So we recently elected Sam Rice instead of Vlad Guerrero. I suspect a number of people may wonder about that. Especially when we revealed that we have reason to believe that Rice has been significantly underrated by various forms of WAR. In a nutshell, many of the things that Rice does very well are not (yet) included in BBREF’s WAR calculations, and we believe that when they finally are, he will receive a considerable boost.
We could be wrong, too, so let me lay out the information, reasoning, and estimates for you today, and you can decide if you agree.
What WAR knows
Right now, BBREF’s WAR includes a very solid estimation for Rice’s batting performance at +184 runs. It includes a defensive estimate based on Sean Smith’s Total Zone of +56. It includes a positional adjustment of -96 runs for playing a high-offense position. None of this is especially controversial and squares with Rice’s reputation, his offensive and defensive statistics, and what we know about estimating value.
BBREF’s WAR also includes +13 runs for baserunning. This is an estimate derived mostly from his stolen base record. BBREF doesn’t have play-by-play baserunning for most of Rice’s career. Currently it has nothing prior to 1930, and until somewhat recently didn’t have that much. Similarly, they have no rating for Rice in Rdp, which is double-play avoidance above or below average.
Additionally, because of the lack of PBP information, BBREF’s fielding measures don’t include specific estimates of Rice’s outfield throwing. Both Miller and I rely more on DRA anyway for defense, and its arm estimates are notoriously off. In fact, I swap in BBREF’s Rof rating for all DRA throwing scores for outfielders in the PBP era. DRA estimates Rice gained 5.4 runs through his throwing.
So basically this all means that Rice’s baserunning, GIDP avoidance, and outfield throwing are either missing from his case or could stand a little more scrutiny. So we scrutinized them.
Here’s the basic facts about Sam Rice’s baserunning.
- BBREF credits him as +13 runs for his career
- BBREF now has a great deal of PBP data for his final five seasons (ages 39–43, 1930–1934)
- Their estimate shows him as basically a league average baserunner during these late decline years.
- In those seasons we have caught-stealing data for, Rice stole 285 bases and was caught 143 times.
- In the seasons where we have CS totals for him, his stolen base percentage was 66%.
- In those final five years we have a lot of data for, he stole at a 62% clip, while the league was at
- The AL in those years stole at a 59% success rate.
Recently, Retrosheet released information on numerous 1920s and 1930s seasons, some more complete than others. With the caveat that we may not have all the PBP data on Rice, what we’ve learned is that from 1930–1934, Rice was
- picked off less than the AL in his opportunities
- made fewer outs on base than the AL
- took more bases on non-hit events (passed balls, wild pitches, etc) just a tiny bit more often than the AL.
Remember, BBREF is showing him as an average runner from 1930–1934. This doesn’t look like the record of an average runner, does it? I did some back of the envelope math. I pretended that every base taken, regardless how, was worth the same as a steal—about 0.18 runs—and that every out on base cost the same as caught stealing—about 0.32 runs. Those figures are from Extrapolated Runs. XR only cover the years 1955 onward, but we just need a baseline to work from. Obviously, this isn’t super scientific, but it’s getting us close enough. I came up with +6 runs versus the AL for 1930–1934. Seems pretty reasonable.
Next I comped Rice against runners from the play by play era. I looked for anyone who had 0 to +6 runs on the bases from age 39 onward. The list was too small, so I went back to age 38. I then looked for those who over their careers had a similar rate of stolen base attempts and stolen base success versus their leagues. Rice stole 91% more often than his league and succeed 17% more often than his league. This narrowed things down to the compiest of comps.
ATT/G SB% ATT V. SB% V. CAREER NAME V. LG V. LG RICE RICE rBASER PA PER PA ===================================================================== Paul Molitor + 93% +17% + 2% 0 78 12167 .0064 Willie Mays +111% +25% +22% +47% 77 12496 .0062 Barry Larkin + 83% +21% - 9% +24% 80 9057 .0088 Derek Jeter + 71% +11% -22% -37% 56 12602 .0044 Barry Bonds + 97% +14% + 7% -18% 44 12606 .0035 Craig Bigio + 76% +11% -18% -35% 54 12504 .0043 Ozzie Smith +128% +18% +41% + 6% 79 10778 .0073 --------------------------------------------------------------------- AVERAGE + 94% +17% + 3% - 2% 67 .0058
These players averaged 0.0058 runs above average on the bases for their careers. Applied to Sam Rice’s career PAs, we get +60 runs. Knock out the 13 runs that BBREF has him marked down for, and we get about 47 more runs than they credit him with.
BBREF has very little information on Rice’s GIDPs. So I took a similar approach, using comps. They had to be lefthanded, they had to have at least 40 runs on the bases in their careers, and they had to have at least 5,000 plate appearances.
NAME rGDP rBaser PA ====================================== Ichiro Suzuki 55 63 10466 Johnny Damon 50 77 10917 Carl Crawford 35 48 7178 Juan Pierre 28 56 8280 Willie Davis 27 47 7475 Joe Morgan 24 81 11256 Kenny Lofton 23 78 9235 Chase Utley 23 44 7323 Lou Brock 18 72 9468 Tony Womack 16 52 5389 Larry Walker 10 40 8030 Lenny Dykstra 6 46 5282 Barry Bonds 6 44 12606 Delino DeSheilds 4 45 6652 -------------------------------------- PER PA AVERAGE .003 PER 600 PA 1.6 IN RICE’S PA 27.8</pre>
So here we get an estimate of about +28 runs for avoiding the deuce.
What’s in an Arm?
DRA’s arm adjustments are problematic, and Michael Humphreys acknowledges this in Wizardry.
We think that Harry Hooper was probably shorted by about 35 runs based on his assists record and how often he led his leagues. Right field is the only outfield position where leading the league and assists totals has a relationship to arm value (specifically Rof on BBREF). Hooper led his leagues three times and placed in the top five 8 times. This mirrored his reputation as the best right field arm of his time. Well, Sam Rice led five times and had several other high finishes. His reputation was not as strong as Hoop’s, so I’ve simply given him about 70% of Hooper’s value. Rice broke into the AL as a pitcher and despite an injury that may have contributed to the end of his mound career, the arm was obviously still healthy enough to rack up assists. Because I use a 2:1 combination of BBREF’s Rfield and DRA, I am replacing DRA’s arm value of 5.4 arm runs with my estimation of 23 arm runs. The net of which is 18 arm runs at 2/3s value, or +12 runs.
Adding It Up
So here’s what I’ve got from all this.
- Running = +47 (net of BBREF’s estimate)
- GIDP = +28
- Arm = +12
- Total = +87 runs
- That’s somewhere around 8.5 Wins. Which is a ton to be missing from someone’s record but Rice’s arrows all point in this direction. But it turns out that Rice looks like he’s Ichiro of his time.
I’ve previously ranked Rice around 25th in rightfield among HoME-eligible players. Guerrero ranks 23rd. I Rice at 39 wins over his 7-year peak and 62 wins for his career. In my CHEWS system (similar to JAWS but with more peak emphasis), he rates as 47.8. These additional runs, distributed evenly across his career on a PA basis, would now yield a 39.9 peak and 70.4 career, translating to 53.6 CHEWS. That total is very similar to another comparable player, Tony Gwynn, as well as Andre Dawson, and Dwight Evans. Ichiro is about 1.5 points below Rice.
Even if you don’t take all my estimates at face value, Rice still has a strong case. Slash them in half and you get +44 runs, call it four wins. Now I’d rate him at 50.5 CHEWS. That’s in between Dave Winfield (51.1) and Bobby Bonds (50.3) with Willie Keeler (49.9), Sammy Sosa (49.8), and, yes, Vlad Guerrero (49.7) also nearby.
You might very well find another way to look at the data we have on Rice and extrapolate his value. I hope you do and that you report it in our comments! But this is enough evidence for us to elevate the top also-ran in right field to a HoMEr.