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December 29, 2008

Prospectus Hit and Run

Throwing Rice

by Jay Jaffe

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In evaluating the Hall of Fame candidacies of Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines recently, I made a point of avoiding any discussion of Jim Rice for a simple reason: his candidacy doesn't merit being mentioned in the same breath. That's not to say that Rice wasn't an excellent ballplayer, but his relatively short career and the context surrounding it simply leave his case wanting. The BBWAA clearly feels otherwise, as Rice polled 72.2 percent of the vote last year, the ninth straight year he's received above 50 percent. Still, he fell 16 votes shy in his second-to-last year on the ballot. With his candidacy in its final year and surrounded by such controversy, we'll take a closer look at his case.

If you're joining us late, please read this year's introduction to the JAWS system and the changes in the underlying WARP metric since last year's evaluation.


                     H    HR   RBI   AVG   OBP   SLG  AS  MVP GG  HOFS   HOFM  Bal  2008%
Jim Rice           2452  382  1451  .298  .352  .502   7   1   0  42.9  147.0  14   72.20
Rickey Henderson   3055  297  1115  .279  .401  .419  10   1   1  52.6  183.5   0   ---
Tim Raines         2605  170   980  .294  .385  .425   7   0   0  46.8   90.0   1   24.30

             EqA   BRAR  BRAA  FRAA  Career  Peak   JAWS
Rice        .293    627   359   -41   55.1   39.6   47.4
Henderson   .316   1285   906   194  155.7   74.9  115.3
Raines      .309    905   608     8   94.3   54.9   74.6
AVG HOF LF  .303    743   473     2   76.8   48.2   62.5

HOFS & HOFM: Bill James' Hall of Fame Shares and Monitor.
Bal: How many years the player has appeared on the ballot.
2008%: The player's share of the vote in 2008.

Jim Rice was Boston's first pick in the 1971 draft, the 15th pick overall, passed over in favor of such luminaries as Danny Goodwin, Jay Franklin, Condredge Holloway, and Tom Veryzer. Not that the first round was entirely a bust, as Frank Tanana was taken just two picks ahead of Rice by the Angels, and Rick Rhoden was chosen five picks behind him by the Dodgers. Though he hit just .256/.311/.408 as an 18-year-old in the New York-Penn League, Rice climbed quickly through the Red Sox system, reaching Triple-A Pawtucket in late 1973 and Boston in late 1974 after a season at Pawtucket in which he won the International League Triple Crown and would earn The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year honors. He made his major league debut on August 19, and hit .269/.307/.373 in 24 games, mainly as a DH and pinch-hitter.

Just over two weeks later, fellow rookie Fred Lynn would debut as well. The following year the two players would help Boston win their first pennant since 1967, with Lynn winning both Rookie of the Year and MVP honors, a then-unprecedented feat; for the year, Lynn hit .331/.401/.566 with 21 homers, a season worth 8.3 WARP, using Clay Davenport's revised replacement level. Rice finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting and third in MVP on the strength of a .309/.350/.491 line with 22 homers, but his season was only worth 4.1 WARP due to his lesser defensive value and much lower OBP and SLG numbers. Already he was overrated.

In any event, Rice missed the final week of the season and the entirety of Boston's post-season run due to a wrist injury. The Sox made it all the way to Game Seven of one of the greatest World Series ever played before finally falling to the Big Red Machine. It doesn't take much imagination to think that had he been available, Sox fans might have been spared three decades of misery awaiting that elusive World Championship.

Rice soon emerged as one of the league's top sluggers; he would place either first or second in slugging percentage in each of the next four years while leading the league in home runs in 1977 (39) and 1978 (46). He earned MVP honors for his 1978 performance, in which he hit .315/.370/.600 and finished with 406 total bases, the only other player besides Hank Aaron to reach the 400 plateau between 1949 and 1997. Rice's performance that year was worth a career-high 8.4 WARP. Alas, it wasn't quite enough to put the Sox over the top in an AL East race that came down to a Game 163 play-in, where Mike Torrez served up a meatball to Bucky Dent. You may have heard about it at some point.

Rice enjoyed another strong season in 1979 (.325/.381/.596, 39 HR, 7.1 WARP) but another hand injury cost him a month in 1980 and sapped his performance (.294/.336/.504, 24 HR, 3.0 WARP). He wouldn't reach a .500 slugging percentage in either of the next two seasons, though his 1982 performance heralded a rebound the following year: .305/.361/.550, with a league-leading 39 homers. However, his minimal defensive value kept his WARP at just 4.3.

That was the last time Rice's slugging percentage topped .500, but after two more down seasons, he had one more big year in 1986, hitting .324/.384/.490 with exactly 200 hits but "only" 20 homers, a season worth 5.5 WARP. At 33 years old, Rice's power may have been waning, but he was growing more disciplined as a hitter, setting career bests with 62 walks and that OBP. He finally made it to the postseason, hitting just .161, but homering twice in the ALCS against the Angels, then hitting .333/.455/.444 in Boston's traumatic seven-game World Series loss to the Mets.

Rice would never again come close to even his 1986 level. Over his final three seasons, he slugged a feeble .395, never topping 15 home runs. Knee problems were a factor, but surgery after the 1987 season failed to solve the problem. New manager Walpole Joe Morgan, who took over from John McNamara in mid 1988, made a power play shortly after taking the job by sending Spike Owen up to pinch-hit for Rice in the eighth inning of a close game. A shoving match ensued in the dugout, and Rice was suspended for three games. The handwriting was on the wall, though he would linger on the roster for one more dismal year before finally drawing his release.

The proponents of Rice's Hall of Fame candidacy point to the way his power dominated his era, the respect he drew for his performances, and the fear he elicited. They have something of a point on the first two counts, which have their basis in fact. From 1976 to 1983, Rice finished either first or second in the league in slugging percentage five times, led the league in total bases four times and in home runs three times, and salted those accomplishments with several other top 10 finishes. He placed in the top five in MVP balloting six times, and made eight All-Star teams. Just about all of that is captured in his Hall of Fame Monitor Score, as noted above. According to that Bill James metric, Rice scores 147 points, where the average Hall of Famer-average at the time James was creating his system some 25 years ago, at least-scores 100. He did a ton of things that typical Hall of Famers do, basically.

As for the fear factor, there's a lot of hot air in circulation, and plenty of anger directed at those who would try to debunk the myths surrounding the truth. Rice may have intimidated the writers who covered him; Howard Bryant's Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston goes into great and painful detail on that front, unraveling Rice's tumultuous relationship with the media who covered him and the complex dynamics in play regarding his team and his city, and I strongly suspect at least some of the increased momentum his candidacy has received relates to some guilty consciences over the way things unfolded at the time.

Getting a raw deal from the beat reporters and columnists does not, however, change the facts surrounding his case, and any case one wishes to make about "fear" simply isn't reflected in the statistics. Opposing pitchers didn't pitch around Rice they way they pitch around Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols; Rice is tied for 179th in intentional walks, a stat that would seem to indicate some measure of fear. Among those tied with him at 77 intentionals are Fred Lynn, Geoff Jenkins, Claudell Washington, Terry Pendleton, Jerry Grote, and Clay Dalrymple. Hmmmm. In fact, Rice didn't walk much at all. Of the 118 players with at least 300 career home runs, he has the 14th-lowest walk rate per plate appearance:


Player              BB    PA    BB/PA    HR
Andre Dawson       589  10769   0.055   438
Vinny Castilla     423   7384   0.057   320
Joe Carter         527   9154   0.058   396
Lee May            487   8219   0.059   354
Matt Williams      469   7595   0.062   378
Juan Gonzalez      457   7155   0.064   434
Gary Gaetti        634   9817   0.065   360
Al Simmons         615   9515   0.065   307*
Andres Galarraga   583   8916   0.065   399
Dave Parker        683  10184   0.067   339
Orlando Cepeda     588   8695   0.068   379**
Ruben Sierra       610   8782   0.069   306
Ernie Banks        763  10395   0.073   512*
Jim Rice           670   9058   0.074   382
Willie Horton      620   8052   0.077   325

*: BBWAA-elected
**: VC-selected

That list contains some very good players, Hall of Famers as well as contemporaries of Rice who are currently on the BBWAA ballot, but none had to make their Cooperstown case on some intangible factor that wasn't represented in the stats. On the contrary, there are also free-swinging hackers like Joe Carter and Juan Gonzalez and Ruben Sierra on that list-players who had some pop, but also a very large hole in their game regarding plate discipline. Rice actually has the second-highest OBP of the above group behind Hall of Famer Al Simmons, but it's a distant second, 28 points. He may have been slightly more disciplined than Orlando Cepeda, and he was certainly faster than Ernie Lombardi and taller than Rabbit Maranville. This isn't a strong building block for a vote.

The real problem, beyond the fact that concepts like fear aren't well-captured in baseball statistics and are prone to distortions of memory among those passing on the legend, is that Rice's offensive accomplishments received a considerable boost from playing half of his games in Fenway Park. For his career, Rice hit .320/.374/.546 with 208 homers in Fenway, but just .277/.330/.459 with 174 homers on the road. Taking advantage of one's home park is no crime; quite the contrary, most great sluggers get such a boost. But once you adjust for his park and league scoring environments via the WARP system, a good amount of the air is let out of the tires.

Rice's .293 EQA is an impressive figure, but it's still 10 points shy of the average Hall of Fame left fielder. His monster 1978 showing was good for a .314 EQA, which ranked third behind Ken Singleton's .323 and Amos Otis' .316, neither considered a dominant hitter at that point or any other. Rice's 130.7 Equivalent Runs paced the circuit, but he also used up more outs than all but three hitters, because again, he didn't actually walk very often (just 58 times in 746 plate appearances, including seven intentionals), and because he also grounded into a ton of double plays (15). Indeed, on the latter score, Rice ranks sixth all time, and in some pretty fair company-Cal Ripken, Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Dave Winfield, and Eddie Murray-until you consider that all had at least 35 to 55 percent more plate appearances in their career than Rice.

That short career is the other thing which dooms his candidacy. Rice's last productive season came at the age of 33, and he was done by 36. He thus falls more than 100 runs shy of the JAWS standards in Batting Runs Above Average and Batting Runs Above Replacement. Worse, he falls 21.7 WARP shy on the career front and 8.6 WARP shy on the peak front; as "dominant" as he was in his heyday, he was worth an average of 1.2 wins per year less than the typical Hall of Fame left fielder. Repeating the chart from the last time around, his JAWS score ranks only 35th among left fielders, and ahead of only four Hall of Fame ones:


Rk   Player            Career   Peak   JAWS
 1   Barry Bonds        192.6   88.7  140.7
 2   Rickey Henderson   155.7   74.9  115.3
 3   Stan Musial        152.7   75.7  114.2*
 4   Ted Williams       128.2   74.2  101.2
 5   Pete Rose          106.7   56.2   81.5
 6   Tim Raines          94.3   54.9   74.6
 7   Carl Yastrzemski    94.7   50.9   72.8*
 8   Ed Delahanty        84.7   59.6   72.2**
 9   Jim O'Rourke        94.3   46.5   70.4**
10   Willie Stargell     82.2   54.1   68.2*
11   Fred Clarke         81.1   43.9   62.5**
12   Jose Cruz           72.7   47.7   60.2
13   Jesse Burkett       72.1   47.5   59.8**
14   Al Simmons          71.6   47.0   59.3*
15   Tony Phillips       69.0   49.3   59.2
16   Albert Belle        61.9   53.2   57.6
17   Joe Medwick         67.1   46.5   56.8*
18   George Foster       62.7   50.8   56.8
19   Jimmy Sheckard      63.9   42.8   53.4
20   Bob Johnson         63.7   41.7   52.7
21   Goose Goslin        61.9   43.1   52.5**
22   Joe Kelley          59.9   44.9   52.4**
27   Zack Wheat          61.8   38.2   50.0**
29   Billy Williams      59.2   38.8   49.0*
35   Jim Rice            55.1   39.6   47.4
38   Ralph Kiner         47.9   43.4   45.7*
39   Lou Brock           54.6   36.0   45.3*
75   Chick Hafey         31.8   28.9   30.4**
81   Heinie Manush       31.3   27.1   29.2**

It's instructive to compare Rice's Hall of Fame case to that of another slugging left fielder who came along 15 years later, and who was similarly dominant in his era, thanks in part to his park and league environments, while offering a similarly intimidating persona that brought the word "fear" into play on multiple levels. Said slugger, whom we'll call Player X for the bare moment it takes to make this comparison, also saw an early end to his career (after his age-33 season) and accumulated similar credentials:


               H    HR   RBI   AVG   OBP   SLG  AS  MVP GG  HOFS   HOFM
Rice         2452  382  1451  .298  .352  .502   7   1   0  42.9  147.0
Player X     1726  381  1239  .295  .369  .564   5   0   0  36.1  134.5

             EqA   BRAR  BRAA  FRAA  Career  Peak   JAWS
Rice        .293    627   359   -41   55.1   39.6   47.4
Player X    .315    647   454   -50   61.9   53.2   57.6
AVG HOF LF  .303    743   473     2   76.8   48.2   62.5

Player X was in fact a better hitter of the pair after adjusting for context, and not by a little; his peak was worth two wins per year more than Rice. That player, who fell off the ballot after just two rounds of voting, was Albert Belle, and however feared he was as a hitter and a human being, the BBWAA voters have definitively decided that Albert Belle is not a Hall of Famer.

Neither is Rice, at least according to any comparison that rests on fact as opposed to legend. The BBWAA may well feel otherwise, however, and I strongly suspect he'll receive enough votes to get over the top. He won't be the worst mistake they've ever made, but he would be close, with the fifth-lowest JAWS score of any hitter ever voted in by that august body:


Player            Career   Peak   JAWS
Rabbit Maranville   49.8   32.2   41.0
Lou Brock           54.6   36.0   45.3
Ralph Kiner         47.9   43.4   45.7
Luis Aparicio       57.5   36.1   46.8
Jim Rice            55.1   39.6   47.4
Bill Terry          53.9   41.4   47.7

As good a player as he may have been, Rice's admission to Cooperstown would flatter neither the institution or the process. I suspect we'll have to learn to live with it nonetheless.

---

This is my final article of the calendar year for Baseball Prospectus. I had hoped to finish the JAWS series earlier, but as is all too often the case, deadlines and other real-life factors intruded; getting such a series done would be easier if I actually lived in my parents' basement, but having a lovely wife, friends, and other responsibilities is a fair trade for avoiding the ridiculous stereotype that will undoubtedly be invoked by critics of such a rational examination of Rice's candidacy. The ballot results won't be announced until January 12, so I'll pick up the series (and comments to this article) when I return from my vacation after the new year. In the meantime, I'd like to extend the warmest of thank yous to my readers and colleagues for a wonderful year at BP, and to wish you all a happy and safe holiday season, and all the best for a wonderful 2009.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

35 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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krissbeth

If intangibles are going to be weighted so heavily in Rice's case, and they shouldn't be, then I'd at least like some analysis of what role his clubhouse leadership played in establishing or fighting the infamous "25 players, 25 cabs" description of the Red Sox during his era.

Dec 29, 2008 11:24 AM
rating: 2
 
jballen4eva

What bothers me most about the focus on Rice is that Dwight Evans has a much stronger case for the Hall, but gets very little attention.

Dec 29, 2008 12:08 PM
rating: 5
 
Michael Rawdon

I've thought the same thing! I think Evans has at least as good a case as Rice. And I'm not sure either of them are truly Hall quality.

Dec 29, 2008 12:36 PM
rating: 1
 
JayhawkBill
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

"Albert Belle is not a Hall of Famer.

Neither is Rice, at least according to any comparison that rests on fact as opposed to legend."

I'd respectfully disagree.

Good writing includes and disproves potential counterarguments, and this well-written article has the foresight to include the fact--not the legend, the fact--that Jim Rice was among the top five in his league in MVP balloting six times. Where that objectively ranks is overlooked, though. The article links that recognition with the arbitrary issue of Rice striking "fear" into opposing teams, and the words used to disprove the counterargument are all dedicated to showing that Rice's stats shouldn't have caused "fear." No mention is made of how noteworthy his MVP votes received were, contrasted to other players as a benchmark.

One can check Rice's MVP Shares, a measure of how his votes received compared to the values of unanimous first-place selection, to contrast his MVP votes received against other players' MVP votes. Jim Rice has 3.15 MVP Shares, the 29th-highest figure in MLB history. This places him in the range of players who were all inducted into the Hall of Fame. In fact, there are only two players who received 2.50 or more MVP Shares who are eligible for Hall of Fame induction who haven't been granted inclusion in Cooperstown: Jim Rice and Dave Parker. Both of those players hit their peaks at exactly the same time, 1975-1986. By the old Black Ink and Gray Ink standards, Rice earned enough credit for probable Hall of Fame entry, while Parker was just borderline. By WARP, Parker emerges as the slightly better player. But the two players are exceptionally similar in their career marks, and they are the only two eligible players over the 2.50 MVP Share mark, let alone the 3.15 MVP Share mark, who aren't in the Hall of Fame. Why not?

One could point to the stats, explaining that we now know far more about how valuable hitters are, and that these hitters fall short of the historical standards of excellence at their respective positions. By itself that would be true, but it would leave out so much. Rice was primarily a power hitter, and it's easy to forget that his 46 home runs in 1978 were hit in an era where no other AL batter had accumulated as many as 40 home runs since 1970. No AL batter accumulated more than 46 home runs in a season until the hitter's year 1987. Rice's achievements were earned in a context uniquely challenging to hitters. With the enhanced hitting stats of the past two decades, a period dubbed by some "The Steroid Era," it's easy to discount Rice's work.

But there's more than that. It seems, although I lack the stats (or the time) to prove it definitively, that the conditions of the game from 1975-1986, especially in the AL, made it difficult for either pitchers or hitters to excel. Implicitly, the JAWS system assumes that players of every era had equivalent opportunity to excel. I'd suggest that, unless we can somehow check the number of players achieving excellence by WARP in a given season and determine that all eras were equivalent, using WARP and JAWS as the sole metrics by which to disqualify a player is unfair.

What I do know is that the MVP Awards are voted on today, as they have been for decades, by women and men who follow baseball for a living, professionals who would lose their reputations (and meal tickets) if they voted for awards in a way thought to be ludicrous. That makes MVP Award Share a viable metric based upon fact, not legend, of how a player was thought to rank with his peers by contemporary experts. By MVP Award Share, Jim Rice is certainly far above the threshold for near-automatic induction to the Hall of Fame. Perhaps there are other perspectives, but unless and until those perspectives' metrics are demonstrated to treat players from all eras equitably, pardon if I disagree with the closing statement that "Rice's admission to Cooperstown would flatter neither the institution or the process."

Dec 29, 2008 13:48 PM
rating: -6
 
eighteen

The people who determine the MVP are not "professionals who would lose their reputations" for making stupid decisions. They've made countless stupid MVP, Cy Young, ROY, HOF, and other decisions; and they're still around hawking their palaver and nonsense.

The people who determine the MVP will lose their reputations and jobs when readers start paying attention to the analyses of writers like Jaffe, Neyer, and James. If you want to make a case for Rice based on what a bunch of know-nothings thought 30 years ago, and without regard to what he actually did, fine. You should cancel your BP subscription, though - it's clearly money wasted.

Dec 29, 2008 15:32 PM
rating: 5
 
JayhawkBill
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Well, thanks for the kind words.

You mention the writing of Bill James. I remember an early Bill James Baseball Abstract pointing out that its readers should pay attention to early equivalents to Most Valuable Player votes, because the voters recorded the best conventional wisdom of their time regarding which players were best. I think that James captured an important idea there: MVP votes recorded for posterity which players were best at doing what was valued by the audiences of professional baseball of that era.

I don't dispute that Jay Jaffe's JAWS system accurately records which players excelled to the greatest degree in the respects which we now value the most. I do dispute that players from all eras had equal opportunity or equal encouragement to reach those standards, and I'd suggest that the extraordinary respect which Jim Rice earned amongst sportswriters of his era suggests that he may have been better than a JAWS score leads us to believe.

Dec 29, 2008 16:01 PM
rating: -4
 
Richie

The sportswriters of his era had little idea how many/few walks Rice drew, and no real idea of how many DPs he hit into. Those stats correlated heavily with team runs, i.e., mattered greatly. But Joe Press Box of the time paid no attention to them. Nor to defense, really. Nor park effects.

For the inadequacies of MVP writers of the day, see Andre Dawson, 1987; also how many 1985 MVP votes Rickey Henderson got compared to teammate Don Mattingly. Not a single sportswriter lost a penny, never mind his job, for such MVP votes.

I do, on the other hand, welcome your participation on this site. Glad to have you here.

Dec 29, 2008 16:27 PM
rating: 6
 
JayhawkBill

Kind of you to appreciate my being around.

I did a quick check on Andre Dawson's salary after his 1987 MVP season. He got the fourteenth-best contract in MLB in 1988 for hitting lots of home runs and getting lots of RBI in 1987, earning a salary just $460,714 shy of the highest salary in the game at that time. He only had 32 walks in 1987, but MLB hitters didn't earn much money for bases on balls.

Likewise, while Rickey Henderson had a very respectable third-place finish in MVP voting in 1985, Mattingly, with a lower OBP (and defensive value) but a higher SLG (and batting average and home run tally) finished first. Mattingly went on to earn excellent money in MLB, starting with a 202% raise in 1986.

Players in Rice's era were rewarded for hitting home runs. Rice tried to hit home runs, not to draw walks. That may have been due to many factors, but the foremost may have been that his manager and his fan base wanted him to hit home runs, not to draw walks.

Evaluating his performance years later on other factors than those by which he was evaluated at the time may not be fair to Jim Rice.

Dec 29, 2008 16:54 PM
rating: -3
 
Aaron/YYZ

We are, in fact, evaluating Rice's value based on his existing statistical record. It is our better, more complete understanding of the value that a player contributes to baseball victory that sheds a new, different, at times harsher light on the heroes of old. Not all of them will stand up as well under this new scrutiny.

At the same time, these new valuations of the existing statistical record regularly serve to reinforce how great the Inner Circle Hall of Famers were. Ted Williams was renowned for his high batting average, and homerun hitting. He won the Triple Crown twice (neither time winning the MVP), and 6 batting Titles, but he also lead the league in On Base Percentage every year but one of his entire career. He clearly knew how to take a walk, and frankly his career OBP of .482 is far more impressive to me than his .344 Batting Average.

Dec 29, 2008 20:15 PM
rating: 5
 
tdrury

So are we supposed to be evaluating how well players maximized their earning potential or how well they contributing to run scoring and winning baseball games? Is the player who does the things that will get him paid, possibly at the expense of doing things that help the team score runs and win, really the kind to be admired?

Dec 30, 2008 11:01 AM
rating: 2
 
eighteen

James said to "pay attention to" MVP votes. You cherry-picked MVP voting as the sole factor in making a HOF case, and justified it by assuming (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) the voters of 25-30 years ago knew something about the relative values of baseball players.

To the degree your subsequent posts in this thread rely on performance metrics, you make a much better case for Rice. But when you start evaluating and comparing player contracts you fall right back into the same baseless assumption: that for the HOF, the subjective opinions of demonstrably ignorant people are an acceptable proxy for performance analysis.

And my apologies for that snide remark about your BP subscription - that was out of line.

Dec 30, 2008 12:24 PM
rating: 2
 
JayhawkBill

Well, thank you for the apology.

You seem discouraged by my use of contracts as a metric of how players' contemporaries defined excellence. Pardon me if I'm missing something, but I'd thought that baseball contracts in the free agency era reflected the amount that GMs were willing to pay players to help their teams win. That's the point with the Joe Carter - Wade Boggs contrast: the two peers excelled in very different ways, and the one whose performance we know to be less valuable by many modern metrics was, by far, the better paid of the two. Jim Rice took the Joe Carter path, whether through choice or talent, and he was considered among the greatest hitters of his era. It seems to me that players were rewarded for swinging away at marginal pitches and maximizing hits and RBI at the expense of walks in Rice's era, and I can neither remember nor find via Google any article where a manager or Boston sportswriter regretted that Rice wasn't more selective in his pitches, walking more and slugging less.

If you check what I've written, the MVP Award Share isn't the sole metric I've used: I've looked at the traditional Black Ink and Gray Ink stats, and I've looked in considerable detail into how WARP3 scores varied over the years, hopefully shedding some new light into how players of the late 1970's may have had a harder time reaching the wins-added standards currently in vogue for assessing which players are most deserving of election to the Hall of Fame. My recurring point, though, is that MVP Award Share is an important metric, not legend nor fiction, and that when exactly two ballplayers, Rice and Parker, are so far above those players with otherwise similar career statistics in their MVP votes received, maybe their body of work deserves more credit than the JAWS system suggests. Maybe the conditions of the game, despite fairly constant aggregate statistics, were such that it was exceptionally difficult for hitters to excel. There seem to have been far fewer hitters achieving high WARP3 scores in 1978 in particular and the period of Rice's early career in general, and, while I'm not about to allege that Rice was greater than Rickey Henderson, I still suggest that we may not be considering the whole picture if we discount Rice's career with a quick look at JAWS and WARP3.

Again, though, thank you for the kind words.

Dec 30, 2008 17:06 PM
rating: -1
 
straightoutofhxc

So, basically, you're saying Jim Rice didn't walk because it wasn't the best way to make money or be appreciated, and thus CHOSE to not walk, rather than, you know, lacking a good eye. Well, all the evidence of baseball history shows that this is not the case and that players do have an innate ability when it comes to walking, just like they do power, speed, etc. If walks were down in Jim Rice's era all around, your contention would hold merit, but the fact of the matter is that there WERE hitters that walked in his era...MANY hitters that walked more than Jim Rice. Did they not care about money/appreciation, or did they just possess the ability to discern pitches better, and be more patient, while Rice did not? My money's on the latter, which is what history suggests is correct.

Furthermore, his MVP shares and what not suggest a good peak, which he certainly had. The case against Rice, though, stems from two main things - lack of career value AND defensive value - neither of which MVP shares captures.

Dec 31, 2008 02:39 AM
rating: -1
 
JayhawkBill

How does history suggest that players' OBP was strictly the result of skill sets and not of managers', coaches', owners', and fans' expectations? Certainly Dwight Evans, mentioned often in posts following this article, changed significantly and permanently regarding his plate discipline in mid-career when he was moved to the second spot in the batting order by Ralph Houk in 1981. Jim Rice batted between third and fifth. I don't remember his being expected to change, and he didn't. I don't know that he couldn't. I just know, from memory and from research to confirm my memories, that Houk expected Rice to bat in runs, not to reach base by walking. In Houk's words, "Jim Rice may have been the strongest player I ever managed. And I managed some of the great ones. He powered the offense the whole time I was there. He was one of the hardest working players you will ever see." I don't see those as the words of a manager disappointed that his past-prime player wasn't being more adaptive in pitch selection.

Still, if there's a preponderance of history--fact, not legend, as Jay Jaffe indicated was important--that I've missed, I'd be eager to have it revealed. I've mentioned one well-known case where a slugger from Rice's team was expected to change and he changed; I don't know if there's any massive record of league-leading sluggers who were asked to change who failed to change because of inability to change. I am, however, eager to learn.

Furthermore, I didn't know that MVP voters disregarded defense. In 2008, I didn't think that Dustin Pedroia won MVP strictly because of his bat. In Rice's era, I didn't think that Thurman Munson won MVP in 1976 (without leading the AL in a single offensive category) except for his glovework. From the 1960's, I think that Brooks Robinson and, especially, Zoilo Versalles might have made their MVP cases primarily on the strength of their defense.

It's tough looking back at defense in the days before advanced metrics and being sure of what we're using. I know that Rice's reputation was bad, but I also know that the local media was hostile, and I know that Rice had a better career Range Factor in left field than either Carl Yastrzemski or, by far, than Mike Greenwell, the All Star players preceding and succeeding him in front of the Green Monster. The Davenport Fielding Translations suggest that Rice wasn't very good, but I could list a host of articles from other sources criticizing the DFTs. Even the DFTs credit Rice with a FRAA of +11 in 1984, a year far past his prime but a year when he shared an outfield with the sessile Tony Armas (-15 FRAA) and an uncharacteristically slow late-career Dwight Evans (-8 FRAA). Maybe Jim Rice was suddenly a defensive star in 1984 after supposedly struggling for almost a decade, most of which he spent sharing an outfield with the speedy Lynn and a younger Evans. I'd prefer to offer that there might be a measure of doubt regarding the usually excellent DFTs in a ballpark as unique as Fenway, as another poster here has commented, and that maybe Rice wasn't quite as bad as we now tend to believe.

Finally, it seems that the writers who vote on MVP Awards are being disrespected by many posters here at BP in much the same way that I see "statheads" disrespected in posted comments at other major sports blogs. As a BP subscriber for several years, I'm surprised to see that: usually BP writers and posters ask for more information rather than belittling others and their ideas. It seems that when the name "Jim Rice" is raised, though, standards change.

Dec 31, 2008 14:30 PM
rating: -1
 
straightoutofhxc

Players generally do improve their discipline as they age, which is what Evans did. There are plenty of sluggers from Rice's era that walked even though they were "expected to drive in runs". As I said, if walks were down in his era, hell, even if walks for middle of the order hitters were down, your contention would hold merit. But that's not the case. Jim Rice didn't walk a lot, much like there are sluggers today that don't walk a lot. And taking a quick glance at the splits, middle of the order hitters in Rice's time walks more than top of the order hitters, even when you strip out the IBB's. Read this article by Joe Posnanski: http://joeposnanski.com/JoeBlog/2008/12/19/walks-and-fumbles/

As for the defense issue, while a big season with the bat combined with excellent glovework can push a player up the MVP ballot for that one season, it's not likely to stick for many years for him to accumulate MVP shares. Offense is much more important in MVP voting, and a player could be terrible defensively, and it won't show up much in the MVP balloting. As I said, MVP shares tell you nothing about how a player played defensively. Hell, they don't tell you much about how he played, period. They tell you what a select group of 30 writers thought of how he played.

Dec 31, 2008 15:49 PM
rating: -1
 
Aaron/YYZ

As has been noted even this very year, MVP voting (especially down-ballot placement) is a terrible method to evaluate how valuable a player actually is. Two examples from this recent season:

Chase Utley finished 15th this year in the MVP voting. This was frankly ludicrous by any reliable modern metric.

Joe Mauer received nowhere near the same support for MVP as his teammate Justin Morneau, despite being significantly more qualified by any number of metrics you could look at.

20 years from now, when either of them are up Hall of Fame voting, it would be ludicrous for either to be excluded based on these voting results. It would merely serve to compound the errors of today's voters.

Modern baseball writers have numerous better tools available to them to evaluate the value of players, and still manage to land on these bizarre results time and again. Is it really reasonable to argue that 25 years ago the writers of Rice's day were better equiped to vote more equitably?

Dec 29, 2008 20:01 PM
rating: 4
 
JayhawkBill

I don't know if you'd noticed, but this year the Internet Baseball Awards paralleled the writer-voted ROY, Cy Young and MVP voting results exactly. Given the involvement of metric-savvy Baseball Prospectus readers in the Internet Baseball Awards, I'd suggest that perhaps the writers aren't as ignorant as you suggest. One can pick exceptions such as Utley, but on the whole current writers reflect the perceptions of the current MLB fan base.

Is it really reasonable to argue that 25 years ago the writers of Rice's day were better equipped to vote more equitably? Absolutely: in an era where advanced metrics such as Equivalent Average, the Davenport Fielding Translations, and Win Probability Added were simply unavailable, the veterans who had seen 150 or more games every year for decades were invaluable in assessing the true value of ballplayers.

One might argue that Rice's skills, heavy on slugging and light on reaching base and defense, were less broad and less valuable than those of many of his peers. In response, I reiterate that Rice was expected to slug, not to walk, and that we lack the advanced metrics to know whether or not FRAA captures the significant Park Factor of Fenway Park prior to its recent reconstructions accurately. We do know that voters were very impressed with Rice, and we know that his traditional statistics meet the standards expected of Hall of Fame players. The exceptions seem to be WARP and JAWS, and I've yet to see a demonstration that those metrics offer a fair playing field across generations.

Dec 29, 2008 20:43 PM
rating: -3
 
Aaron/YYZ

I think you missed my point entirely. It's difficult to take seriously an argument based on down-ballot MVP voting when it's also demonstrably clear that such down-ballot voting can be charitably described as erratic.

Is there an attendance component to MVP voting? I 100% believe that modern writers, watching numerous games a year AND having advanced statistical metrics available to them, are better equipped to evaluate the true value of players than writers 30 years ago that only watched games.

Quite frankly, I don't care whether the voters were impressed with Jim Rice's hitting. Voters have been impressed with Derek Jeter's defense for years but that doesn't mean they're right.

If we want to base the voting on what other writers have thought over the years, the greatest evidence against Jim Rice's candidacy is that for 14 years there were not enough writers voting that thought he was good enough for the Hall of Fame.

Dec 30, 2008 09:39 AM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

Therein lies our answer - a "true" Hall of Famer is a player who, while eligible, was considered to be a Hall of Famer by at least 75% of the electorate.

Any and all statistics can support their opinions, but not necessarily so. The Hall of Fame is a museum devoted to baseball history. Being included in the museum indicates that a significant number of the people running the museum felt that the player represented a significant value to the history of baseball.

Dec 30, 2008 11:00 AM
rating: -1
 
jonathanaustin

The Hall of Fame is separate from the museum. Hence Pete Rose is included in the museum even though he is ineligible for the Hall of Fame.

Dec 30, 2008 11:40 AM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

I think it's more a wing of the museum, as opposed to being seperate

Dec 30, 2008 11:57 AM
rating: 0
 
Dr. Dave

"[...]Jim Rice was among the top five in his league in MVP balloting six times. Where that objectively ranks is overlooked, though."

It doesn't objectively rank anywhere. It's not an objective thing; it's an averaged subjective opinion of a group of writers who (as others have mentioned) have a terrible track record at recognizing value or the lack thereof.

Let me turn your argument around. Jim Rice has way more award shares than Carl Yastrzemski or Rickey Henderson or Wade Boggs. All of those players were obviously vastly more valuable than Rice, 2 at the same position and 2 in the same city and park. Boggs was Rice's teammate, and the voters couldn't even tell which of them was doing better. Indeed, Joe Carter got more career MVP shares than Wade Boggs. That's pathetic.

Conclusions: MVP shares aren't particularly well correlated with value.

There was nothing about Rice's era that made it hard for players to stand out offensively. Rod Carew put up WARP3's over 10 in 4 years out of 5 from '73 to '77, and 9.2 in the remaining year. George Brett did the same from '76 to '80. Reggie Jackson *averaged* 9.6 WARP3 from '71 through '76 -- that's higher than Rice's best season ever, for six years, and it doesn't even include Jackson's best year. Don Mattingly averaged 11 WARP over '84-'86. Boggs averaged 11 (!) WARP for a 7 year stretch, playing in the same park.

Even Ken Singleton, not much of anybody's idea of a hall of famer, averaged nearly 9 WARP over his first 7 years in the AL, '75-'81. Remember, 9.2 was Rice's best year. "A peak almost as good as Ken Singleton's, then nothing" is not a hall of fame career. Or, to put it more positively: if you think Jim Rice is a deserving Hall of Famer, then you also think that Ken Singleton is a deserving Hall of Famer. And Albert Belle, and Jimmy Wynn, and Reggie Smith, and Paul O'Neill, and ...

Dec 30, 2008 07:14 AM
rating: 3
 
Dr. Dave

Oops, small typo -- Rice's best season was 9.7, not 9.2.

Turns our Rice's offensive career numbers are almost identical to another guy with a food name. Check out the translated career totals for Chili Davis, and compare them against Rice... Pretty eerie. The Ellis Burks comparison is unfair -- 1100 fewer AB, for one thing -- but Chili is an excellent comp.

Dec 30, 2008 07:30 AM
rating: 1
 
JayhawkBill

You write, "There was nothing about Rice's era that made it hard for players to stand out offensively." Did you check the numbers before you wrote that?

I took the liberty of checking every MLB season from 1946 to 2008 for the highest WARP3 score by a hitter and for the number of WARP3 scores of 10 or higher. The season with the lowest top WARP3 score by a hitter was 1978, Jim Rice's best year. It was also the only season with no hitter earning a WARP3 score of 10.0 or higher. Other seasons have had as many as 19 such players--but 1978 had none.

If you smooth the data over seven years, the number of peak years considered by JAWS, the post-war minima for both highest WARP3 and for number of players with WARP3 over 10.0 is 1979. The seven-year average centered on 1979 is a 12.1 highest WARP3, with 6.0 players each year over 10.0. For contrast, the seven-year average for 2005 was a highest WARP3 of 13.4, with 11.4 players over 10.0. Given a 10.0 WARP3 as the level expected of a Hall of Famer, using JAWS it's twice as easy to look like a HOF player now than it was around 1979. It was also easier for players before 1979: Rice played at the exact worst point for evaluation by the JAWS system.

You mention a list of other players who should also be Hall of Famers, in your estimation, if Rice is. My response is that exactly two players meet the 2.50 MVP Award Share criterion I've mentioned who are eligible but not inducted, Rice and Parker. Coincidentally, both peaked right at that WARP3 minima period surrounding 1979. There may be a correlation. Certainly, though, players with lesser WARP3 scores who weren't considered valuable by writers shouldn't be considered, and I'm not suggesting that. That's the equivalent of checking Tim Raines' home run and RBI totals and claiming that a vote in support of Raines opens the door to every left fielder with more home runs and RBI. My position is that we shouldn't discount the wisdom of the writers voting on awards, especially in the case of a player whose career accomplishments appear in the Hall of Fame range by traditional metrics.

It's tough trying to project how players might have done in different eras, and it's useful having a tool such as JAWS. Before we start to discount the opinions of fans and sportswriters who were contemporaries of a HOF candidate, though, we should be sure that our own metrics offer a level playing field over the generations. When a few hours with a spreadsheet suggests that the JAWS system shows such wide variance across generations, perhaps we should keep that in mind when criticizing the few players who were most appreciated by contemporaries at the exact moment when JAWS was least generous in its assessment of the game's stars.

Dec 30, 2008 08:03 AM
rating: -2
 
cmd600

There's a worst point for the JAWS system? Either you're that much better than a replacement player or you're not. If no one hit a 10 WARP, why is it assumed that JAWS is an unfair measure, instead of that a replacement player was better, or that just no one was worth that much over a replacement player? And isn't that last part the key anyways? Did you add wins to your team as well as other Hall of Famers did?

Dec 30, 2008 09:33 AM
rating: 2
 
JayhawkBill

As an aside, you write, "Joe Carter got more career MVP shares than Wade Boggs. That's pathetic." Perhaps true--but Joe Carter played two fewer years and still made almost half again as much money as Wade Boggs, too. It seems that Joe Carter was doing what was valued by contemporary sportswriters and GMs, even if those who read the Baseball Abstracts knew that Wade Boggs was the vastly better player.

Dec 30, 2008 08:08 AM
rating: -2
 
Dr. Dave

"It seems that Joe Carter was doing what was valued by contemporary sportswriters and GMs, even if those who read the Baseball Abstracts knew that Wade Boggs was the vastly better player."

Exactly; couldn't have said it better.

Of course, that still leaves the question of whether the HoF is supposed to be for the best players, or for the most popular/admired/lionized players. The answer to that isn't obvious, and a case can be made both ways. It would be nice, though, if people would be consistent about which they favor.

Dec 30, 2008 14:31 PM
rating: 0
 
Central Falls Eddie

Jim Ed was unavailable for the '75 Series because of broken arm (coutesy Vern Reuhle(sp) ) of Detroit, not a "wrist injury".

Dec 29, 2008 18:19 PM
rating: 0
 
Adrian

This particular line of reasoning reminds me of an argument I once had with someone on a different website - a forum, actually - about historical vs non-historical characters in a work of historical fiction based on a period of ancient history. The particulars aren't really relevant - the main thing is that this person refused to accept that certain characters from the novel did not, actually, exist. He kept coming back to the idea that we can't prove they *didn't* exist, so even though there was absolutely no evidence in the historical record for their existence, we can still say they existed. This is, of course, nonsense. You can speculate all you want, but if a personage does not appear anywhere in the historical record, you cannot jump to the conclusion that they *did* exist simply because you have no direct proof - proving a negative is a billion times more difficult than proving a positive because the very fact of its having never happened means it doesn't leave the kinds of traces a positive occurrence does.

In other words, maybe Jim Rice would have been capable of walking and getting on-base a lot more if people had desired that he do so, and maybe not, but the fact that he did not, in fact, walk and get on-base a lot is all we actually have to go on. You can't jump to the conclusion that he was actually better than his record based on speculation that he might have had an ability he rarely demonstrated. To parrot a recent blogpost of Joe Posnanski's, regardless of whether walks and OBP were always fairly-valued by press, fans, players, management, etc, or not, doesn't change the fact that they were plenty valuable, and regardless of perceptions, there have always been, in baseball's history, players who *did* get on base a lot and walk a lot, and those accomplishments had the same real value regardless of what the perceptions of the time were.

I am open to the possibility that Jim Rice might be an HOF - just like I'm open to the possibility that clutch hitting, as a persistent skill, might actually exist - but I have yet to see convincing arguments demonstrating that Rice not being an on-base machine was the result of the times or team/fan pressures rather than simply because that wasn't the kind of ballplayer that he was.

Dec 30, 2008 00:31 AM
rating: 7
 
thecoolerking
(845)

That Posnanski piece is great. I think Posnanski pretty much destroyed the "Rice would have walked had he known how valuable it was" argument when he posted this statistic:

The walk rate in the American League in 2008 was 8.6%.

The walk rate in the American League in 1979 was 8.7%.

Dec 30, 2008 14:14 PM
rating: 1
 
sgshaw
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

The numbers that go into figuring WARP don't help Rice at all. Firstly, they downgrade his offense by correcting for park and league. Secondly, they don't take into effect the extreme deficiency that playing Left Field at Fenway Park gives in all defensive measures. No defensive system that I have seen has been able to correct appropriately for Fenway's Green Monster. There may be other extreme fielding situations in the league, but that is certainly one that hasn't been figured out statistically.

Rice deserves to be in the HOF because he dominated in his era. It's that simple. Yes, it was a short career, but it was clear that we were watching a HOF slugger at the time. And it's still clear.

Here are the HOF numbers from Baseball Reference:

Black Ink: Batting - 33 (49) (Average HOFer ≈ 27)
Gray Ink: Batting - 176 (57) (Average HOFer ≈ 144)
HOF Standards: Batting - 43.0 (114) (Average HOFer ≈ 50)
HOF Monitor: Batting - 144.5 (89) (Likely HOFer > 100)

Dec 30, 2008 19:19 PM
rating: -4
 
straightoutofhxc

If it was so clear that "we were watching a HOF slugger at the time", why the heck did the writers CLOSER to his career decide overwhelmingly that he was NOT a Hall of Famer? Why has it taken 15 years, 20 years after he retired, for the writers to finally acknowledge that they "were watching a HOF slugger at the time"? Doesn't it make more sense that if you really were watching a HOF slugger at the time, the writers that were around closer to that time would've thought so?

Dec 31, 2008 02:46 AM
rating: 2
 
sgshaw

Rice's relationship with the writers (read Dan "Mr. Nasty" Shaughnessy) was testy at best and ugly in many cases. They didn't like him because he didn't give them the time of day, and there is evidence that they held this against him in the early years of voting. Some of them have admitted to this.

Most of the writers who are voting, most of the fans here who are commenting, never saw Rice play on a day to day basis.

Dec 31, 2008 05:29 AM
rating: -1
 
sordfish

The Red Sox did have a HOF-quality outfielder during the entirety of Rice's career. However, it was Dwight Evans, who by 81 or so was a better hitter and always an infinitely better fielder at one of the prime fielding spots. If only Walt Hriniak had hooked up with him a few years earlier and the cheap Hemond regime in Baltimore hadn't cut him before he got his "magic number" 400th homer. I have a feeling the Veteran's Committee will catch up to him someday.

Dec 31, 2008 07:23 AM
rating: 2
 
qwik3457bb

I saw Rice play. He was a Hall of Fame hitter. For 3 seasons, 1977-9. For those 3 years he was feared, and it carried over for a couple of years after. Then from 1980 to about 1986 he was a Hall of Really Goood Hitter. The last 3 years of his career, he was Hall of Didn't He Used To Be A Really Hitter?

I leave it up to you to decide if 4 great seasons, and 8 really good ones, and 3 lousy ones, combined with mediocre defense, at best, and at a low priority defensive position, is a Hall of Famer.

Jan 01, 2009 01:33 AM
rating: 0
 
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