Jim Rice vs. Dale Murphy
Baseball Player Won-Loss Records
Home     List of Articles



Jim Rice vs. Dale Murphy

Jim Rice played for the Boston Red Sox from 1974 - 1989. Over those 16 years, Rice made 8 All-Star games and finished in the top 5 in MVP voting 6 times, winning one MVP award. For his career, he hit 382 home runs and drove in 1,451 runs. For all of that, Jim Rice was rewarded by being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.

Dale Murphy played from 1976 - 1993, mostly for the Atlanta Braves. Over his 18-year career, Murphy made 7 All-Star games, won 5 Gold Gloves (5 more than Rice), and won 2 MVP awards. Murphy hit more home runs in his career than Rice, 398, although he had only 1,266 RBIs. For all of that, Dale Murphy hung around the Hall-of-Fame ballot for 15 years, but never came particularly close to election. He peaked in 2000 (his second year on the ballot) at 23.5%. His best showing since 2003 was 18.6% in his final year on the ballot, 2013.

So, did Hall-of-Fame voters make the right call in electing Rice and rejecting Murphy?
The sabermetric consensus is that Jim Rice's election to the Hall of Fame was a mistake. Baseball-Reference credits Jim Rice with 47.4 career WAR (wins above replacement) with a season high of 7.5 (in 1978). Jim Rice's career WAR is slightly better than Dale Murphy, who is credited with 46.2 career WAR. But Murphy's best season (1987) just beats out Rice's best season, 7.7 - 7.5. And Murphy has two other seasons (1980, 1983) with more WAR than Jim Rice's second-best season (1979). Overall, choosing between Rice and Murphy is something of a toss-up. It's kind of hard to see enough daylight between their careers to be able to draw the Hall-of-Fame in/out line between them.

Using my context-neutral Player won-lost records (eWins), I actually calculate that Murphy beat Rice in (regular-season) career eWORL 33.8 to 31.7. Their context-neutral careers are arrayed below.

Jim Rice Dale Murphy
Season Games eWins eLosses Win Pct. eWOPA eWORL Games eWins eLosses Win Pct. eWOPA eWORL
1974
241.71.60.5170.0
0.2
1975
14417.815.50.5361.0
2.5
1976
15318.619.00.494-0.6
1.1
191.81.60.5270.10.2
1977
16019.715.30.5631.9
3.8
181.82.00.477-0.10.0
1978
16325.618.50.5813.1
5.0
15114.315.10.487-0.90.2
1979
15823.117.60.5672.4
4.1
10411.09.90.5270.21.1
1980
12416.515.70.512-0.0
1.3
15621.516.40.5682.13.6
1981
10816.115.00.5180.2
1.5
10413.312.40.5180.21.2
1982
14520.719.10.5200.4
1.9
16224.318.60.5672.44.0
1983
15525.721.60.5431.6
3.3
16225.017.80.5843.14.6
1984
15921.721.30.505-0.3
1.4
16224.318.70.5652.13.8
1985
14018.917.80.5140.2
1.6
16225.519.70.5652.44.1
1986
15722.520.00.5290.8
2.4
16021.318.50.5350.92.3
1987
10812.613.30.486-0.6
0.5
15924.317.30.5842.74.3
1988
13511.611.90.495-0.3
0.9
15621.619.10.5300.41.9
1989
564.14.60.475-0.2
0.3
15417.718.10.494-0.50.7
1990
 
15419.018.40.508-0.21.2
1991
 
15317.717.10.509-0.31.0
1992
 
181.31.90.415-0.3-0.2
1993
 
260.91.60.362-0.4-0.3
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
CAREER RECORDS2,089276.9247.80.5289.4
31.7
2,180286.6244.00.54013.733.8


Based on my calculations, Dale Murphy never had a season as good as Jim Rice's 1978. But Murphy had four seasons (1982-83, 1985, 1987) comparable to (or better than) Rice's second-best season (1979).

Jim Rice's prime lasted from 1975 - 1986. In those 12 seasons, Rice averaged 2.5 eWORL and 0.9 eWOPA per season.

Dale Murphy's prime was a bit shorter, lasting from 1980 - 1988. But in those 9 seasons, Murphy averaged 2.8 eWORL and 1.4 eWOPA per season.

So, is there a way to get Rice ahead of Murphy?
Yes, yes there is.

In addition to calculating context-neutral eWins and eLosses, I also calculate a set of Player wins and losses that tie directly to team wins: pWins and pLosses. The table below shows how Rice and Murphy stack up in pWins.

Jim Rice Dale Murphy
Season Games pWins pLosses Win Pct. pWOPA pWORL Games pWins pLosses Win Pct. pWOPA pWORL
1974
242.11.40.6090.4
0.6
1975
14419.615.50.5581.8
3.4
1976
15317.117.50.493-0.6
1.0
191.61.60.4970.00.1
1977
16018.414.10.5671.9
3.6
181.82.60.404-0.5-0.3
1978
16326.517.30.6054.1
6.0
15114.515.00.492-0.80.4
1979
15821.118.60.5310.9
2.6
10410.311.20.478-0.80.0
1980
12417.015.50.5230.3
1.6
15623.717.30.5792.74.3
1981
10815.114.30.5140.1
1.3
10413.913.00.5170.11.2
1982
14522.119.90.5270.7
2.3
16224.518.50.5702.54.1
1983
15526.121.90.5431.6
3.4
16225.017.90.5833.04.6
1984
15923.122.40.508-0.2
1.6
16224.320.00.5481.43.2
1985
14019.719.60.502-0.3
1.2
16223.320.20.5351.02.7
1986
15724.419.30.5592.2
3.8
16021.618.70.5370.92.4
1987
10812.714.50.468-1.1
0.0
15922.318.80.5420.92.6
1988
13511.812.10.494-0.4
0.9
15619.121.90.465-2.3-0.7
1989
564.64.70.490-0.1
0.4
15418.120.40.471-1.5-0.1
1990
 
15417.918.50.492-0.80.5
1991
 
15318.718.60.502-0.60.9
1992
 
181.82.30.436-0.3-0.2
1993
 
260.61.80.246-0.6-0.5
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
CAREER RECORDS2,089281.5248.60.53111.3
33.7
2,180283.1258.40.5234.525.1


Putting their results within the context they occurred increases the value of Jim Rice's career somewhat. His career wins over replacement level increase from 31.7 eWORL to 33.7 pWORL. Rice's pWORL exceeds his eWORL by at least 0.9 wins in three seasons: 1975, 1978, and 1986. Not coincidentally, these were probably the Red Sox' three best seasons during Rice's career, featuring two World Series appearances and a 99-win season that ended in a classic Game 163. Rice's eWORL exceeds his pWORL by at least one full win once: in 1979.

A comparison of the 1977 and 1979 seasons is instructive for understanding the difference between pWins and eWins for both teams as well as players.

The 1977 Boston Red Sox amassed 8.1 eWOPA and 30.9 eWORL, which translated in a fairly typical way into 39.1 pWOPA, 39.1 pWORL, and 97 wins.

The 1979 Boston Red Sox were virtually identical to the 1977 Red Sox as measured by eWins - 7.9 eWOPA, 29.2 eWORL. Baseball-Reference agrees, by the way, showing the Red Sox' total WAR falling from 49.2 in 1977 to 49.0 in 1979. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, they did a much poorer job of translating eWins into pWins (i.e., into actual wins), so that they were able to amass only 11.3 pWOPA, 32.2 pWORL, and 91 wins.
So what does all of this have to do with Jim Rice?

In 1977, Jim Rice amassed a context-neutral winning percentage of 0.563 in 160 games, good for 1.9 eWOPA and 3.8 eWORL.

In 1979, Jim Rice amassed a context-neutral winning percentage of 0.567 in 158 games, good for 2.4 eWOPA and 4.1 eWORL.

In 1979, Rice had an overall batting line of .325/.381/.596 - very similar to his 1977 line of .320/.376/.593. But Rice's batting performance in 1979 tended to get worse the higher the context.

In 134 high-leverage plate appearances (as defined by Baseball-Reference, Rice batted .298/.328/.452; in 260 low-leverage plate appearances, he batted .354/.427/.699.

This was not typical of Jim Rice over the course of his career - for his career, Rice's high-leverage OPS was .844 vs. .865 in low-leverage plate appearances. But, it helps to explain why Rice's 2.4 eWOPA and 4.1 eWORL translated into only 0.9 pWOPA and 2.6 pWORL.
Dale Murphy: Killed by Context
The story of why Dale Murphy looks better than Jim Rice in context-neutral wins but not in contextual wins isn't really the story of Jim Rice. Rice was more valuable than his raw statistics might have suggested in 1975 and 1986, but he was worse than his raw statistics implied in 1976 and 1979. Overall, context helped Rice, but by only two WORL over a 2,089 game career.

No, the big story here is how much context hurt the value of Dale Murphy.

From 1987 - 1989, Baseball-Reference credits Dale Murphy with 11.6 WAR. Over these three years, I credit him with 6.9 eWORL. Yet, over those three years, I calculate that, in context, Dale Murphy really only contributed 1.7 wins over replacement level (pWORL). That's a stunning lack of real value relative to expected value!

What the heck happened to Dale Murphy in those seasons?

In 1987, Dale Murphy had his last great offensive season. He finished in the top 5 in the National League in plate appearances (5th), OBP (4th), SLG (5th), OPS (2nd), total bases (3rd), HRs (2nd), runs scored (5th), and RBI (5th). He tied for the National League lead in runs created with 143. Runs created are a statistic designed by Bill James that measure how many runs a player would have been expected to help generate given his hitting statistics. They are on the same scale as runs scored and RBIs - i.e., actual runs scored.

Jim Rice drove in over 100 runs 8 times in his career; he was credited with 100 or more runs created 5 times in his career (along with seasons with 98 and 92 RC). In 1978, Rice led the AL with 139 RBI and also led the AL with 147 runs created, a very similar number.

In 1987, Dale Murphy "created" 143 runs. He scored 115 runs and drove in 105. The latter two numbers look superficially impressive (they're over 100!), but are fewer than Murphy "should have" created. Overall, in 1987, Dale Murphy had a batting line of .295/.417/.580. With runners in scoring position he batted .247/.457/.545. In high-leverage situations, his numbers dropped to .255/.416/.431.
And what did this mean to the Braves as a team? The Braves won 69 games that year. I credit them with 19.8 eWORL.
I credit the 1987 Montreal Expos with 21.3, 1.5 more than the Braves. The Expos won 22 more games than the Braves.

I credit the 1987 Cincinnati Reds with 21.3, 1.5 more than the Braves. The Reds won 15 more games than the Braves.

I credit the 1987 Philadelphia Phillies with 19.5, 0.3 fewer than the Braves. The Phillies won 11 more games than the Braves.

The Atlanta Braves did an extremely poor job of converting expected wins into actual wins in 1987, and the timing of Dale Murphy's hitting was a big part of the reason why.

The story was the same in 1988. Murphy's raw offensive statistics plummeted, to an overall offensive line of .226/.313/.421 (the drop looks worse than it was - although it was pretty bad - because offense dropped leaguewide from 1987 to 1988). In high-leverage situations, Murphy batted .182/.306/.341.

At the team level, the 1988 Philadelphia Phillies amassed -8.5 eWOPA and 11.8 eWORL. The 1988 Atlanta Braves amassed -8.5 eWOPA and 11.5 eWORL.

The 1988 Phillies finished in last place in the NL East with a record of 65-96. Not good. But the Braves - who, in my estimation, were basically comparable to the Phillies when context wasn't taken into account - were much worse: 54-106 - 10-1/2 games behind the Phillies! And, sure enough, this is reflected in the two teams' pWins: the Phillies compiled 4.5 pWORL while the Braves managed to "accumulate" -6.1 pWORL, a difference of 10.5 wins (the closeness of the difference in pWORL and actual record is not a coincidence, of course).
Put it all together, and over the course of Dale Murphy's career, he managed to earn 8.7 fewer pWORL than eWORL, more than enough to move him from solidly "better" than Jim Rice to decidedly "worse".

So What About Jim Rice, Hall-of-Famer?
Okay, so, taking context into account, one can make a fairly solid argument that Jim Rice had a more valuable career than Dale Murphy. But was it a Hall-of-Fame worthy career?

That's a more subjective question, but I still think the answer is "no". As I noted above, the "Jim Rice was more valuable than Dale Murphy" argument is really about how Murphy was not as valuable as he might have looked more than it was about Rice being more valuable than he looked. Even considering context, Jim Rice's career pWORL of 33.7 only ranks 155th among all players for whom I have calculated Player won-lost records. His 1978 season, while leading the 1978 AL in (regular-season) pWORL, was still only the 51st-best single-season pWORL of the last 65 years. Don't get me wrong: those are both excellent rankings, but are they Hall-of-Fame caliber rankings?

As I said, it's subjective: it depends on the size of your Hall-of-Fame and what your standards are. Jim Rice had a very good, maybe even excellent, career. But, if it was up to me, that would still leave Jim Rice out of the Hall of Fame.



All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.

Home     List of Articles