Albert Pujols should be a first ballot Hall of Famer, even if you only consider his time with the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols posted an 83 WAR (FanGraphs) from 2001 to 2011 in the “Gateway to the West”, winning three MVP awards and earning nine All-Star appearances in those 11 seasons. He parlayed that success into a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels prior to the 2012 season.
Since joining the Angels, the Pujols that you grew to love (or hate) has played in just 253 games, compiling a .275/.338/.485 triple-slash with 47 home runs and 169 RBI, while amassing a 4.4 WAR over the last two seasons. “Prince Albert” certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations, but the partial tear of his left plantar fascia played a major role in his sudden decline in 2013, as his 30 home runs and 105 RBI in 2012 can’t truly be considered a failure – unless your own expectations could have been judged in the same way.
Bob Nightengale posted a piece at USA Today which detailed a response that Pujols had to an interesting question:
Are you motivated to put up the same numbers as Mike Trout?
Pujols’ response was intriguing, to say the least:
“Can you imagine someone saying that to me? I felt like saying, ‘Come on, are you serious? Are you really asking me that? Check out my numbers. I know what Mike Trout has done in his first two years is pretty special, but will you look at my numbers. I’ve been doing this for almost 14 years. The only guy in baseball who can match the numbers I’ve put up is Barry Bonds, and someone is actually asking if I can put up numbers like Mike Trout? Are you freaking kidding me?”
We do seem to forget greatness rather quickly in our society, which lives in the now thanks in large part to social media and a non-existent attention span; however, does Pujols have a point?
You could argue that what Pujols has done – nearly 500 home runs and a little over 2,300 hits – will reach numbers that guarantee a legacy and enshrinement into Cooperstown. If he continues to stay clean, which has been an argument from some in the past, that seems to be a lock, but, as we all know, one wrong move, one wrong vitamin, and one wrong trust in a trainer could leave Pujols waiting on steps of the museum with Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, and others.
Let’s just say that Pujols remains the clean producer that he has been. Pujols will still be considered a monster, likely the second player with 3,000 hits and 600 home runs in Major League history (joining Willie Mays). Does he need to prove anything to anyone, considering that he could post 100 hits and 15 home runs per season over the next seven years to reach those milestones? He certainly wouldn’t be worth his average annual value with that type of production, but given the Angels’ television revenue and the gate revenue that comes along with the milestone chase, perhaps the Halos could still break even.
Here is a bigger question: Is it fair for a member of the media to ask if Pujols can put up numbers that Mike Trout has the last two seasons?
No. Pujols never has posted those numbers and he certainly won’t as he continues to age and decline.
You see, for all of his greatness, Pujols will forever lose value in the battle of statistics. With Wins Above Replacement being such a dynamic measuring tool in player values, Albert Pujols has to understand that he has NEVER been as valuable in a single season as Mike Trout has been in his first two full season. Mike Trout has accumulated a massive 20.4 WAR (FanGraphs) in those two seasons, establishing himself as the top player in the game, even though he has not managed to snag the last two American League MVP awards from Detroit Tigers’ first baseman Miguel Cabrera.
For all of the 14 years of production that Pujols can stand on, for the nine All-Star games, for the three MVP awards – baseball has moved on from legacies and histories to projection. By developing statistics that measure player values currently and in the future, like Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS system, there is information available to teams and fans to dissect and look towards the future with, while hoping that their teams utilize the seemingly endless media revenue streams to lock-up their young stars, like Trout, to long-term deals. Albert Pujols has very little projection left and it seems unlikely that in today’s market, just two years removed, that Pujols would have received the type of contract that he did in Los Angeles.
As for the history that comes with Albert Pujols, he isn’t the player that the Angels are building their franchise around any longer. Although Mike Trout isn’t under team control as long as Pujols, the franchise is aware of the future success of the club, and it lies in the all-around skills and dominance that comes along with the generational talent that they drafted and developed, not the man that they committed a quarter of a billion dollars to in free agency.
If Mike Trout continues to be Mike Trout and he isn’t crippled by injuries like Grady Sizemore or Tony Conigliaro, Pujols will look back at this question and statement to remember that he was the one that could have used a serving of humble pie. Trout’s overall numbers may not reach the 700 home run plateau, but his WAR value could lead him to becoming the greatest player ever.
Pujols has never had a season as valuable as the last two that Trout has managed to post. If he thinks that he is the more valuable player of the two still today, he has to be kidding all of us, right?