January 17, 2019

4,050 Reasons to Appreciate Rusty Staub

4,050 Reasons to Appreciate Rusty Staub

The problem, of course, is that Staub got so much of his on-base production through walks rather than hits. He finished his career with a good-but-not-great 2,716 hits, and a truly spectacular 1,255 walks. Those totals propelled him to a .362 career on-base percentage, which when combined with his .431 slugging percentage, and adjusted for his home parks and era, made him 24 percent better than the average batter for the duration of his career. Only 19 batters in major league history finished their careers with as many at-bats as Staub (9,720) and an adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage higher than his (124).

But Staub gets overlooked by plenty of people because for the majority of fans a hit will always trump a walk, or even several walks. It was this concept that led to the sabermetrics world coming up with a theoretical conversion to provide context on a player who derives so much value from walks. Popularized by Joe Posnanski, among others, the concept is to trade 500 of a player’s walks for an additional 325 singles to see if that makes you view them in a different light. It is a slightly inexact application of Pete Palmer’s concept of linear weights, which is a process of assigning point values to various statistics so they can be properly compared.

If you execute that trade for Staub you are left with a popular player who finished his career with 3,041 hits and 755 walks. As just about anyone with a passing interest in baseball statistics can tell you, the only members of the 3,000-hit club that reached Hall of Fame eligibility without being inducted are Rose and Palmeiro. It is not a stretch to think that if Staub had finished with those totals — keep in mind, this trade would result in his having reached base 175 fewer times — he would have sailed into the Hall, especially considering he would have been just the 16th or 17th player to reach 3,000 hits depending on how things shook out between him and Rod Carew.

In fairness to the voters who went against him, Staub is an exceptional case and by almost every accepted measure he is rightly excluded from the Hall. Jay Jaffe’s useful career evaluation tool, known as JAWS or Jaffe Adjusted Win Shares, pegs Staub as the 35th best right fielder in major league history. There are some players ranked below him that managed to make it to Cooperstown, but there are plenty ahead of him who did not.

But Staub, at the very least, was a curiosity deserving of far more notoriety than he was afforded during and after his career. A remarkably durable player who hit his first home run at 19 and his last at 41, Staub did not look much like an elite athlete, but he managed to turn a fairly brief stint as one of the game’s true stars into an extended career as a guy who simply knew how to get on base. And while the general public may not have appreciated just how gifted he was in that all-important skill, a survey of fans of the Montreal Expos and the Mets would reveal that many of the people who saw him the most knew just how important he was.

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