Thurman Munson V. Carlton Fisk: Using Modern Statistics Reveals Better Player

Harold FriendChief Writer IMay 19, 2012

NEW YORK - MAY 02:  The plaque of Thurman Munson is seen in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium prior to game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox on May 2, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the White Sox 12-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There is a difference between being a great baseball talent, being a great player and having a great career.

Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk were great baseball talents. Munson and Fisk were great players. Fisk had a better career than Munson did. As Helen Gamble of The Practice might say, "I wonder why."

Traditional statistics reveal little when comparing them, although Munson had a better batting average (.292 to .269) and a better on-base percentage (.346 to .341). Fisk's slugging average (.457) was superior to Munson's (.410).

Do you think that Munson's home park compared to Fisk's home parks was a factor?

Munson and Fisk each had Hall of Fame ability. Modern statistics shed new light on the careers of both catchers.

Munson's career WAR or WIns Above Replacement was 43.3 for his 10 full complete seasons. Fisk's career WAR was 63.7 for his 21 complete seasons. This is to be expected based on longevity.

Munson's WAR was 3.9 over an average season compared to Fisk's 2.7. It is a substantial difference that favors Munson and reveals his value.

Rbat or Runs Batting refers to the number of runs better or worse compared to average. Munson's average Rbat was 11 compared to Fisk's seven.

RAR or Runs Above Replacement is the number of runs a player is better than a replacement player. Munson's average RAR was 38. Fisk's average RAR was 25.

Turning to defense, Munson's fielding percentage was .982 compared to FIsk's .988.

Munson nabbed 44 percent of base-stealers compared to the league average of 38 percent while Fisk threw out 34 percent of potential stealers compared to the league average of 35 percent.

Munson's RF or range factor was 5.61 per nine innings. Fisk's was 6.00.

Munson was clearly as good as Fisk. Based on sabermetrics, he was probably better than Fisk. His problem was that his career was cut short.

Roy Campanella, like Munson, had his career cut short by a tragic accident. He has become terribly underrated with the passage of time, but to those who saw him play, he was every bit Yogi Berra's equal. Just ask Vin Scully.

Campanella played 10 seasons, batted .276/.360/.500. His WAR over an average season was 3.2. which is not as good as Munson's 3.9, but which is better than Fisk's 2.7.

A better defensive catcher than Campanella never played the game.

The point is that Munson's relatively brief career has resulted in his being underrated. Longevity might be more valuable than greatness, but longevity too often results in a player being overrated.

Munson was at least as good as Fiskโ€”and Gary Carter, Roger Bresnahan, Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell. It's upsetting that Munson will never be elected to the Hall of Fame.


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