Jim Rice vs. Dale Murphy

Hey Frenchie, do you think you can do a better job of living up to all those Dale Murphy comparisons? That would be great. Thanks.

While reading Rob Neyer’s chat (I love reading his, KLaw’s, and Callis’ chats), he made an interesting comment on the Jim Rice debate by bringing in Dale Murphy.

Another thing that’s really helped Rice is the attachment of the word “feared” to his name. Unfortunately, nobody’s able to come up with one word for Dale Muprhy. Here are four, though: “Better than Jim Rice.”

I really haven’t looked too much at Jim Rice, and I’m not qualified to judge his Hall of Fame candidacy (nor anyone else’s at this point). But it is an interesting question. These are two similar players in that you repeatedly hear, “He was a good power-hitter for a number of years. He didn’t walk much, but he was a great hitter nonetheless.” Yet, Jim Rice is excused and Dale Murphy is criticized and not really welcome in the Hall discussion. Let’s take a look at the two (all of these are career numbers):

Years played –> Murphy 1978-1991; Jim Rice 1975-1989
I use the full seasons just to show that the two played at the same time. This just ensures no one is tempted to make an “era” comment. Not that I expected anyone to, but I am just covering my bases.

Batting average –> Murphy .265; Rice .298
Rice wins by a healthy margin here. A career .300 hitter is pretty impressive.

On-base percentage –> Murphy .346; Rice .352
Rice wins again, but I think we can call this a draw. However, the difference between BA and OBP for the two shows Murphy was much better at drawing walks. Why is it that people say he was a hacker? Oh, the strikeouts. Riiiight.

Slugging percentage –> Murphy .469; Rice .502
Rice healthily wins again. He seems to have hit the ball harder than Murphy. I doubt Fulton County was a harder place to hit than Fenway.

On-base plus slugging –> Murphy .815; Rice .854
Rice wins again, but I think you could have figured that one out. I just figured I would mention it.

OPS+ –> Murphy 121; Rice 128
More support for Rice, but he didn’t win by a whole lot.

Doubles –> Murphy 350; Rice 373
Rice hit more and in fewer seasons.

Home runs –> Murphy 398; Rice 382
Murphy actually won one, but Rice did it in fewer seasons. I guess this one is a bit of a draw and may still favor Rice.

Stolen bases –> Murphy 161; Rice 58
Murphy tripled Rice in this category, and before people ask about caught stealing, Murphy had 68 while Rice had 34. Murphy was a better base stealer and did it more often.

Runs –> Murphy 1197; Rice 1249
Rice wins again and in fewer seasons.

Runs batted in –> Murphy 1266; Rice 1451
Ditto from above but more exaggerated.

All-Star appearances –> Murphy 7; Rice 8
Rice still winning, but that’s pretty much a wash at that point.

MVP awards –> Murphy 2; Rice 1
Murphy wins one, but it’s still a wash.

Gold Gloves –> Murphy 5; Rice 0
Ouch. And here’s one of the big points against Rice — his defense. He never seems to have been a good defensive player. Murphy, however, was a good defensive player and won quite a few Gold Gloves. We can argue about the validity of Gold Gloves, but I think it ends up representing how good you are in the end. In this case, Murphy was significantly better. Now, how much do we value this defense? Is it just another category like home runs and runs and doubles? I think it warrants more value than that. Rice was only a positive influence on one side, whereas Murphy was on both sides. This may be (although I don’t know for sure) the key to Neyer’s argument — Murphy was a more complete player (also considering stolen bases). Without it, Rice and Murphy are similar offensive players with Rice being a bit better.

Silver Sluggers –> Murphy 4; Rice 2
Murphy wins, although Rice may have faced stiffer competition considering he was a LF and Murphy was a center fielder. Is it more impressive, then, that Murphy put up almost as good offensive numbers while playing a more difficult position and doing it well?

Home Run Crowns –> Murphy 2; Rice 3
This is about even. Rice may have been more feared, but Murphy did his damage as well.

RBI Crowns –> Murphy 2; Rice 2
Ditto from above.

An interesting note: as similar as the two are in numbers, they aren’t similar batters in Baseball-Reference and only share Duke Snider and Ellis Burks.

So who’s better? Offensively, Rice is a little better considering he produced his stats in fewer seasons, but honestly, they are eerily similar. Defensively, however, there seems to be no contest. Murphy seems to have been a much better defender in a more difficult position than Rice, and that should count for something. Again, I’m not qualified to judge either’s candidacy, but if Rice gets in, I think Murphy should be coming in right behind him, if not before. If only because we’ve become more educated on the value of good defense, even if we can’t quantify it.

Nice call again, Mr. Neyer (can I call you that?).


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