On Rickey and Rice

Congrats to Rickey Henderson for getting into the Hall. He was one of the best players of all time, I think if you look at his numbers you will be shocked at how good he was at just about everything. And he was also one of my favorite players to watch.

Everyone was always amazed at how fast he was. What’s amazing to me is how good he was at getting on base. He stole so many bases because he had the chance to. 40% of the time he came to the plate, he gave himself an opportunity to steal second. Tim Kurkjian has a thoroughly entertaining article on ESPN with two very telling quotes that really give you an idea of how good Rickey was:

Former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan: “If you got 2-0 on him, you were fearful of throwing it down the middle because he could hit a home run. But if you threw ball three, he was going to walk, and then he’s on second base. We had many, many long discussions on our pitching staff about how we could control this guy. He was irritating, infuriating and great.”

Former pitcher Tom Candiotti: “I hated Rickey. Really, I couldn’t stand him. He never swung at my knuckleball, he never swung at my curveball. He never swung until he got two strikes. He had the strike zone the size of a coffee can. If you threw him a fastball, he would hit it for a home run. If you walked him, it was a triple. It was ridiculous.”

That just adds color, though, to what is important – the numbers. Rickey did some incredible things – besides stealing 1406 bases, he had a career OBP of .401, and that includes the last 4 years of his career which was decidedly worse than the rest. He hit 297 HRs, scored 2,295 runs (#1 all time), walked 2,190 times (#2 all time) and had 3,055 hits.

People say he was the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, but that is just a function of where he was in the lineup. He was one of the greatest hitters of all time. Today, there is not a player in the major leagues that compares to him.

Rice is in

Jim Rice made the Hall of Fame, because he apparently is scary. You can see his numbers, but I recommend looking at his splits as well. You may have heard about how he was a product of Fenway park. Well, check it out. Here are his splits, home and away. Just because I thought it was interesting, I not only included his career splits, I included the splits from his 1978 MVP season:

rice-splits

I’m not gonna dive into how those Kearnsian numbers compare to today’s players, because it was a different era. They look worse than they are, but those away numbers are still not great. Take that man away from Fenway, the story is very different. He could hit some HRs though – he hit 85 more than Rickey.

This is not to say that Rice was a bad player. I think he was a very good player, in fact, and most teams would be happy to have someone like that starting in LF. But there are teams today that are better off. Over Rice, you would arguably take Carlos Quentin, Matt Holliday, Adam Dunn, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Braun or Carlos Lee. Manny Ramirez doesn’t count, because he’s a HOFer in his own right.

As if to put a bow on this little discussion, according to Peter Gammons, Rickey himself said “ship me to Boston, hit me third, forget the steals and I’d hit .330 with 35 knocks.”

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6 Responses to On Rickey and Rice

  1. mrflip says:

    If you’re going to debit him for the park, you ought to do better for the scoring environment than say ‘it was a different era’. There’s a rigorous way to account for both: the park-adjusted OPS+ (and the rest of the *+ family).
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/r/riceji01.shtml
    On those metrics, as recognized consistently by all-star selections, fellow players and MVP voters, Rice was a dominant offensive player.

  2. Charlie says:

    Indeed that is true, which is why I didn’t compare his actual numbers to today’s players (his away splits were very close to Jason Kubel’s 2008 full season). OPS+ does account for all of those things, so let’s look at that.

    His career OPS+ was 128, which ranks him tied with Sammy Sosa, Tim Salmon, Moises Alou, Jon Olerud, and Ryan Klesko, at 177th all time. These are all very good hitters, although only Sammy probably has a legit HOF case.

    On that same token, we can look at his tOPS+ splits, which is the player’s OPS+ in each split relative to his overall OPS+. His career OPS+ splits were 115 at home 85 away. Meaning that his high numbers were largely thanks to his home games. In other words, if he had played somewhere else, his numbers would have been lower.

    As for being recognized for being a dominant offensive player, I think his numbers do in fact show that he was a very good hitter. But those numbers were highly dependent on the fact that he played half his games in Fenway.

  3. JD says:

    If you write that Jim Rice “apparently” was scary, you’re betraying your youth. If you put your almanac down and were around to have seen Rice play in his prime — which was a decade; he was no flash in the pan — you would have been convinced that he WAS scary, not apparently so.

  4. JD says:

    And are you really comparing Rice to Adam Dunn? Ryan Klesko? Oh, please. Your fondness for stats is getting the better of you.

  5. Charlie says:

    Statistics are not the entire story by any means, but they do give us a picture. For Rice, they show that he was an INCREDIBLE hitter in Fenway park, and a mediocre hitter everywhere else.

    Interesting take here, from pros, on why he got in. Check it out, you don’t have to believe it:

    http://baseballprospectus.com/unfiltered/?p=1150

  6. Brian says:

    I have no problem with Rice getting in but I think he’s pretty much the definition of a borderline hall of famer, always good, sometimes great. Of course, I never saw him play but still, I’m not totally blown away by his stats which hall of fame voters do seem to care about when voting. Unless they are voting for McGwire and then it doesn’t matter at all. And yes, I’m bitter over it.

    As for Manny – he’s one of the top five hitters in baseball EVER so yeah, I’d say I’d take Manny over Rice :)

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