Murphy and Rice

Jim Rice Statistics –

Jim Rice is the center of probably the biggest current Hall of Fame controversy involving a hitter. He’s also probably going to get in in two years. Interestingly, a lot of Rice’s backers claim that he’s being kept out of the Hall because writers don’t like him, even though he’s ahead of Andre Dawson, a very well liked player, who has more than 300 more career hits and more than 50 more career homers and was a far better baserunner and defensive player. He’s far ahead of Murphy as well, even though Dale, too, was and is well-liked and had more career homers and similar defensive and baserunning advantages.

Rice’s argument is not entirely for his peak value. His career stats are pretty good, on the low end of Hall of Fame standards for a corner outfielder. However, what is driving Rice’s candidacy is his performance at his peak, especially from the years 1977-79 when he put up an aggregate line of .320/.376/.596. (An uncannily consistent one, as well, with just five points of variance either way in any of the percentages.) Mind you, this wasn’t in today’s game — the league average in that period was .266/.330/.399. Rice won the MVP in 1978, finished fourth in 1977, and fifth in 1979.

Despite all of this, Dale Murphy was a superior player at his peak. The reasons why this is so, even though Rice’s statistics seem to be better, are fivefold:

1. Fenway Park was a better hitters’ park than Fulton County was.

Fenway Park, for most of its existence, has been one of baseball’s best hitters’ parks. It’s less so today, probably because the newer parks tend to be more hitter-friendly, but in the seventies Fenway completely distorted player stats in favor of offense more than any park between the Baker Bowl and expansion into Denver. While Fulton County was the Launching Pad, it did not inflate overall offense to the degree that Fenway did. Therefore, though Rice’s raw percentages are better, his OPS+ (which is park adjusted) is just about the same as Murphy’s. In his three best years, it was 158, 154, and 148. In Murphy’s three best seasons (not in this instance consecutive) his OPS+ was 156, 151, and 150. And Murphy’s fourth-best year, a 149, was better than Rice’s third-best, his fifth-best better than Rice’s fourth best.

2. The National League was the superior league to the AL during their careers.

Without interleague play, that’s largely a matter of opinion. But what evidence exists strongly suggests that the NL was the better league almost from integration to the mid-eighties. The NL won eleven All-Star games in a row from 1972 to 1982. A casual survey indicates that there were more Hall of Famers and Hall of Fame-type players in the NL in this period than in the AL. It’s probably more dramatic with the pitchers:


1 Steve Carlton 267
2 Tom Seaver 247
3 Phil Niekro 246
4 Don Sutton 244
T5 Nolan Ryan 229
T5 Jim Palmer 229
7 Gaylord Perry 219
8 Ferguson Jenkins 215
9 Bert Blyleven 212
10 Tommy John 200

Carlton, Seaver, Niekro, and Sutton were primarily NL pitchers; only Palmer and Blyleven were primarily AL pitchers.

3. Rice hit into a ton of double plays.

I know I talk about double plays too much, but they get ignored too much both in the mainstream media and by the “soft sabermetric” people. It’s a hidden cost that doesn’t show up in OPS or any other stat that’s primarily percentage-based. And they kill you.

Jim Rice in 1984 set an all-time record for GIDP in a season with 36. The next year, he challenged the record and wound up with 35. In 1983, he grounded into 31, sixth-all time. His three year count is, I think, more than anyone else has done in four years. He grounded into 29 in 1982, tied for fifteenth all-time. Of the top ten in career GIDP, Rice had by far the highest rate per plate appearance:

1 Cal Ripken 350 12883
2 Hank Aaron 328 13940
3 Carl Yastrzemski 323 13991
4 Dave Winfield 319 12358
5 Eddie Murray 316 12817
6 Jim Rice 315 9058
7 Julio Franco 299 9446
8 Harold Baines 298 11092
T9 Brooks Robinson 297 11782
T9 Rusty Staub 297 11229

Only Franco is close, and nobody’s pushing Julio for the Hall of Fame. (Of course, you have to be retired for five years first, and he’s never going to retire.)

Admittedly, Rice’s big GIDP years mostly came after his peak, but they’re a major drag on his career value, and it’s actually his career, not his peak, that makes people think he’s a better candidate than Murphy.

4. Murph walked a lot more, at least in his best seasons.

Not as much of a hidden benefit now, but at the time not many people realized how important walks could be. The difference is not as great as between Murph and Dawson, but it’s there. Rice in his prime seasons walked 53-58 times a year. Murphy in his walked 90-93, with a big spike to 115 in 1987. A lot of that is intentional walks, though; the real difference in walks in their primes is probably more like 20 a year, not 35-40.

5. Murphy was a Gold Glove centerfielder, Rice an average-at-best left fielder.

This is the big one. If you have two guys who are pretty much equal as hitters (as they are once you adjust for the parks) and one plays left field indifferently and the other plays center really well, who’s more valuable? It’s pretty obvious. While Murph was not, in retrospect, a great centerfielder, he was a good one. Rice was pretty good in Fenway but lacked the speed to play left well in most other parks. When they slowed down, Murph became a good right fielder. Rice became a moody sometimes-DH.

There is one other factor to consider. Murphy was, as I keep saying, a gentleman and well liked, winner of the Clemente and Gehrig awards. Rice was, as mentioned above, moody and disliked by the press. I don’t know how much of a factor that should be. Rice probably shouldn’t lose anything for not liking reporters (who does?) but his complaining in the mid-eighties probably did have some impact on the Red Sox.

Jim Rice was named on 64.8 percent in the most recent Hall of Fame election, most of any player not to get in. He has three more years on the ballot, but I expect him to make it in in 2007-08 in his next-to-last election. Dale Murphy, on the other hand, is not close to election, and will likely be dependent upon the kindness of whatever the Veterans’ Committee is in a few years.

This is an injustice. Murphy is a superior candidate. Rice’s career value is higher, but not as dramatically higher as Andre Dawson’s. His peak value, meanwhile, is not as high as Murphy’s; it isn’t close. The perception that it is higher is entirely a creation of Fenway Park and of a refusal to adjust for fielding position.

I think Rice should be in the Hall. I’m a big-Hall guy. But he should be behind Dawson, Murphy, Albert Belle (who has many of the same characteristics as Rice but was a better player at his peak), probably Dave Parker, not to mention his teammate Dwight Evans, who has fallen off the ballot.

22 thoughts on “Murphy and Rice”

  1. Personally, I’m enjoying it.

    Once again, it’s January 15. Nobody has a gun to your head and says you have to participate or visit.

  2. In more recent years, we have stats for GIDP/opportunity. I wonder how much of Rice’s lead in GIDPs are the difference between having Boggs & Evans batting in front of him versus having such luminaries as Glenn Hubbard, Chris Chambliss, Claudell Washington, and Rafeal Ramirez batting before him.

    By the way, Mac, I really enjoy the more detailed and thoughtful hot stove league stuff you do. The neighsayers can take a hike.

  3. Rice’s superficial stats (read RBI) were propped up in his later years by two factors:

    1) Fenway Park
    2) Wade Boggs

    Boggs was getting on base 300+ times a year in the mid-’80s. If we view Murphy’s decline years with the Braves (88-90) alongside Rice’s later years (I’ll choose 84-86), here are the OBPs of the batters ahead of them in the lineup (Rice was the cleanup hitter virtually every game, Murphy usually so):

    Red Sox
    ’84 .382 .388 .358 (122 RBI)
    ’85 .363 .442 .338 (103 RBI)
    ’86 .382 .409 .317 (110 RBI)

    ’88 .342 .286 .344 (84 RBI)
    ’89 .324 .366 .353 (83 RBI)
    ’90 .372 .314 .355 (82 RBI) (extrapolated to full season w/ Braves)

    Yes, Murphy was bad in those years, and Rice was better. But if you put Murph in Fenway and Rice in Fulton County, those RBI numbers would be very nearly reversed, IMO.

  4. Player analysis will recommence on Tuesday. Again, that’s written but it’s on a computer I don’t have access to right now. And, no gun to your head.

    If Murphy was in I wouldn’t be talking about it, of course.

  5. Let me add another to the ranks of saying that I am really enjoying these articles here over the offseason. Nice job Mac (and everyone else commenting in the threads toward the discussion), keep it up.

  6. Enough already about the discussion as to whether the Murph in the hall talk is worthwhile. The discussion about the discussion is such a waste of server space.

  7. How about that Pittsburgh/Indy game today. I needed the Steelers to win straight up for certain reasons, so I was a raving lunatic after Polamalu’s INT was overturned, and I actually died briefly when the Bus fumbled. All’s well that ends well, though.

    I just caught the clip of Manning blaming his offensive line — real nice. I’ll take Brady every day and twice on Sunday (three times and counting if it’s Super Bowl Sunday).

  8. Thank you so much, Mac, for all the discussion, comparisons, and analysis about Murphy for HOF. I hope it’s not over. I just wish I had more to say other than Murph was and still is my sports idol.

  9. I’m way too young for this to really matter to me, but I’ve read every word of Mac’s stuff and it’s great. Quality stuff.

    Murph for the Hall!

  10. Many people don’t understand why I hate Peyton Manning. If any of them are reading this, please go find his comments from today and you’ll see why. He’s always whining and blaming someone else. Plus, he’s always undermining Tony Dungy. Did you see when he waved the punt team off the field today? Dungy looked mad about that. And I think it’s going to cause major problems pretty soon. “I want to be a good teammate so…” is one of those comments that never ends well, sort of like “No offense, but…”

    Peyton, if you have to warn people ahead of time, it’s a bad thing to say and you should just keep your stupid mouth shut. You’re a lousy teammate and a playoff choker. I don’t care about personal stats, I’ll take Tom Brady any day and never think twice. He knows how to win the big games and he’s the consummate teammate.

    Rant over. Sorry. Something about this guy just really sets me off.

  11. I can’t stand pretty much anybody that went to UT but Peyton is one that doesn’t bother me. I looked up his comments Jenny, and please let me know if I missed some, but the ones I found he said that he needed to work and become better during this offseason. I didn’t see him blaming anybody. By the way, if he wanted to blame the kicker I would have no problem with that because he said it best a couple of years ago. The Colts have an “idiot kicker”. Mostly accurate but still an idiot.

    As far as waving off the punting team, I was very interested in seeing Dungy’s expression and I honestly didn’t think he was mad. After all it did work out. I actually like the fact that Manning takes over games. Quarterbacks of the old days used to do that all the time. I think it is refreshing to see a guy as smart as Manning being able to call plays and make adjustments like that.

  12. Gee, maybe we should start the season early…

    Really, folks, there’s no reason to get bent out of shape over ANYTHING here. It’s all love, y’know…

    For what it’s worth, Mac’s arguments are persuasive, but I maintain my position that Murph (and most of the other guys he mentions) falls short of HoF.

    Mac, I’m also curious to know how you determined that Rice’s peak value falls short of Dawson’s. It ain’t keeping me up nights, but I’m curious.

  13. I haven’t compared Rice and Dawson in detail, actually. I think Dawson’s a better candidate because his career value was far higher. Peak value could go either way depending upon how much weight you give Dawson’s defense and baserunning.

  14. Thank you, Mac. Is it possible to get a list of HOF voters? I’d like to send them each a lot of the stuff you’ve printed in support of Murph, with your blessing of course.

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