Friday, January 21, 2005

January 21th, 1969

Stan Musial Elected to Hall of Fame

Continuing the theme from yesterday of underappreciated figures in baseball history, we come to Stan Musial. Stan Musial, is without question, the most criminally overlooked and underappreciated player in all of baseball history. That sounds like hyperbole, but really, its not. Musial is one of the best players of all-time, a member of the quartet of all-time great left fielders (along with Williams, Henderson and Bonds) and yet in the MasterCard All-Century Team vote Musial actually received fewer votes than Ozzie Smith, Roberto Clemente or Pete Rose. Smith is a shortstop, the tragic nature of Clemente's death probably influenced many (although, and not to take anything away from the man, he was thirty-seven at the time of his death and unlikely to improve his career numbers significantly) so let's compare Musial to Pete Rose, who received more than 50,000 votes more than “The Man”

Rose, of course, ended his career with the most hits ever: 4,256 a record unlikely to be topped. Musial finished with 3,630 or 626 less than Rose. That is Rose's advantage. Musial's advantage is nearly everything else. Although Musial has fewer hits than Rose, he sports a higher career batting average .331 (that's 30th all-time) to Rose's .303, an advantage of twenty-eight points. Musial also got on base 42% more often for his career than did Rose, and still holds the 22nd best on-base percentage of all-time.

To truly see the difference between Rose and Musial however, a slightly more advanced metric is needed. OPS is a measure of on-base percentage (how often one gets on base) and slugging percentage (what kind of power one has) added together. OPS+ is a measure of OPS adjusted for the league average. Thus, posting an OPS+ of 125 means a player had an OPS 25% better than the league average. This allows relatively easy comparison of players across different eras. The version I use is also adjusted for park. Musial led his league in OPS+ six times. For his whole career, up to age 42, Musial never once had a season where he was below league average. In contrast, Rose never led his league in OPS+, and finished in the top ten just three times. His career OPS+ is just 118 and he was below league average seven times. Perhaps the most striking statistic is this: In Rose's best season he posted an OPS+ of 158. Over the course of his career, Stan Musial posted an OPS+ of 159. Musial's average season was better than Rose's best.

This is not just to dump on Pete Rose (if I was going to dump on Pete Rose, I wouldn't start with his playing career anyway) but to demonstrate the greatness of Stan Musial. Despite the offensive explosion of the 1990s, Musial is still in the top ten all-time in runs, hits, total bases, doubles, RBIs, extra base hits and times on base. He won more than 93% of the vote when he was elected (on the first ballot) to the Hall of Fame, is a three time MVP and a twenty-four time All-Star. Long retired and a relatively modest figure, Musial is unlikely to be "discovered" and declared brilliant. But he deserves far, far more credit than he receives.

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