I think that Pete Rose
is probably the most controversial player in major-league baseball history. The controversy over Pete Rose is primarily related to his off-field activities, which I have no interest in getting into here. But, partly because of how these off-field activities have colored perceptions of Pete Rose and partly because of the last few seasons of his career, there is some controversy about exactly how good a baseball player Pete Rose was.
In the baseball circles that I tend to hang out in on the Internet (e.g., here
), there is at least a sub-set of baseball fans for whom Pete Rose has become "so over-rated that he's under-rated". As push-back against the perceived view that Pete Rose was an all-time great hitter (which, to be honest, is a view that I haven't really seen), a school of thought has emerged that Pete Rose was nothing but a singles hitter whose only claim to fame was an exceptionally long career, much of which came long after Rose stopped being an actual major-league caliber hitter (this thread
gives a nice sense of sabermetric perceptions of Pete Rose).
The purpose of this article is to look - hopefully fairly dispassionately - at exactly how valuable Pete Rose's major-league career was, as measured by Player won-lost records.
The first table below presents Pete Rose's
career as measured by Player won-lost records.
Basic Player Won-Lost Records
| ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ |
|CAREER (reg. season)|| || |
| || || || ------ || ------ || ------ || || || || ------ || ------ || || || |
|PostSeason (career)|| || |
|9.3||6.7||0.583|| ||1.7||9.2||7.5||0.550|| ||1.2|
| || || || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || || ------ |
|COMBINED|| || |
Pete Rose: Career Compiler
When evaluating Pete Rose's career statistics, the numbers that jump off of the page are the career counting stats. Pete Rose holds career major-league records for games played, plate appearances, at bats, hits, singles, times on base, and outs made. He is second in major-league history in career doubles and sixth in runs scored.
Pete Rose's career Player won-lost totals are similarly impressive. He ranks 4th
in career pWins for players for whom I have calculated Player won-lost records, and 1st
in career pLosses. In context-neutral records, Rose ranks 4th
in career eWins and 2nd
in career eLosses.
The question, however, becomes how valuable is it to make more outs than any player in major-league history or compile more pLosses than any player in at least the past 70 years? Pete Rose reached base more often than any player in major-league history, but he also failed to reach base more often than any player in major-league history. His career on-base percentage ranks 211th in major-league history, according to Baseball-Reference
The conventional way by which sabermetricians balance quality against quantity is to compare players against either average or replacement level
. Pete Rose's career record compared to average (pWOPA, eWOPA) is good, but not great, in large part because it is dragged down by the fact that Pete Rose played 894 games in the the 1980s over which he was generally a below-average player. Compared to replacement level, however, his performance in 1980s, while not exactly what you'd call "good", was at least not (generally) an outright negative.
Overall, among players for whom I have calculated Player won-lost records, Pete Rose ranks 67th
in career pWins over replacement level (pWORL) and 107th
in career eWORL. Based solely on this measure, then, Rose would rank as perhaps one of the top 30 or so baseball players of the past 70 years. That sounds pretty good.
Pete Rose's Peak/Prime
The most recent image of Pete Rose on a baseball field was as a weak-hitting first baseman player-manager in pursuit of the hits record. Rose played for so long and so far past his prime that it's easy to forget that he even had a prime. But he did have a prime that was both very good and very long.
Looking at Pete Rose's career in the first table in this article, it's hard to identify a "peak", although that's because he scattered his best seasons throughout his career. Pete Rose's best seasons - 1965
, and 1975
- saw him earn between 1.9 and 2.2 pWOPA and between 3.4 and 3.8 pWORL. To give an idea of what kind of seasons those are, the next table shows seasons where a player earned 1.9 - 2.2 pWOPA and 3.4 - 3.8 pWORL in a single season over the past two seasons.
Those are strong seasons that will typically generate MVP votes depending on how other players happened to do that season. On the other hand, it's not a Sandy Koufax
level peak or even, to pick a non-Hall-of-Famer, an Al Rosen
But what Pete Rose did have was an excellent prime: a stretch of 12-15 seasons where Rose was consistently and reliably above average, often quite a bit above.
Pinpointing an exact prime (or peak) is a pretty subjective exercise. Eyeballing Pete Rose's career in the first table of this article, I would call his prime 1964 - 1976. This excludes a few years at either end where Rose was at least an average major-league baseball player but includes all of his peak years.
The next table shows the top 20 players in pWins over replacement level over these twelve seasons: 1964 - 1976.
Everybody ahead of Rose in the above table is in the Hall of Fame, as are 7 of the 10 players below Rose, several of whose primes fell almost entirely within these years.
Pete Rose's Rank on the Big Red Machine
The Big Red Machine was one of the most dominant teams ever. From 1970 through 1976, the Reds won 5 NL West titles, 4 National League pennants, and two World Championships. The Reds were awash in talented players. From 1970 through 1977, the Cincinnati Reds had 40 players named to the NL All-Star team (including Rose all 8 seasons), including 24 elected starters (including Rose four times at three positions), and won 6 National League MVP awards (one by Rose, in 1973). Three regulars on those Reds teams have been elected to the Hall of Fame (not including Rose, of course).
So, how big a cog was Pete Rose in the Big Red Machine? The next table shows where Pete Rose ranked among Cincinnati Reds in pWORL by season.
Always one of the best, but never the best. One interesting thing there: Rose's rank on the Reds seems to correlate with how good the Reds were: e.g., their best regular-season record was in 1975
, while the Big Red Machine was definitely on its last legs by 1977
as Rose passed his prime.
From 1970 - 1976, the Reds made the playoffs 5 times in 7 seasons. Here are the top ten players in total pWORL for the Reds over these seven seasons.
So, as I think most people probably expected, Pete Rose was the 3rd-most valuable member of the Big Red Machine. Keep in mind that the two guys ahead of him are on the short list of candidates for the best second baseman in major-league history and best catcher in major-league history and both of them were in their primes in the 1970s. When that's your competition, there's really no shame in coming in third (and Rose did finish ahead of a Hall-of-Famer
whose prime very nearly overlapped exactly with this time period).
Pete Rose's Postseason Record
Going back to the first table in this article, Pete Rose's player winning percentage was quite a bit better in the postseason (0.583) than in the regular season (0.526). Obviously, Rose's postseason record was compiled over a much smaller sample period. But he did appear in the postseason in eight different seasons and played in 67 postseason games.
Pete Rose played his entire postseason career in the two-division era where there were two rounds of playoffs, League Championship Series and World Series (except for 1981
which had a weird extra round of playoffs because of the strike). Here are the top 10 players in postseason pWins over replacement level during this time period, 1969 - 1993.
As with so much of Rose's record, a lot of this is quantity - 67 career postseason games is a lot - but, again, as with most of Rose's record, there's also an underlying quality that makes that quantity valuable. Reggie Jackson
, for example, who famously earned the nickname "Mr. October" for his postseason performance, played in 10 more postseason games than Rose and yet lands below him on the above table. Pete Rose was a heckuva postseason performer in his career.
Pete Rose's Fielding Versatility
Pete Rose played more games at first base in his career (939) than at any other position (left field was second with 652 games). Yet, when Pete Rose got his 3,000th hit in 1978 at the age of 37, he had played 1 career game at first base.
In his prime, Pete Rose played wherever the Reds needed him: second base (628 career games), right field (589 career games), left field (673 career games), third base (634 career games), even a little center field when he was younger (73 career games, the last in 1971 at age 30).
Because he moved around the diamond so much, it's hard to get a feel for exactly how to evaluate Rose. When you start ranking players by position, if you focus only on what a player did at that particular position, Pete Rose isn't going to end up being ranked anywhere, because he didn't play anywhere long enough. If you rank players based on the totality of their careers but stick them at one position (as, for example, Bill James
did in The New Bill James Historical Abstract
), where do you put Rose? He played more games at first base than anywhere, but was an old man well past his prime when he did so. For his 13-season prime (1964 - 1976), he spent 3+ seasons at second base (plus the year before), 4 seasons apiece in left and right field (with about a half-season of center field interspersed), and then two seasons (plus the two immediately thereafter) at third base. What if Rose had come up as a third baseman and just stayed there for his entire career (at least through 1978)? Would that change his value, our perception of him, his historical ranking?
To start looking at Pete Rose's fielding versatility, the next table presents his career (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) fielding won-lost record by position. All fielding positions are evaluated relative to themselves, so an average first baseman will have a .500 (fielding) winning percentage at first base and an average center fielder will have a .500 (fielding) winning percentage in center field.
|Pete Rose's Fielding Won-Lost Records (career)
For his career, Rose rates as a pretty average fielder. Of course, he played until he was 45 years old and, generally speaking, 45 year-olds tend not to be particularly good fielders - and Rose was no exception. In fact, this explains the apparent anomaly that Pete Rose was actually a worse fielding first baseman than at any other position which he played regularly - he didn't start playing first base until he was (well) past his fielding prime.
If player value is being measured by wins over either positional average
(WOPA) or replacement level
(WORL), the value of a player's fielding is the extent to which a player's fielding winning percentage differs from positional average or replacement level. As a player moves to less demanding defensive positions (e.g., 1B, LF), a player needs to be better defensively (or better offensively) to match value at more demanding fielding positions (e.g., 2B, 3B). The next table shows Pete Rose's (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) fielding wins over positional average and replacement level by season.
Relative to positional average, Pete Rose was probably a better defensive infielder than outfielder. His fielding was above positional average during his time at second base (1963 - 1966) and his first three years at third base (1975 - 1977). His fielding took a noticeable hit relative to positional average, however, when he moved to left field in 1967, although (not terribly surprisingly for a converted infielder) his outfield defense seemed to get better over time, especially starting in 1971.
Keeping that in mind, Pete Rose appears to have followed a fairly smooth aging pattern in his fielding. Relative to replacement level, Rose's fielding value peaked in 1966 at age 26 and then gradually tapered off (with a dip in 1967 when he shifted to the outfield) through 1980 (age 39) or so before zeroing out for the last 5-6 years of Rose's career. This is pretty much pure speculation, but I suspect that if Pete Rose had been a third baseman his entire career, he would have been a solidly above-average fielder for most of his career and would likely have ended up somewhat more valuable in his career as measured by WOPA or WORL. To determine whether Rose would have been more valuable to the Reds, though, would require a more careful analysis of the specific players who played for the Reds: what would the Reds have done with Tony Perez
if Pete Rose was their third baseman and who would have played the outfield instead of Rose? Given how good the Big Red Machine was from 1970 - 1976, it's hard to be very critical of their player deployment strategies, although the Big Red Machine did have its only two 100-win seasons and win its only two World Series with Rose at third base.
So exactly how valuable was Pete Rose defensively? The next table shows players with similar career fielding wins over replacement level to Pete Rose.
So there you have it: Pete Rose's career as measured by Player won-lost records. I think that when you strip away the controversy and just look at the stats, it's a fascinating career.
All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.
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