Play Index: Stan Musial per 600 plate appearances edition
- January 16, 2018 - Alex Crisafulli -
By the time Stan Musial's nearly incomparable career came to end, he had compiled 3,630 total hits, with 725 doubles, 177 triples, and 475 home runs among them. He's still the only player to hit at least 450 home runs, 700 doubles, and 150 triples. I don't have to tell you that 475 home runs is a lot, and had Musial not missed the entire 1945 season due to military service, he may have retired as only the fifth player all-time to reach the 500 mark (Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, and Mel Ott were the others at the time).
We don't keep milestones for the double and triple in our memory bank quite like we do the homer, so you're forgiven if you lack proper context for what 725 doubles and 177 triples actually means, but, per above, both numbers are impressive. As it currently stands, Musial still ranks third and tied for 19th all-time in doubles and triples, respectively. Add in all of those home runs, sprinkle in enough singles to tie for 19th on the all-time leaderboard, and nearly 55 years after his retirement Musial trails only Hank Aaron in total bases. Pretty remarkable.
Musial spread all of those hits out over 12,718 plate appearances. Averaging his stats on a per 600 plate appearances scale - to get an idea of what Musial's career would look like if whittled down to one season - and you wind up with approximately 171 hits, 34 doubles, eight triples, and 22 home runs (also 92 runs and 92 RBIs, if interested).
Curious, I turned to Baseball Reference's Play Index to see how often a player in a single recent season has been able to equal or better Musial's career hit stats per 600 plate appearances. To put it another way, here's how many players over the last ten seasons have had at least 171 hits, 34 doubles, eight triples, and 22 home runs in a single year:
According to the Play Index, there have been 1,461 seasons of a player qualifying for a batting title since 2008 and only five players were able to equal or better Musial across the board. And remember: That's what Musial averaged for his entire career.
Of course, Musial's propensity to hit triples is the true gatekeeper here. Players just aren't legging it out to third quite like they used to, something I touched on in one of my earlier posts here at Birds on the Black. Fair enough. So let's shift to Musial's career slash line and OPS+ (.331/.417/.559; 159 OPS+), and do a similar search from above for players who qualified for a batting title. As you see, the list is nearly as exclusive:
The Play Index is a wonderful tool because it's a vast well of data, and, for the purpose of posts like these, allows for some convenient cherry picking. Musial excelled at hitting for average, getting on base, and slugging, so of course it's going to be hard to find many seasons in which a player bested him in each category. But again, this is measured against Musial's entire career. Having that slash line for one season is typically MVP-worthy. Doing it over the course of the eighth most plate appearances in the history of the game is stuff reserved for the very top percent of Hall of Famers.
During Musial's final at-bat in the major leagues, in which he got a hit, then-Cardinal announcer Harry Caray had this to say:
“Take a good look, fans, take a good look … This might be the last time at bat in the major leagues … Remember the stance … and the swing ... You’re not likely to see his likes again.”
Caray was dead-on with his final comment. We don't see players like Musial any more. It's why his career numbers have endured over time. Singles, doubles, triples, home runs - he truly did it all.
Final thought, I wanted to write about Musial because this Friday will mark five years since his passing. Bob Costas delivered the eulogy at his funeral, which, if you're reading this you've probably seen it. Even though I obviously never saw Musial play, and I might be the only person alive without his autograph, Costas captured the image I always had in my head of the Man. It's something I re-watch every year just before the season is about to begin, but I'm going to skip ahead and watch it now. Feel free to do the same.