Friday, January 11, 2008

Why Does Buster Olney Have a Job?

Buster Olney is outraged at the fact that Jim Rice is still not in the Hall of Fame, and claims that his statistics are actually really good when viewed in the context of the time he played.
During Jim Rice's incredible 1978 season, a total of two American League players had on-base percentages over .400: Rod Carew, with .411, and Ken Singleton, at .409. In 2007, eight AL players achieved an OBP of .400 or higher. In fact, in the seven seasons played since the start of 2001, there already have been 42 AL players who have posted OBPs of .400 or better; in the entire decade, of 1970-79, there were only 36 AL players who achieved OBPs of .400 or better. It was a time of less offense and fewer runs, a time when teams didn't value walks the way they do now, a time when the strike zone was larger, a time when hitting 20 homers and driving in 80 runs was an excellent year. So it's almost laughable to hear and read about how Rice was nothing more than a very good player in his time. Look, if you stick his statistics into offensive formulas tailored for the way the game was played in the '90s, he's not going to look as good. Giving him demerits because he failed to draw walks is like diminishing what Pedro Martinez has accomplished because he has only two 20-win seasons.
Olney is right that the overall skill level in baseball often changes over the years. Unfortunately, there is no statistic that allows to compare players from different eras. Oh, wait. What's that? There is? Yes. There is. Actually, OPS+ and Eqa+ are both good for comparing players from different eras. For those of you who don't know about OPS+, it is calculated by dividing a players OPS by the league average, then multiplied by 100. If a player's OPS+ is over 100, he is above average. For those of you who don't know what Eqa is, an explanation can be found here.

Jim Rice's career OPS+ is 128. Yes, its above average, but given that Rice was a poor defender and didn't play very long, it is way too low to be a Hall of Famer. His career Eqa, adjusted for all-time, so it can be used to compare players across eras, is .294. Eqa is measured on the same scale as batting average, so a .294 Eqa is okay.

Jim Rice was a good player. At times, he was a very good player. As you all know, it is not the Hall of Very Good. It is the Hall of Fame.