The voting for the 2008 baseball Hall of Fame will soon be here, heating up the intense debates on baseball websites. Since Bill James popularized scientific method in baseball, discussions have been intense between those who want to enhance understanding of the sport and those that are insulted to have their beliefs challenged. Like Intelligent Design fanatics, they get upset if study results reveal a different outcome than their prior beliefs, and lashing out is not uncommon. Also like ID folks, they will attempt to sound scientific, while not actually following scientific method. This results in some absurd arguments. This Hall season has one particular candidate supported by the ID folk, Jim Rice.
Rice was a very strong hitter who played for the Boston Red Sox from 1974-1989. If we assume the criteria for the Hall of Fame is based on:
a) objective analysis
b) the Hall remaining approximately the same % of total MLB total players
c) induction is based on quality of play, or contribution to team pursuit of wins
Then Rice is not qualified for the Hall of Fame.
Jim Rice’s only real qualification is that he had a high slugging percentage relative to his competition(86th all time). Some other potential qualifications:
1) fielding. Rice was a poor fielding LF/DH, so it is difficult to give him anything but the lowest score.
2) Avoiding outs. This is more valuable to scoring runs than slugging percentage. However, Rice rarely walked and he hit into a tremendous number of double plays, so despite his high batting average, he was average in this category. At least until…
3) Context. Rice hit in one of the best batting parks in the country, Fenway Park. On the road his slugging was 87 points lower (.459 – .546). The era was a relatively strong offensive era, inflating data compared to the 1960’s, but deflating them compared to the 1990’s. Rice’s career adjusted OPS is barely within the top 200 all time. OPS+ underestimates OBP. so Rice’s offensive winning % is barely within the top 300 all time.
4) Speed. Rice was very slow, so again this is a big negative.
5) Attitude. Fans, writers, and other players considered him a prick, gruff and prone to rage. I personally did not witness any of this behavior and place little credence in reputation and rumor, but certainly there is no reason to give him credit in this department.
6) He won an MVP award. Big whoop, Maris won 2 and isn’t in. No really, this is important if we are trying to predict the likelihood of Rice being elected, because the same group of people (BBWAA) vote on the Hall as the MVP. The BBWAA have not done a good job in electing MVPs, and I see no reason to believe that winning one award makes a better candidate.
As a comparison, let’s take Frank Howard, who was a distinctly better hitter than Rice. In 1968 AL, the worst hitting major league since before the Yankees won anything, Howard hit 44 home runs (8 more than anyone else) and led the league in slugging %. He ended 8th in the MVP voting, right behind Dick McAuliffe. A catcher who hit .263 with 25 HRs was 2nd in the voting (Bill Freehan). So Howard went out the next year and hit 48 HRs, increased his batting average 22 points to .296, and his walks from 54 to 102. He ended 4th in the MVP.
Howard again improved , drawing 132 walks and hitting 44 HRs, but he dropped to 5th in the voting. The MVP voting was and is irrelevant to how many runs he put up on the scoreboard.
7) absurd arguments. Among those I read are for Rice going into the Hall are: he was a feared hitter; and he played up to 23 games in the senior league. I am not kidding, people made these arguments. Also, they won’t vote for any recent player, because he played in the ‘Steroid Era’.
I have heard people talk about the ‘steroid era’ for awhile now, and I am trying to figure out the exact dates of this era. Tom House claimed that he and many other pitchers took steroids in the 1970’s to enhance their baseball careers. Anabolic steroids date back to the 1930’s. So apparently, the start of the baseball ‘steroid era’ is between the 1930’s and 1970’s.
Every recent candidate played during the ‘steroid era’. Candidates from the ‘steroid era’ include(d): big feared muscle guys who hit the ball hard (Jim Rice); people with uncommon durability (Ripken); big strikeout pitchers (Blyleven); and big power middle infielders (Trammell).
Jim Rice, like Mark McGwire, was a big strong power hitter (although not as good) who never tested positive for steroids. Only Rice is know for his rage, however. I don’t know if either took steroids, and I have yet to see any data supporting the theory that steroids cause home runs. It is very selective to apply the steroid stigma to McGwire, while ignoring those with similar opportunity.
I do want to mention that a childhood favorite of mine, and contemporary, had a slightly higher OBP than Rice. This player played most of his career in pitcher’s ballparks, so the value of his OBP was much higher than Rice’s. That player was Steve Henderson.