Grumpy old men

No, I simply cannot let go of the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame voting this year. It sticks in my craw. On Baseball Think Factory, someone who posts under the name “Cooper Nielson” (whether or not it’s his actual name I am uncertain of) made an excellent point about mainstream media’s grousing that it is stat nerds keeping Jim Rice out of Cooperstown.

He highlighted the perfectly obvious point that it is not guys like Rob Neyer, Rich Lederer or anyone from Baseball Prospectus’ fault that Rice hasn’t been inducted yet—it’s the mainstream guys with the voting privilege. These are the ones that have gone thumbs down the 14 times Rice has been on the ballot.

Mr. Nielson pointed out that you have to be a BBWAA member for a full 10 years before you’re entrusted with the vote. Generally, these people are middle-aged and older, and more often than not, use traditional metrics. The bottom line is simply that it’s baseball’s “conservatives” who have barred the door: the ones who look at Jack Morris’s win totals, make a big deal of Bert Blyleven‘s lack of 300 wins and look at RBIs when casting their votes for MVP.

The thing is, Rice’s first turn on the ballot (when memories of his career were freshest) saw him fall short of 30 percent of the votes submitted. Okay, maybe they didn’t feel Rice deserved first ballot honors—fair enough. However, in the subsequent 13 years, he consistently fell below the 75 percent supermajority required for admittance.

Chances are, the grizzled old-timers will push him over the top and in he will finally go.

I’ve dealt with how Rice is nowhere near as Hall-worthy as folks like Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Tim Raines and Andre Dawson; or for that matter how players like Darrell Evans become viable candidates with the lowered threshold due to Rice’s election.

Here’s what we know about Rice (yes, I have very clear memories of watching him play): He was, for a time, a terrific middle of the order slugger, an unremarkable defensive corner outfielder, and a personality that could be easily described as moody. His career also petered out quickly and somewhat unexpectedly.

Rice enjoyed a very solid 1986 season at age 33, when he batted .324/.384/.490 with 200 hits, 20 home runs and 110 RBIs. It wasn’t a stretch after that year to wonder if he might join the 3000 hit club. He was still productive and just 837 hits short of the milestone. If he could play six more seasons and average 140 hits per, he’d make it.

Then he fell off a cliff. Offensive totals were off the map in 1987, but Rice only knocked 13 out of the yard. Over his final three seasons, Rice batted .263/.330/.395 and averaged just over 10 home runs per year. Then, he was gone.

Now, let’s take Rice’s doppelganger: He too was a terrific middle of the order slugger, an unremarkable defensive corner outfielder and a personality that could be easily described as moody; whose career also petered out quickly and somewhat unexpectedly. We’ll put his totals below Rice’s numbers. We’ll use a mix of both traditional and sabermetric measures:

 AVG  OBP  SLG Runs Hits  2B 3B  HR  RBI  RP* RCaa BR** OPS+
.298 .352 .502 1249 2452 373 79 382 1451 2318 270 294.7 128
.295 .369 .564  974 1726 389 21 381 1239 1832 379 372.5 143
*Runs Produced
**Batting Runs

Our “other moody slugger” has far better rate stats (beyond average) but Rice enjoys a sizable advantage in hits, runs, RBIs and Runs Produced. The former Red Sox enjoys a slight edge in extra-base hits.

So what’s the problem, right?

The problem is this: the doppelganger had about four fewer seasons’ worth of at-bats (2372) than Rice. Despite the extra at-bats, Rice beats his future self in extra-base hits by a mere 43. Despite over 2300 extra at-bats Rice gets absolutely killed in Runs Created Above Average and Batting Runs. Granted, they toiled in slightly different eras but in doesn’t account for why Rice needed almost 2400 at-bats to top his doppelganger’s career home run totals. The environment wasn’t that much different.

Our clone has a far sexier résumé insofar as what catches the BBWAA’s attention when it comes time to vote. Rice had eight 100 RBIs campaigns over his 16 seasons. Our other guy had nine 100 RBIs seasons in a row over his 10 full major league seasons. His other full year saw him drive in 95 in 461 at-bats. Rice had three seasons in excess of 100 runs scored, his foil topped 100 four times over a five-year stretch. Rice had one year with over 40 home runs (46 in 1978), Player B had years of 48, 49 and 50 home runs. Rice never hit 40 doubles in a season, and the other guy had seasons of 45, 48, and 52 two-baggers. Rice had two year with OPS+ in excess of 150 with a career high of 157 in 1978. Our other candidate topped Rice’s top mark four times with a career best 193.

While it may be said that Jim Rice was partly a Fenway Park creation, as evidenced by his road totals of .277/.330/.459—here is where he see that his doppelganger really isn’t that at all. Away from his home park, his future self batted .288/.364/.549 on the road. Finally, Rice, in 71 postseason at-bats hit .225/.313/.366 with two home runs and seven RBIs, while our other Mr. Sunshine and Happiness (in 61 at-bats) batted .230/.405/.557 with six home runs and 14 RBIs.

Rice may go into the Hall of Fame next year while our other player under consideration fell off the ballot on his second try.

It’s hard not to see an inconsistency here. By all accounts, Albert Belle was a superior player to Jim Rice. If Rice is elected, then doesn’t it stand to reason that a player superior to him should go in as well? This is what is so frustrating about all of this; without diminishing Rice’s career, it can be said that he wasn’t even the best outfielder on his own team (Dwight Evans) and far superior players at his own position (Tim Raines and Belle) are a long way off from Cooperstown.

If the BBWAA really feels Rice is a bona fide Hall of Famer, then players superior to him need to receive the honor before he does. If Jim Rice is the real (Hall of Fame) deal then guys like Raines, Belle, Dawson, Evans, Trammell and Whitaker should precede him into the Heroes Gallery.

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