBI business is to look at all players aged 22 to 33 (Rice's age), born within 10 years of Rice (1943-1963). That gives you, basically, his peers, and your sample size explodes by 21.

And Rice is STILL #1.

He's also #1 in runs produced:

And #3 in Runs Created:

(Raines is #5 by the way.)

But, there are 2 issues here:
1. There is no "penalty" for the outs. Rice is generating all those runs, but he's consuming alot of outs, too. Rice for example created 4 more runs over those 10 years than Raines did, but he did that while consuming 400 more outs. Basically, he prevented 70 extra runs from his teammates from being created. That is still an overall excellent production except...

2. That's it. Just the age 22-33. If everyone stopped playing at age 33, Rice would have a pretty good case.

The future looks bright for Blyleven. Aside from Rickey Henderson, it's very slim pickings in new HOF candidates for the next several years.

Alomar and Larkin look like the most qualified on the list. Hopefully, Raines and Trammell will receive the recognition and votes they deserve.

Players should be judged on their time frame not on new information that is now used. A player played to the items judged not to the items not judged. HOw they hit in their era was based on the items that were judged as good during thier time. If an item later became good a player might play differently. To judge a player based on the present day explosion of statistics is just as unfair as trying to judge the present player only on old statistical models. Rice based on his era and the statistics kept at that time was a Hall of Famer.

Of the new inductees the deserving candidates for the HOF are IMO:
2009: Henderson
2010: Alomar and Edgar Martínez (Larkin and McGriff just borderline candidates, Trammell has more merits than Larkin). Anyway, a very interesting class.
2011: Bagwell, and the greatly underapreciated Larry Walker (sorry Palmeiro, you're clearly guilty).
2012: nobody. It'll be a great oportunity for the just misses of previous years.

Players should be judged on their time frame not on new information that is now used. A player played to the items judged not to the items not judged. HOw they hit in their era was based on the items that were judged as good during thier time. If an item later became good a player might play differently. To judge a player based on the present day explosion of statistics is just as unfair as trying to judge the present player only on old statistical models. Rice based on his era and the statistics kept at that time was a Hall of Famer.

It's a wonder that Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle rate so well by just about any "modern" measure.

Buster keeps missing the point by insisting that Rice was a "victim" of his era...a slugger forced to abandon the strike zone by demanding managers, writers and fans. Well, to that point, I'd ask Buster, "Was Rice the only man subjected to this pressure?"
If not, then Buster's point is irrelevant because what James, Lederer and most of us are doing is comparing Rice to HIS PEERS and concluding that he wasn't a dominant player. No one is saying Rice wasn't as good as the modern day slugger, but that he wasn't as good as many of the sluggers against whom he played.

Finally, I still find it hard to believe that the baseball culture of the 1970s/1980s had such disdain for walks. For the longest time, the expression "a walk is as good as a hit" has been uttered. Sure, stats like RBIs may have been disproportionately valued, but you can't convince me that Rice was pressured into taking a more aggressive approach.

Will, I see your point, but I don't think many would argue that Rice was pressured to take walks. More that he wasn't pressured to take them and his team was satisfied with his play as he was. I guess the argument is "no one told him to change his game, so he didn't."

Boston's front office clearly had no appreciation for OBP during this time. They kept Boggs in the minors until he was over 24 years old.

But clearly the teams that won championships in Rice's era knew how to take a walk. Perhaps we should criticize the Sox front office for not valuing OBP during Rice's era, but should he get HOF points for their failings? Their failings made him their star player, and it resulted in zero rings. Another front office might have forced him to work on patience more and improved his discipline while he was young.

He was the best player for maybe 3 years on a team that never made the playoffs and a key contributor to a team that lost the WS once. I'm a Yankee fan, and I'd be hesitant to put Paul O'neill in the hall. But at least he's got five rings!

He doesn't have the counting stats that make him a no brainer. He DH'd for a long time. I mean, the more you look at it, the more you scratch your head that there's a debate.

Rob Nyer has turned mean. It's like he thinks he's the gatekeeper for the Hall of Fame and if a player don't pass his criteria, he can't get in. If you disagree with him trhese days, you're wrong. I think the guy needs a change of occupation. Any writer who pens a detailed article on why a player shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame needs something more to do in his life. Especially if the player misses by less than 3% of the vote.

I purposely did not do any research before posting this. Because I looked over the list and asked myself which candidates would I consider definite HOFers based simply on my subjective memory and which do I think I need to research a bit before deciding definitely. I even tried to eliminate considering any discussion I have had about the issue in the past.

Therefore, my list may (probably will) appear invalid. But I wonder how many Hall voters begin this way.

Here is my list of definites:
Henderson, Edgar Martinez, Palmeiro

These are the ones I feel I need to look into:
Larkin, Matt Williams, Cone, McGriff, Larry Walker, Kevin Brown, Bernie Williams, Alomar, Bagwell

The others, using this approach, I simply eliminate out of hand. But whoever is on either list is there simply because I have some strong impression. For example, I think I remember correctly that Matt Williams was on pace to break Maris's record when the strike cancelled the rest of the season. And I recall him as a good fielder with huge power. Similarly I remember Palmeiro's milestone stats and Edgar being unstoppable in the 1995 post-season against the Yankees. On the other side, I remember the swift decline of Alomar and cannot come up with any specific moments or records, only that he played for a lot of teams. And I recall Bagwell as having retired before he could get to those milestones and being awful in the post-season.

I wonder whether voters do something similar and then harden the views if attacked, finding arguments after the selection.

There's a new Olney reply to Rich in re: Rice.

I'd love it if Rich answered back, but generally, I think Olney has a point (that the perceived job description for Jim Rice was different than today), though his analysis is wrong (Rice wasn't as good, even by the standards of his day, as he thinks he was - I said it in the other thread: if Rice had slugged .600 every year, like he did in 1978, nobody would care about his OBP.).

The point about Parker and Foster knocking the HOF doors once Rice will be inducted is for me the main argument againts him. And then we can start to review a lot or rbi heroes cases, ala Joe Carter.

Let's not forget 2013: Craig Biggio, plus two prominent steroid-era stars, provided nobody signs them.

You could win this argument and end this series if you simply made Buster defend his claims in reference to other players from that era he is not voting for, such as Dale Murphy, or Dwight Evans. He has no argument aside from 'gut feeling' to explain that. He's going to keep falling back on this 'different era' garbage without seeing it for the garbage it is.

"One of the knocks against Blyleven is that he wasn't one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. The conventional wisdom says that Palmer was dominant and Blyleven wasn't."

There is such a simple answer to those who question Blyleven's dominance:

To shut out an opposing team, is hands down the easiest way to declare that a pitcher "dominated" another team. Only 8 men in the history of the game have more than Bert. In fact, if he had thrown 3 more only 5 pitchers would have topped him.

Out of the top 20 pitchers all time in shutouts, he is the lone individual not to be elected to the Hall Of Fame. This is hands down should be a bright red flag that screams to voters "HEY, YOU REALLY NEED TO VOTE THIS GUY IN".

Im not talking about whip (his was outstanding over such a long career), era+ (same) or any modern day metrics, Im talking about shutouts. Shutouts are the most impressive thing a pitcher can do, and only 8 guys threw more than Bert. It is absolutely disgusting that Olney et al continue to put forward arguments on borderline hitters while one of the true greats continually gets no support.

As a supporter of Rice for the HOF, let me respond to the questions posed above , sequentially:

!- Rice obvously was advantaged by playing his home games in Fenway Park. However, the disparity in home/ road splits is virtually the same as his predecessor in left field, HOFER Carl Yastrzemski, and his teammate, HOFER Wade Boggs. Other HOFERS who enjoyed a similar advantage at home, include Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Mel Ott and Chuck Klein among others.

2- This is roughly akin tpo saying that Michael Jordan's NBA scoring titles should be discredited by the fact that he led the league in missed shots each of those seasons.

3- Though there were a lot of baserunners for Rice to knock in, his batting average with RISP was a robust 309 for his career , above his overall lifetime BA of 298.His totals were due to quality more so that quantity.

4-- A testament to the fact that he was durable. Also, see answer to question # 2.

5- I guess we should eliminate all leftfielders and first basemen.

6-- He was an average defensive left fielder, coming in above the range factor in some seasons and below in others. Obviously he wasn't Barry Bohds or Rickey Henderson in left but neither was he Greg Luzinski or Frank Howard.An average left fielder along the lines of Billy Williams.

7- An average baserunner. Obviously not Lou Brock but faster than Ralph Kiner. Again comparable to Billy Williams.

8- Obviosly, if he were to get in Rice would not be an elite, inner circle HOFER along the lines of Rugth, Joe D. T Williams, etc. But he doesn't have to be to be worthty of induction. The relevant standard is whether or Jim Rice is at least equivalent to the lowest level of players who one feels legitimately belong in the HOF( obviously the Lloyd Waner's, Chick Hafey's , Maranville's, Youngs's don't belong). To me the relevant comparables are Billy Williams , Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez and perhaps Goose Goslin and I think he stacks up against them sufficiently that he belongs.Thanks for the forum.