Thursday, August 14, 2014
Dick Allen: A Better Jim Rice
So yesterday's Ken Boyer vs. Ron Santo post got me thinking about another debate between a borderline Hall of Fame guy and a recent inductee. With Jim Rice's place in the Hall of Fame secure, Dick Allen deserves a plaque as well. And if there's only room for one of them, well, then it should be Allen no question.
But Rice is in, and Allen is not. The voters deemed Jim Ed worthy of a berth in Cooperstown. How they did not come to the same conclusion with Allen is beyond my comprehension. I mean, if Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer (which he is, even if many feel that he shouldn't be), then Dick Allen is absolutely, positively a no-brainer Hall of Famer. Rice made it into Cooperstown on his hitting and his hitting alone, and the numbers clearly show that Allen was a better baseball player. At the very least, Allen was a better hitter and more deserving candidate, essentially Jim Rice 2.0.
Let me explain. The similarities between the two as men and ballplayers are numerous. Both were tempestuous African American stars aggravated by the racist cities and times in which they played; mercurial sluggers with few friends in the media and stands; intense players worn down by the even more intense fans and press corps that all but suffocated them. Rice paid dearly for his surly demeanor, languishing on the writer's ballot for the full 15 years before he finally squeezed through Cooperstown's doors in his final year of eligibility. Allen, an even more polarizing figure, never came close to induction and is still waiting for the call.
Both were powerfully built righthanded sluggers with vicious swings that put the fear of God into opposing pitchers. Rice cracked 382 home runs, topping 40 once and winning three home run crowns. Allen socked 351, also exceeding 40 once and leading the league twice. Each was named AL MVP during the 1970s--Allen in 1972 and Rice six years later. Neither won a championship and both will be forever linked with teams that endured historic late season collapses (the '64 Phillies and '78 Red Sox) even though both enjoyed exceptional individual campaigns as their teams crumbled around them.
Rice played 16 years, one more than Allen, but because the former DH'ed and had better luck with injuries he was able to squeeze an additional 340 games out of his career. Thus, his counting numbers surpass Allen's in virtually every category except for walks and steals. Allen was much better at his peak though, with three seasons of at least 7.5 bWAR compared to Rice's one. Their numbers are remarkable similar on a 162-game basis:
Allen: 102 R 171 H 30 3B 7 3B 33 HR 104 RBI .292/.378/.534 313 TB
Rice: 97 R 190 H 29 2B 6 3B 30 HR 113 RBI .298/.352/.502 315 TB
Both burst on the scene with monster rookie seasons at the age of 22 (Allen copped Rookie of the Year honors and Rice would have too had he not debuted the same year as Fred Lynn), beginning a run of excellence that lasted over a decade until they dropped off dramatically before their 35th birthdays. Rice lost his lifetime .300 average, finishing at .298 like Mickey Mantle, and fell short of other notable milestones such as 400 homers, 1,500 RBI and 2,500 hits. Allen also fell short of 400 dingers, barely making it to 350, and failing to reach even 2,000 hits.
Allen last 3 years: .246/.334/.410 32 HR 142 RBI 0.5 bWAR
Rice last 3 years: .263/.330/.395 31 HR 162 RBI 0.0 bWAR
For a long time it looked as though that sudden, steep decline was going to keep Rice out of the Hall. With Allen it's even more pronounced, leaving his counting numbers well short of what many consider Hall of Fame quality from an outfielder.
But Allen's career totals are close to Rice's, and his slash stats are much better. Allen walked a lot--much more than Rice, who rarely took a free pass unless it was intentional. So while Rice outhit Allen .298 to .292 for their careers, Allen has the much higher on-base percentage at .378 to Rice's .352. That advantage, combined with the former's 32 point edge in slugging percentage, means Allen was a far better hitter over the course of their careers. The numbers bear this out, as Allen's .912 OPS, .400 wOBA and 156 OPS+ dwarf Rice's .854, .375 and 128. Allen also far outpaces Rice in batting runs above average, with 435 to Rice's 297, and outranks him by almost 25 offensive WAR, which combines hitting and baserunning. Allen was an above average baserunner while Rice was below average, but that's not enough to explain the huge gap in their offensive production.
Rice has no excuse, as he benefitted from batting in the middle of Boston's fearsome lineups and playing half his games in baseball's best hitter's park at the time. Allen did not enjoy these same advantages. He played in the National League, which everyone knows was the superior league during the 1960s and '70s (read: more competitive), and did not enjoy the same level of supporting talent or the perks of playing in Fenway.
This is apparent in their neutralized numbers. Rice's barely change, as his friendly home park negated the difficulties of playing the offense-suppressed 1970s and '80s. Allen's figures improve considerably, however. His batting line jumps to .307/.396/.561, raising his OPS to more than 100 points higher than Rice's. He's also credited with 378 homers, 1,261 RBI, nearly 2,000 hits and almost 1,000 walks. Still borderline numbers, but more comparable to Rice's at least.
There's not much point comparing their defense because frankly, both were terrible. If Rice had been good he wouldn't have DH'ed so much, but in his defense the Red Sox already had a tremendous left fielder in Carl Yastrzemski when he arrived. Rice eventually turned himself into a halfway decent defender as he learned to handle the Green Monster, but never came close to matching the defensive prowess of his predecessor. Allen butchered every position he played; third base, first base and left field, but his offense was especially valuable during his time at the hot corner. The difference between a bad defender and a worse defender is not enough to compensate for the huge disparity in their hitting.
Even though Rice played the equivalent of two more full seasons and played better defense, Allen comes out significantly ahead in WAR. Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus, and FanGraphs all credit him with roughly 60 for his career, about 10 more than Rice. Based on his Hall of Stats rating of 115, Allen is a worthy Hall of Famer. With a score of just 82, Rice is decidedly not.
And yet, nearly 40 years after his last game, Allen is still on the outside looking in. Blame the writers for stiffing him, the fans for not supporting his candidacy, and Allen for being a giant jerk, but Richie's waited long enough. His omission from the Hall is one of Cooperstown's most glaring oversights. How could they pass over a hitter who was so great, Hall of Fame caliber for 15 years, for so long?
Allen made many enemies and they've kept him from coming anywhere close to induction. He never even received 20 percent of the vote in any of his 14 years on the ballot. Based on his on-field accomplishments, Allen should have been inducted long ago, and had he been a swell, stand-up guy like Dale Murphy he probably would have. Rice didn't have a lot of friends either, but eventually stances softened on him as people came around to seeing what a great hitter he had been. When is that going to happen with Allen? Will it ever?
Sabermetrics punched Bert Blyleven's ticket to the Hall of Fame, and with the same concerted effort Allen could get there one day as well. Unfortunately there just doesn't seem to be that same level of support for him. The grudges against him aren't going away. Who's clamoring for Dick Allen to take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame? Not very many, it seems, and if they're out there they're not being vocal enough. Allen might not seem like a Hall of Famer at first glance, but once you do a little digging it becomes as clear as day. He was one of the best hitters of not just his era, but baseball history. The Hall of Fame is a lesser place without him.
They say time heals most wounds, and in this writer's opinion enough time has passed to forgive Allen for his personal flaws and let bygones be bygones. The Wampum Walloper was baseball's best hitter for more than a decade, on par with contemporaries Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Willie McCovey, and deserves to be commemorated in Cooperstown for it. Allen's in his early 70s now, and he might not be around much longer. Better to induct him while he's still alive and able to enjoy it, lest the Hall waits too long to open its doors to him a la Ron Santo. The ceremony will be long overdue, of course, but better late than never.