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Thread: Interesting analysis from Olney on Rice, stats and the HOF

  1. #1
    Box of Frogs edabbs44's Avatar
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    Interesting analysis from Olney on Rice, stats and the HOF

    This was posted on Saturday and obviously relates directly to the Jim Rice HOF debate. But it also provides some pretty good analysis on the statistical debates that take place on this board almost hourly. Enjoy.

    Rice production and OPS+
    posted: Saturday, January 12, 2008

    A lot of e-mail landed here about Friday's Jim Rice column, most of which suggests: First, that I cherry-picked statistics to make Rice look good; second, MVP voting is irrelevant; and third, I'm an idiot. There's no point in trying to defend my own idiocy, but the cherry-picking and MVP observations are interesting.

    So if I understand the argument from some e-mailers: If you criticize Rice's candidacy by relying on Adjusted OPS+, through which Rice fares badly, that's analysis. But if you support Rice's candidacy citing home runs and RBI, then it's cherry-picking.


    Adjusted OPS+ is a useful number. And if this your be-all, end-all statistic, keep in mind that:

    Mark McGwire and Frank Thomas rank higher than Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Joe DiMaggio.

    Jim Thome ranks higher than A-Rod and Gary Sheffield.

    Lance Berkman ranks higher than Ken Griffey Jr.

    Brian Giles ranks higher than George Brett, Al Kaline, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew and Roberto Clemente.

    Adam Dunn ranks higher than Eddie Murray.

    And if you think that Adjusted OPS+ is a set of numbers that generally creates a level statistical playing field for all of the eras of baseball, then you'd have to ignore the following. Of the top 63 players all time in OPS+, there are:

    Nineteen players who performed the bulk of their careers in the years leading up to 1920.

    Eight players who performed the bulk of their careers in the years from 1920-1939.

    Seventeen players who have performed the bulk of their careers from 1990-2007.

    And a total of 17 players from the 50-year period of 1940-89.

    To repeat: According to Adjusted OPS+, there are an equal number of players, among the top 63 of all time in the statistic, in the 50-year period of 1940 to 1989 as there have been in the 18-year period from 1990 through 2007.

    Part of the reason, of course, is there are more teams now. But part of the reason is that in years in which there is less offense, generally, it is more difficult to create a plus/minus disparity in this statistic. From 1940-1989, there were a total of 11 league leaders with Adjusted OPS+ numbers of 200 or higher; there wasn't a single Adjusted OPS+ leader of 200 or higher from 1981-1991. Since 1992, there have been eight leaders of Adjusted OPS+ of 200 or more in the NL alone, and nine overall.

    Let's go one step further. In the 16 seasons since the start of the 1992 season, there have been only three instances in which an Adjusted OPS+ league leader registered less than 171. But in the 50 years prior to that, there were 42 instances in which a league leader was at 170 or lower. If you don't think that Adjusted OPS+ is a statistic that skews toward the elite players of the Steroid Era, well, then that's your story and you're sticking to it.

    It's not a perfect statistic. There aren't any perfect statistics.

    A lot of the Rice critics say the focus on his best years -- 1975-1986 -- is arbitrary. Well, not really. Those are the years in which he was at his best, when he built his Hall of Fame candidacy, and considering that a player must have 10 years in the big leagues to qualify for HOF consideration, focusing on a 12-year span is hardly a cherry-pick. And in that time, in some power statistics -- maybe not Adjusted OPS+ -- Rice was the best in his league.

    While I'd generally agree that to focus on building a Hall of Famer's credentials around a single year of MVP voting might be dubious, the numbers cited in Friday's column accounts for hundreds of votes from every AL city over more than a decade. A lot of writers who watched Rice play daily, at the time he was on the field -- rather than through the time-machine prism of Adjusted OPS+ -- thought he was pretty damn good. (Keep in mind, most writers will talk to players, managers and coaches throughout the season as they formulate their ballots.)

    If you want to quibble with the fact that he won the award in 1978, or with his placement in some particular year, OK, I get that. But to ignore the MVP voting entirely, as if it isn't at least some kind of barometer of his play over the course of his career, is embarrassing. This is like saying, "Hey, forget the Oscar voting of the 1950s. Marlon Brando was clearly overrated."

    Look, I've never met Jim Rice, didn't grow up a Red Sox fan, don't think he is one of the very elite players of all time. I understand why someone wouldn't vote for him (but don't agree). But to portray his career as entirely unworthy of Hall of Fame consideration is silly.

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  3. #2
    Posting in Dynarama M2's Avatar
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    Re: Interesting analysis from Olney on Rice, stats and the HOF

    I have now lived long enough to agree with Buster Olney about something.
    Wait until the year after next year.

  4. #3
    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: Interesting analysis from Olney on Rice, stats and the HOF


    "Listen, Buster" Redux
    By Rich Lederer

    Buster Olney provides an invaluable service by linking to numerous baseball articles on almost a daily basis. I enjoy skimming Olney's blog (ESPN Insider subscription required) for his notes and links to stay abreast of what others are writing and saying.

    Unlike the Baseball Primer Newsblog, which tries to highlight the best (or most interesting) stories irrespective of their origin, Olney's links are nearly always to stories in the mainstream media. However, Buster linked to Baseball Analysts a year ago [editor's note: link is no longer available] when I challenged his rationale for excluding Bert Blyleven from his Hall of Fame ballot.

    Olney and I differ not only on Blyleven but on Jim Rice as well. With respect to Rice, Buster wrote two entries in support of him on Friday and Saturday, and I believe there are several fundamental flaws that need to be addressed especially in light of the fact that the candidate in question finished second in the balloting with 72.2% of the vote and is on the verge of being elected next year in his 15th and final opportunity.

    I'm going to excerpt Olney's comments and respond to them on the small chance that Hall of Fame voters will take the time to read this and further evaluate their position on Rice. I'm hopeful that this exercise will also shed some light on a number of basic truths and falsehoods when it comes to analyzing stats so as to improve the process (and the quality of the inductees) in the future.

    During Jim Rice's incredible 1978 season, a total of two American League players had on-base percentages over .400: Rod Carew, with .411, and Ken Singleton, at .409. In 2007, eight AL players achieved an OBP of .400 or higher.

    In fact, in the seven seasons played since the start of 2001, there already have been 42 AL players who have posted OBPs of .400 or better; in the entire decade, of 1970-79, there were only 36 AL players who achieved OBPs of .400 or better. It was a time of less offense and fewer runs, a time when teams didn't value walks the way they do now, a time when the strike zone was larger, a time when hitting 20 homers and driving in 80 runs was an excellent year.
    Rice's OBP in 1978 wasn't anywhere close to .400. It was .370. He ranked 12th in that category. Rice, in fact, never finished higher than ninth in OBP in any single season. As such, mentioning Rice and on-base percentage in the same sentence does more harm than good when it comes to discussing his Hall of Fame qualifications.

    I don't believe anyone is disputing the fact that runs were more difficult to come by during the 1970s than in the current decade. By the same token, I don't know anyone who is comparing Rice's raw totals to today's sluggers. The case "for" or "against" Rice should be based on how he performed versus the competition over the course of his career. More on that later.

    As far as teams not valuing walks the way they do now, I believe there is some truth to that. However, more than anything, I contend writers and voters (both HOF and MVP) have never given walks their proper due. I played APBA during a large portion of Rice's career and used to count how many "on base numbers" players had on their cards. Walks have always been important. If anything, walks were more valuable in Rice's day because bases and runs were scarcer than they are today.

    So it's almost laughable to hear and read about how Rice was nothing more than a very good player in his time. Look, if you stick his statistics into offensive formulas tailored for the way the game was played in the '90s, he's not going to look as good. Giving him demerits because he failed to draw walks is like diminishing what Pedro Martinez has accomplished because he has only two 20-win seasons.
    Speaking of "laughable," comparing Rice's failure to draw walks to Martinez's lack of 20-win seasons is mixing apples and oranges. Of course, Rice deserves "demerits" for not walking more often. It's not like Rice's lack of walks wasn't his own doing. He has nobody to blame but himself for not earning more bases on balls. As such, Rice's low walk rate detracted from his value as a hitter every time he went to the plate. It was one of the weaknesses in his game. The fact that Martinez only won 20 games twice over the course of his career had little, if anything, to do with his value as a pitcher every time he took the mound.

    But, if you want to go down this alley, let's at least be fair about it. To Martinez's credit, he had a pair of 20-win seasons. Rice, on the other hand, never had even one season in which he walked 100 times. (Rice's career high was 62 in 1986.) For context, there have been 54 20-win seasons during Pedro's career. By the same token, there were 72 100-walk campaigns during Rice's career. In other words, winning 20 games has been an even bigger rarity in Martinez's time than walking 100 times in Rice's era.

    Olney then spends time pointing out how highly Rice ranked in HR (3rd), RBI (1st), and OPS (4th) from 1975-1986. I generally find such arguments unconvincing because the time frames chosen almost always favor the player in question. To wit, Rice gets the benefit of all 12 years whereas his competition in many cases loses the early or latter portions of their careers in such studies. Nonetheless, I believe it is instructive to see where Rice ranks in outs during this period.

    1    Steve Garvey               5402   
    2    Jim Rice                   5298   
    3    Robin Yount                5099   
    4    Dave Winfield              5069   
    5    Buddy Bell                 5040   
    6    Dave Concepcion            5025   
    7    Don Baylor                 5006   
    8    Mike Schmidt               4890   
    9    Bill Buckner               4887   
    10   Cecil Cooper               4846
    That's right, Rice made more outs than anyone other than Steve Garvey over the course of his 12 best seasons. I make this point not to put Rice down but to show that his counting totals and rankings were highly influenced by the fact that he had more plate appearances (7754) than any player in baseball during this period.

    As for RBI, it's important to recognize that Rice benefited from hitting with runners on base much more frequently than most players. In fact, it is one of the reasons why he ranks first by a wide margin in grounding into double plays (GIDP) over this stretch.
    1    Jim Rice                    269   
    2    Steve Garvey                215   
    3    Buddy Bell                  195   
    4    Dave Concepcion             194   
    5    Dave Winfield               186   
    6    Ted Simmons                 185   
    T7   Bill Buckner                174   
    T7   Ken Singleton               174   
    9    Larry Parrish               168   
    10   Doug DeCinces               167
    Put another way, Rice's GIDP and RBI totals are inflated for no other reason than he had so many opportunities to accumulate both. Hitting with runners on base will do that. Rice's backers will build their case around his RBI and ignore GIDP. Those who oppose Rice will mock how many times he hit into a double play and disregard RBI. You can't really view one without the other.

    Thanks to Baseball Prospectus, we can check where Rice ranked in RBI Opportunities in each of those dozen years.

    RBI  Rank | ROB  Rank | OBI   OBI%  Rank  
    1975   102    5    458    3     80   17.5    9    
    1976    85   15    391   27     60   15.3   21
    1977   114    3    426   17     75   17.6   15
    1978   139    1    461    7     93   20.2    4
    1979   130    2    474    4     91   19.2    8
    1980    86   16    370   33     62   16.8   17
    1981    62   10    367    1     45   12.3   53
    1982    97   14    466    7     73   15.7   31
    1983   126    1    504    2     87   17.3   14
    1984   122    2    545    1     94   17.2   10
    1985   103    9    496    2     76   15.3   33
    1986   110    4    514    3     90   17.5   10
    ROB = Runners On Base: the number of runners on base during a batter's plate appearances.
    OBI = Others Batted In: runs batted in, except for the batter driving himself in via a home run. Equals RBI-HR.
    OBI% = Others Batted In Percentage: the fraction of runners on base who were driven in during a batter's plate appearances.

    Although Rice led the AL in RBI in 1978 and 1983 and ranked in the top ten nine times, he was among the top three in terms of coming to bat with runners on base in six of those 12 seasons. More telling is the fact that Rice never ranked in the top three in OBI%.

    In 1981, Rice had 47 more ROB than any other batter in the AL, yet ranked 10th in RBI because he was 53rd (out of 73 qualifiers) in OBI%. In 1984, Rice had 57 more ROB than anyone else so it should not be surprising that he finished second in RBI that season. Rice had the second most ROB (behind teammate Bill Buckner) in 1985 and the third most ROB in 1986 (behind teammates Buckner and Don Baylor). Hmmm. I wonder if Wade Boggs had anything to do with that?

    Rice was a significantly better hitter at home than on the road, hitting .320, with a slugging percentage of .546 and 208 career homers in Fenway, compared with an average of .277 and 174 homers on the road.
    Let me display Rice's home/road splits a bit more visually. I'm mean, there's no reason to gloss over something that is so fundamental to Rice's "for" or "against" case than his home and road performance.

            AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
    Home   .320  .374  .546  .920
    Road   .277  .330  .459  .789
    Rice hit like a Hall of Famer at home and closer to Ben Oglivie (.273/.336/.450) or George Hendrick (.278/.329/.446) on the road.

    Let's drill down deeper and see just how Rice fared away from Fenway Park year-by-year. His MLB and AL rankings are nothing more than where his road OPS would have placed among all qualifiers (both at home and on the road).
           Road OPS  MLB Rank  AL Rank
    1975     .807       41       18
    1976     .746       55       30
    1977     .886       19       11
    1978     .837       24       15 
    1979     .809       49       27
    1980     .810       40       27
    1981     .703       92       50
    1982     .859       22       15
    1983     .903        7        4
    1984     .741       71       42
    1985     .743       73       47
    1986     .835       28       19
    Rice's performance on the road would have ranked him in the top ten in the AL in OPS one time in his entire career. ONCE. Now I recognize that this exercise unfairly penalizes Rice in the theoretical rankings because his Boston teammates get the full benefit and visiting players the partial benefit of playing games at Fenway Park. Bump Rice's rankings up a bit if you would like to compensate for the simplicity in my methodology.

    But again, consider the era, and how much less offense there was. If you were a team, you would like to have the guy considered to be most dominant home-field hitter in the game? Of course you would.
    Look, Rice wasn't the "most dominant home-field hitter in the game." Olney makes that statement as if Rice would have hit well at any home park. There is no evidence to suggest that at all. Simply put, Rice hit well at home because he played his home games at Fenway Park. From 1975-1986, Fenway's park factor averaged 107.5, meaning it favored hitters by 7.5% over the league average. In 1977, Boston's home park played like Coors Field in 2002.

    Rice was taking advantage of the conditions in the games he played, much as Sandy Koufax did. From 1962-1966, Koufax had a home ERA of 1.37, in the pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, and a road ERA of 2.57. Does anyone say that this diminishes what Koufax accomplished, the way it is said about Rice?
    I don't know anybody who would dispute the fact that Koufax benefited by pitching his home games at Dodger Stadium during the last five years of his career. But to try and compare Jim Rice to Sandy Koufax? Oh my! Koufax's 1.37 ERA at home is much, much more impressive than Rice's .920 OPS at home. But, more to the point, Sandy's 2.57 ERA outside of Dodger Stadium is also much, much more impressive than Rice's .789 OPS away from Fenway.

    Like Rice's OPS rankings in the illustration above, Koufax's MLB and NL rankings are nothing more than where his road ERA would have placed among all qualifiers (both at home and on the road). As in the case of Rice, feel free to adjust Sandy's rankings upward due to the simplicity in methodology as well.
           Road ERA  MLB Rank  NL Rank
    1962     3.53       26       14
    1963     2.31        2        2
    1964     2.93       19       10
    1965     2.72       16        6
    1966     1.96        1        1
    Koufax was also much better than generally believed in 1960 and 1961 when his season totals were negatively affected by pitching home games at the Coliseum. His 3.00 ERA on the road in 1960 would have ranked fourth in the National League and sixth in MLB. His 2.77 ERA on the road in 1961 would have topped the senior circuit and placed third overall. It's all a distant memory now but Koufax's 269 strikeouts in '61 broke Christy Mathewson's NL record that had stood for 58 years.

    In any event, Sandy's road ERA was good enough to theoretically lead the league two times and finish in the top ten six times in a span of seven seasons! Koufax was not only one of the greatest pitchers ever inside the confines of Dodger Stadium, but he was a terrific pitcher on the road as well. Too bad the same can't be said about Rice's hitting.

    I will cover Olney's second article tomorrow, which focuses on Adjusted OPS (or OPS+) and how the adoption of this statistic has unfairly hurt Rice.

  5. #4
    Passion for the game Team Clark's Avatar
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    Re: Interesting analysis from Olney on Rice, stats and the HOF

    Whatever happened to just putting a check mark in the box and living with it?
    It's absolutely pathetic that people can't have an opinion from actually watching games and supplementing that with stats. If you voice an opinion that doesn't fit into a black/white box you will get completely misrepresented and basically called a tobacco chewing traditionalist...
    Cedric 3/24/08

  6. #5
    Box of Frogs edabbs44's Avatar
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    Re: Interesting analysis from Olney on Rice, stats and the HOF

    WOY, should they be revisiting the HOF careers of Yount, Winfield and Mike Schmidt as well based on some of those stats?

    In some respects those numbers are garbage. The top 10 out makers in that time period were all players that anyone would take on their team any day of the week.. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they were so good and durable that they had a ton of PAs in that time period as well. I bet Johnny Wockenfuss made less outs than Schmidt in the same period. Where's his plaque?

    The author talks about how he isn't trying to put Rice down, but that's bologna.

  7. #6
    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: Interesting analysis from Olney on Rice, stats and the HOF

    Quote Originally Posted by Team Clark View Post
    Whatever happened to just putting a check mark in the box and living with it?
    Gave ya guys like Ross Youngs

  8. #7
    Unsolicited Opinions traderumor's Avatar
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    Re: Interesting analysis from Olney on Rice, stats and the HOF

    I played APBA during a large portion of Rice's career...
    Well, he just lost all credibility

  9. #8
    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: Interesting analysis from Olney on Rice, stats and the HOF

    WOY, should they be revisiting the HOF careers of Yount, Winfield and Mike Schmidt as well based on some of those stats?
    Beats me, why not ask Rich over at his site?

  10. #9
    Rally Onion! Chip R's Avatar
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    Re: Interesting analysis from Olney on Rice, stats and the HOF

    Quote Originally Posted by edabbs44 View Post
    WOY, should they be revisiting the HOF careers of Yount, Winfield and Mike Schmidt as well based on some of those stats?
    Those guys were pretty fair defensive players too. Rice, not so much.
    Quote Originally Posted by Raisor View Post
    I was wrong
    Quote Originally Posted by Raisor View Post
    Chip is right

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