I suppose the premise of this article differs depending on how you regard Jim Rice. Rice was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2009 on his fifteenth year of eligibility. Stat geeks universally panned his election, saying that while he may have been “feared”, he didn’t actually provide enough value over the course of his career to warrant induction.
Now, consider this:
I happen to be one of the stat geeks who has been poo-pooing Rice’s Hall of Fame election since the day it happened. I also feel like David Ortiz is probably a Hall of Famer. Yet, by my own damn metric he’s still behind Jim Rice. So, what do I say to that?
Where They Currently Stand
Here are their WAR components, as of this article’s publishing:
Ortiz begins with a pretty strong advantage at the plate, but the remaining components chip away at it. Rice takes that huge hit in the double play category, but otherwise comes out okay. In fact, due to the fact that Rice could play a passable left field before turning to the DH role, he finishes ahead of Ortiz in total Runs Above Average.
Since their careers (so far, in Ortiz’s case) are a very similar length, their replacement level adjustments sit within a few runs of each other.
Rice’s bat was the only considerably above average aspect of his game. Ortiz’s problem is that while Rice wasn’t too bad in the other components, Ortiz was terrible. Ortiz’s baserunning, defense, and positional adjustment just destroy his WAR. So, while his bat has been more valuable than Rice’s, he simply has not been a more valuable player.
What about the postseason?
Ortiz, of course, has been magnificent in the postseason. Compared to Rice:
WPA (Win Probability Added) is useful for estimating how much an individual player changed his team’s win expectancy over the course of a game. Obviously, the leverage of the situation plays into this quite a bit.
Ortiz is well-known for his heroics in Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS. In those contests, Ortiz earned 0.23 and 0.41 WPA, meaning he was directly responsible for almost two-thirds of a win. That’s a lot for one player, but those are actually Ortiz’s 4th and 5th best playoff games (by WPA). His best was Game 3 of the 2004 ALDS when he hit the series clinching walk-off homer in the tenth inning, capping a 0.56 WPA day. The second-best game on Ortiz’s resume was Game 4 of the 2003 ALDS where his 8th inning 2-run double turned a one-run deficit into a one-run lead. Third on the list is this year’s ALCS Game 2 featuring the grand slam against Detroit that helped him to a 0.45 WPA.
In all, Ortiz’s WPA adds up to 2.3 postseason wins. That’s a solid total. The only player with more than four postseason WPA is Mariano Rivera. While straight-up WPA measures the importance of the game situation, it doesn’t quite capture the series-changing nature of some of Ortiz’s exploits. In 2004, for example, the Red Sox were going home if he didn’t do what he did. In the 2003 LDS, the Sox were three outs from elimination when Ortiz turned the series around with his double. Pretty dramatic stuff.
Jim Rice, of course, didn’t have nearly as many postseason opportunities as Ortiz has had. But when he did play in October, he didn’t make the most of it. Rice first appeared in the postseason in 1986, playing in the ALCS against the Angels at age 33. He hit .161/.188/.387 and cost his team half a win (by WPA). He rebounded for an .899 OPS in the World Series and was worth a quarter of a win. But it wasn’t quite enough.
Rice only played in one more postseason (the 1988 ALCS sweep by the Athletics). He hit poorly but picked his spots relatively well, adding up to 0.1 WPA.
RE24 (runs above average by the 24 base/out states) is sort of like WPA except it measures the difference in run scoring expectancy rather than win expectancy. As a result, the leverage component is essentially eliminated. By this measure, Ortiz has produced roughly four times the value Rice has (once you adjust for the difference in their playing time using RE24 per 700 plate appearances).
It’s important to note that the scale of RE24 is runs and WPA is wins. So Ortiz’s RE24 of 39.2 roughly translates to four wins.
How much does postseason matter?
I struggle with how much to weigh the postseason in assessing a player’s Hall of Fame case. First of all, not all players have the opportunity to play in the postseason. But for the ones who do—and excel there—it has to be worth something, right?
Ortiz produced anywhere from 2–4 wins, depending whether you look at WPA or RE24. Those are contributions to real wins that happened on the field. In fact, they were really important wins—like, the most important of them all. It seems silly not to count them (and beyond that, to count them the same way as you would a typical win).
The Hall of wWAR (the precursor to the Hall of Stats) had a component called wWPA (Weighted Postseason Win Probability Added). By that measure, Ortiz’s 76 Hall Rating would get a boost to about 80. Rice would basically be unchanged.
Is that enough? Is it too much? Should I be using wRE24 instead? A combination? I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Back to Rice and Ortiz
Jim Rice had a moderately more valuable regular season career than David Ortiz has had so far (once you factor in base-running, defense, and position). Again, Rice did not excel in these secondary components. He simply provided something while Ortiz was essentially a black hole.
Ortiz, meanwhile, has just as much “narrative” going for him as Rice (and, I feel, substantially more). Yes, Rice was “feared”, but who is going to argue that Rice was more feared than Ortiz was (and still is)? A big part of Ortiz’s narrative—the postseason heroics—can actually be backed up with numbers. I think that helps close the current gap between him and Rice.
But if it simply closes the gap, that still leaves Ortiz as Hall-worthy as Rice. And if I’m an emphatic “no” on Rice does that mean I’m a “no” for Ortiz? Am I softening my stance on Rice? Is there something else that separates them?
Right now, I think I have to stick to my numbers and say Ortiz still hasn’t done quite enough. However, with a couple more productive seasons he could launch past Rice in regular season statistics, thus letting us decide if the postseason is enough to put him over the edge.
Strictly going by the numbers, Ortiz needs to repeat his 2013 season three more times to reach a Hall Rating of 100 (he had an 8.1 Hall Rating this year). Can he do it? It’s a stretch, but in the process he may collect the 69 home runs he needs to reach 500 for his career, making him look more attractive to more traditional voters (he passed 2,000 hits in 2013).
Will he distance himself from Rice and reach a point where a conflicted stat-geek-with-homer-tendencies is ready to call him a Hall of Famer? Quite possibly.
But is he there now? No, he’s probably not.