Walks and fumbles
I was reading this fine
The question: Is it fair to judge an old player using new measures?
This question applies to everyone, of course, not just Rice, but unfortunately Jim Rice remains in the cross-hairs because he's just such a
Here's the main point: Jim Rice hit .298 for his career, he led the league in homers, he drove in 100 or more runs eight times. He won an MVP award and finished in the top five in the voting five other times. He led the American League in a bunch of stats from 1975 through '86. These are solid core numbers, and they are why he was a star in the 1970s and '80s, why he was the highest-paid player in baseball in 1986 and '87.
BUT ... then you take a closer look, using new methods and looking at statistics that were not considered hip then:
-- He only finished in the Top 10 in the league in on-base percentage twice, and never better than ninth.
-- He put up 282 career
-- He hit into 315 double plays, more than any player with fewer than 12,000 plate appearances (Rice had about 9,000 PAs). As many point out, that's a reflection of numerous things, including the fact that he came up with a lot of people on first base. But I think if you want to tell the RBI story, you should mention the double plays.
-- And, of course, he spent half his games batting in a great-hitting Fenway Park.*
ANYWAY, it all leads back to the question: When you dissect Rice's numbers by using formulas that were not around while he played -- and statistics emphasizing talents that were not highly regarded by many while he played -- is that fair to Rice (or anyone else)?
I have to admit -- I've had a hard time really getting my arms around that one. I mean, look, it's probably not fair to judge silent screen star
Here's what I came up with:
Hornsby: .348/.434/.577 with 2,930 hits, 301 homers, 1,584 RBIs, 175 OPS+
Yeah, tough to compare against generations, if you REALLY think about it.
One thing I have never bought into is the notion that Jim Rice, had he appreciated the significance of walks and on-base percentage and all that, would have walked more. I've seen that argument in a few places, and I think it's kind of absurd. Players are who they are. There have always been players who walked a lot and there have always been hackers and I don't think perception would change that. In 1979, for instance,
In fact, while playing around with this, I ran across a statistic, something that shocked the heck out of me. This might very well be common knowledge -- it probably is -- but I have never run across it, and I cannot even fathom it. You ready for it?
The walk rate in the American League in 2008 was 8.6%.
I am absolutely stunned by that. Absolutely, utterly and completely stunned. It does not seem even remotely possible that with the famously high strike in the 1970s, with the batters supposedly swinging at everything back then, with our new and keen understanding of how important on-base percentage is, that batters are walking LESS now that they did then.
But it's simply a fact. I'm sticking with the American League for now -- here's a chart of walk percentages over the last six decades:
1950s walk rate: 9.7% (approximately ... the entirely awesome
1960s walk rate: 8.7%
You get that? Walks are DOWN since
Here's another way to look at it, this time including the whole major leagues. Walks per game:
There's no way around it. Batters are not walking more now than they did in the 1970s. It's mind-blowing to me, but it's also comforting because it confirms what I have come to believe: The ability to walk is just that, an ability, a talent, like being able to run or hit with power. You can improve it somewhat, perhaps, and every once in a while a player will discover the walking talent late. But for the most part a player cannot simply DECIDE to walk more often, just like he cannot DECIDE to start throwing 98 mph because it's easier to get batters out that way. Walking takes too many distinct talents (including the ability to recognize balls and strikes, the ability to spoil good pitches, the ability to stay focused on each pitch, the respect to get that close call from the umpire and so on and so on).
So that argument has never been especially interesting to me -- I don't think Rice, given the time machine, would have walked any more often than he did. But I have thought a lot about the overall fairness of judging a player's career by something he simply did not know would be on the test. I've read quite a few things that fought against this argument, and some of them were quite good, but nothing ever really captured me. And then, while reading the Baseball Analysts piece, a thought hit me.
Derrick Thomas, as you know, was a great linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1990s. Football statistics are not nearly as precise as baseball statistics, of course, so what we had was that Derrick had a lot of sacks and he made a lot of Pro Bowls. There was nothing out there that I saw that really seemed to sum him up -- Thomas was an odd and singular player. He was out there to do one thing, only one thing, and that was disrupt the game.
For instance: It was sometimes brought up that he was not good against the run and he was not good at pass coverage (in fact, this has been brought up often in his Hall of Fame discussion), but stuffing the run and dropping in coverage was not Derrick's job any more than it was
So is there anything out there that, in a quick form, can give Hall of Fame votes and general fans an idea of what Derrick Thomas is all about? As it turns out, there is: Forced fumbles. In his career, Derrick Thomas forced 45 fumbles. He had this great move -- the Kansas City Chop -- and he would chop down on a quarterback's arm and knock the ball free. Everyone's doing it now, and maybe people were doing it before him, but he popularized the move. And his 45 forced fumbles are an unofficial NFL record. The reason it's unofficial (I believe it's still unofficial) is that they only have been counting forced fumbles for a few years. Even now, force fumbles are not listed on
So there's our connection: A new statistic. And believe me, it's a pain in the neck to try and track down anything in the years before the NFL started counting: I have spent way too long on the Internet trying to find out just how many forced fumbles
So the question here is: Is it fair to use forced fumbles to judge a Hall of Fame case when the statistic is so new? My feeling is absolutely clear on that: OF COURSE it's fair. It's more than fair. Forcing a fumble is just about the most devastating thing a defensive player can do (It isn't fair, but I think of you,
That's how it works as we make discoveries. We find new ways to look at the game. Some will look better in retrospect. And some players will not look as good. Some players will stand up to our memories and some will surpass our memories and some, like movies we may have liked 20 years ago, will not stand up at all. That's not being unfair. That's perspective.