Wednesday, June 03, 2009

How good was Jim Rice?

My earlier posts on all-time Sox lineups and rosters got me thinking: how good was Jim Rice really?

I don't ask out of any disrespect to #14. He was a great player. He was better than the other two guys in the picture here, which is saying something.

But he's no better than third on the all-time list of Sox left fielders, because Williams and Yastrzemski were simply better. It's no shame to come in behind those guys.

And if we include all Sox outfielders who played at least, say, five years with the team and had a big impact on its fortunes, Rice wasn't as good as Tris Speaker -- who was, in the judgment of Bill James, better than Joe DiMaggio.

And then there's the question from the current day: was Rice better than Manny?

My thumbnail guess: considering all phases of the game, Rice was the sixth-best fifth-best [note: I can't count] outfielder the Sox have had. (Oh, and he wouldn't crack my lineup at DH, either -- Foxx was better.)

Or am I missing something?


Aaron Strout said...

I love Jim Ed but I have to agree with you. Great stuff!

Jim Storer said...

While I agree with your conclusion, you're a bit off when you call Jim Rice better than both Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans.

I took a look back at the comments to the "Best All Time Red Sox Lineup" post and found Evans & Lynn on nearly everyone's list. Rice only made the cut on a couple of teams.

I'm not going to make the case for Lynn, but Evans deserves the nod over Rice. So in my book he's #7 (and depending on how some current players careers pan out he might fall a little farther).

Tim Walker said...

Jim -- You and I may be reading the results of the prior two polls differently. In the "best Sox batting lineup" query, this is what I find for mentions to the starting team:

Rice 6
Lynn 2
Evans 0

In the "Best Sox team" query, I find this:

Rice 5
Lynn 3
Evans 4

(There were additional mentions for bench slots.)

On top of this . . . Rice has been voted to the Hall of Fame. I'm not saying he deserves it or not, or that Lynn or Evans deserve it or not. But it's worth noting as one signal that Rice is generally perceived to be better than the two guys with whom he shared that outfield. This perception was also reflected by MVP voting during their careers.

What am I missing?

Jim Storer said...

Perhaps I'd been drinking?

I only looked at the All Time Team post (I concede Rice was better offensively so why look at the batting lineup post?) and only did a quick scan. I must have missed a couple of the DH spots for Rice... not sure what happened (see prior drinking comment).

Sidebar: I don't know how Rice gets the nod at DH over Manny, who is arguably the best pure hitter we've ever seen (assumes Williams is in your starting line-up elsewhere).

There's no question Rice was better offensively than Evans and Lynn, but I have Evans as a dramatically better fielder than Rice and the stats seem to play that out. Evans was an eight-time Gold Glove winner and Rice won zero. Speaks volumes in my book.

Clearly Rice's election to the HoF was controversial, but I'm glad he made it in. If the HoF criteria elects Rice, I'd hope Evans would get in some day too.

Oh, and Dwight Evans lived in my town until last year. :-)

Tim Walker said...

Good points, Jim -- though I reserve commenting publicly on your drinking. ;)

Tell me if you think this is fair: the outfield in the picture gets progressively better at defense reading left to right, and progressively better at hitting reading right to left. Yes?

Evans versus Rice is also a classic case of peak value versus career value, isn't it?

Mulling . . .

KFFBOS said...

OK, I know I'm WAY late to the game, but here it goes.

I'm going to ignore the Evans over Rice argument because mainly I just can't even see that as an argument (sorry Jim). Rice was a top 5 MVP vote getter 6 times, he's a HOFer, he's just shy of a lifetime .300 batter, he has 382 HRs his lifetime SLG is .500+...there really is no comparison when you look at the numbers compared to Dewey.

As for the main question of "How good was Jim Rice?" I and obviously Tim have already looked at the offensive numbers. The guy gets hurt because he played the same position as two of the greatest to ever grace the lawn at the Fens. But where does he rank in overall OFs for the Sox, which is essentially what we are debating, right?

Rice ranks fifth.


The reason I have him higher than Speaker is due to defense. Something most of us don't seem to look at when putting these teams together. Some sampling:

Williams fielding % for his career? .975. Rice? .980.

Putouts for a career? Yaz had 3900 in 22 seasons (the last at 1B remember). Rice? 3100 in 15 seasons.

Want to talk Gold Gloves? Well Yaz had 6 and Rice had....0. Really? Zero? Hmmmmm. His fielding percentage looks good, as do his other fielding stats, yet he never one a Gold Glove. Oh wait, the media votes for the Gold Glove AND there is no designation for the award between OF positions, so effectively you could have three CFs winning each year.

Anyhow, I think when you look at the offensive prowess Rice provided during a time of fairly dominant pitchers in the American League and add in his defensive skills the guy has to rank in the top five of OFs for the Sox, all LFs and all HOFers. Well unless they tag Manny because of the 'roids!

This may be my favorite blog now ;)

Tim Walker said...

Some things to note after Kyle's comment:

1. I somehow ranked Rice 6th among Sox outfielders, even though I only named four ahead of him. I think I confused myself by mentioning Foxx.

2. Speaker was a centerfielder. (Did you mean to say that you ranked *Speaker* higher because of his defense?)

3. If Rice got jobbed because three CFs can win the A.L. Gold Glove each year . . . how did Yaz win six?

4. Fielding percentage, unless it's *way* out of line for the position, is a rudimentary metric at best for measuring fielding ability.

KFFBOS said...


Agree on Fielding %, but also looked at PutOuts and everything else that our favorite website has to offer. Overall however my point was that most folks don't take defense into the equation, particularly with Jim Rice.

To answer the Yaz GG question...I'm honestly not sure. My gut tells me there were better overall OFs in the AL during Rice's era, but that is pure speculation and I would have to do a lot of research to actually prove it. But I'm not going to do that on this beautiful Saturday :)

I'd like us to think about how we could start measuring defensive baseball statistically in a more comprehensive manner. It's something that gets dropped all too often.


Ruben L said...

Remember that Rice was very underrated defensively. People think of him as a clumsy DH type, but he was arguably a gold-glove caliber outfielder. Read this article before you start laughing:

Derek Peplau said...

I defend my inclusion of Rice at DH over Manny on what may be a technicality: this is the best Red Sox TEAM of all time. Manny is not a team player. He is more or less the antithesis of a team player. Only a select few (e.g. Barry Bonds) are worse teammates than Manny. And if you had to have one of those two guys in the outfield for some reason, well then it's not even a contest. As KFFBOS points out, Rice has been victimized by a revisionist view of his defensive skills. And Manny, well we know what he brings to the table in the field.

Manny doesn't respect the game or his teammates. Rice may have been cantankerous with the media, but often times he was stepping out there in front of the microphones so a teammate didn't have to.

Going purely by the offensive numbers, Manny is superior. But since this is the best TEAM, and the DH position could be called upon to play the field at some point, I stick with Rice.

One more thing to consider: are we saying this is the best team based on career averages, or each player at the peak of their powers (e.g. 1967 Yaz, 1999 Nomar, etc.)? I did specify certain vintages of players (e.g. Tom Gordon) in my list. 2000 ManRam still bests 1978 Rice in most statistical categories, but I'm just curious.

Bottom line: I'm sticking with the Intangibles Defense.

Tim Walker said...

What we need here is a depth chart, or rather, a chorus of depth charts to reflect the preferences of each audience member. :)

Jim Storer said...

For all of you Jim Rice lovers out there (and there seem to be a lot of you), it might make sense for you to book a ticket on the "Jim Rice Road to the Hall" trip ( Hurry, seating is limited to "only" 1,000 people.