It is time.
In recent weeks, with the retirement of Mike Mussina and the sound of crickets where the sound of crackling (or cackling if you’re Scott Boras) should be in the hot stove league there have been a cornucopia of articles discussing his potential worthiness five years hence.
Now, with the 2009 ballot coming front and center, we’re seeing articles about Jim Rice’s last chance, probably the only chance Rickey Henderson will ever need and the seeming no chance of Mark McGwire.
Of course Rickey will make it but you know, back in the day there was another leadoff hitter who was known as the NL version of Rickey Henderson: Tim Raines.
On the surface, the comparison might seem absurd since the “man of steal” finished his career with over 3,000 hits, 2,000 runs scored and walks, 1400 bases swiped, and for good measure—despite being a leadoff man—just under 300 home runs (297) and 1,115 RBIs.
Bottom line: we may never see the likes of him again.
However, there was a significant period of time when the comparison wasn’t out of line; for years debate raged about who was better. Check out the seven-year stretch between 1983 and 1989:
Player BA OBP SLG Runs RC RCAA SB SB% Rickey .290 .401 .449 803 772 321 552 84.6 Raines .308 .398 .456 710 802 340 429 87.1
Obviously Rickey was the more prolific base thief, but Raines was clearly more efficient, plus he swung a slightly more potent stick.
While most feel that Jim Rice will make it in this year, it’s laughable to state that he was better than “Rock:”
Obviously Rice was a superior long ball hitter—that and RBIs are what define him in the eyes of many, and indisputably he is superior in that regard to the former Expo. Nevertheless, let’s look at the entire record. Baseball games are won by whichever team scores the most runs. Now we’re going to look at this from the eyes of the BBWAA (hence some of the measures used in the above chart); we see Raines beat Rice in runs produced: 2,381 to 2,318. Granted, Raines had about a season’s worth more at-bats. We’ll give Rice a slight edge in this category.
However, Rice’s slight edge is destroyed when you consider that Raines stole 750 more bases while annihilating him in stolen base percentage (84 to 63 percent). Further, that extra season’s worth of at-bats puts into sharper focus the fact that Raines grounded into 173 fewer double plays than Rice. The Red Sox left fielder hit into well over twice as many twin killings than the Expos left fielder and wouldn’t have been out of place in the Blue Jays’ 2008 lineup in that regard.
Yet Raines garnered 24.3 percent of the vote while Rice received 72.2 percent last year.
Finally, we’ll compare Raines to another Hall of Fame leadoff hitter—Lou Brock. Obviously Brock enjoys a couple of distinctions: 3,000 hits and the title of all-time NL leader in stolen bases. Still, baseball aficionados know that while hits are always nice, batting atop the order requires setting the table for the hitters that follow. While attempting to swipe bases is helpful in both gaining 90 feet of real estate as well as keeping pitchers and infields jumpy, swiping bases and not getting nailed is far better, and in that regard even Brock can’t hold a candle to Raines. In 10,332 at-bats Brock reached base 3,833 times and stole 938 bases at a 75 percent success rate. Raines reached base 3,977 times in fewer than 9,000 at-bats (8,872) and nabbed 808 bases at a 84 percent rate of success.
Both at the plate and dancing off first base Raines made far fewer outs than Brock. Using Lee Sinins’ Runs Created Above Average (RCAA) and Baseball Reference’s Batting Runs (BR) we see just how big the gap between HOFer Brock and underappreciated Raines really is:
Player RCAA BR Brock 223 107.4 Raines 516 332.8
Hopefully, the BBWAA will remember when filling out their ballots that Raines is not only qualified, he is criminally overqualified for the Hall of Fame. I have only scratched the surface of the case for Raines. Tomorrow, my partner in crime (along with Jonah Keri, Neate Sager and Craig Burley) in “Project Raines” will go into much more depth about “Rock.” Consider my entry to be an introduction and overview to what Mr. Tango will cover for you since he is much smarter, better looking and can carry a tune (ask him to sing you the score from “HMS Pinafore” sometime) far better than yours truly.