Jim Rice Makes It In

The Hall of Fame inductees were announced today. I was not aware that today would be that day and upon learning who got in, I found myself with two reactions: good for Rickey, he was a Hall of Fame worthy player no matter what rational criteria you use and disappointment that Jim Rice finally made his way in. Mostly though I was left with a resounding apathy. Like every award that is voted on by the writers association or by the general fans, I can no longer get emotionally invested in it. The process is too broken, the voters too uninformed.

People who I was (and mostly still am) willing to defer to had by and large made the relevant cases for why Jim Rice did not belong among the game’s supposedly greatest elites. That was fine enough for me since my aforementioned lack of caring about the Hall of Fame (other than to be happy for the people that I wanted to get in since I imagine they do still care about the honor) gave me little motivation to investigate otherwise.

But it’s worth a little bit of work now that Rice is officially in. Granted, we only have sketchy information for that time period, and I don’t have historical weights off-hand, so I’m going to present a range of possible values for Jim Rice‘s career and we’ll see how that stacks up.

Rice’s career wOBA ends up at .373 or so depending on which formula you use, which is quite a good number, especially since the league average on base percentage (which wOBA aims to be scaled against) from 1975 through 1988 is roughly .328. Over the roughly 9,000 plate appearances of Rice’s career, we’re left with Rice generating just shy of 360 runs, or to put it a more familiar context, about 24 runs per 600 PAs.

Seems pretty good but there’s a giant missing part here and it’s green and very tall. A right-handed hitter in Fenway Park enjoys a tremendous boost to his hitting stats. Given Rice’s hitting profile, his overall numbers are likely to have contributed to a 2% increase in his wOBA. That sounds small, but when adjusted, Rice’s wOBA drops down to .366, and his value per season to 20 runs. As it turns out, that would mark Rice down for roughly 300 runs over his career, a number very much close to Baseball-Reference’s Batting Runs (294.7) which is park and league adjusted.

Positional wise, Rice spent three-quarters of his career in a corner outfield spot and the remainder at DH meaning that he averaged a ten run penalty per season for his position. Left is to make guesses about how much his defense was worth. If you thought he was an average defender, Rice grades out at about the three-win level. Having never seen Rice play, I cannot attest to any valid opinion on his defense, but even granting Rice average defensive skill, is 15 seasons of three wins worth a Hall of Fame induction?

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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