Joe Posnanski tweeted a remarkable statistic that helps encapsulate the greatness of Albert Pujols:
A Christmas baseball thought: Albert Pujols has averaged .331, 43 doubles, 41 homers, 119 runs, 123 RBIs his first 10 years.
He then went on to explain:
Here’s the thing: Only nine players in baseball history have pulled off that Pujols average season even once in their careers.
Being on twitter, you get inundated with a bunch of crazy baseball stats, but this one about Pujols has really stuck with me. Maybe it’s because he’s a hometown player. Or maybe it’s because he might not be in STL after this year and stats like these might propel him into free agency where he’d have a decent shot at becoming the highest paid player in the history of the game (either by average annual value, length of contract, or both). Regardless, STL fans have been fortunate to witness one of the more transcendent 10-year-performances in baseball history.
Sure, there’s been other stats to show it. Jayson Stark declared Pujols the MVP of the “Double Zeros” after hitting for the decade triple crown (leading in AVG, HRs, and RBIs) in the aughts. Stark noted that Pujols also led in the more telling stat OPS+ over that time frame. To Derrick Goold’s credit, he was following the story before it even happened, but I couldn’t find any updates since Pujols had actually accomplished the feat (though I’m sure he wrote something).
In October, Disciples of Uecker‘s Jack Moore wrote an article at FanGraphs comparing the implications of Pujols’ upcoming free agency to the hoopla that surrounded LeBron James in the NBA. Jack included a graph that illustrates just how well Pujols measures up against some of the all-time greats (Ruth, Aaron, and Bonds). While Ruth is clearly superior, Pujols compares favorably to Bonds and has an age-WAR-path that’s almost identical to Hank Aaron.
This all brings us to Posnanski’s tweet about Pujols’ average season and how only nine players (including Pujols) have matched those numbers in any ONE season. Then contemplate how only twelve player-seasons in the history of the game have matched the offensive qualifications set by an average of Pujols’ first ten years in the league. Sit with that. The graph below illustrates each season with bars representing AVG, OBP, SLG, and wOBA.
Some observations/musings: Out of the twelve player-seasons, six belong to Babe Ruth, Todd Helton (!), and Albert Pujols himself. Three of these performances were by players employed within a pre-humidor Coors Field. Five of the seasons occurred within the live-ball era of the 1920′s.
How good was Babe Ruth? The only of the bunch to post an OPS above 1.300. Actually, only two players have ever posted an OPS greater than 1.300 with at least 500 PA: Ruth (1920, 1921, and 1923) and Bonds (2001, 2002, and 2004). Each did so three times. For reference, Pujols’ highest OPS to date has been 1.114 in 2008.
Sure, some of the stats mentioned by Posnanski are “traditional” ones (e.g. Runs and RBI’s) which can be distorted by the context in which a player is placed (e.g. lineup). But this doesn’t ruin it for me. In a league that features thirty teams with twenty-five man rosters, the 2011 MLB season will begin with 750 active players. Using Baseball-Reference‘s play index, there have only been 222 seasons that compare at or above Pujols’ career lows (32 HR’s, 33 2B’s, 99 R’s, and 103 RBI’s). And that’s not even including his career low .312 AVG which would eliminate seven of the first twenty-five results. Whether he wants to be or not, Pujols is “El Hombre” as far as Saint Louis is concerned.