Friday, January 18, 2008

Tilting at windmills in my mind...

O.K. gits and shiggles time.

For those of you determined to inflict my writing on yourself you’re doubtlessly aware than I have chewed up considerable bandwidth (Best Regards DJF … Best Regards and expect an offer you can't refuse further on) on this year’s Hall of Fame vote, Jim Rice, Tim Raines etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseum. During my sojourn through the wilderness that passes for my normal semi-conscious state, I tripped over an epiphany.

Most people have epiphanies … not me, unless I trip over it for it bashes me over the head I tend to ignore them and carry on my semi-somnambulant way.

Anyway, after I picked myself up and dusted myself off I realized that after re-examining Montreal Expos’ history as it pertains to Raines I had spent considerable time thinking about his outfield mate--Andre Dawson. Yes, Dawson had a terrible career OBP but after sitting back and looking at his entire body of work, I realized it was just one blemish on a tremendous résumé. I found a kindred spirit for Dawson in the Hall of Fame in Richie Ashburn (who I felt was a long overdue induction). Ashburn had a below league average slugging percentage but since he batted leadoff it wasn’t a major issue. Like ‘Hawk’, it was one blemish on a remarkable career.

I believe OBP an important measurement, but Dawson viewed his job to get the OBP guys home--not be one himself.

Therefore, let’s compare Andre Dawson and Jim Rice.

Player AB AVG OBP SLG Runs Hits 2B 3B HR RBI RP RCaa BR* OPS+
Rice 8225 .298 .352 .502 1249 2452 373 79 382 1451 2318 270 294.7 128
Dawson 9927 .279 .323 .482 1373 2774 503 98 438 1591 2526 216 216.4 119
*Batting Runs

Dawson played a lot longer than Rice, which allowed for erosion into his percentages and stats like Rcaa and Batting Runs that can go into the negative. Of course a longer career also translates into better counting stats. Of note, both players’ major league careers began at age 21. Since Rice was done at 36, let’s see where Dawson was at that age:

Player AB AVG OBP SLG Runs Hits 2B 3B HR RBI RP RCaa BR* OPS+
Rice 8225 .298 .352 .502 1249 2452 373 79 382 1451 2318 270 294.7 128
Dawson 8348 .282 .327 .489 1199 2354 417 92 377 1335 2157 245 239.2 123
*Batting Runs

That tightens things up a bit. Overall, Rice has a slight edge although Dawson--despite worse power-hitting environments--had 50 more extra base hits.

Of course, there are other issues to be dealt with. Rice played left field, Dawson manned center and right field. Rice was unremarkable in left, Dawson’s defense was renowned and won Gold Gloves at both positions--eight in all. How did they fare against their positional peers? At age 36, Rice’s RCAP (runs created above position) was 155 while Dawson weighed in at 191. By the time Dawson retired in had fallen to 140.

We have to bear in mind however that Dawson has a huge edge defensively (at more crucial positions), in base running (314 SB, 74% success rate to 58 SB, 63%) and despite 1702 more AB, grounded into 98 fewer double plays. On top of this, Rice was aided massively by his home park batting .277/.330/.459 away from Fenway while Dawson was often hurt by his home park ("Hawk” batted .278/.316/.483 on the road). Interestingly Dawson had more AB away yet slugged slightly higher while his BA/OBP suffered somewhat away from home.

Throwing everything together, it’s hard to come away with the conclusion that Rice (despite being a better pure hitter) was a superior player to Dawson. It’s the reason that “Hawk” was ‘awarded’ 340 win shares (300-350 generally considered HOF territory) to Rice’s 282. Once Rice left the batters box, he was no longer an asset to his team while Dawson was a threat both on the base paths as well as in the field.

Suffice it to say, Andre Dawson should be the first to get a plaque in Cooperstown.

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