The declining Albert Pujols and others before him

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Albert Pujols

ANAHEIM, CA – MARCH 25: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Designated hitter Albert Pujols (5) looks on during a preseason MLB game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on March 25, 2018, at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in Anaheim, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Albert Pujols has seen his career decline significantly over the last couple years, much like a few other current Hall of Fame players.

When Albert Pujols singled off Mike Leake in Seattle on Friday night, he achieved a historic milestone with the 3000th hit of his career. The hit put Pujols in the company of some of the best players to ever play the game, including Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. It also added another line on his Hall of Fame resume, a resume that should easily make him a first ballot Hall of Famer.

With Albert Pujols and the Hall of Fame in mind, it was interesting to see a poll by Joe Posnanski on Twitter on Monday. Posnanski asked a question that appeared to compare two different players—one with a short career of very high quality and another with a longer career at high quality, but not to the heights of the first player.

He asked which of these players (really, sets of numbers) would you be more likely to vote into the Hall of Fame. Here’s the tweet:

Along with the traditional batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, runs, home runs, and RBI, Posnanski used OPS+, which is a metric that normalizes a player’s OPS to an easy-to-understand scale. League average is 100. A 130 OPS+ means that player is 30 percent better than league average on offense. I’ve repeated the statistics here and added WAR (Baseball-Reference).

Player A:

  • .328/.420/.617, 2073 H, 445 HR, 1291 R, 1329 RBI, 172 OPS+, 86.6 WAR

Player B:

  • .304/.385/.560, 3002 H, 620 HR, 1739 R, 1938 RBI, 151 OPS+, 99.5 WAR

Player A “only” had 2073 hits and 445 HR, while player B topped the magical 3000 hits mark and belted more than 600 home runs. Just looking at the numbers, it’s likely that player B had more playing time, which allowed him to accumulate all of those hits, home runs, runs scored, and RBI.

Player A had a better batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS+, and had 82 percent as much value, based on WAR.

For reference, players in the range of 172 OPS+ for their careers are Mickey Mantle (172), Shoeless Joe Jackson (170) and Ty Cobb (168). Rogers Hornsby is a little higher, at 175. Mike Trout is currently in the same ballpark as Mantle, at 173. Player A had an OPS+ that put him on par with these hitters (defense is not included in OSP+).

A 151 OPS+ is still a very good player, but not at that level of the guys mentioned above. Players in this range include Miguel Cabrera (151), Honus Wagner (151), Jeff Bagwell (149), and Edgar Martinez (147). This is where player B would fit on the all-time scale as a hitter.

Those are Hall of Fame caliber players. Wagner and Bagwell are already in the Hall of Fame. Edgar will hopefully get in next year, and Cabrera is still active but looking very Hall of Fame-like also.

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