Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Is Albert Pujols really 35?

There have always been whispers that Albert Pujols real birth date may not actually be January 16, 1980, however there has never been any kind of proof that would turn those rumors into allegations. Some may say, “What’s the big deal? The guy is still clearly in the prime of his career and shows no signs of slowing down.” It’s obviously a big deal though, when considering potential ten year contracts. It even becomes a big deal for something as insignificant as fantasy baseball. While Pujols real age may not affect re-draft leagues, it has the potential to change one’s valuation of Pujols in a keeper league.

I think this graph makes a pointed argument for Pujols being older (I’m guessing four years older) than his birth certificate says he is. Graphed above are the wOBA’s of Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera, three of the greatest sluggers of our generation. You’ll see that the .450 wOBA mark is rarely reached, even for hitters such as these. However, you’ll also notice that Pujols put up the highest wOBA of his career (.462) in his age 23 season. Pujols next highest wOBA of .458 came in his age 28 season of 2008. If my conspiracy theory is correct, that would have put Pujols at age 32 in 2008, a year that many players will see one final power peak before settling into a decline stage. I just find it very hard to believe that the greatest hitter of our generation peaked as a 23-year-old. He hasn’t grown smarter or stronger since then? Or has he both matured as a hitter and added strength, only to have it offset by the cruel toll of the aging process on an athlete’s body.

Pujols next two seasons after 2008 have seen successive declines in wOBA. Is it just a coincidence that Pujols has been trending downward since his “age 28” season, or is he really 35 and seeing the first signs of breaking down? Honestly I think Pujols will continue to be a beast no matter how old he is, at least for the next five years. For the fans, five more years of Prince Albert filling the stat sheets is worth a huge contract for a declining player. But the team that’s on the hook for the second half of his contract is looking at 5 years $150 million for a player who may be a shell of his former self. Whichever team this is will also be severely handcuffed when trying to make the necessary moves to compete.

I do not expect Pujols to sign in Chicago if he does become a free agent, but if he did I would be absolutely thrilled, as any fan of the Cubs would be. No matter who signs Albert though, I think they’re going to end up with a 45-year-old earning $30 million in the final year his deal.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

WAR Graphs: All time two baggers

MLB Network has a series I enjoy called Prime 9 where they (drum roll please) countdown the nine best teams, position players or in this case, the greatest infields of all time. #1 on the list was the 1914 Philadelphia Athletics "$100,000 infield" led by Eddie Collins at second, Jack Barry at short, Frank Baker at third and Stuffy McInnis at first.

Hearing baseball historians singing the praises of Eddie Collins, I was curious to take a look at his Baseball-Reference page and was awed by consistently high averages, gaudy steals totals (81 in 1910) and a plate discipline that will forever be unmatched in professional baseball. At the tail end of his career in 1925 for the White Sox, 38-year-old Eddie Collins walked 87 times in 533 plate appearances, striking out on 8 separate occasions throughout the year. I don't know if the official scorekeeper was dozing off during Eddie's at bats, but if that total is accurate then Eddie Collins officially had the greatest plate discipline in baseball history.

As far as top second baseman in baseball history, the default answer has always been Joe Morgan. It's said as if it were a fact and not an opinion. This is where the graph comes in. Randomly taking a top 10 two baggers of all time list from Bleacher Report, here are the top three second baseman they ranked: 3. Ryne Sandberg, 2. Rogers Hornsby, 1. Joe Morgan and number 5. Eddie Collins:

Hornsby's value was tied to his incredible offensive output: three seasons over .400, two count-em TWO triple crown awards (amazingly did not win MVP after winning the triple crown in 1922) and also won the second of his two MVP awards in his first season as a Chicago Cub in 1929. That year Hornsby went .380/.459/.679/1.139 as a 33-year-old.

The other Cub on the list, Sandberg, really should not be considered in the top 3 second basemen of all time. Sandberg was a dominant player and one of the game's greatest offensive second basemen, but its clear he does not belong in this discussion.

What also seems clear is that Joe Morgan is not the #1 all time 2B. In fact, he's not even in the photo finish. Morgan is often given the title due to his blend of high octane offense and highlight reel defense. Morgan's .271 lifetime average is less than impressive, but his .398 on-base percentage more than makes up for it. While he was lightning on the bases, Morgan never had a single season total as high as Collins, and his total of 689 steals trails Collins at 741. Simply looking at OPS+, Collins finished his career at 142, Morgan at 132 (Hornsby at 175). While one would think Morgan's defense settles the question, all indications are that Collins was an excellent fielder.

Light hitting on-base machine Eddie Collins and the offensive juggernaut that was Rogers Hornsby were vastly different players but were equally lethal opponents. Baseball has seen 80 years worth of second basemen since these two legends, and not one of them has amassed a career on the same level.