8/20/09

Here's Looking At: Albert Pujols

We feel like HLA: has unfairly focused on the negative thusfar.  We profiled Matt Holliday when he was slumping, David Ortiz when he was slumping - and it was unconfirmed that he was on steroids, and he's still slumping anyway so this is all sort of redundant -and...well, ok, it's been a short-lived series.  But today we want to take a look at the best player in the game today, and one of the best of all time.  We feel like despite his towering greatness, Albert Pujols has not gotten the recognition he deserves.  This may or may not be true; we don't exactly claim to have our fingers on the pulse of sports journalism.  HOWEVER, we're going to pretend like we're on to something here and forge right ahead.

Now, before we get into any stats or "research," we'd like to present a short .gif we saw on Viva El Birdos of Pujols' swing slowed down into frame-by-frame goodness....and is there ever a lot of goodness.  The swing is a thing of beauty, every movement compact, powerful, and dedicated to hitting a baseball better than anyone on the planet right now.  We can't really do it justice; go take a look-see for yourself.

Don't be ashamed if you watched it a few times.  And if your mouth fell open.  These are normal reactions.  SO, onward and upward, eh?  What's this guy done in the past?  Well, you might look at the career 172 OPS+.  Or the .333/.427/.628 career line.  Or the fact that since coming into the league in 2001, he has yet to OPS less than .955.  Or the fact that he's already hit over 350 HR - and is the third youngest to reach that milestone.  Or the fact that he's walked 233 times more than he's struck out.  Or that he's an 8-time All-Star, and missed out on 9 straight selections because despite finishing 2nd in the MVP voting his second year he somehow wasn't elected to the ASG.  He's a former Rookie of the Year, 2-time MVP (probably should've been at least 3 times), and is well on his way to another this season.  He's hit at least .314 each of his 9 years in the bigs; no one else has ever done that.  He's hit at least 30 HR in each of his 9 years in the bigs; no one else has ever done that.  He's fourth all-time in OPS, and the four-time Silver Slugger also has a Gold Glove to his credit (however worthless those are, the man is a superb defender).  

Oh, and did we mention that he's been doing this despite playing with a shredded UCL that should require Tommy John surgery, and forced his move from left field to first base?  But that instead of undergoing the surgery he needs, he chose to have a nerve transposition surgery so that he merely wouldn't feel the pain that he feels whenever he straightens his arm?  The guy is too good not to have some kind of handicap, we guess.

But hey, enough of the past.  Let's have a quick look at what he's done so far:

.321/.445/.675/1.119, 39 HR, 105 RBI, 91 BB, 49 K, 36 IBB, 191 OPS+

The bolded stats are ones where he's a league leader.  Further, if you care for advanced analysis - and we hope you do! - he's already worth almost 7 wins above replacement, and projects to be worth easily another 3 by the end of the season.  His fielding is superb - worth a win itself, according to Baseball Prospectus - and leads the majors in EqA.  His closest competitor for that title, Joe Mauer, is having maybe the best season ever for a catcher; the next closest guy, Prince Fielder, is a full 21 points behind.  Oh, and did we mention that he has the fourth-highest EqA OF ALL TIME behind only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds?  That seems relevant. 

The question, then, is what we can we expect from him going forward?  Is he going to keep being El Hombre, the guy our grandkids ask us about?  Well, Baseball Prospectus thinks so; PECOTA projects him as a 4-5 win player when he's 35.  If he hits homers at the pace PECOTA sees - which, keep in mind, seems very conservative to us - he'll have 619 at 35.  And that's assuming he doesn't hit any more in the remainder of this season.  And unless he suddenly loses his batting eye, he'll accomplish this feat of power while remaining one of the most patient and skilled contact hitters in generations.  And as a further piece of evidence of his bulletproof nature: he hits .351/.460/.626 against lefties and .332/.429/.586 against righties.  So either way you pitch him, he's still the premier hitter in the game.  And lest you think he's some sort of hulking bopper who's a liability on the bases, consider that while he's not been a great base stealer in his career - successful only 66% of the time - he went 16/18 a few years ago and is 12/15 this year.  

What we're trying to say is, the only weakness this guy seems to have is the fact that his elbow might decide to pop at any moment. And yet...he's never played in less than 143 games.  So, while hoping with all our might that we're not jinxing him, he seems wildly durable.  And...we're going to leave it at that, and back away slowly. 

Well, besides the elbow, there's also the question of his age.  As a Dominican Republic export, and especially with the age-related revelations we've seen from players like Miguel Tejada and Vladimir Guerrero, we can't truly be sure that he's only 29.  Oh, we forgot to mention that - he's accomplished all of those astounding above feats despite the fact that he won't even be 30 until next year.  Whoops!  But, yeah, the guy's certainly looked old his whole career - we remember being shocked that a 21 year old could have such a strongly receding hairline - but, hey, everyone ages differently.  Just ask Greg Oden*.

That's right: Greg Oden.  We're not afraid to make cross-sport jokes on this here blog.  We're growing into something unstoppable, we keep telling everyone. 

And if all that isn't enough to make your jaw drop, really, isn't that one home run sufficent?  You know, THAT one.  In the NLCS, or something.  2005?  Yeah, that sounds right.  Against...Houston?  We think so.  One of those Texas teams.  Let's check Google...


Oh, baby...don't be so cruel!

Anyway, yeah, there was looking at the best player around.  We hope you take the time to enjoy him properly.

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