The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Is the Wrong Red Sox Player in the Hall of Fame?

Here’s a comparison of a pair of Red Sox players, one who is in the Hall of Fame, another who never came close to induction.  The better player in each category is highlighted in bold print:

Player A:  On Base Percentage – .360

Player B:  On Base Percentage –  .352

Player A:  Slugging Percentage – .484

Player B:  Slugging Percentage – .502

Player A:  OPS+ 129

Player B:   OPS+ 128

Player A:  Doubles – 388

Player B:  Doubles – 373

Player A:  Home Runs – 306

Player B:  Home Runs – 382

Player A:  20+ Home Run Seasons – 10

Player B:  20+ Home Run Seasons – 11

Player A:  Total Bases – 3,352

Player B:  Total Bases – 4,129

Player A:  Grounded Into Double Plays – 149

Player B:  Grounded Into Double Plays – 315

Player A:  Walks – 857

Player B:  Walks – 670

Player A:  Times Struck Out – 1,116

Player B:  Times Struck Out – 1,423

Player A:  WAR – 49.9

Player B:  WAR – 47.2

Player A:  Gold Gloves – 4

Player B:  Gold Gloves – 0

Player A:  All Star Games – 9

Player B:  All Star Games – 8

Player A:  MVP Awards – 1

Player B:  MVP Awards – 1

Admittedly, any statistics one chooses to use will be at least somewhat arbitrary.  Still, I believe I have included a broad selection of useful statistics (as well as awards and honors), to make a legitimate comparison between these two former teammates possible.

Player A trumps Player B in the following nine categories:  On Base Percentage, OPS+, Doubles, GIDP, Walks, Times Struck Out, WAR, Gold Gloves and All Star Games.

Player B trumps Player A in the following four categories:  Slugging Percentage, Home Runs, 20+ Home Run Seasons (again close), and Total Bases.

Player B, Jim Rice, played his entire career in a Boston Red Sox uniform, benefiting from the friendly hitting environment of Fenway Park for 16 seasons.

Player A, Fred Lynn, played his first half-dozen seasons in a Red Sox uniform, then went west to play for the Angels (in a less hitter-friendly environment), and spent time in Baltimore and Detroit before finishing up in his final season in San Diego.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if their career histories were reversed, and Lynn got to stay in Boston for the entirety of his career, while Rice was sent packing at age 28 to less hitter-friendly locales, Lynn might be in the Hall of Fame today, while Jim Rice almost certainly would not.

I am not arguing that either Lynn or Rice should be in the HOF.  In fact, I wouldn’t select either as a member.  But, clearly, the difference between their respective careers is not nearly so great as one might imagine.  Basically, one choice would be about as good as the other, though I might give a slight edge to Freddy Lynn.

Finally, it should also be noted that yet another Red Sox outfielder who played alongside Lynn and Rice — Dwight Evans — probably has a better HOF case than either of his outfield mates.  Evans hit more home runs, drew more walks, had a higher on-base percentage, scored more runs, and had a higher career WAR than either Lynn or Rice.

Perhaps some future Veteran’s Committee will reexamine the careers of both Lynn and Evans, and present each with a HOF plaque of their own.

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18 thoughts on “Is the Wrong Red Sox Player in the Hall of Fame?

  1. Jason A. Miller on said:

    Interesting! The “general” wisdom is that Lynn’s career was plagued by injuries and that he spent much of his career as a quality player but not a superstar… but, he had 20+ HRs almost every year in the ’80s, back when 20+ HRs was still something to be proud of. As you say, the raw numbers are hard to argue with (though you do include stats that didn’t widely exist during Lynn’s period of HOF eligibility). The thinking in the ’80s as to what made someone a superstar vs. a very good player, is quite different to how it is today… and, today vs. 30 years from now will also be quite different again.

    • Jason, You make an excellent point regarding how statistical knowledge has evolved over the years, and how it will continue to evolve on into the future. This raises the question, are there players who are currently considered to be obviously NOT Hall-worthy who will someday be viewed as obviously very much Hall-worthy? It’ll be interesting to watch this evolutionary thinking continue to develop.
      Thanks for the great comment,
      Bill

  2. Red Sox and Yankees fans seem to think “their” players have betrayed them if the players move on to other teams, more so than other team’s fans do, and that right there could have killed Lynn’s reputation and standing with a lot of voters. Put him in the Sox’s ’86 outfield with Evans and Rice, and they win the Series, who knows how high his reputation would be now.

    • That’s true, Arne. But it’s hard to know if Lynn would have left voluntarily once he became a free agent. The Sox traded him to the Angels before that happened. And yeah, that would have been a hard outfield to beat in ’86 (though they might have considered a defensive replacement for Buckner in the latter innings of Game 6, too.)
      Thanks for reading, and for the comment,
      Bill

  3. Adam Darowski on said:

    Now that we already have Rice established, let’s compare him not to a teammate, but to someone who played on the same team just a couple years before Rice arrived…

    Player X: On Base Percentage – .366

    Jim Rice: On Base Percentage – .352

    Player X: Slugging Percentage – .489

    Jim Rice: Slugging Percentage – .502

    Player X: OPS+ 137

    Jim Rice: OPS+ 128

    Player X: Doubles – 363

    Jim Rice: Doubles – 373

    Player X: Home Runs – 314

    Jim Rice: Home Runs – 382

    Player X: 20+ Home Run Seasons – 8

    Jim Rice: 20+ Home Run Seasons – 11

    Player X: Total Bases – 3,439

    Jim Rice: Total Bases – 4,129

    Player X: Grounded Into Double Plays – 150

    Jim Rice: Grounded Into Double Plays – 315

    Player X: Walks – 890

    Jim Rice: Walks – 670

    Player X: Times Struck Out – 1,030

    Jim Rice: Times Struck Out – 1,423

    Player X: WAR – 64.4

    Jim Rice: WAR – 47.2

    Player X: Gold Gloves – 1

    Jim Rice: Gold Gloves – 0

    Player X: All Star Games – 7

    Jim Rice: All Star Games – 8

    Player X: MVP Awards – 0

    Jim Rice: MVP Awards – 1

    • Without bothering to look it up, could it be Reggie Smith?

      • Adam Darowski on said:

        Sure is! Kind of amazing that his numbers stack up so well, considering he was playing in pitcher parks in tougher offensive seasons and playing better defense.

      • I think that guys who move around a lot from team to team in their careers, like Smith did, are more likely to be overlooked, because we tend to remember the guys we can identify with a certain team. When they move around a lot, their career narrative becomes somewhat disjointed, and once they’re gone, it’s not as if they’ve left a certain team. They’re just gone.
        Great addition to the conversation,
        Bill

    • Excellent point; Reggie Smith is criminally underappreciated. Frankly, in the Rice vs. Lynn Cooperstown argument my answer would be either “None of the above” or “None of the above, and have you considered Dewey Evans recently?” Now is Reggie a HOF guy? I’d say it’s not a slam-dunk, but his induction wouldn’t lower the bar at all, and I’m not sure you can say the same for Rice or Lynn.

      • Unfortunately, I don’t think even the induction of Rice lowered the bar, though, no, I wouldn’t have voted for either Lynn or Rice. Again, I do think that Evans does have a legit case. As for Reggie Smith, I have to agree with you that although he’s a very underrated player, he’s not necessarily a clear-cut HOF-er. Still, if you throw in Yaz, that’s a hell of a lot of talent that passed through that Red Sox outfield in a short period of time.
        Have a great weekend,
        Bill

  4. Always a great discussion these Hall of Fame debates, especially when all three were teammates and played in the same outfield for a while. Great point Bill about Lynn leaving for the Angels and what a difference maker that was on his career. But then again, I don’t think a player should be marked down because he played in a hitter friendly place. He still performed.

    Also, I like the inclusion of Evans. I don’t know how defensive runs saves is calculated or if it’s possible to do it with games from the 1970’s and earlier, but the arm of Dwight Evans or where the ball went after that arm released the ball is worthy of the hall of fame in itself.

    • Hey Steve, Yes, his arm was one of the best all-time among right-fielders, and that should count for something. I do agree with you that there’s nothing wrong with a hitter taking advantage of his ballpark. Mel Ott certainly did it, as did many others. That being said, if we’re comparing one player with another, it does help to take into account how a park might have inflated or deflated their overall numbers. I’ve said this before, but if you take Jimmy Wynn and let him swing away at Fenway for 16 years, and put Rice in the Astrodome in the ’70’s, Wynn probably makes the HOF, while Rice might hardly be remembered at all.
      Take care,
      Bill

  5. Jim Rice was a borderline Hall of Famer in my opinion, and Fred Lynn will be an interesting debate for the veterans committee. I won’t object if they eventually choose to honor him, but I don’t see myself participating in any kind of a grassroots campaign to drum up support, either.

    • I’d be very surprised if Lynn gets in via a future Veteran’s Committee. The only people they induct these days are former managers, team owners, and umpires.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving the comment,
      Bill

  6. As I was reading this, I was SURE that Player A was going to be Dewey Evans. Imagine my surprise and delight…

    What’s amazing to me about Rice getting in wasn’t so much his good but not great stats, but the fact that sportswriters at the time didn’t like him at all—which is often a deal breaker.

    • I think as far as Rice is concerned, an awful lot of behind-the-scenes penance was involved in changing the minds of the sportswriters who took 15 years to induct him (and then, just barely.) Even Richard Nixon was later “rehabilitated” in the minds of many in the press who once despised him. As for Lynn, I chose to compare him to Rice solely because I happened to be looking at the back of an old Fred Lynn baseball card yesterday, and I thought that his numbers looked surprisingly comparable to Rice’s. Evans makes a nice coda to the overall debate.
      Thanks, man
      Bill

  7. Adam Darowski on said:

    I’d agree that Lynn and Rice provided similar value, but I think awarding Lynn a plaque because of that would be a second mistake. Evans, on the other hand…

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