Albert Pujols signed a one year $2.5 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals so he could end his Hall of Fame career where it all began. The 10-time All-Star, six-time Silver Slugger, three-time MVP, two-time Gold Glove winner, and two-time World Series champ is happy to be “home” and has an argument for the greatest player of the past 20 years.
“This is it for me,” the 42-year-old Pujols said Monday. “This is my last run.”
The Dominican Republic native burst onto the scene as a 21-year-old rookie with the Cards in 2001. He hit .329 with 37 home runs and 130 RBIs. His on-base, slugging and on-base plus slugging (OPS) numbers were incredible, .403/.610/1.013. He was Rookie of the Year and earned his first Silver Slugger award.
Pujols’ first 11 seasons in MLB were quite possibly the greatest start to any baseball career from an offensive production standpoint. He won all his MVPs, Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger awards during this stretch, and made nine of his 10 All-Star appearances.
His batting average was .328 over that span with .421/.617/1.037 averages in on-base, slugging and OPS.
Pujols’ wins above replacement (WAR) with the Cards was 86.6. That’s a WAR of 7.8 per season.
WAR measures a player’s value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he’s worth than a replacement-level player at his same position. Baseball Reference measures 5+ in WAR for a single season as an All-Star level player, and 8+ as an MVP quality player.
In other words, Pujols played above, at, or near MVP level for 11 consecutive seasons. That’s unheard of.
If Pujols had retired at the end of his 11 seasons with the Cards, his career WAR already would have been top-50 all-time then. Ahead of Ken Griffey Jr., Pete Rose, Chipper Jones, Rod Carew, and Joe DiMaggio, to name a few. Pujols’ career WAR is now 99.6, 32nd all-time.
Through those first 11 seasons Pujols amassed 445 home runs, good enough for top-50 all-time. Ahead of Carlos Beltran, Andre Dawson, Juan Gonzalez, Andruw Jones, and Mike Piazza. Pujols is now fifth all time at 679.
If Pujols manages to hit 21 home runs this season, he will become only the fourth player in major league history with at least 700 home runs. The others are Barry Bonds (762) Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714).
Pujols’ former Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout has been heralded as the best player in baseball for at least the past eight seasons. Comparing both players’ first 11 seasons, there is a lot of similarity, though Pujols grades out better.
They both won three MVPs in their first 11 seasons, Trout has two more Silver Slugger awards, and they both made nine All-Star appearances. Pujols has a better batting average, on-base, slugging and OPS than Trout over his first 11 seasons. Pujols also dominates in home runs and runs batted in.
Throughout baseball’s illustrious history Pujols’ first 11 seasons are unparalleled. Maybe more important, he has never been associated with the steroids and performance-enhancing drug scandal that has rocked the sport for decades. He’s quite simply the best baseball player of the last 20 years and top-25 or top-30 all-time.
He’s 12th all-time in hits, fifth in homers, and third in RBIs.
At age 32 when normal decline begins to set in, Pujols’ numbers were nowhere near as good as his first 11 seasons. But he still managed to hit 30+ home runs in three different seasons and drive in 100+ RBIs in four.
As soon as he becomes eligible Pujols should be a unanimous Hall of Fame selection. The Baseball Writers of America are known to be a prickly bunch. New York Yankees great Mariano Rivera is the only unanimous Hall of Fame selection in history.
No matter. Pujols will become the fifth Dominican-born player in the Hall, joining Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero, and David Ortiz; and Pujols is the best of them all.