Monday, April 25, 2005

 

From the Worldwide Leader in Sports....

Comedy.

Looking for the perfect player around which you can build your team? Start at the logical place: the top.

That was from Sean McAdam at ESPN.com, in this article from a few days ago.

Now I'm probably one of the biggest Ichiro supporters among stat-oriented fans out there. I think that the stats don't necessarily tell the whole story, we don't have good enough fielding metrics to show Ichiro's outfield prowess, the player that Ichiro has developed into is just what he decided to become and he could hit homers if he wanted, he's a menace on the basepaths, and he's the fastest guy in the game at getting down the line (you can have Crawford). If you're trying to make a list of the top players in the game, Ichiro's varied skillset would make him a tough person to leave out of consideration, even with his modest OPS totals.

But he's not Albert Pujols. He's not even close to Albert Pujols, who is superhuman. I wonder if McAdam drew a short straw or lost a coin flip or a quick round of rock-paper-scissors. You'd be hard pressed to find a player in history who has done what Pujols has done, much less a slap-hitting leadoff man. How could anyone volunteer for that assignment?

The 13th round draft pick Pujols played one minor league season. Just one. In A-Peoria, Pujols was impressive in 109 games, hitting .324/.387/.565 in a pitcher's park. He played a few games in AAA and did not crush the ball. For most players, you would have tossed out those numbers, saying, "he's just 20. He needs another year of development, probably in AA."

But not Pujols. Pujols hit well in the spring, but not overwhelmingly so, posting a .306 batting average and a .532 slugging percentage. These are very nice numbers, but for most minor leaguers, they would just be a taste, and the ticket to being a serious candidate for a September call-up, with another good year in the minors.

But not Pujols. Tony La Russa, for some reason, wanted Pujols. On Opening Day, 2001, Pujols batted 6th and played left field. He collected his first big league hit, a single. He was caught stealing. A modest start in Colorado, where the big story was Mike Hampton's gem. Mike Hampton had figured out Coors! Oh, the folly of following the results of one game.

Pujols left Coors' with a .111 batting average. He then rattled off a 14-game hit streak, and it began. Pujols' SLG never dropped below .589 as the season progressed, his OBP never below .388. For an entire season, the skeptics (read: me) waited for the other shoe to drop.

We're still waiting.

In his rookie season, he hit .329/.403/.610. If he keeps up his present pace, he'll have 200 homers by the end of the season (age 25). 300 homers by the age of 28. 400 by 30. 500 by 33. 33 years old, and he'll have 500 homers.

Is it any wonder that his #1 comparable by age has been Joe Dimaggio every single season?

Out of every set of numbers that Pujols will give you, I find that this little number is the most impressive:

BB/K

2001: 0.74
2002: 1.04
2003: 1.22
2004: 1.62

His discipline improves yearly, in leaps and bounds, even including his "down year" in 2002.

His other "curves" resemble this isolated power one: a bit of a step back in 2002, and a climb in 2003 and 2004.

ISO

2001: .281
2002: .247
2003: .308
2004: .326

Other trends would be essentially repetitive to post. In every offensive production category, his numbers are off the charts and seem to rise every single year.

There's no visible reason to think that Albert Pujols won't be the game's best player through his prime years, which, for most players, wouldn't have hit yet.

The safest thing to say would be if Pujols does for the next four years what he did for his first four years, he's pretty much a lock for Cooperstown. Six more years and he's definitely in.

Of course, I omit the most important aspect of this whole thing: Pujols is 25. Ichiro is 31. I'll take the 6 extra years.

If the question was "who is the more exciting baseball player?" I think that Ichiro would have a case. He's a joy to watch and The question was, "who would you rather build around?" and a leadoff hitter alone cannot provide you with an offense. Just look at Seattle, 2004.

So, yeah, back to that article:

Run producers? There's plenty of those around. But there's no one in the game who can do as many things as well as Ichiro does.

This is the best point that McAdam makes, but it's flawed. Ichiro may do a lot of things real well, but they don't win a ton of ballgames. Pujols's seemingly "common" skills do.

Pujols is the best player in the game not named Bonds. And Bonds is old. And it certainly would not surprise me if Pujols' doubles power becomes even more homer oriented.

One last number:

2001: 6.70
2002: 7.76
2003: 6.22
2004: 5.98

That's the number of at bats it takes Pujols, on average, to get an extra base hit. If you hold him down in two straight games, it's an accomplishment. Off the charts. And if one or two years, his doubles power jumps to homer power, which does happen, he just might be chasing Bonds, Aaron, Ruth, and A-Rod, ten years from now.

I like Ichiro, but Pujols is a budding legend. Wouldn't want to lose that for a leadoff hitter.

Comments:
Even with this I'd take Pujols over Ichiro, but do you get the sense Pujols is an even better Frank Thomas, and his 30's won't be as pleasant? I say this because he isn't fast like a Bonds or Beltran, or even a Griffey, so I wonder if we'll see 10 years of absolute brilliance followed by 5 years lots of other players would kill for followed by nothing and the HoF calling anyways.
 
Old player skills, as Bill James would say, except with a high average.
 
I think it's an interesting point, a comparison to Frank Thomas. Thing is, Thomas had 7 straight seasons of OPS+s higher than 170 and has been a very good hitter when healthy since then. And if that's a potential low-end for Pujols, his high-end is seemingly limitless.

As far as old player skills, I think that Pujols will be an interesting test-case of sorts. Can he maintain the obscene batting averages? Is that more than an old-player skill at this point? We'll see in a few years....
 
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