Sunday, January 14, 2007

More on the Rice debate

Chris Lynch didn't care much for my piece on Jim Rice and the Hall of Fame. Which is fine. Go ahead and read it, and you may agree with him. But there are a couple of things he had to say that I want to address.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen people write things like, "When I saw Jim Rice play - I was sure he was a Hall of Fame player but now I'm not convinced." This sort reasoning bothers me. A good example of this sort of reasoning is Lyford's most recent piece talking about Jim Rice and the Hall of Fame.

I can understand being bothered by that, but I want to clarify that. I did, in fact, say that when I was younger I thought Rice was a Hall of Famer. There are two reasons for that.

1) "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; when I became a man, I put away childish things." I know a lot more about the game, I understand a lot more about the game, than I did when I was 14-16, which were my ages during Rice's peak. I understand more about the value of OBP, I understand more about park effects.

2) In 1979, even taking OBP and park effects into account, Jim Rice was clearly on a Hall of Fame track. As late as 1986, there was still an excellent opportunity for him to finish with a career that warranted induction. Unfortunately, he hadn't done quite enough yet, and did nothing else, leaving him, to my way of thinking, on the wrong side of the line that separates Hall of Famers from the very good players who aren't Hall of Famers.

So I don't apologize at all for thinking differently about Jim Rice's Hall of Fame credentials in 2007 than I did in 1979, when I was 16, and his career was still in its first half.

Lyford falls into the same fallacy of thinking that "OBP is more valuable than SLG." Says who?

Pretty much everyone who's ever looked at it seriously.

I know today we accept that OBP is more valuable than SLG but that was not the case when Rice was playing.

The fact that some people didn't know it doesn't mean that it wasn't true.

Jim Rice was a "slugger". His job in the middle of the batting order was to try and hit the cover off the baseball - not to try and draw a walk.

No, Jim Rice was a hitter, whose job was to try to help the team score more runs. It would have been more helpful for him to walk on some of those low-outside pitches instead of pulling them to SS for 6-4-3 double plays. Rice was playing for the same team that Ted Williams had played for 20+ years earlier. It's not the HoF voter's fault that he chose not to walk.

People today like to compare Rice's OBP to Dwight Evan's and yet I've never seen any of these comparisons mention that Rice was always batting 3rd or 4th where his job was to "slug" while for a good chunk of his career - Evans batted leadoff where his job was to get on base for Jim Rice and others to knock him in.

Ted Williams, who has the highest OBP in baseball history, always batted 3rd or 4th, too. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds, who all batted 3rd or 4th, are all in the top 6.

In other words, that's not a reason for a low-OBP - it's an excuse.

Was Jim Rice successful as a slugger? Well consider he had 8 seasons in the top 10 for slugging (leading the league twice). Rice was in the top 10 in HR 7 times including leading the league 3 times. RBI? Rice was top 10 in the AL 9 times including leading the league twice. I think you could say that Jim Rice was a very successful slugger.

He sure was. But not successful enough to reach HoF standards, not when you consider that a) SLG was really all he gave you and b) his SLG was artificially enhanced by his home park and c) he only did it for about 10 years.

Consider this - sluggers are known for HR and RBI and there are currently 30 teams in MLB. The numbers Jim Rice put up in HR and RBI would make him the all time leader in both HR and RBI for 12 franchises including teams like the Indians and Angels.

Consider this - Dwight Evans, who you apparently don't think is a Hall Of Fame worthy candidate, finished 3 HR behind Rice, and would be the career HR leader for exactly the same teams.

He would also be the all-time leader in RBI for the Dodgers and Seattle plus the all-time leader in HR for the Brewers and Royals. One of the all-time great sluggers and people who saw him play knew they were watching a Hall of Famer.

Hey, through 2000, I knew that I was watching a Hall of Famer every time Nomar Garciaparra took the field, too. Now I know that I'm not. You've got to do it for more than a few years.

Too bad so many don't even trust what they saw with their own eyes.

Actually, people trusting their own eyes is one of the biggest problems in baseball analysis. People trusting their own eyes is the reason that Derek Jeter wins Gold Glove awards. The eyes are of limited trustworthiness, and they don't approach objectivity. That's why we keep track of the events that happen on the field, because we know that the eyes aren't trustworthy...



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