Rare bird: Cardinals' Pujols put up another amazing season
One thing that has always baffled me is how baseball scouts missed on
There's a difference though: It took Thome, Sandberg and Piazza years to grow into stars. Pujols, though, was like a Lean Cuisine Superstar -- pop him in the microwave and a few minutes later you had a piping hot batting machine. Barely 18 months after Pujols was passed over at least 10 times by every team in baseball*, he showed up at St. Louis Cardinals spring training ready to dominate. Tony La Russa talked every day about being in awe of the guy. And Pujols went on to one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history.
That's why the Pujols miss baffles me. Sure, baseball scouting is imprecise. Heck, life is imprecise -- politicians didn't see the financial crisis coming and fantasy football gurus didn't see the
Perhaps there were once genuine grounds for debate about Pujols' talent. Not anymore. He is, in my mind, the best player in baseball, and I don't think that anyone approaches him. OPS+ is a pretty good statistic -- it takes a player's OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and compares it to the rest of the league. A 100 OPS+ is exactly average.
Over the last five years, here are the Top 5 players in OPS+.
So, well, that's not especially close. OK, so you can look at runs created,
So, that's not really all that close either. Maybe you're old school. Maybe you don't like these newfangled statistics. Maybe you prefer batting average.
And so on. He has the best on-base percentage the last five years. He has the highest slugging percentage the last five years. He has the most total bases, the most extra base hits, the most times on base. And this year, despite missing a few games, he probably had his greatest offensive season. With offense down all around baseball, the guy hit .357, walked 104 times (while striking out 54), banged 44 doubles and 37 homers, scored 100 and drove in 116. There are any number of advanced stats -- Value Over Replacement Player, Equivalent Average, Isolated Power, Offensive Win Percentage and so on -- that show Pujols was the Usain Bolt of baseball this year.
Pujols is so good you would not expect anyone to miss it. And yet, it seems, people do. When
Over the last couple of weeks, I asked five baseball executives and scouts to name the best player in baseball -- nothing official, just an informal poll. One did say Albert Pujols. Three said A-Rod and a fifth offered
That seems to be a trend: Many baseball fans just don't seem to think about him. Pujols' greatness is so easily apparent -- he hits, he walks, he hits for power, he plays outstanding defense at first base, he makes winning plays just about every day and his teammates will tell story after story after story about how Pujols helped them with their swing, taught them a curveball, cured their sciatica, introduced them to their wives.
And maybe that gets to the heart of why he's sometimes overlooked. Maybe he's so good it's boring. Maybe Pujols' greatness, like a plane landing safely, doesn't make the news. There's no doubt that A-Rod is so much more human, you can see his mood swings, you can read about his crises, you can boo his salary and marvel at the way he flicks the bat out there and send the ball soaring. Sizemore and
But Pujols is simply better than any of them.
This year, before the madness of the playoffs began, I decided to watch Pujols closely the final weekend, with the Cardinals out of the playoff hunt, with the only thing as stake being what
On Thursday, Pujols went three-for-three with a walk, two runs, a homer and four RBIs in a victory over Arizona.
On Friday, he went three-for-three with two walks, two runs, a homer and two RBIs in a victory over Cincinnati.
On Saturday, he only managed one hit, but it was a homer, as the Cards beat the Reds again.
And on Sunday, he went one for two with a walk, a double, an RBI, and that was before he was pulled in the third inning. The Cardinals won again.
What did it mean? Not much. And everything. The baseball playoffs begin without Pujols again, which is too bad. This time of year I always find myself thinking about that moment in the NLCS in 2005, ninth inning, Houston up by two, their unhittable closer
It's funny, Pujols' team didn't make the playoffs this season, and because of that there seem to be some who would not vote for him as MVP. What a shame. There are even a few who would vote for Brad Lidge, who had such a nice comeback year for Philadelphia (and even retired Pujols two of the three times they faced each other). Seems a bit odd. I've seen that match-up. I know how it turns out.