It’s one on one. Mano a mano. There can be only 1. It’s Stan Musial versus Albert Pujols. One is a legend from another time, and the other is a legend in his own time. There is no wrong answer (unless you pick Albert). Seriously, it’s time to really have a clash of the baseball titans, and the showdown is about to go down right here.
Best start to a career (first 11 seasons):
- Pujols – .328/.420/.617/1.037 with 1291 runs, 15 triples, 455 doubles, 445 home runs, 1329 rbi, and an OPS+ of 170.
- Musial – .347/.431/.584/1.015 with 1044 runs, 127 triples, 373 doubles, 206 home runs, 923 rbi, and an OPS+ of 172.
At first glance, I’m tempted to give Pujols the nod here. The rbi difference really is enough to allow me to discount the other differences. Then again, it might be useful to include an extra season for Musial, because he missed his age 24 season due to military service. Musial’s numbers above are actually his numbers accumulated over 10 seasons in 11 years. Tack on another year to get 11 seasons for an apples-to-apples comparison, and you get the following for Musial:
- Musial – .346/.431/.579/1.010 with 1149 runs, 133 triples, 415 doubles, 227 home runs, 1014 rbi, and an OPS+ of 172.
With the gap narrowed, I switch my vote back to Musial. It’s hard to compare players across eras, but Musial had a higher OPS+ and had about 700 fewer plate appearances than Pujols did. ADVANTAGE: Musial
How about a round based on WAR? Well, Musial’s peak WAR for a season was 11.5 in 1948. The best Pujols has done is 10.9 in 2003. Pujols has a total of 88.7 WAR which gives him an average of just over 8 for 11 seasons. Musial accumulated 127.8 WAR over 22 seasons, and his total after 11 seasons was 82.0 WAR. Depending on how you project Pujols to do for the next 10-11 seasons, he ends up right around the same total as Musial (give or take a WAR). I call this one a “push” for now, but I’d put my money on Musial to end with the higher total. Musial only had a negative WAR value for 1 season, and he missed part of that year due to injury. ADVANTAGE: Neither
Batting eye. Under the current conditions, Pujols is touted for having a great batting eye. He has walked 975 times and struck out only 704 times in 7433 regular season plate appearances. That’s really nice, but Musial walked 1599 times and struck out only 696 times in 12717 regular season plate appearances. Understand that the time are much different now, but it’s hard to imagine being much better at making the wooden thing contact the round stitched thing than Musial was. Maybe that explains why Musial never batted below .300 for a season until 1958 which was his age 38 season. Pujols fell just short of the mark in 2011 (age 31 season). ADVANTAGE: Musial.
Assessing each player in the context of the playoffs isn’t difficult, but comparing the two is. Musial played in an era when the playoffs consisted of the World Series. During his career, the Cardinals made 4 trips to the World Series, and they won 3 of them. In his 99 plate appearances, Musial hit .256/.347/.395/.742 with 9 runs, 1 hr, and 8 rbi. Pujols-led Cardinals went to 3 World Series and won 2 of them. In his playoff career, Pujols is a .330/.439/.607./1.046 hitter, but he only hit .240, .200, and .333 in 3 World Series (2011, 2006, and 2004 respectively). Thank in large part to a 3 homer game in the 2011 classic, the nod here goes to Pujols who had 8 rbi, 4 hr, and 12 runs in 71 WS plate appearances. ADVANTAGE: Pujols.
Defense is difficult to compare, because Musial played the outfield for most of his career. Statistical analysis for the time Musial spent at 1B is very limited, so it isn’t like a simple UZR comparison can be made. However, I’m willing to rely on what I’ve read over the years. Musial was an above average defender at pretty much any position in the outfield and at 1B as well. Pujols has been much, much better than “above average” at the two corner infield positions. ADVANTAGE: Pujols.
For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 2-2-1. However, I find it offensive that there could be a tie in baseball, so there must be a tiebreaker of some kind.
Why not double plays grounded into? Musial only grounded into 243 double plays for his entire career. Pujols? He’s already at 232 and counting after 11 seasons, and he had led the league twice in that category already (2007 & 2011). Of course, you all probably knew how that would turn out. The real tiebreaker for me is about preference. If you were about to step out onto a certain field in Iowa in the middle of corn fields and play a game with the best lineup ever, which one would you select for your team first?
The Man or The Mang?
TIDBIT: I believe that the correct answer here is Bob Gibson.
Follow gr33nazn on Twitter, and let me know who you would choose between The Man and The Mang!