Baseball BeatJanuary 23, 2008
The Search for the Truth Continues
By Rich Lederer

Rob Neyer's wish ("here's hoping it lasts the rest of the winter") is coming true. Buster Olney responded to my article yesterday.

Rich Lederer has another post in our ongoing Jim Rice debate. Rich writes, "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."

The quoted words are mine. Rich goes on to cite an example of skeptical words written about Rice in 1985: "Virtually all sportswriters, I suppose, believe that Rice is an outstanding player. ... If someone can actually demonstrate that Jim Rice is a great ballplayer, I'd be most interested to see the evidence."

Those words belonged to Bill James, whom Rich and I both view (I assume) as an extraordinary visionary.

With this, Rich absolutely demonstrates one of my primary points about Rice. Bill James was someone who was years (decades?) ahead of his time in evaluating the value of walks and on-base percentage. But he wasn't only ahead of sportswriters, but ahead of managers, coaches, general managers and scouts, who placed value judgments on what they viewed as the proper approach to the game. Jim Rice, as a middle-of-the-order slugger, was expected to drive in runs. That's how he was evaluated, that's what he was expected to do, that's what he did well, that's why he was among the game's highest-paid players.

Guys who hit in the middle of the lineup and drew a lot of walks were viewed by the old guard, in some respects, as selfish players who refused to put their batting average at risk for the betterment of the team. I spoke about this last week with Jayson Stark, in regards to Mike Schmidt, a slugger who drew a lot of walks, and Stark specifically remembered Schmidt -- a '70s star who really played a 21st style of baseball, with lots of home runs, walks and strikeouts -- drawing criticism from peers for his approach. Sure, a Schmidt or Rice base on balls leading off an inning was a good thing, but if there were runners on base, the feeling was that they needed to swing the bat; they needed to drive in runs. Ted Williams, another slugger who drew a lot of walks, was subject to the same sort of scrutiny, as Peter Gammons recalled in a phone conversation the other day. Rice, on the other hand, knew he was expected to drive in runs, as Peter recalled.

Just two players drove in 85 or more runs in 11 seasons in the 12-year period of 1975-1986, and Rice almost certainly would've been 12-for-12 if not for the 1981 strike. In the eyes of the people he played for, he did exactly what a middle-of-the-order hitter should do. Honing his command of the strike zone and drawing walks, alongside all of those hits he generated, was not what his employers wanted him to do.

James ran the numbers and recognized the flaws in this manner of thinking. He was ahead of his time, and now almost everybody in the game has embraced his view. The thinking of hitters and evaluators has completely shifted: A middle-of-the-order hitter who refuses to take walks and trust the hitters behind him to drive in runs is now viewed, within the game, as being selfish.

But James cannot both be a visionary and an example of evaluation at that time, as Rich has used him above. It's one or the other. By the standards of the time -- and RBI unquestionably was the primary standard for the sluggers who played and for those who managed and evaluated -- Rice was exceptional, and he honed his game to that end. He swung the damn bat. The managers he played for and against respected him for it, the executives he played for paid him handsomely for it, and given the standards of his time, the sportswriters rewarded him with a staggering portion of MVP votes. In the James quote above, he takes issue with sportswriters, but he easily could've inserted "managers" or "general managers" or "players" into that sentence.

The RBI way of thinking seems, these days, as outdated as drawing blood with leeches. But Rice did his work within those parameters, and within that context, he was among the best in the game. We cannot go back now and say, Hey, Jim, remember all those times when you swung at pitches just off the plate as you tried to put the ball in play and drive in those runners, because you thought it was your job, because Derrell Johnson and Zimmy and John McNamara and their bosses thought it was your job? Well, we're here to tell you now, in the 21st century, that was a bad idea. You should've taken the walk. So forget it, you played the game the wrong way. We know this because your Adjusted OPS+ -- a statistic no ballplayer or manager or GM ever heard of until after you retired -- is poor. Oh, sure, you drove in a lot of runs, but we're here to tell you, 20 years later, that RBI is a junk stat.

I majored in Civil War history, so please excuse this completely inappropriate analogy between war and baseball: This is like suggesting now that Ulysses.S. Grant was a lousy general because he lost staggering numbers of men attacking entrenched positions. Rather, we should attempt to view his decisions through the evolving technology and tactics of war. Through that horrible vantage point, he was necessarily a tough and brilliant general.

No one can dispute that Rice was either the best or among the best RBI men in the AL for more than a decade, and for power hitters, this was the stat that defined them. That was the accepted vantage point of the time. To retroactively dismiss RBI seems utterly insane. Nicolaus Copernicus thought the sun was the center of the universe, wrongly, but that doesn't mean he wasn't exceptional for his time.

(And in case anyone hasn't noticed, I have not used the word "fear" one time in this conversation with Rich. At least I think I haven't.)

Olney is zeroing in on RBIs (or "RBI" as my Dad taught me). Although it is far from my stat of choice, let's take a look at the American League leaders in RBI since 1950:

1950--Walt Dropo          144
      Vern Stephens       144
1951--Gus Zernial         129
1952--Al Rosen            105
1953--Al Rosen            145
1954--Larry Doby          126
1955--Ray Boone           116
      Jackie Jensen       116
1956--Mickey Mantle       130
1957--Roy Sievers         114
1958--Jackie Jensen       122
1959--Jackie Jensen       112
1960--Roger Maris         112
1961--Roger Maris         142
1962--Harmon Killebrew    126
1963--Dick Stuart         118
1964--Brooks Robinson     118
1965--Rocky Colavito      108
1966--Frank Robinson      122
1967--Carl Yastrzemski    121
1968--Ken Harrelson       109
1969--Harmon Killebrew    140
1970--Frank Howard        126
1971--Harmon Killebrew    119
1972--Dick Allen          113
1973--Reggie Jackson      117
1974--Jeff Burroughs      118
1975--George Scott        109
1976--Lee May             109
1977--Larry Hisle         119
1978--Jim Rice            139
1979--Don Baylor          139
1980--Cecil Cooper        122
1981--Eddie Murray         78
1982--Hal McRae           133
1983--Cecil Cooper        126
      Jim Rice            126
1984--Tony Armas          123
1985--Don Mattingly       145
1986--Joe Carter          121
1987--George Bell         134
1988--Jose Canseco        124
1989--Ruben Sierra        119
1990--Cecil Fielder       132
1991--Cecil Fielder       133
1992--Cecil Fielder       124
1993--Albert Belle        129
1994--Kirby Puckett       112
1995--Albert Belle        126
      Mo Vaughn           126
1996--Albert Belle        148
1997--Ken Griffey Jr.     147
1998--Juan Gonzalez       157
1999--Manny Ramirez       165
2000--Edgar Martinez      145
2001--Bret Boone          141
2002--Alex Rodriguez      142
2003--Carlos Delgado      145
2004--Miguel Tejada       150
2005--David Ortiz         148
2006--David Ortiz         137
2007--Alex Rodriguez      156

If RBI is an indicator of greatness, why is it that only nine leaders (covering 11 seasons) from 1950 to 1994 (chosen to accommodate eligible candidates) have been inducted into the Hall of Fame? Sure, Jim Rice led the AL in RBI twice. But so did Al Rosen, Jackie Jensen, Roger Maris, and Cecil Cooper (as well as Vern Stephens if we also include 1949). Moreover, Cecil Fielder and Albert Belle each led the league three times. None of these players are in the Hall of Fame. In fact, other than Maris, not a single one of these players ever received even 10% of the vote. Cooper failed to get any votes at all, while Fielder was named on just one ballot.

The most damning evidence against Rice in the case of RBI is the fact that Eddie Murray is the only player who ever led the league during Rice's 14 full seasons and was later elected to the Hall of Fame. George Scott, Lee May, Larry Hisle, Don Baylor, Hal McRae, Tony Armas, Don Mattingly, Joe Carter, George Bell, Jose Canseco, and Cooper all led the league in RBI and only Donnie Baseball ever picked up 5% or more of the vote.

As far as Olney's hypothetical comments to Rice (see the italicized statements above), nobody said or is saying that he "should've taken a walk" or that he "played the game the wrong way." We're only evaluating what it is Rice did and what it is he didn't do. That's all. Roberto Clemente, Rod Carew, George Brett (save 1985-1988), Paul Molitor, and Tony Gwynn didn't walk much either, yet I don't think you will find many people who believe these players are undeserving of the Hall of Fame.

The fact that "no ballplayer or manager or GM ever heard of" Adjusted OPS "until after (Rice) retired" suggests that he would have fared better in this stat had he only known about it. That not only seems silly to me but contrary to any and all evidence, such as the fact that Rice walked at the same rate with nobody on base and with runners in scoring position (7.0% of plate appearances in both cases) [hat tip to tangotiger]. Look, OPS+ is a measurement tool. And it's not overly complicated either. You see, when you get right down to it, the factors that go into Adjusted OPS – singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, hit-by-pitches, and outs – have been tracked since the turn of the previous century. OPS+ simply takes these stats and adjusts them for context (i.e., era, league, and ballpark). Is it a perfect stat? No. But it is a telling stat and one that shouldn't be dismissed, whether Rice and others knew of it or not.


More fuel for the fire. I'm enjoying reading the back-and-forth. I'm also impressed by the continued high tone of the discussion. It would be nice if our would be leaders out on the campaign trail could do as well. [btw, I don't thin Rice is quite a Hall-of-famer, mostly as a gut-level reaction from his playing days.]

Seriously, Olney it's time to give up. Your case is about as objectively insufficient as possible in a topic drenched in subjectivity. The only was he is going to be right is if he admits that Jim Rice isn't a hall of famer. There is just way too much information against his points. Rich debunked his RBI prowess in the very first "Listen Buster" something Olney hasn't even attempted to counter-point or even acknowledge. Well done Rich I don't know much else that you could write

I think we can all agree in that this whole argument has passed from a stat-based argument to a new vs. old media battle. Basically, anybody who doesn't support Jim Rice wasn't in the clubhouse and doesn't understand the influence (outside of the numbers) that Jim Rice had. So the writers argument is basically anecdotal (Jim Rice the most feared batter in the 80's or that Mike Schmidt was criticized for walking too much). Nevermind that no one has any proof that this is true.

I also think that the Rice case is somewhat driven by writer guilt over the steroid era in that they look at Jim Rice as a great hitter that did it without steroids (even though, of course, they have zero proof of that).

My greatest puzzlement about the whole thing is why they picked Jim Rice as their rallying point? There are many players that were better then him, even some of his own teammates that played at the same time (Dwight Evans). In fact, no successful GM would trade Alan Trammell straight up for him, so why in the world is he about to make the HOF?

Someone please, please, please explain to me this argument: The writers, managers, gm's, and players were "dumber" 30 years ago than we are now, so we should make the same mistakes again today when evaluating Jim Rice.

Are we seeing the next evolution in the traditional media's argument about players? It has gone from "stats don't matter because I only believe what I see" to "stats don't matter because we didn't have them at that time to influence play so you can't use them to evaluate players."

Rich points this out with RBI example but if Buster's point of view was correct the greatest players in history would grade out poorly via these new-fangled stats.

I take issue with Buster, and sportswriters in general, assuming that had player X just known the significance of drawing walks, they would suddenly have become Bonds-ian type OBP machines. Walks and strike-zone control aren't just statistical measurements of performance, they are skills. Adam Dunn has them, Carlos Lee doesn't; you can tell Alfonso Soriano to take his walks all day, it doesn't mean he's going to be able to. Plenty of power hitters today lack the skills of getting on base at a consistent clip, even with the current "moneyball" era, as ESPN likes to call it. It is very possible that Rice just wasn't the best hitter at getting on base, regardless of whether he knew its statistical importance or not.

The argument (from Buster, anyway) is that Jim Rice could have been Ted Williams if he wanted. However, he was being a good soldier and refusing to walk, swinging at close pitches because that's what his 'job' was as a middle of the order guy.

The 'evidence' for this is (insanely) that he had few walks and many RBIs, and guys like Ted Williams and Mike Schmidt who walked did so to the disdain of their bosses. That's right. People thought that TED WILLIAMS was a bad hitter because he walked. Rich is being far too generous and kind to Buster.

I find Olney's argument exasperating in the extreme. Does he really mean what he says? If you were to compare a ballplayer from the Civil War era, just like generals, then sure, you'd have to use different standards of evaluation. But baseball is the same game it was 30 years ago!!! Nothing has changed, except the perception of (some) people who follow the game. And that is no reason to have different standards for player greatness.

It's hard to find anything new in this argument.

Rice was an excellent hitter who was substantially helped by playing in the best hitter's park in baseball. His career ended before he accumulated the lifetime totals that would have guaranteed selection into the Hall of Fame. The question becomes was he good enough in his not quite long enough career to compensate for his career ending so abruptly.

Olney cites RBI, and to give Rice his due, while he did get a lot of runners on base to drive in, he seemed to do so at a rate that was somewhat above average. And MVP voting, which historically has rewarded RBIs more than any other single statistic, especially during Rice's career. Don Mattingly had about the 30th best year by a Yankees cleanup hitter and won the MVP. Rickey Henderson enabled Mattingly's MVP by having perhaps the best year ever by a Yankee leadoff hitter, but was ignored. So Rice drove in runs, and got the rewards and recognition that driving in runs earned. And again, to be fair, Rice had excellent slugging percentages and batting averages as well.

Lederer cites OBP. And double plays. Weakish fielding at an unimportant position. A slow base runner. Not much post season success. And often not being the best hitter on his team, or even the best slugger on his team. Certainly far from the best slugger in history for his team. Easily arguably the fourth best left fielder in his team's history. Not to hold that against him: it could be that the Green Monster and its short left field makes slow sluggers more desirable to the Red Sox than teams where left fielders need some speed most of the time, so Yaz and Teddy and even Manny became Red Sox. But to return to Rice, it's not at all clear that he'd be other than a pinch hitter for the Sox all time team.

When looking at short career pitchers, I always go Koufax. Any pitcher that compares favorably to Koufax in any positive way (even if just by not being an embarassing comparison) will get my quality vote. Maybe it's unfair, but if a ballplayer isn't going to last long enough to clinch his HOF case, I want to be sure he was good enough. For hitters, I look at Clemente.

Maybe Clemente was slowing down a bit at the end, but he still had an OPS+ of 137 his last season, 7 points better than his career average. Clemente was known for his tremendous arm and won 12 straight Gold Gloves in a more difficult position than Left Field. He was a better base stealer (not hard) and a much better post season player. And Clemente was a free swinger who rarely walked and got his share of MVP votes. In fact, Clemente won his only MVP in the year he had his career high for RBI: 119. That year his OPS+ was a fine 146, worthy of MVP consideration. But the years his OPS was a tremendous 171, or 168, or even 160, he didn't win the MVP. That's an awfully good OPS+ for a guy who didn't take many walks.

Rice's best OPS+ year was 157. Despite the advantages of playing half his games in Fenway, and despite hitting more home runs than Clemente, Clemente was just a better player when both were at their best. Rice's best year, park adjusted, would only have been Clemente's fourth best.

Jim Rice was a superb hitter who didn't play long enough for his quality of career or well enough for his length of career to deserve automatic enshrinement in the HOF. He didn't do anything extra to help his case. In fact, in all the little things, he hurt his case, defensively, on the base paths, in the post season. When he goes into the HOF next year, he won't be the worst player there. But he'll definitely be one of the last outfielders chosen for heavenly pickup games, and if Rice is in the HOF, how can we not also choose Dave Parker, Dale Murphy, Andre Dawson, Cecil Fielder, Albert Belle, and maybe even have to open the gates for Steve Garvey.

It's supposed to be a Hall of Fame, not a hall of the 5th through 10th best sluggers who played during my pre-steroid adulthood. There have been such times before. In fact, perhaps because it was the era of relief specialization it took excellence on the level of Brett, Winfield, Murray, Schmidt, to make it into the HOF.

Rice just wasn't good enough when you compare him to other HOF outfielders instead of specious memories about the most feared slugger in baseball. The most feared sluggers of Rice's era are already in the HOF.

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.

At the end of the day a player's OPS is not going to change much with a different approach. Also, I never get how using poor evaluation methods in the past is an excuse to continue using them. What's that about?

I have not read all of the debate. But if we are evaluating Rice on RBIs, we know that they are affected by opportunities. His high total can partly reflect this. To me, that raises the question of how well he hit with runners on base (ROB) and with runners in scoring position (RISP). Maybe someone has mentioned these stats already. According to retrosheet, with ROB, his AVG-SLG were .305 & .509. With RISP he had .308 & .501. These are very close to his overall stats of .298 & .502. So he did well, but his hitting in these RBI situations was not especially better than his normal stats. So we should probably evaluate him on them.

His SLG 27% above the league average. That is good enough for 62nd place all-time for players with 5000+ PAs. For an outfielder playing in Fenway who was not a great fielder, that does not seem too impressive. He is 41st among outfielders. But things look worse once you realize that his AVG-SLG in home games was .320 & .546 while on the road they were only .277 & .459. He was really helped by Fenway.

Getting back to RBIs, you have to remember that he hit into alot of DPs. I looked at the RBI-to-GDP ratio of all players from 1946 through 2005 with 5000+ PAs. Of 274 right handed batters, Rice ranked only 203rd. His ratio was 4.6 while the average for that group of righthanded hitters was 5.59. So yes, Rice had alot of RBIs, but at a very high cost.

It seems the argument comes down to RBIs and their status in different eras compared to concerns over OBP for example. If it is essentially one statistic that makes the argument for Rice, then I ask if we can use one statistic that was considered very important at the time to promote another candidate.

For example, in the 1960s the stolen base became a huge weapon in the offenses of many teams. It was prized and is a large part of the reason Lou Brock made the Hall for example.

In the 12 years from 1965-1976 the leading base stealer in the American League, by quite a large margin I think, was Bert Campaneris. He led the league in 6 of those 12 years, stole 50 or more 7 times and when he ended his career he was #9 on the all-time list. And he did it with almost a 76% success rate, although that was less of a concern then. He made one less all-star team than Rice and while I do not know if the numbers back it up was considered a good shortstop at the time and contributed on 6 post-season teams, 3 of which went to the World Series.

If we are focusing on one statistic that was emphasized at the time the player was active, should we now add Bert into our discussions of HOF candidates?

The only thing I can disagree with Rich on, is the RBI v RBI's point. I was always taught, and I believe rightly. 1 RBI, 150 RBI's.

AP style is RBIs, no apostrophe.

I prefer RBI with no "s." Runs Batted Ins just doesn't make sense to me.

How about a compromise? RsBI.

We're only evaluating what it is Rice did and what it is he didn't do.

That's idiocy. If the Red Sox trade Ellsbury for Johan Santana, and then Johan's arm gets crushed in a fluke motorcycle accident, does that make it a bad trade?

As analysts, we should evaluate decisions based on the information available at the time of the decision making.

And by the way - citing league leaders is really not an objective analysis. I don't even get your point there. There's obviously a ton of variance from year to year. Why don't you show us the career leaders in RBI since 1950, and how many of them are in the HoF?

"We're only evaluating what it is Rice did and what it is he didn't do."

That's idiocy. If the Red Sox trade Ellsbury for Johan Santana, and then Johan's arm gets crushed in a fluke motorcycle accident, does that make it a bad trade?

You're mixing apples and oranges. Evaluating a player's career is totally different than evaluating a trade. When evaluating a player's career, it makes sense to evaluate his actual performance. When considering a trade, it makes sense to evaluate a player's prospective performance (among other variables, including team needs, salaries, etc.).

With respect to the merits of a Hall of Famer, we can evaluate a player's performance without worrying about team needs, salaries, or whether he might get injured.

With respect to your second point, why is it that the AL leaders in OPS have a much higher correlation to the Hall of Fame (26 of the 40 seasons, including McGwire's, in which the league leaders have become eligible for election) than RBI? The "ton of variance from year to year" should work against OPS as well, no? Furthermore, the players who led the league in OPS and didn't make the HOF are of a much higher quality than the RBI leaders who didn't make the HOF. The reason for this is that OPS does a much better job of identifying greatness than RBI.

If a player ranks among the top 10 or 20 in a meaningful career counting stat, we should probably sit up and take notice. However, when a player ranks 53rd (HR) and 54th (RBI) in his two best counting stats (and ranks 86th in his best rate stat), then I think that is equally telling. Add in the fact that the player in question played an insignificant defensive position at a less than Gold Glove-caliber manner and was no better than an average runner on the basepaths even in his best years and it becomes a huge stretch to make a serious HOF case for said player, especially when there are others from the same era who performed as well or better and have not received much, if any, consideration.

Or you could assign "RBI shares" the same way "MVP shares" are counted. If a guy with 100 RBI leads the league, he gets a full RBI share and a player with 80 gets 0.8 shares. It would take some computing, but it wouldn't be difficult.

Bill James also pointed out that players with one big skill get excessive credit than players with several skills that help the team more. I'd say that's especially true when the big skill is hitting for power.

Jim Rice had one big skill that, at that time, was believed to be the most important skill in the game. I don't think that's sufficient for Hall of Fame induction, but that's just me. And I might well feel differently had Rice led the Sox to the '86 championship, or even played well in that postseason.

rfs1962 - I agree with your main point but would not be in favor of RBI shares as it implicitly treats all RBI the same. There is no context (mainly, opportunities and ballpark). As I pointed out in "Listen, Buster" Redux, Rice's RBI rate stat (OBI%) ranking was *always* lower than his RBI counting stat ranking.

Why don't we award the batting title to the player with the most hits rather than the player with the highest average? Food for thought when it comes to RBI.

Don't assume Rice is a slam dunk for the HOF next year. This forum and others are shining the light of knowledge and information on a very good (but not great) player.

While Rice had a few excellent seasons, the sum total of his career is lacking. Just as some voters who passed on Rice in the past changed their minds this time around, they could once again decide to leave Mr. 6-4-3 off their ballots. Others who haven't been convinced in 14 years probably aren't going to change their opinions at this point in the game.

The closeness of the vote combined with Rice's final year of eligibility means his career stats will be very closely scrutinized. Rice does well with vague "he was a dominant hitter" and "I saw him play a lot of games" arguments, but he's way less impressive when numbers and logic are employed.

I'm a Red Sox fan and Rice fan. But for me the HOF argument for Rice boils down to three simple numbers: .277/.330/.459 - Rice's career away splits. This is not the production of a HOF slugging (no field) outfielder (85 OPS+).

Question: Is there any current HOFer who had such a disparity between home/away production?

Olney's argument now seems to boil down exclusively to RBI. Sticking with that logic, if we were to look at Rice's career (rather than his twelve best years), we'd find that Rice ranks 54th on the all-time RBI list. That's not too shabby. Most of the guys above him on the list are in the Hall of Fame, will be in, or will be kept out because of the steroid controversy. So Rice looks pretty good.

Yet if we look one space below Rice, in 55th place with just 6 fewer RBI, we find Joe Carter. Joe Carter had a twelve-year period from 1986 through 1997, picking up at the end of Rice's golden era, in which he drove in 100 runs every year except for two. Of the two years in which he did not, he drove in 98 in one of those years and lost time to a strike in the other. From 1986 through 1997 nobody drove in more runs than Joe Carter. He was the greatest run producer of the era. Like Rice he was a below-average left fielder. Like Rice, Carter's OPS+ was not great, but he came of age and played much of his career before most players, fans, and managers had even heard of the stat. In fact, they both show up in one another's career comps.

I always liked Joe Carter. He was good, durable, reliable ballplayer. He hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Obviously not. He and Rice both seem to sit right under the cut-off point for players who would make their Hall case on the basis of RBIs. Although we should never base a Hall of Fame vote on a single statistic, even those who do should be careful when arguing for Rice as one of the all-time great RBI men. It seems to me that both he and Joe Carter were very good at driving in runs. They just weren't Hall-of-Fame great at it.

Mel Ott and Chuck Klien had enormous home field biases in their batting stats. (I'm sure there are many others.)

Also, the HOF is defined as a self defining institution. Now we all know that batter's walks are valuable, but I don't think anyone has ever been elected to the HOF where the walks put them over the top. I think HOF voters can be impressed by Runs scored, and Home Runs certainly impress them, but walks are ignored. I think that is why Ron Santo is not in yet by the way. His stats without the walks are not quite there.

Anyway, my point is that even though Rice did not walk much for a slugger the HOF voters don't care (and have never cared), so are his other stats good enough? I can't imagine he will get less votes next year, but it may happen that he will miss by only a vote or 2.

P.S. The only player I can think of that barely made the HOF and his walks may have helped is Richie Ashburn, but his putouts and Runs scored likely put him in. Joe Morgan was going in even without the walks. Can anyone name one guy where the walks made the difference?

shooty, nice usernname! I forget what year, but we had a ton of shooty babitt topps cards, must have been '82. He looked pretty cool on the card. Anytime we were trading baseball cards we had a running joke during a stalemate "I'll throw in Shooty Babitt"


RE Joe Carter. If Olney doesn't think Carter is in the hall, then how could Rice possibly be justified? Carter has two rings. End of story. Very similar stats and an integral part of a dominant team while Rice has got nothing.

Joe Carter had 14 more HR's, and 2 rings. This is absolutely true. Part of a dominant team? Of course, Jim rice mayhave been blocked by the Yankees, ROyals, and Orioles of 1975-1983...they were some "fairly decent" teams.

runs: Carter:1170 Rice: 1249
Hits: Carter:2184 Rice: 2452
Doubles: Carter 432 Rice: 373
Triples: Carter: 53 Rice: 79
HR: Carter: 396 Rice: 382
RBI Carter: 1445 Rice: 1451
SB Carter:231 Rice: 58
Avg Carter: .259 Rice: .298
OBP Carter:.306 Rice: .352
SLG: Carter:.464 Rice: .502
MVP Carter:0 Rice: 1
AS Carter: 5 Rice: 8
OPS+ Carter:105 Rice:128
Of course, baseball is the same game over the last 30 years, nothing has changed. Oh, except there are 4 new smaller ballparks...the introduction of steroids and PEDs, sure..oh, except for those things. I am not saying Carter benefitted from those things, I am saying that the game has changed folks.

Responding to Al's comment:

"Don't assume Rice is a slam dunk for the HOF next year. This forum and others are shining the light of knowledge and information on a very good (but not great) player."

I think that Rice is unfortunately a slam dunk next year because writers will probably vote him in just to spite the sabermetric folks. I mean have you read most of HOF voters (or in other words, mainly old school "writers") comments to anyone in the sabermetric community. Yikes.

I see Buster's argument. I disagree with it, though.

I also think one can indeed make the case that Grant wasn't all that good a general. He got the job done, at great cost. Better general than, say, McClellan? That's one thing. Good general? That's another.

A book about the 1978 Boston Red Sox has a sabermetric consideration of Jim Rice's 1978 MVP season (Chapter 47 - Whole Dog Wagging). It can be found as a free download at:
Perhaps it can shed noon-day light on the everest of Rice's legacy.

I noticed something odd on when I looked at Rice's page. His BABIP is above league average every year except the last. To some extent this is a Fenway deal -- when Rice was playing, the Red Sox typically had BABIP's about 30 points higher at home (just an estimate from looking at I can only guess that Rice must have hit the ball remarkably hard and wonder if that was what impressed the writers of the time so much.

I don't believe there is anything unusual about Rice's BABIP that isn't explained by the park factors.

        AVG  BABIP  PA    AB    H    2B  3B   HR
Home   .320  .340  4507  4075 1304  207  44  208 
Road   .277  .296  4551  4150 1148  166  35  174

As shown, Rice hit .043 higher at home than on the road. His BABIP was .044 higher at home than on the road. Another way of looking at the data is that Rice's BABIP was about .020 higher than his AVG at home and on the road.

In a similar number of PA and AB, Rice had 156 more hits, including 84 additional XBH. More than anything, he hit a lot of balls against and over the Green Monster that went for outs in other parks.

I noticed that Wade Boggs also had above-average BABIP's ever year but one, although the effect is less pronounced. I checked a few other Red Sox of the period -- Rick Burleson, Jerry Remy, Dwight Evans -- and didn't see this effect.

I guess the point would be that if Jim Rice had played for any other team -- seriously, any other team -- we wouldn't be having this discussion. He'd be Greg Vaughn.

Rich - I guess I'm missing the point of the whole "look at this list of RBI winners" thing. It seems like you're saying there's a disconnect in how people (writers) value RBIs - namely that they value them highly during any individual season - for MVP voting - but not as much for HoF voting. I'm honestly surprised that OPS has a better correlation with HoF status than RBIs. But I don't see how it relates to the rest of this.

Olney's argument is Rice did not walk a lot because it was not his job to walk when men were on base. As you pointed out, his walk rate was exactly the same, no matter the situation. So that argument is null.

His second argument is that Rice did not walk a lot because walks were not valued in his day, and that no one walked a lot. He argues that Rice should only be compared to sluggers of his era, who also did not walk much. Well, that argument is also null because from 1975-1986 Rice was 53rd in MLB in walks, despite leading MLB in PA.

In today's blog, he takes this post completely out of context, saying that you believe Rice was not a great RBI man and therefore should not be in the HOF. When, in fact, your argument is that RBIs are not a great measure of production.

He still doesn't get it. Honestly, I used to have a lot of respect for Buster. But he's either too stubborn or too stubborn to see logic here.

Buster makes the following comment regarding Rice's ability to drive in runs:

"the sportswriters rewarded him with a staggering portion of MVP votes."

But that doesn't make it right. Sportswriters have always (and probably will always) over-valued RBI's. As evidenced by Juan Gone's MVP win over A-Rod in '96, and Morneau's over Jeter/Mauer/Santana in '06.

And Rich, love the blog, but please don't go with RBI. Grammer has no place in baseball. It just ain't right.

thyree quick points to add to this discussion:

John McCann:

Klein and Ott are great examples of HOF "home field advantage" but one really has to look no further than Rice's predecessor in left field, Carl Yastrzemski.During the course of his career , Captain Carl batted 42 points higher at Fenway( 306/ 264) and drove in 281 more runs( 1063/ 782). Other HOFers who benefitted from home cooking would include Ernie Banks , Billy Williams- one of the best comparable to Rice in terms of HOF credentials- and Wade Boggs..

The philosophy of the walk:

I am a supporter of Rice for the HOF but Olney's suggestion that sluggers in Rice's day were in some way discouraged from getting walks doesn't comform to reality. Ever since the emergence of the home run as a weapon in the 1920s, sluggers such as Ruth, Foxx, T Williams, Musial, Kiner, Mantle, Matthews Yaz and Schmidt to name some of the most prominent were getting walks at a rate( 100+/ year) which far surpassed Rice's.

Bob R.:

Great point about Campaneris. I always thought that he should have gotten more consideration fpr the HOF for the reasons you stated. At a time when runs were scarce and the running game was prevalent , he was the best in the AL at the craft and without him the As would almost certainly would not have won three consecutive WS.

Can't believe anyone would support Campaneris for the HOF when it's totally obvious that he was on steroids in 1970. ;)

I guess I'm missing the point of the whole "look at this list of RBI winners" thing. It seems like you're saying there's a disconnect in how people (writers) value RBIs - - namely that they value them highly during any individual season - for MVP voting - but not as much for HoF voting. I'm honestly surprised that OPS has a better correlation with HoF status than RBIs. But I don't see how it relates to the rest of this.

Well, writers do value RBI more when it comes to MVP voting than HOF voting. But, no, that wasn't my point. Rather, the point I was trying to make was that RBI, as a standalone stat, was not a great measure of production or value. OPS does a better job of identifying production or value than RBI and OPS+ does OPS one better.

I've never been enamored of OPS, or its derivatives, as a stat. It combines two stats that are on different scales simply by ... adding them. Other than ease, I can't see why it makes sense to do that. If you're going to combine the two numbers, they should be multiplied. OPS also weights OBP and SLG equally, when OBP is obviously more valuable but the range of possible SLG's is much wider.

The math takes the reader away from, not toward, the building blocks of runs and outs. It's an OK stat, but I don't quite get its popularity.

Even the MVP vote argument doesn't hold water. Look at how many of Rice's contemporaries are ahead of him in the MVP vote shares tally on baseball reference:

Two standouts worth highlighting: Dave Parker and Ken Griffey.

OPS isn't without its faults for the reasons you mentioned, yet it is easy to understand and compute and, most importantly, has always had a very high correlation to runs scored.

In 2007, OPS explained 95.0% of runs scored in the majors. Multiplying OBP and SLG had a 95.8% correlation to runs scored. Although I have always liked the latter better as a more exact measurement tool, the incremental improvement doesn't seem like it outweighs the simplicity of adding OBP and SLG.

By the way, the simple Runs Created formula (multiplying TB and OBP) provides a correlation to runs scored of 95.9% and -- of greatest interest to me -- results in a number that is almost exactly the same as the runs scored by a given team or league.

As an example, the Yankees led the majors in runs scored last year with 968. The original and simplest of Runs Created formulas computes an estimate of 969.5. Uncanny.

The difference between runs scored and runs created is typically due to clutch hitting, baserunning, and types of outs, but the variations are minor in the big scheme of things.

Tim: Like you, I'm not a fan of MVP Shares. But if one is going to use that as a tool, then one should apply it consistently and get behind Dave Parker before Rice. Parker is every bit as deserving as Rice for reasons outside of MVP Shares. (Griffey, by the way, is Junior and not the father.)

My bad on the Griffey Jr one. Weird that they don't display the two differently. Thanks Rich.

I'm a little frustrated that in each of Buster's last couple of replies, he's completely taken what you've said out of context, created a bad argument out of it, and then countered that bad argument which you never said in the first place. He hasn't been responding directly to any of your points.

I think it's fine to want Rice in the hall, as long as you arrived at your conclusion by asking the question, "should Rice be in the hall?" and evaluating the evidence instead of starting with "Rice should be in the hall" and then going about looking for supporting evidence.

Re the comment above: yes, yes, yes, and yes to paragraph two...yes and yes to paragraph three. Well articulated, Tim.

Have to agree with you Rich that Parker has received surprisingly little support for the HOF, esppecilly when his candidacy is measured against Rice. Using virtually very analytical tool, Parker would seem to have the edge.Subjectively, Parker was a 5 tool player who played a tougher position, had a far superior throwing arm and was much more dangerous on the basepaths. Using the offensive metrics, his five year peak from 1975- 1979 surpassed any comparable period of Rice using OPS+ and Runs created, among other measures and he had greater longevity. Looking at intangible factors, he was a part of two World Series Champions and was arguably the "best player in baseball for a stretch in the late 1970s. I think Parker is hurt by two things. One, which is somewhat unique to himis that years of peak efficiency in the late 1970s and mid 1980s were bracketed by a 4 year stretch(1980-1983) where he was basically irrelevant as a player before regaining much of his luster with the Reds i . Ny contrast, Rice, while obviously having ups and downs in that infamous 12 year period between 1975- 1986 never had a valley that approached Parker.Second, a somewhat similar point, is that players like Parker who have their best years in their careers I believe are subconciously punished by HOF voters because they forget how good he was. If we were to invert Parker's 1975- 1979 years with his 1980- 1983 years, I think he would be viewed differntly in the minds of the BBWAA even though the body of work would be the same. I think this is part of Tim Raines' problem- people forget how good he was between 1981 and 1987 because so much time and baseball played has intervened.
In closing, one of the arguments against Rice for the HOF has been that it would open the doors to players such as Parker. In Parker's I don;t think this is such a bad thing..

I happened to be at Barnes & Noble today and found "Stat One" by Craig Messmer. On the back cover, this book purports to answer the question: Is Jim Rice a Hall of Famer?

I then opened the book. Stat One mashes up statistics into a single number called Production/Efficiency Rating. As far as I could tell, Stat One does not attempt to consider defense, park factors, eras, anything like that, but maybe those will come out in Stat Two, Stat Three and Stat Four. I had had all I could take in six minutes. It was like reading an elementary-school essay.

Anyway, Mr. Messmer says Jim Rice is the seventh-best left fielder of all time and, in answer to the question, yes, a Hall of Famer. So now you know, and please don't encourage Mr. Messmer by buying his book.

I don't understand how there is even an argument. Jim Rice was a one dimensional player whose one dimension was greatly aided by his home ballpark. He could not run, he could not play defense, his peak wasn't long enough, his career wasn't long enough. His proclaimed "most feared status" from 1975-86 is more accurately 1977-79, with a couple of more great seasons peppered in over the next 7 years.

Switch the ballparks, and can you tell me the difference between Rice and Greg Luzinski?

The landscape is littered with players that were great, but not great enough to be enshrined. If Rice gets in, and I assume he will, there could be cries to induct nearly a dozen players who similarly had great peaks, but whose overall body of work falls short: contemporaries Dawson, Murphy, Parker, Garvey & Foster; plus Maris, Colavito, Oliva, Mattingly, Albert Belle. Even compared to these names, I don't think Rice is in the top half.
And that doesn't include others who I believe have been slighted: Dick Allen, Ron Santo, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Minnie Minoso, Ted Simmons