This is the tenth installment of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.” If you are interested in revisiting any of the first nine, you’ll find links to each of them under Recent Posts over to the right.
The greatest players tend to be the ones who are most consistently excellent over time.
From 1956 to 1969, for example, Hank Aaron never accumulated less than 6.6 WAR in any season. Willie Mays scored at least 99 runs in every season from 1954 to 1966. Pitcher Warren Spahn had thirteen 20-win seasons during the period 1947-63.
Stan Musial was another one of those remarkably consistent players.
There are several different ways to measure Musial’s consistency. For example, Musial scored at least 100 runs in every season from 1943-54. He also drove in at least 90 runs for 13 straight years, from 1944-57. Taking a look at OPS, he never dipped below .900 for 15 consecutive years, from 1943-58.
This remarkably consistent excellence begs the question, “What was the worst season of Stan Musial’s career?”
I decided I would use OPS+ as my means of measurement. This statistic combines Musial’s annual on-base percentage plus his slugging percentage, adjusted for league and park factors. An OPS+ of 100 is exactly average (as with an I.Q. score.)
Taking a look at Musial’s annual OPS+ from his early 20’s to his late 30’s renewed my appreciation for his greatness. He led the N.L. in OPS+ six times in his career, topping out at an astounding score of 200 in 1948.
So in which season did Musial post his lowest OPS+? Tossing out those seasons after he was already 38-years old, Musial’s worst year was 1947 when he posted an OPS+ of “only” 134. For 16 consecutive seasons, then, his OPS+ was at least 134, and was usually considerably better.
So how “bad” is an OPS+ of 134?
Derek Jeter has topped OPS+ of 134 just once in his career, back in 1999.
Hall of Famer Lou Brock NEVER ONCE reached an OPS+ of 134 in his 19-year career in a season in which he accumulated at least 500 plate appearances.
Roger Maris topped 134 OPS+ twice, in each of his two MVP seasons.
The immortal Cal Ripkin, Jr. reached that level just three times, and never once past age 30 in a full season.
And remember folks, we’re not talking about Musial’s average season. We’re talking about his worst season.
Recent Hall of Fame inductee Andre Dawson met or exceeded 134 OPS+ just five times, topping 140 just twice.
Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, a remarkably consistent player in his own right, garnered an OPS+ of 134 or better eight times, just half the number Musial claimed in his career.
Over the years, numbers like 500 homers, 3,000 hits and a .300 career batting average have become de facto (for better or worse) benchmarks by which a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness is measured.
At some point, though, a player will come along who will exceed one or two of those marks who will probably not be a worthy candidate for the Hall of Fame.
Dave Kingman, for example, came within 58 home runs when he reluctantly retired after the 1986 season, during which he slugged 35 homers. If some G.M. had bothered to sign him, Kingman could have reached 500 home runs in another season and a half.
But as anyone who ever saw Kingman play can attest, he was decidedly not Hall of Fame worthy.
Harold Baines finished his career just 134 hits away from the “magic” 3,000 hit mark. Baines was a fine player, and there are worse players in The Hall, but Baines was never truly a Hall of Fame-worthy candidate. His career WAR, for example, was just 34.0; Musial’s was 123.4.
The point is, there are players who, due to arbitrary and context-less standards, can be considered pretenders to Hall worthiness.
Then there are the serious Hall of Fame players, exemplified well by Stan Musial, who, in their worst seasons are better than the vast majority of other players in all but their very best seasons.
Let me leave you with one final stat regarding Stan Musial. In his 22-year career, he accumulated 3,630 hits. 1,815 of those hits were made on the road, and the other 1,815 hits were made at home. You can’t get any more consistently excellent than that.