Some Year-End Observations About Albert Pujols

by Chuck Mattingly, Baseball Evolution

October 15, 2005

 

In a previous article, it was asserted that Albert Pujols is one of the greatest young players of all time. Having recently finished his fifth year, his career average is firmly over .330, his career on base percentage is way over .400, and his career slugging 21 points over .600 he is off to a tremendous start. Let's look a little closer . . .

 

A Down Year

 

I am not sure if you realized it, but Pujols actually had a down season, by his own standards. He had 5 fewer home runs, 6 fewer RBIs, 1 fewer hit, 13 fewer doubles, and 4 fewer runs than last season, all in 7 more games. Additionally, he average slumped a point, and although his OBP went up 15 points, his SLG went down 48 points, meaning his OPS actually declined.

 

Going a little further, Albert set a career low for doubles this season with 38, the first time he has had fewer than 40. He failed to score 130 runs for the first time in 3 seasons, and his 117 RBIs was also a career low. Also, he tied his career low, from his rookie season, in total bases with 360. You're slippin' Al!

 

Consistency

 

This season, Albert played in 161 games, 7 more than last season and the same number as his rookie year. But, I bet you didn't realize that this was the fifth year (out of five) that Pujols has had either 590, 591, or 592 at-bats! Now that is consistent. Remarkably, he also had 195 hits this season, and in 5 seasons his hits totals have been 194, 185, 212, 196, 195! Also remarkably consistent.

 

Getting Better

 

One might wonder how he managed to have essentially the same number of at-bats this season despite his 7 more games played. The answer is that for the fourth year in a row, Albert increased his walks total. He drew 13 more this season than last, bringing his total up to 97. He has essentially flipped his walks and strikeouts as a rookie, he walked 69 times and k'ed 93 times. This season, he drew 97 walks and k'ed 65 times.

 

There is at least one indication for Albert's increased walk total this season he was intentionally walked 27 times, or 15 more than last season. Which means, technically, that when left to his own devices, he actually walked 2 fewer times than last season.

 

Double Plays

 

One element of Albert's game which has always been suspect has been the double play. Albert has been in the top ten in the league in GIDP four out of his five seasons. This season, Albert avoided getting to 20 double plays for the second time in his career, but just barely with 19. At the young age of 25, he would seem to be on pace to easily break Cal Ripken's record of 350. But he has plenty of time to get this element of his game under control.

 

Speed

 

For some odd reason, Pujols managed to steal 16 bases this season, and he only got caught twice. If Pujols is suddenly going to become a stolen base threat, that would be something . . .

 

Did you say 25?

 

That's right. The thing that impresses most about Albert Pujols has been, and still is, his age. For Cubs fans who have been watching Corey Patterson fester for 6 years now, it is unbelievable (and torturous) to see such a young player be capable of so much at such a young age. Patterson and Pujols are the same age, and Patterson has actually been in the league for a hair longer than Pujols (11 games in 2000), and yet Patterson continues to struggle to acquire even a cursory appreciation of the game that Pujols has absolutely mastered.

 

And of course, since Pujols is only 25, and I am simply incapable of not thinking in terms of "at this rate," let us have a look at what Pujols is on pace to accomplish by the age of 40, shall we?

 

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Through 2005

790

2954

629

982

227

11

201

621

401

344

0.332

0.416

0.621

1.037

Through 2020

3160

11816

2516

3928

908

44

804

2484

1604

1376

0.332

0.416

0.621

1.037

 

Now, I know what you are going to say "800 home runs and 2500 runs? That's not that impressive!"

 

Actually, I think the 900 doubles and 3900 hits are the real impressive stats on the list.

 

The Post-Season

 

Another impressive element to Pujol's early career is his trips to the post-season. The Cardinals have made it to the playoffs in 4 of his 5 years on the team, winning the NL Central three times and the wild card once. Outside of New York and Atlanta, this is really quite an accomplishment.

 

And, unlike Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, and a host of other players who come up short in the post-season, Pujols has shined in October. Last year, he hit .500 with a 1.000 SLG in the seven game NLCS against the Astros. Pujols has a career post-season AVG of .339, OBP of .441, and SLG of .636. This season, after two games of the NLCS, his numbers total .438 AVG, .571 OBP, and .750 SLG.

 

That is impressive.

 

The Future

 

In the first, second, and even third years of Pujols career, it was easy to tell yourself that he was "off to a great start," but that keeping up this pace would be difficult. After four years, Pujols was obviously a legitimate superstar, and here to stay. Nevertheless, the lessons of Chuck Klein, Ken Griffey, Jr., Ralph Kiner, Sandy Koufax, Jimmie Foxx, Frank Thomas, Hank Greenberg, Mickey Mantle, Mark McGwire, Joe DiMaggio, Don Mattingly, George Sisler, Addie Joss, Wade Boggs, and countless others made clear to us that even the best players can be sidetracked by wars, inflated offensive eras, nagging injuries, career threatening injuries, personalities, personal demons, or simply pre-mature declines in skills, and their careers will not pan out as greatly as their early years indicated.

 

Fact is, it is still too early to really put too much emphasis on what kind of pace Pujols is on, especially because of his age even after 5 years he will only be 26 next season. But, with each passing year, what lies ahead is lessened, and what has already taken place grows. Now that he has been in the league for five years, Pujols is definitely beginning to approach the point which I think is best currently characterized by Pedro Martinez.

 

It will very soon be safe to say of Pujols, "He has been so good up to this point, that no matter what happens now, he will always be considered no worse than the ___ player of all time."

 

When he does get to the point where we can say that, the number we put in the blank will be very high.