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Pujols' Historic Decline Revisited


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In another thread there was some conversation about Albert Pujols' decline, and whether or not (or to what degree) it is historic, with names like Miguel Cabrera and Mo Vaughn cited. While this has been discussed to death, I thought I'd actually check out the stats. I've done this before, but not for a year or two, so consider this a bit of an update.

There are several ways to do this. Albert is a first baseman, which means his primary value is as a hitter - moreso than, say, a shortstop or centerfielder (as a general rule). So it may be that an offense-only stat like wRC+ is more meaningful than WAR.

So let's take a look at wRC+. First of all, here is a list of the top 30 hitters through age 31 via wRC+. Why age 31? That was Pujols' last year (2011) as a Cardinal, and also represents the down-turn in his career. 2010 was his last truly great year but at the time, 2011 looked like an off year rather than what it turned out to be: the beginning of his decline (technically 2010 was down from 2009, but he was so good in both years that it is hard to see it as decline).

As you can hopefully see (assuming the link works), Pujols has a wRC+ of 167 through age 31 which is good for #10, right between Johnny Mize and Frank Thomas (interestingly enough, neither Mize nor Thomas aged well). In other words, through age 31, Pujols was the 10th best hitter in major league history (Trout at 172 is 8th).

We all know he's been comparatively bad since then, but how bad? Well, from age 32 on, Pujols has a wRC+ of 110 - which is above average. In major league history  that is 380th all time. Similar players from 32 on include Yunel Escobar, Adam LaRoche, and Cecil Cooper.

To put that another way:

Through age 31: Pujols was one of the best hitters ever, comparable to Hall of Famers Johnny Mize and Frank Thomas through the same age.

From age 32 on: Pujols was an above average hitter, comparable to solid hitters like Yunel Escobar, Adam LaRoche, and Cecil Cooper.

OK, not so good but at least he's been above average as a hitter, right? What about other greats?

Going back to the original top 30 in wRC+ through age 31, here is that same list but from age 32 on. You might notice that there are only 27 players; this is because three of the original list either never (Joe Jackson) or has not yet (Mike Trout, Aaron Judge) played at age 32 and older.

If you either refuse to look at the link or it isn't working, the main takeway is that Albert Pujols is #27 of 27. In other words, of the 30 best hitters through age 31, Albert has been the worst from age 32 on. And it isn't super close. #26 is Mike Piazza at 120. 

So what about Mo Vaughn and Miguel Cabrera? Well, of the two only Miggy is truly comparable to Pujols. He didn't quite make that top 30 hitters through age 31, but wasn't far behind at #33 with a 152 wRC+. Vaughn, while a very good hitter, is in another category: his 134 wRC+ through age 31 is 163rd all-time.

But for comparison's sake, where Pujols had a 167 wRC+, Cabrera 152 and Vaughn 134 through age 31, from age 32 they were at 110, 137, and 112, respectively. In other words, Cabrera has been a lot better (so far, at least), while Vaughn was similar or a hair better. So Vaughn is a good comp...for how they both hit from age 32, but obviously Albert was far, far greater earlier on.

Looking at WAR instead of wRC+, the results are very similar, with a slightly different group of players. No need to make this longer than it needs to be.

Conclusion

Albert Pujols' decline is historical. It is the worst decline among the 27 best hitters in major league history through age 31 - and significantly worse than everyone else. Through age 31, he was similar to Frank Thomas, who early in his career Bill James put in a trio with Babe Ruth and Ted Williams as the "three greatest hitters God ever made" (to paraphrase from memory of one of his publications from the mid-90s). Thomas didn't age all that well, but much better than Pujols: his wRC+ from age 32 on was 136.

Part of the problem is longevity: Albert is continuing to play as a below average player, years after he would have normally retired. In each of the last two years he was arguably the worst player in baseball, or at least second worst after Chris Davis. Davis and Pujols share long guaranteed contracts, which is the only reason they still have major league jobs.

 

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This is why maybe it's best to only give your own players those real long term/real big money contracts?

You know your own players like the back of your hand, but bringing in a player from elsewhere, you haven't yet learned their everyday habits and how their bodies work.

How many true superstar FAs since 1976 have signed with another team, and truly at least approached being worth their contract?   There aren't many. 

St. Louis understood something, and that's why they didn't go as high as the Halos did.    You got punked, Arte and Dumbpoto!   At least Arte appears to have learned his lesson, after that debacle and the Hackilton debacle.

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4 minutes ago, TroutBaseball said:

There's one problem with your analysis; he's probably 2 years older than what's officially listed.  Run the numbers again assuming a different age and those age 32 and 33 years are better than you thought.

 

Except he isn’t.  

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I know people like me keep saying this.  But there’s no reason to hold this against Pujols.  Why would he walk ? It’s a shit load of money.  The Angels should have put an end to this farce. But they’re not.  So, the team suffers.  Just about any generic league average player would be better out there on any given day.  

Obviously the Angels still think there is some value in running him out there, even if it’s not actual on the field value.  You see them still advertise him like something worth coming out to see.  I guess maybe some fans appreciate it. 

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3 minutes ago, UndertheHalo said:

I know people like me keep saying this.  But there’s no reason to hold this against Pujols.  Why would he walk ? It’s a shit load of money.  The Angels should have put an end to this farce. But they’re not.  So, the team suffers.  Just about any generic league average player would be better out there on any given day.  

Obviously the Angels still think there is some value in running him out there, even if it’s not actual on the field value.  You see them still advertise him like something worth coming out to see.  I guess maybe some fans appreciate it. 

Pretty much.

His total WAR (Baseball Reference) for the past three seasons is ZERO. 

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2 hours ago, hangin n wangin said:

Geezus...if he even makes it to year three, he's going to be shitting himself on the way to first base.

Probably will have no effect on his speed.

I thought it was a good signing at the time.  I was looking forward to watching Albert dominant. 

What an idiot.

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2 hours ago, TroutBaseball said:

There's one problem with your analysis; he's probably 2 years older than what's officially listed.  Run the numbers again assuming a different age and those age 32 and 33 years are better than you thought.

 

I actually did (using his "age 32" and beyond wRC+ of 110) and it isn't that much different. IIRC there are two or three guys below him, but he's still at or near the very bottom. 

I actually did the top 60 guys in age <32 wRC+ and came up with 52 guys who played age 34 or later. Pujols' "age 32+" wRC+ of 110 would be 41st out of 52, tied with Eddie Mathews. All of the guys below him have less PA, most of them much fewer. Meaning, they were winding down. As I said at the end of the OP, part of the reason Albert has been so bad is because the Angels have let him be so bad by playing him more than they should have. I think he was decent enough through 2016 to hold a regular job, but he should have been benched sometime in 2017.

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2 hours ago, UndertheHalo said:

I know people like me keep saying this.  But there’s no reason to hold this against Pujols.  Why would he walk ? It’s a shit load of money.  The Angels should have put an end to this farce. But they’re not.  So, the team suffers.  Just about any generic league average player would be better out there on any given day.  

Obviously the Angels still think there is some value in running him out there, even if it’s not actual on the field value.  You see them still advertise him like something worth coming out to see.  I guess maybe some fans appreciate it. 

Here's the part I hold against Albert.  

His approach. 

He didn't have to turn into a guy that gets on base less than 30% of the time.  What's the point of him not striking out?  so he can hit the occasional hr in between the dozen batted ball outs that he makes?  The guy had an incredible awareness of the strike zone.  

At some point he chose more hrs for more obp.  I think that was a terrible choice.  He could have been walking close to 90 times per year.  Probably striking out more.  In sacrificing those 30+ walks per year, he probably added 3-4 hrs.  That's not a good exchange.  

Because of that, he stopped being dangerous.  Pitchers stopped being afraid of him knowing that he'd swing at just about anything and they stopped throwing him strikes which compounded his decline.  

Not sure if it was his own doing or what he felt the team was asking of him to be a 'run producer'.  A misnomer in every sense of the word.  Being a 'run producer' isn't just about driving a guy in.  It includes scoring runs and getting on base on top of that.  

So yes.  Some of it is Albert's fault.  

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9 hours ago, Dochalo said:

He wouldn't have to.  He could retire with a buyout.  Halos would pay him the full amount deferred to get him off the books.  

I am not sure how this works.  Are you saying defer the money?

The last thing I want to do is extend this crap sandwich any longer.

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