Sabermetrics: Why Red Sox LF Jim Rice Was Not as Good as the Yankees' Roy White

Cliff Eastham@RedsToTheBoneSenior Writer IIMarch 22, 2010

I figured that title would capture your attention. Now come on in and let's talk.

First and foremost, the statement that Roy White is better than Jim Rice is not my evaluation; it comes from Bill James (King James himself).

So what does this statement say about sabermetrics? Does it show how flawed it is or does it provide concrete footing that supports the claims that James and other's make about the calculator and baseball?

Let's take a look.

James took the five peak years from both players and plugged them into his "system."

To make a long story shorter, James describes how Roy White actually looks better on paper than Hall of Fame outfielder Jim Rice.

Do I believe it? Facts and figures don't lie, but then again a calculator has never hit 46 HR, driven in 139 runs, and won a Most Valuable Player Award.

Neither has White, although he did once hit 21 HR, knock in 94 runs and finish 12th in MVP voting.

That was the way I observed it until reading on. They played in different eras, and apparently White's runs mean more than Rice's (what the heck?).

Isn't a run a run, and a hit a hit?

According to sabermetricians, statistics from different players are not the same not unless they play in the same time period and in the same home park. Ah, therein lies the rub, as they say when misquoting Hamlet.

White played in baseball's version of death valley, Yankee Stadium, a pitcher's park, whereas Rice did his time in one of the most friendly hitter parks in history, Fenway Park.

If you are a HR, RBI, and AVG kind of guy, Rice wins in a landslide.

If you like your numbers scrambled like eggs, White comes out on top. Just sayin'.

Caesar Cliffius is not here to bury Bill James, but to praise him.

How do I love sabermetrics? Let me count the ways. Before I begin waxing poetic, let us take some harder looks at the comparisons.

A quasi-sabermetric statistic like OBP quickly closes the gap to the advantage of Roy White. In away games, he struck out half as many times and walked over 80 times more over the five years.

White stole 60 more bases than Rice, while Rice made more outs, and White had a better glove. Suddenly James' case now has legs to stand on.

As Joe Posnanski goes on to say, it could have all been summed with one statistic. Win Shares. Apparently Rice only has 127 of them compared to 140 for White in the five year model.

Case closed! White is the better player.

Do you agree, or are you hard core "old school" like Caesar Cliffius? God help me, I am trying to come to grips with this.

Watch this. Rice had White beat by 28 points in batting average for his career. Rice hit 222 more HR and drove in nearly twice as many runs as did White.

Why are we only counting five years? Is this part of the Sandy Koufax Syndrome?

Koufax played 12 years, and is widely regarded as one of the best pitchers in major league history.

If you look at his record you will see the first six years were just short of terrible. Maybe that is how he got in the HOF with only 165 wins. The entire body of work doesn't mean squat, yes?

If we are to take only a slice of five or six years, Ralph Kiner is one of the best players ever.

Tim Raines was better than Roberto Clemente, if you take the sabermetric approach.

Even before deciding to give sabermetrics a chance, I was using OPS+ and ERA+ as a good yardstick with which to measure players and pitchers.

They are metrics themselves, taking into account the entire league averages and how a player measured up to that benchmark.

When you get down to the "rubber meets the road" quantification, whom do you believe?

It is easy to find someone's batting average or earned run average. Not quite so easy (without looking at to find OBP, OPS+, or ERA+.

Are the numbers we receive from sabermetric mills correct, and if so, how can they be validated?

Some of the defensive numbers (i.e. UZR, exO) scare me because they remind me of being in a chemistry lab.

That is not the end of it either, my friends, there are positions to study. That's right, a first baseman and third baseman do not carry the same weight as the shortstop and second baseman.

The corner outfielders are not as valuable as the center fielder. And the catcher (oh yes the catcher), he is the most valuable player of all.

The claws are starting to come out so I need to dial it down a little.

I like the concept of sabermetrics and would love to learn more and be able to apply them responsibly.

Baby steps I guess, just like in the movie "What about Bob?". I will take it one step at a time.

I like OPS+, ERA+, wRC+, and I'll take a dollar's worth of BABIP. However, let's pass for now on VORP, UZR, and xFIP.


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