Thursday, December 8, 2022


As you'll see, the 50s are really Stan Musial's decade from the standpoint of first-half performance; Stan the Man is the only player who shows up in each of our inter-decade breakouts. (Of course, Ted Williams was in Korea for a couple of years, and Stan's rankings in the Top 300 are down the list, but no one else provides such a consistent level of top-notch performance. Let's get to it...)

Williams' injury-plagued 1950 season could have resulted in his highest seasonal HR total based on his hot start, but it was not to be. HR totals for first-half high-flyers remained relatively low in this time frame, with '52 being a pitcher's year. 1953's uptick didn't really kick in until the second half of that season; as a consequence, there were no first-half performances that made it into the Top 300.

In '54, the homers have definitely become more profuse; we can see it in Willie Mays' 31 first-half HRs, with Musial right on his heels. Note the 20-year old Al Kaline getting off to a blistering start for the Tigers in '55; he's accompanied in the 1954-55 time frame by young superstars (Mays and Mickey Mantle, both 23; Eddie Mathews, 24). These guys will all hang around for a long, long time...

Mantle's two monster starts (with '57 ranking in the Top 10 according to OPS+) fueled what proved to be two of the best seasons in his somewhat star-crossed career. We pick up an outlier in Charlie Maxwell, a first-half superstar over the first half of 1956, and we get our first glimpse at Hank Aaron. As always, what separates Williams from Musial is the former's more pronounced propensity for drawing the base on balls.

'58 brought something of a downturn in offense (for example Ted Williams led the AL with a .328 BA after hitting .388 the year before). Teddy B. doesn't show up here in either '58 or '59 (he and Musial finally proved that they were human in the latter year). But Stan the Man was still firing on all cylinders in '58, and Jackie Jensen finally showed what his career might have been like if he'd been in a favorable ballpark and had set aside the internal doubts that always seemed to plague him. And then there was 25-year-old Hank Aaron, blossoming into the best hitter in the NL in 1959...

Counting up the categories, we see no .400+ BAs in the 50s, with just eight .350+ BAs out of the 22 hitters in the decade who cracked the Top 300. 14 of the 22 hit 20+ HRs in their respective first halves (including one 30+ HR slice, from Mays in '54). There was only one .500+ OBP, and it was Mantle (in '57), not Williams. There were only seven .450+ OBPs, and just four .700+ SLG first halves (there were 10 .650+ SLGs, however). Only four of these seasons cracked the Top 100 (Mantle twice, Williams and Snider once each).