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Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Roger Maris”

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Stan Musial

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.

English: St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer as ...

English: St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer as he was depicted on his 1953 Bowman baseball trading card. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

English: An image of Hall of Fame Major League...

English: An image of Hall of Fame Major League Baseball player Stan Musial. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Hank Aaron

This is the eighth installment of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  Here are links to the first seven parts:  Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Joe Jackson, Roger Maris, Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, and Pedro Martinez.

When you think of Hank Aaron, what comes to mind?  Is it the number 714?  Or perhaps 755?  Is it that you still consider him to be the “true” home run king of all-time (Barry Bonds be damned?)  Or on a more personal level, is it the stoic demeanor he displayed in the face of the bitter racism he faced during his daily assault on Babe Ruth’s career home run mark?

English: Milwaukee Braves outfielder and Hall ...

English: Milwaukee Braves outfielder and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron in a 1960 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some players are linked forever to one particular season:  Roger Maris in ’61 comes to mind.    Hamerin’ Hank was such a fine, consistent hitter that few people could even tell you which of his seasons was his best.  He won his only MVP award in 1957, but played well enough in several seasons to have won half a dozen more.

But it his home runs that have made him famous.

I was aware that although he broke Ruth’s career home run record, Aaron never reached the 50 homer plateau in any particular season.  That led me to ask the following question:  What was Hank Aaron’s best single-season home run total?

I also thought it might be interesting to compare his career high with some other notable sluggers, minus the obvious ones such as Ruth, Maris, McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds.

It turns out that Aaron’s single-season high for home runs didn’t occur until 1971, when Aaron was already 37-years old.  He slugged 47 that year, good for second place in the N.L. (Willie Stargell hit 48.)

But what struck me as remarkable about this total is that Aaron missed 22 games that year due to injuries.  In ’71, Aaron led the N.L. in slugging percentage (.669), OPS (1.079) and OPS+ (194!)

Here’s something else I thought was interesting about Aaron’s annual home run totals.  Look at his mean, median and mode numbers as far as home runs are concerned:

Mean – 37 (per 162 games)

Median – 36 (if you throw out his final season in which he played only 85 games.)

Mode – 44

So Aaron’s mean and median numbers are remarkably consistent, but he was more likely to hit exactly 44 homers in a season than any other particular number.  In the first three of those 44-home run seasons, by the way, Aaron led the league in home runs.

English: Hank Aaron, former US Baseball player...

English: Hank Aaron, former US Baseball player who set a new record of 755 homeruns, during a visit to the White House on August 15, 1978. Cropped from the source. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now take a look at the number of seasons Aaron reached a particular home run plateau:

40+ home run seasons:  8

30+ home run seasons: 7

20+ home run seasons: 5

Fewer than 20 in a season: 3

For the vast majority of players who have ever lived, to the extent that they could even be represented on a list such as this, you would probably find the opposite result: More 20-homer seasons, then fewer 30-homer years, fewer still 40-homer seasons, and perhaps a season or two reaching the 50 mark.

Here’s Willie Mays, for example:

50+ home run seasons:  2

40+ home run seasons:  4

30+ home runs seasons:  5

20+ home run seasons:  6

Fewer than 20 homers in a season:  4

While his top totals are higher than Aaron’s, his home run pyramid, if you will, is basically inverted; fewer seasons at each succeeding home run level.

Many players have hit more homers in a single season than Hank Aaron.  The list includes Dave Kingman, George Foster, Cecil Fielder, Brady Anderson, Greg Vaughn, Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green and many others.  Troy Glaus matched Aaron with a career high 47-home runs in the year 2000.

Yet for year-to-year home run consistency at the highest caliber, however, few players in history could match Hank Aaron’s annual efforts.

Keep in mind, too, that Aaron did not play in the best hitter’s era in baseball history, he had to play night games, which did not exist until 1935, and, unlike the sluggers in the pre-Jackie Robinson days, Aaron obviously played in an integrated league facing stiffer competition.

For each of these reasons, then, if you are asked what comes to mind when you hear the name Hank Aaron, and you should reply, ” Home Run King,” no one can reasonably assail your choice.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Roger Maris

This is the fourth installment of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”

What is the most famous number in baseball, if not all of sports?

The "M&M Boys," Mickey Mantle (right...

The “M&M Boys,” Mickey Mantle (right) and Roger Maris in the historic 1961 season. Photo from a 1961 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A strong case can be made that 61, the number of home runs Roger Maris hit during the 1961 season when he broke Babe Ruth’s record of 60 set in 1927, would be chosen by many.

It is doubtful that there are many baseball fans who aren’t aware of Roger Maris’ pre-McGwire / Sosa / Bonds record.  (Incidentally, it is often overlooked that Maris’ 61 home runs remains the record for A.L. hitters.)

I have my doubts, though, that very many fans, except Maris’ most adamant Hall of Fame supporters, know exactly how many home runs Maris hit during the totality of his 12-year Major League career, not to mention how many home runs he hit over his seven-year tenure in Yankee pinstripes.

This led me to the primary question I chose to research for this post, “How many home runs did Roger Maris hit during his career?”  I also decided to add an obvious follow-up, “How many home runs did Maris hit as a member of the New York Yankees?”

To begin with, Maris was just 26-years old when he hit his legendary 61 home runs.  Though mentally and physically drained by the ordeal, it wouldn’t have been out of the question that going into his age 27-season, if reasonably healthy, he could have expected to have approached perhaps 50 home runs, (at the very least, 40 home runs), in his follow-up season.

Outfielder Roger Maris during his time with th...

Outfielder Roger Maris during his time with the Cleveland Indians in a 1957 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After all, Ruth was already 32-years old when he slugged 60 homers in ’27, and he followed up that performance by swatting another 54 in 1928.

Maris, however, never reached as many as 40 homers either before or after the ’61 season.  In fact, the 39 home runs that Maris hit in 1960, his first of two consecutive MVP seasons, was the second most home runs he ever hit in one year.

Therefore, his 1962 season, during which he hit 33 home runs, must assuredly have been viewed as a major disappointment by Yankee fans, as well as by Maris himself.

Still, during the three-year period from 1960-62, Maris slugged an impressive 133 home runs.  By contrast, his teammate Mickey Mantle never hit more than 128 over a three-year period, (1956-58.)

But those 133 home runs represent fully 48% of all the homers Maris hit in his career.  Thus, nearly half of his total career value was compiled during just about one-quarter of his actual career.  In fact, as measured by WAR as well, Maris accumulated 17.4 WAR over that three-year stretch, exactly 48% of his 36.2 career WAR.

The answer, then, to my original question, “How many home runs did Roger Maris hit during his career?”  is that Maris hit 275 career home runs, good for 165th all-time, tied with Dean Palmer, Brian Downing, and a recently retired Yankee, Jorge Posada.

As for Maris’ tenure with the Yankees, he hit 203 of his career home runs as a member of the Bronx Bombers.  That total currently ranks 14th on the all-time Yankees home run list, two behind Dave Winfield, and one ahead of Bill Dickey.

Maris’ relatively brief 12-year career was largely defined by one memorable season.  But, Hall of Fame discussions aside, Maris’ legacy will probably outlast those of the vast majority of players in the Hall of Fame, regardless of where he ranks on any particular list of statistics.

50 Best Players Not in The Baseball Hall of Fame

Jeff Bagwell

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a nod to Graham Womack’s baseball blog, Baseball Past and Present. He is currently putting together a list, based on votes from his readers that he is tabulating, of the 50 best players not currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

This project also fits in well with my recent series, “Cleaning Up the Hall of Fame.” 

This is the list I submitted to him for consideration.  I chose not to include either Pete Rose or Shoeless Joe Jackson because everyone knows that both of them would already be in The Hall, if not for their alleged ethical / legal indiscretions.

The first five players on the list would receive my vote for the Hall of Fame.  Some of the other 45 players might ultimately get my vote as well, but I am undecided at this point.  After the first five, they are in no particular order.

1)  Jeff Bagwell
2)  Barry Larkin
3)  Alan Trammell
4)  Ron Santo
5)  Tim Raines
6)  Minnie Minoso
7)  Dale Murphy
8)  Reggie Smith
9)  Dave Parker
10) Gil Hodges
11) Dwight Evans
12) Lance Parrish
13) Al Oliver
14) Graig Nettles
15) Willie Randolph
16) Edgar Martinez
17) Ted Simmons
18)  Eric Davis
19)  Darryl Strawberry
20)  Lee Smith
21)  Sparky Lyle
22)  Dan Quisenberry
23)  Carl Furillo
24)  Jimmy Wynn
25)  J.R. Richard
26)  Boog Powell
27)  Larry Walker
28)  Rusty Staub
29)  Luis Tiant
30)  Thurman Munson
31)  Dick Allen
32)  Jack Clark
33)  Will Clark
34)  Don Mattingly
35)  Roger Maris
36)  Rocky Colavito
37)  Bobby Grich
38)  Tommy John
39)  Jim Kaat
40)  Tony Oliva
41)  Vada Pinson
42)  Bobby Murcer
43)  Fred McGriff
44)  Rick Reuschel
45)  Bobby Bonds
46)  Ron Guidry
47)  Keith Hernandez
48)  Ken Boyer
49)  Kevin Brown
50)  Wes Ferrell
There are, of course, many other players that could have been included on this list.  If I do this again next year, I am sure I will change my mind about certain players.
Who would you add or subtract?  I’m curious to know which of my choices you think are the worst, and which players you would have chosen instead.
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Ken Singleton, or Roger Maris?

Ken Singleton being honored at the 25th Annive...

Image via Wikipedia

As I’m just now returning to my old digs here at WordPress, I thought I would make this post relatively short, just to get back in the swing of things.

This is the time of year when the Veteran’s Committee takes yet another look at long-retired baseball players to decide if they merit selection to the Hall of Fame.  This time around, the committee is comprised of 16 members, and 12 of them must vote in the affirmative for a candidate to become elected to The Hall.

Inevitably, one issue that always comes up is longevity versus short-term greatness.   Some voters, and baseball fans in general, seem to prefer players who have had long and durable careers, and who compile mountains of counting stats as a result of their longevity.

Still other fans and pundits are partial to the players who burned bright for a few short years, but burned out quickly, as their preferred choice of Hall of Fame resume.  Thus, Don Sutton vs. Sandy Koufax.  Both are in The Hall, each of them representing one pole on opposite ends of the HOF spectrum.

I’ve recently compiled a list of the top 50 players who are not in the Hall of Fame, which I will share at a later date.  While compiling my list, I found myself stuck on which player to choose as the 50th and final player, Ken Singleton or Roger Maris.

Ken Singleton was an under-appreciated player who toiled for 15 years in the 1970’s and early ’80’s, playing for the Mets, the Orioles and the Expos.  His career OPS+ of 132 really jumped out at me.  Over the course of his career,  adjusting for his home ballparks and the era in which he played, he was 37% better than a league-average replacement level player.  That struck me as pretty impressive.  In fact, his career OPS+ is the same as Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn, Joe Morgan and Al Simmons.  Also, Singleton’s career offensive WAR of 46.6 is exactly the same as Kirby Puckett’s.

As for Roger Maris, well, you know pretty much all you need to know about him.  He has become synonymous with the average working stiff who gets screwed in the end.  A two-time MVP, Maris enjoyed three very fine seasons before retiring from baseball after his age 32 season.  He was a four-time All-Star, he won a Gold Glove, and he still holds the American League record for most home runs in a season.  But other than two excellent and a couple of other very good seasons, there is not much else to recommend him as a legitimate candidate for The Hall.

I wouldn’t argue that either Singleton or Maris belongs in The Hall, but if you had to pick one, which one would you choose, and why?  Do you prefer measured consistency over a long period of time, or, well, do you choose Roger Maris?

Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, ND

Image via Wikipedia

I go back and forth myself about this argument.  I’d like to hear your opinion.

Thanks for reading, and welcome back to the On Deck Circle.  It’s good to be home.

Bill

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