The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Albert Pujols: A tale of two decades

Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols will play in his 20th major-league season this year, assuming there will indeed be a season without further interruption. Whether he plays this season or not, the 40-year-old Pujols has already logged one the best careers ever. It’s a certainty he’ll be elected to the Hall of Fame, having already passed lofty career milestones such as 3,000 hits, 600 home runs, 2,000 RBIs, and 1,300 extra-base hits. Only Hank Aaron has surpassed those numbers. Not Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, nor Ted Williams. Not any other Hall of Famer.


Pujols broke into the majors with St. Louis in 2001, winning the Rookie of the Year Award. It turned out he wasn’t one of those “flash in the pan” rookie players that occasionally show up in the big leagues. His first decade put him in the same class as former Yankees great Lou Gehrig, who is generally regarded as the best first baseman ever to suit up.


Yet Pujols’ career hasn’t always been a bed of roses. After setting the baseball world on fire during his first ten seasons, his last nine have been pretty darn good, too, but not representative of Hall of Fame caliber by themselves. The dichotomy is largely attributable to Pujol’s nagging injuries, especially the plantar fasciitis condition that plagued him in the second half of his career.


Let’s do a deep dive on Pujols’s first ten years and look at a statistical comparison of Pujols and Gehrig, normalizing their ten-best seasons using 162-game averages, as well as a comparison of their league dominance in their respective eras.


Between 2001-2010 (his first ten seasons), Pujols’s 162-game average (per Baseball-Reference.com) consisted of 43 HR, 128 RBIs, 198 hits, and a slash line of .331/.426/.624. Among his nine Top 5 finishes for the MVP Award, he won in three seasons and finished second in four additional seasons.


In Gehrig’s first ten seasons as the Yankees’ full-time first baseman (1926-1935), his 162-game average consisted of 38 HR, 157 RBIs, 210 hits, .346/.452/.645. He had seven Top 5 MVP Award seasons, winning in two and finishing second in two.


Of course, part of Gehrig’s greatness is attributed to having played on perhaps the greatest dynasty teams in history. Over the course of his 17-year career, the Yankees won six of seven World Series in which he played. Pujols’ Cardinals teams won two of three World Series.


Pujols’ next nine seasons (2011 throughs 2019) weren’t nearly as dominating as his first ten, although most major-league players would have been satisfied with them. His 162-game average consisted of 32 HR, 109 RBIs, 167 hits, and a slash line of .263/.320/.461. His power numbers were still impressive, but he had a significant drop-off in batting average and on-base percentage. He had only one All-Star season and only one Top 5 season in MVP voting. If his entire career were comprised of these types of numbers, he would have trouble getting Hall of Fame honors.


St. Louis Cardinals fans were shocked when the team didn’t re-sign Pujols after the 2011 season. Despite Pujols’ role in their winning seasons and his immense popularity in St. Louis, the Cards made a purely business decision not to shell out the huge dollars and long contract term it would take to retain him. The Los Angeles Angels, however, decided to step up and ink Pujols to a free-agent deal worth $270 million over 11 years. In retrospect, based on Pujols’ results in the last nine seasons, the Cardinals are b probably glad they made the decision they did, while the Angels are probably regretting theirs.


Because of the negative perception of Pujols from his last few years (overpaid for what he produced), we sometimes forget just how good he was during his first decade. His teammate Mike Trout has been putting up similar results in his nine major-league seasons, and we’re now labeling him one of the best players ever. I remember saying the same thing about Pujols.

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