From the Windup is FanHouse's extended look at a particular portion of America's pastime.
The results of the baseball Hall of Fame voting will be revealed Monday (2:00 PM EST), and there's a good chance Jim Rice will finally make it. Andre Dawson almost certainly will not. While I believe Rice has a good case to be in the Hall of Fame, I am left wondering how he's become so much more qualified than Dawson -- at least by the electorate. Really, if you factor in all aspects of play, they are equally deserving of entry into Cooperstown.
Let's take a look at the case of Rice and compare him to Dawson.Hitting
Jim Rice was said to be one of the most feared hitters in the league for about a 10-year span. He compiled 382 career home runs and 1,451 RBI, and this was in an era where home runs were much less plentiful than today. He hit over 20 home runs in 11 out of 12 seasons in his prime, and the one year he didn't reach 20 was the strike-shortened 1981 season. He hit 39 bombs in a season three times, and went for 46 in his MVP season (1978). He had eight seasons with over 100 RBI, including four with over 120. All told, Rice's career slugging percentage was an impressive .502 -- which helped him to put up a career 128 OPS+.
Andre Dawson came from pretty much the same era -- his prime started two years later -- and he was equally as feared. "The Hawk" just had an aura about him. Other than the 49 home run barrage in 1987 -- when he won the MVP -- he didn't put up quite as prolific power numbers per season as Rice. His next highest total was 32 homers, and his 31 in 1991 was the only other time he hit more than 27. He only went over 100 RBI four times. He was, however, much more consistent and did it for a longer period of time. Between 1978 and 1992, Dawson only missed the 20 home run barrier twice. Because of this longevity and consistency, he has higher career totals than Rice at 438 homers and 1,591 RBI. With a .482 career slugging percentage and 119 OPS+ in basically the same era, I'm willing to call this portion of their respective games slightly in favor of Rice.
In the two main counting categories, Dawson has the edge, but mostly because of his longevity. He ended with 2,774 hits and 1,373 runs compared to 2,452 and 1,249 from Rice.
One difference I have heard people -- like Joe Posnanski, of whom I am a huge fan and usually agree -- is that Dawson's .323 on-base percentage is simply too low for him to be a Hall of Famer. I've also seen Ken Rosenthal argue that in the time they played, there wasn't an emphasis on OBP like there is today. Thus, coaches would rather see Dawson swing at bad pitches than take walks. I don't really buy that argument, though, because you can't tell me they would rather him get out than get on base. Still, Rice is only nine percentage points of a better hitter using OPS+, and Dawson stuck around much longer. It's really close.Speed and Defense
This is where I believe the voters who leave Dawson off their ballots, yet vote for Rice, are falling short. If you agree that the difference between the two players in the batter's box was small, every other aspect of the game tips the scales towards Dawson.
Before Dawson's knees fell apart, he compiled 314 career stolen bases, mostly in his first seven full seasons in the majors. He never stole less than 21 bases and passed 30 three times during that span. Rice stole 58 in his career, and never more than 10 in a season. The speed difference also likely explains why Rice hit into about 100 more double plays than Dawson -- despite compiling 1,600 fewer at-bats.
In the field, Andre Dawson was The Arm in baseball in the '80s. No one ran on this guy because he had an absolute cannon. He ended his career with 157 outfield assists -- again, despite people rarely testing his arm -- and won 10 Gold Gloves. Rice did rack up 137 assists, but was generally thought to be a below-average defender -- that's why he spent roughly a quarter of his career as a designated hitter. He, obviously, never won a Gold Glove.Similar Players
A tool I much enjoy using is the similarity feature on baseball-reference. Basically, it can show you who the players best compare with statistically over the course of their career. You can also check by-age similars. Rice has four Hall of Famers in his top 10 career similars -- Orlando Cepeda (his top match), Duke Snider, Billy Williams, and Willie Stargell. Dawson has five -- Billy Williams (his top match), Tony Perez, Al Kaline, Ernie Banks, and Dave Winfield.
The by-age similars are very telling for Dawson. Throughout his thirties, he was most similar to Dave Winfield in every single season. Winfield was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.The Bottom Line
Any offensive gap between Dawson and Rice is easily closed by Dawson's speed and defense. They both have good cases, but not open-and-shut ones. Their similars seem to give Dawson a slight advantage, but not one that definitely makes him more of a Hall of Famer than Rice. I'm not necessarily saying they should both be in, and I'm not necessarily saying that neither should make it. However, their Hall of Fame fate should be one in the same -- whatever it may be.
As I said in the title, if Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer, so is Andre Dawson. It's really that simple.
From the Windup: If Jim Rice Is a Hall of Famer, So Is Andre Dawson originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Mon, 12 Jan 2009 08:00:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.