September 19, 2014

Just How Good is Albert Pujols?

April 26, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

Would you believe that Albert Pujols is already one of the top twenty position players of the modern era (since 1920)?  In addition to that, he is the third best first baseman of the period – behind only Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx.  These are conclusions drawn from the CAWS Career Gauge.

Bill James’ Win Shares system is the most comprehensive tool available to understand how good a season a player had.  It includes offensive and defensive contributions and adjusts for all relevant factors.  The CAWS Career Gauge (Career Assessment/Win Shares) uses win shares to measure how good a career a player has had.

Through 2009, Albert Pujols had completed nine seasons in the major leagues.  The CAWS Gauge is based on a player’s core value (his ten best seasons) plus additional credit for his other seasons.  Since Pujols has completed only nine seasons, I would not normally even be talking about his CAWS score.  But it is obvious to even the most casual observer of the game that AP is no ordinary player.  So, I have decided for the first time to project a player’s tenth season in order to get some idea of where he fits in among the greats of the game.

Through his nine seasons, Albert has accumulated 315 win shares.  That is an average of 35 win shares per season.  That is an incredible achievement.  So, I will use this average as a projection for what he will earn in his tenth season (a perfectly reasonable thing to do).  Therefore, I will conclude that after the 2010 season he will have 315 + 35 = 350 win shares.  I do not believe that this is reaching too far at all.

Since AP will have 350 win shares after ten seasons, his career line will look like this.  The first number is career win shares, the second is core value (the win shares for the ten best seasons) and the third is the CAWS score (CAWS = CV + .25{CWS – CV}).

Player CWS CV CAWS
Albert Pujols
350 350 350

Now, the question is: Where does this score place Albert Pujols in comparison to the best position players?  I was very surprised to discover that, using this projection, AP has already moved into the list of the top 20 position players of the modern era (since 1920).  He is already at #19.  I expected his numbers to look impressive when compared to the all-time greats but I did not expect them to look quite this good.  To say that he is already in elite company would be the understatement of the year.

Look at this list of the top position players of the era.  Bold print indicates the player is in the Hall of Fame.

Player POS. CWS CV CAWS
1. Babe Ruth RF 756 460 534
2. Barry Bonds
LF 707 427 497
3. Willie Mays CF 642 389 452
4. Mickey Mantle CF 565 399 441
5. Stan Musial LF 604 378 435
6. Ted Williams LF 555 394 434
7. Hank Aaron RF 643 356 428
8. Rogers Hornsby 2B 502 381 411
9. Lou Gehrig 1B 489 384 410
10. Joe Morgan 2B 512 341 384
11. Mel Ott RF 528 335 383
12. Mike Schmidt 3B 467 338 370
13. Frank Robinson RF 519 316 367
14. Pete Rose LF 547 307 367
15. Rickey Henderson LF 535 308 365
16. Eddie Mathews 3B 450 333 362
17. Jimmie Foxx 1B 435 325 353
18. Alex Rodriguez SS 422 329 352
19. Albert Pujols 1B 350 350 350
20. Joe DiMaggio CF 387 325 341

With a CV (core value) of 350, Pujols would be one of only ten players who have managed a core value of 350 or better in their careers.  Obviously, with these impressive numbers, AP is in very select company.

Note that only two other first basemen have had better career numbers than Pujols.  There is every reason to believe that he will pass Jimmie Foxx in a couple of years – leaving only Lou Gehrig ahead of him.  Does he have a shot at ever passing Gehrig?  Well, given what he has already accomplished, I would not be inclined to rule that out – but I believe that it is a real long shot.

In conclusion, here is a list of the top ten first basemen of the modern era.  Of course, all of these players have HOF numbers.

Player Years CWS CV CAWS
1. Lou Gehrig 1923-1939 489 384 410
2. Jimmie Foxx
1925-1945 435
325
353
3. Albert Pujols
2001- 350 350 350
4. Willie McCovey 1959-1980 408 285 316
5. Dick Allen 1963-1977 342 304 314
Eddie Murray 1977-1997 437 273 314
7. Jeff Bagwell 1991-2005 388 287 312
8. Johnny Mize
1936-1953 339 296
307
9. Harmon Killebrew
1954-1975 374 279 303
10. Mark McGwire 1986-2001 342 283 298

Your eyes are not deceiving you.  That is Dick Allen (baseball’s most under-appreciated superstar) tied with Eddie Murray for 5th place.  Note that Allen and Mark McGwire have the same number of career win shares (342) but that Allen’s core value of 304 is significantly higher than that of Big Mac (283).

And also note just how good a player Jeff Bagwell was.

It seems fair to say that Albert Pujols is establishing himself as one of the greatest players of the modern era.  It will be interesting to continue to follow his career in the coming years to see just how great he can become.

If anyone would like to get a free e-copy of Michael Hoban’s 100-page monograph: A HOF HANDBOOK: Who Belongs and Who Does Not, please e-mail him at mike_hoban@msn.com.

Comments

4 Responses to “Just How Good is Albert Pujols?”
  1. Carl says:

    This article is a little misleading. I mean, the actual conclusion “Albert Pujols will be a top 20 player after this year” is sound, given the reasoning (all of which is perfectly reasonable) – but he’s not YET a top 20 player. Right now, he’s at 315… which isn’t top 20.

  2. Sam Kirschner says:

    Mike
    Awesome and well documented. I had the privilege of watching Richie/Dick Allen in Philly and the same morons who later booed Schmiddy lacerated Allen. Note that Michael Jack is without a doubt the greatest 3B of all time.
    Sam Kirschner, Ph.D.

  3. Mike Hoban says:

    Carl,

    Technically, you are correct. But I do make it clear in the article that I am projecting his 10th season. I think of it as “poetic license” to get the point across as to how good he really is.

    Mike

  4. Tom Stone says:

    Prof. Hoban — another great posting, and another great use of your CAWS approach! Funny timing for me, because just two days ago I was thinking about this question: where does Pujols rank *now* amongst all-time 1B, and where will he rank in the end. And your results here are quite validating for my intuitions, which were that assuming he has a good year this year at least, he already ranks third all-time, and that further it is likely he will pass Foxx on my personal list in a few more years. I also agree that it will be a challenge for him to pass Gehrig for the all-time #1 1B in the history of the game — possible, but a lot of things could derail that of course.

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