Please Know This: Dwight Evans was Much Better Than Jim Rice
Living in Boston I can tell you that the ridiculous tenor of the Jim Rice adulation and yes, revisionism, is in high gear on this induction weekend. It's to the point where people are now just making stuff up about the guy. Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs will watch Jim Rice's #14 retired at Fenway Park before #21 or #26 decorate the right field facade. It's all very silly.
But that's ok. The Rice ship has sailed. He's going to be inducted into Cooperstown tomorrow and he will not be the worst player in the Hall of Fame. What grates as a Red Sox fan, however, is just how overlooked Dwight Evans has become. In that spirit, I am going to re-run my first columnn that I wrote for Rich here at Baseball Analysts, a comparison of Evans and Rice.
The debate is a bit played out in baseball internet circles but nonetheless the timing is right. If the Boston Globe can devote full sections to Jim Rice, I can remind our little audience of just how good Dwight Evans was; how he was a better hitter, fielder and baserunner than Rice. Oh and he played longer. We've moved so far beyond the AVG/HR/RBI era of evaluating baseball players that Rice's inclusion and Evans's exclusion serves only to discredit a once venerable institution.
Without further ado, here is my post from January 10, 2007.
Based on the numbers below, which player would you contend had the better career?
GAMES AVG OBP SLG OPS+ Player A: 2,089 .298 .352 .502 128 Player B: 2,606 .272 .370 .470 127
Here are some additional numbers, including plate appearances, total bases, bases on balls, outs made and times the player grounded into a double play:
PA TB BB OUTS GIDP Player A: 9,058 4,129 670 6,221 315 Player B: 10,569 4,230 1,391 6,965 227
To give you a sense of peak value, here are their respective best five seasons in terms of OPS+:
Player A Player B 158 163 154 156 148 148 141 147 137 137
To my eye, they look pretty comparable, though I would take Player B's career. He played longer, had a slightly better peak, and derived more of his offensive value from his on-base percentage than he did from his slugging percentage. Quality and quantity. The best of both worlds.
Now what if I told you that Player B played right field and Player A left field? The same output from a right fielder as a left fielder will always be more valuable from the guy playing right because it is a more demanding defensive position. And then what if I told you Player B also won eight Gold Gloves while Player A was considered a mediocre defender at best?
And then what if I told you that the two were not only contemporaries, but teammates? Wouldn't it stand to reason that the media and general public could come to a fair assessment of who the better player was?
Well in case you haven't yet figured it out, Jim Rice is Player A and Dwight Evans is Player B. Rice received 63.5% of Hall of Fame votes yesterday, making him a likely bet to get in on next year's thin ballot. Dewey, on the other hand, never managed 8% of the votes and only managed to stay on the ballot for three years.
So why the perception gap? I have a few theories. For one, Rice had his best seasons early in his career and leveled off some thereafter while Evans started relatively slowly and became a superstar during the middle part of his career. It seems that each had their reputations solidified during their early years - Rice as the superstar and Evans as the good defender with an OK bat.
Also, Rice's best seasons, particularly 1977 and 1978, came for some very good Boston Red Sox teams while Evans did his best work for more mediocre editions of the Carmine Hose in the early 80's. Further, Rice excelled in the back-of-the-trading-card AVG/HR/RBI numbers whereas Evans stood out because he walked a lot, mixed in some pop and played great defense. Evans's statistical edges come in categories less valued by the mainstream. Take all of this together and the inexplicable, that fans and media alike recall Rice's work more favorably than Dewey's, becomes a little easier to account for.
Fan opinion is one thing. Fans are busy. Fans have jobs. Fans do not devote their professional lives to the coverage of baseball. But the media owes the game and the integrity of the Hall of Fame more - not the least of which is a good faith attempt at understanding the sport. Wouldn't it be more useful for you to know, say, that Evans twice led the American League in OPS while Rice did just once (something I had no idea of before researching for this piece) than to listen to story after story about how "Rice was the most feared hitter in the league for a decade?"
Dwight Evans was a better player than Jim Rice and yet the Baseball Writers' Association of America would have you believe that they were not even in the same galaxy as players, with the conventional wisdom being that Rice was better. Well you can take the more "feared" guy. I'll take the more durable player who was the superior offensive force, defender and baserunner.