No. 47: Albert Pujols

So, I did this sort of meaningless baseball thing — not for the first time and not for the last. Here’s what I did: I looked at the Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement leaders for every 10-year period. I have in the past looked at the leaders for every DECADE, which is a different thing. I could tell you that the WAR leader in the 1930s, for instance, was Lou Gehrig and for the 1970s it was Joe Morgan.

But what I did this time was look at EVERY 10-year period. So I looked at the leader from 1900-1909, from 1901-1910, from 1902-1911 and so on all the way to 2004-2013. That’s 105 different time periods, if you are scoring at home.

What you will find — or, anyway, what I will tell you — is that just 21 players in baseball history have been the best by WAR over any 10-year period. That’s fewer than I might have thought. It’s so few, in fact, that I’ll just list them all … here are the 21 players and I have included the second best player in WAR over those years as well (the years listed represent the FIRST year in the period, so, say, 1921-1922 would actually represent 1921-30 and 1922-31):

1900-1905 (6 times): Honus Wagner (ahead of Nap Lajoie and Ty Cobb).
1906-1910 5 times): Ty Cobb (ahead of Eddie Collins and Tris Speaker)
1911-1914 (4 times): Tris Speaker (ahead of Ty Cobb)
1915: Babe Ruth (ahead of Rogers Hornsby)
1916 (1 time): Rogers Hornsby (ahead of Ruth)
1917-1925 (10 times): Ruth (ahead of Hornsby and Lou Gehrig)
1926-1930 (5 times): Lou Gehrig (ahead of Ruth and Jimmie Foxx)
1931-1932 (2 times): Jimmie Foxx (ahead of Mel Ott)
1933-1936 (4 times): Mel Ott (ahead of Arky Vaughan and Joe DiMaggio)
1937 (1 time): Joe DiMaggio (ahead of Ott)
1938-1940 (3 times): Ted Williams (ahead of Lou Boudreau)
1941-1949 (9 times): Stan Musial (ahead of Williams, Jackie Robinson and Mickey Mantle)
1950-1953 (4 times): Mickey Mantle (ahead of Musial and Willie Mays)
1954-1962 (9 times): Willie Mays (ahead of Mantle and Henry Aaron)
1963-1964 (2 times): Henry Aaron (ahead of Roberto Clemente)
1965-1966 (2 times): Carl Yastrzemski (ahead Aaron and Joe Morgan)
1967-1971 (5 times): Joe Morgan (ahead of Johnny Bench and Mike Schmidt)
1972-1979 (8 times): Mike Schmidt (ahead of Morgan, George Brett, Gary Carter and Rickey Henderson)
1980-1984 (5 times): Rickey Henderson (ahead of Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken)
1985-1996 (12 times): Barry Bonds (ahead of Henderson, Cal Ripken, Ken Griffey, Jeff Bagwell, Alex Rodriguez)
1997-2000 (4 times): Alex Rodriguez (ahead of Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols)
2001-2004 (4 times): Albert Pujols (ahead of A-Rod and Chase Utley)

OK, a couple of thoughts before getting to the main point. Of the 21 players who have led in WAR for a 10-season period, only the last three — Bonds, A-Rod and Pujols — are not in the Hall of Fame. But beyond that, all the SECOND PLACE finishers are also in the Hall of Fame up to the more recent Jeff Bagwell, Ken Griffey (who will be elected soon) and Chase Utley.

Of course, I’m really bringing this up for one guy: Jeff Bagwell. By 10-year WAR he was TWICE the second-best player in the baseball, and both times he trailed only the incomparable, musclebound Barry Bonds. It’s simply absurd that he is not in the Hal of Fame.

My point in doing this was to try and get closer to this question: How many times in baseball history has there been someone who was not only the game’s best player but CLEARLY the game’s best player. And I don’t mean for a year or two or three, I’m talking about over a long stretch of time (I chose 10 years, obviously). How many times can you say, without much argument, that one player was over a 10-year span unquestionably the best player in baseball?

Well, from doing this, I can give you my opinion: It’s fewer than 21.

Let’s go backward, starting with A-Rod. Four times, A-Rod led a 10-year period in WAR. But basically it’s all timing. The four years he led, happened to cover time after Bonds retired or did not play and before Albert Pujols was in the big leagues. In every period when Bonds or Pujols played every season, they topped A-Rod. In other words, I think Rodriguez was a great player, but I don’t think he was ever the best player in the game for a long stretch of time.

Rickey Henderson’s span as “greatest player” is also inconclusive. In addition to finding who led the league in WAR, I also looked at the gap. Ruth and Bonds and Schmidt and Musial were WAY ahead of everyone else. There can be little doubt of their superiority. But Henderson, great as he was, was just barely ahead of Cal Ripken in three of his years (in one year they were in a virtual tie). I don’t think WAR is exact enough to tell us with any degree of confidence that Henderson was a better player than Ripken in his prime — or Wade Boggs for that matter.

Yaz and Aaron and Clemente were all great, great players and you could make a fantastic argument for any one of them. Meaning, in my opinion, you cannot separate any of them.

The three times Mantle had the highest WAR were all before Willie Mays was an everyday player. Once Mays was in the game, WAR has him as a consistently better all-around player — from 1954 (Mays’ first 150-game season) to 1963, Mays was a full 10 wins ahead of Mantle. The gap widened from there.

I don’t think you could say with any real conviction that Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott or Joe DiMaggio were conclusively better than one another. Hornsby did win one time period, but he clearly wasn’t the best player when Babe Ruth was around. And while I was impressed that Tris Speaker did have a higher WAR than Ty Cobb for four different time periods, the numbers were very close — again I don’t think Speaker was ever a clearly better player than Ty Cobb.

So, in my viewpoint, there have only been 11 everyday players since 1900 who were CLEARLY and ALMOST INARGUABLY the best players of their time:

1. Honus Wagner
2. Ty Cobb
3. Babe Ruth
4. Lou Gehrig
5. Ted Williams
6. Stan Musial
7. Willie Mays
8. Joe Morgan
9. Mike Schmidt
10. Barry Bonds
11. Albert Pujols

It is very difficult, almost impossible, to rank a player who is still active — especially one who is coming off his worst and most difficult season and still has a long and brutal-looking contract ahead. Still: That’s not bad company at all for Prince Albert.

* * *

I recently did a story on Golden State’s Stephen Curry and one of the things that fascinated me most about him is that he doesn’t seem to use the doubters as motivation. If ANYONE has a nice long list of doubters to use as inspiration, it’s Steph Curry.

He was not recruited by almost anybody out of high school — even Virginia Tech, where his father and mother both starred athletically, was not interested. Everyone just kept saying he was too small, too frail, too one dimensional, too everything. After his glorious college career, when he led Davidson on a wonderful tournament run and led the NCAA in scoring and made America fell in love with him, many STILL thought he was too small, frail, one-dimensional to be a good NBA player .Even now when he’s one of the five or seven best players in the game (I think he has a case for No. 3) there were many who STILL doubt him. It’s his fate to be undervalued and I feel pretty certain that he’s aware of the slights and deals with them in his own way. But I’m also pretty certain the doubts clearly do not power his game. Instead, Joy does.

Motivation in sports fascinates me. Somewhere, somehow, every great athlete must find the reason to work much harder and believe more deeply than other people do. Natural talent can provide motivation, of course. But the motivation to stay in the batting cage a half hour longer, to take 100 more shots, to do five extra sets, to watch film way past midnight when it’s almost entirely clear there are no secrets left to glean — these often go beyond “Hey, I’m good at this game and I love playing it.”

Money? Fame? Parental approval? Competitive spirit? The fury to prove people wrong? It’s fun to guess at players’ motivations — especially when they give so few hints. For instance, when Tiger Woods came back from the tabloid scandal a few years ago, I wrote down a theory that I’ve come to believe more and more over the years: I don’t think Tiger Woods gets much motivation from doubters. He publicly has said he does. There have been commercials that hint he does. But I don’t think so.

I honestly believe Woods’ extraordinary dedication to the game of golf came from more positive places — from his father’s expectations and dreams, from the 18 major championships Jack Nicklaus hung in the sky and dared him to reach, from the obvious exhilaration he feels when the heat is turned up and the pressure is suffocating and the tournament is there to be won. Tiger Woods may not let us in but no one who has watched him play through the years can doubt how much he loves being in the hunt and how much he loves to win.

Think about it: Nobody doubted Tiger Woods. He was a golf prodigy. He was declared the future king of golf when he was 10 or 11. He won every junior and amateur title imaginable multiple times. His father instilled in him this belief that he would not only win golf tournaments, he would in his own way change the world. I don’t think Tiger Woods stood on a driving range, cracking golf ball after golf ball while thinking, “All those people who don’t believe in me — I’ll show them!” EVERYBODY believed in him. No, I think he stood on a driving range, cracking golf ball after golf ball, while thinking: “I’m going to the best golfer who ever lived.”

Well, hey, it’s just a theory.

With Albert Pujols, though, there is no need for theories. His motivation is obvious. I’ve never known an athlete so driven, so compelled, so hungry to prove the world wrong*.

*Maybe Tom Brady.

It was never easy for Pujols. When I wrote a bonus piece about him for Sports Illustrated, he told me of growing up in the Dominican Republic, an only child raised mostly by his grandmother and 10 aunts and uncles. His father, Bienvenido Pujols, had been a great softball player. One of Alberts’s deepest memories is of carrying his father home after games, when Bienvenido had too much to drink. “God made me older,” he would say.

Albert inhaled baseball. There were times his glove was a milk carton and the ball was a roll of tape. That’s how it was in the Dominican Republic but even there Pujols needed the game just a little bit more. When he came to America at 16, eventually settled in Independence, Mo., next to Kansas City, with his other grandmother, baseball was everything. He seemed to people around him a sullen boy, serious, generally unhappy. He did not speak English and did not seem interested in learning. Then, he did not seem interested in talking Spanish either. At his first high school baseball practice, coach David Fry tried to engage him in a conversation with an interpreter.

“Tell him that I am here to play baseball,” Pujols remembered saying. “Let’s go play. I’m not here to talk about anything.”

He remembers being confused and angry a lot. Lots of teenage boys are. On the baseball field, though, he destroyed Kansas City high school pitchers to the point where more or less everybody believed he was lying about his age. He HAD to be older. It’s a charge that has always followed Pujols, much to his disgust, just as there have been those who insist on whispering about steroid use without any proof at all.

But these were just the start of the doubts. People doubted his BASEBALL TALENT. People doubted his great power. They doubted his defense. They doubted his intelligence. They doubted his fitness. His senior year in high school, he was walked 55 of the 88 times he came to the plate. He hit eight home runs in the 33 times they pitched to him — roughly one out of four.

“I was a monster,” Pujols says, and yet the monster did not get drafted. At all. There have always been rumors that Pujols wanted too big a signing bonus and that was the reason teams passed on him for FIFTY ROUNDS — but let’s say it again: Albert Pujols was not drafted out of high school. An enraged Pujols went to Maple Woods Community College and in his one year hit .422 with 22 home runs and — it is said — did not strike out one time. That’s probably not true. But he certainly did not strike out much.

Then, only then, did the St. Louis Cardinals draft him. They took him in the 13th round.

All of this — not getting drafted, getting picked in the 13th round, getting sent to Low Class A (which he crushed), being told over and over that the extraordinary things he could do on a baseball diamond were not real — created twin engines within Pujols: Rage and faith. He funneled both into baseball. He sculpted his body into a giant muscle. He widened his stance and swung the bat a million times and worked relentlessly on his defense. in his moments away from the field, he gave his life over to God.

And when, after one year in the minor leagues, he was invited to spring training he saw it as his moment. The Cardinals liked Pujols by then but still intended that invitation to be an introduction, a chance for Pujols to get comfortable with big leaguers. They didn’t understand: He was not going to let them send him down. Within days, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa could not stop talking about him. He hit EVERYTHING. He played any position you asked. He hustled constantly, was driven constantly, played to win constantly. It took an injury to open up a spot for Pujols but, honestly, they would have had to find a way. Mark McGwire told La Russa that if he sent Pujols down it might be the worst decision of his career. La Russa knew.

That first year, Pujols hit .329 and slugged .610 as a rookie with 47 doubles and 37 home runs. It’s one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history. Put it this way: He created 141 runs. Only Ted Williams, in his legendary 1939 season, created more in a first season.

The next year, Pujols decided he wanted to strike out less. He struck out 93 times that first year. So he cut 24 strikeouts off, just like that, and has never struck out even 80 times in a season since.

The next year, Pujols wanted to regain some of his first season power. So he led the league with 51 doubles, hit 43 homers and slugged .667. For fun, he also hit .359, which led the league.

The next year, he basically had the same season — with three extra home runs. He led the Cardinals to a 105-win season and the pennant.

The next year, he wanted to add another element to his game. So he stole 16 out of 18 bases. He won the MVP. The Cardinals won 100 games and lost in the National League Championship Series, but not before Pujols hit a homer for the ages — a massive three-run shot off Brad Lidge with two outs in the ninth and the Cardinals trailing by two runs. People who were there will tell you: Never before in the history of mankind has so much sound gone so silent as quickly.

The next year, Pujols wanted to improve his defense. He won his first Gold Glove. He also hit 49 home runs and was clearly the best player in the league, though the MVP award went to Ryan Howard (who did hit 58 homers). And the Cardinals, despite a late-season near collapse, won the World Series.

The next year he had the closest thing he would have in the decade to a down season — he ONLY hit .327/.429/.568 with 321 total bases and, by the numbers, his best defensive season.

In 2008, he hit .357 and slugged .653 and won his second MVP. In 2009 he led the league in runs, homers, on-base percentage, slugging and total bases and won his third MVP. In 2010, he led the league in runs, RBIs and homers and finished second to Joey Votto in the MVP voting.

In 2011, he failed to hit .300 for the first time (he hit .299) and failed to get 100 RBIs for the first time (he got 99) and then hit hit .478 in the NLCS to lead the Cardinals to the World Series, where they beat Texas in seven games for the ages.

All the while, he remained utterly and completely driven, set off by the most trivial snub, sensitive to the most insignificant charges. He could be icy to the press and cliquish with teammates. It was as if he spent his days in a trance. I’ve told this story before — after I wrote that Sports Illustrated story about him (a story I was told he found fair) I went to St. Louis to write something else. We crossed paths in the clubhouse, I thought to say hello, and Pujols looked right through me without acknowledging me. The next day, our paths crossed in the clubhouse again. And again, he did not show even the slightest recognition or the slightest opening for an exchange. “Well,” I thought, “maybe he really didn’t like that story.” You can’t spend much time thinking about such things.

After the season, though, I saw him again at the St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Writers dinner. And he was like a completely different person. He saw me from across the room and waved happily like a little kid. He couldn’t wait to say hello and have a conversation. Weird, right? Only: No, it wasn’t weird at all. Pujols in the clubhouse, Pujols around a game, Pujols in the batter’s box, with a pitcher trying to embarrass him and people all around who doubt him — I think he’s different there. I think he hears voices. I think he feeds on doubt. The last two years in Anaheim, in my opinion, Pujols’ numbers have not gone down because of doubt or the big contract. I think they have gone down mostly because:

1. He’s now playing in a division with three extreme pitchers parks — his own home park being one of the most extreme.

2. He’s been injured.

3. He’s in his early 30s, which is when most players start the inevitable regression, and he’s still adjusting.

Now he says he’s healthy. He’s used to his team and park. He’s having a good spring. And the doubters are everywhere. It will be fascinating to see what he can do. Pujols is one of the 50 greatest players in baseball history — nothing will change that. How much higher can he climb on the list? That’s an open-ended question, one you have to believe he still wants to answer.

153 thoughts on “No. 47: Albert Pujols

    1. Sadge

      So did I. I matched up with the WoC.

      I will guess that this means anyone with ARod on their list will take a 50 point hit.

      Reply
      1. Jake Bucsko

        Sadge, the only way that Alex Rodriguez is not one of the Top 100 players ever is if you disqualify him based on steroids. Don’t think that’s what Joe will do, this list will feel incomplete and false without Bonds, Clemens, and ARod.

        Reply
        1. Sadge

          I’m just basing it on what Joe wrote. Not saying I agree or disagree. There’s definitely disagreement in the lists.

          Reply
      2. Simon

        A-Rod was at his best 1996-2007.

        But Barry Bonds 1990-2004 was better than A-Rod 1996-2004.

        And Albert Pujols 2005-now was/is better than A-Rod 2005-now

        It’s not saying that overall Pujols > A-Rod.

        It’s saying that the majority of A-Rod’s prime happened to overlap with Barry Bonds at his steroid and non-steroid peaks. And Barry Bonds is probably in the top 3-5 on this list.

        By the time Barry’s peak was over, A-Rod was a third baseman in New York. You could make the argument that he was the best player in the game 2005-2007, but I agree that he was not CLEARLY the best at this time.

        Reply
  1. Corey

    How much of Musial’s ranking first for most years in the 1940s is skewed by only missing one season to the wars, while Dimaggio missed three and Williams five?

    Reply
    1. Brian

      You can do a pretty quick back-of-the-envelope estimate by just factoring in their established level of WAR and plugging it into their missing war years. DiMaggio does not catch Musial in any year. But as far as I can tell Williams surpasses Musial EVERY stretch that Joe has Musial #1. That tells me that there is a very legit argument for removing Musial from Joe’s “clearly/inarguably” list of 11 above.

      Reply
      1. BobDD

        60-year Cards fan here; Stan-the-Man favorite player all-time and I freely admit Ted Williams was always better when they were both full-time excepting the single year of 1948. OB% lead too much for base-running or defense to make up for, even though Musial was 2nd in OB% by a decisive margin.

        Reply
  2. David Gardner

    Love reading your ratings, Joe…and agree with you that Pujols is a truly great player.
    One quick question, if I may: In your WAR list, don’t you have Mickey Mantle rated a few years when he wasn’t even playing? His first full season was 1951, and though he was a very promising rookie that year, he was hardly a superstar.

    Reply
    1. Stephen

      Mantle was so good that eight or nine seasons of him early in his career could beat out ten seasons of almost anybody else. Remember that WAR is a counting stat…

      Reply
    2. ajnrules

      It’s that Mantle had the highest WAR in the 10-year period that began in that particular year. So he led the majors in WAR 1950-1959 and 1951-1960 even though he didn’t play in 1950 and was famously demoted to Kansas City in 1951 because he was so gosh darned good in years like 1956 and 1957 and so on

      Reply
    3. JimV

      The 1950 entry for Mantle means Mantle led in 10-year WAR from 1950-1959 so even with 1951 being his first full season his 10-year total was still the best.

      Reply
  3. Gene

    I watched Albert play with my Cardinals for 11 years and loved every minute of it. At this point I’m not sorry he’s gone, and his success is less of a concern for me, but I’d like to see him approach the old Albert a few more times before retiring. If anyone could will himself to overcome age and injury for at least a few more seasons, it’s AP.

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      What he can’t overcome is the heavy night ocean air in Anaheim that leaves a lot of fly balls at the warning track. Tim Salmon holds the team HR record with 299. I’ll never forget the first time Pujols hit a shot he was sure was a HR. Then he went into his HR trot as the ball was caught on the warning track. He looked stunned. Yes, Albert, Anaheim is the place where HRs and HR hitters go to die.

      Reply
      1. Anon

        This might not be popular but it’s been studied pretty thoroughly. Humidity has little impact on a ball traveling through the air whether it’s golf or baseball (the exception is if there is actual rain/fog, then it does impede the ball but not as much as you’d think). IN fact, humid air makes the ball travel negligibly farther. Anaheim is a bad hitter’s park but it’s not because of humidity. Environmental factors that matter are wind, temperature and altitude.

        Reply
        1. bellweather22

          No. The air is heavy cool ocean air. When people think “humid” they think warm. I agree that on warm humid nights, the ball carries fine. That’s not what you get in Anaheim. There is no question that the ball doesn’t carry at night. On rare warm dry day games, the ball flies.

          Reply
      2. Doug

        Pujols’ decline isn’t all due to the park – he’s been injured and he’s leaving his peak, it’s not in itself surprising that he’d be not as good. Just what happens to baseball players.

        But I’m sure moving to Anaheim didn’t help – a lot of the West Coast parks seem to have that issue, definitely true of San Francisco and Seattle and maybe San Diego too.

        Reply
        1. Johnny B

          Agreed, but I gotta think humidity and ballpark have some bearing. Albert’s in his mid-thirties and in decline – but may still produce a few banner seasons. The great ones do.

          Reply
  4. George

    Hard to believe Pujols is this low, with some of the guys we figure are still to come. Albert’s clearly getting dinged for a shorter career, but it didn’t seem like Miggy was similarly-punished. Koufax over Pujols? Is that really happening?

    Reply
    1. Jake Bucsko

      You’d think if Pujols’s career is getting dinged for a shorter career, Koufax would be decimated for it, right? Maybe he’s not on the list…seems nuts, but there’s really only six seasons where he was an above average pitcher, even if the last four of those he was an otherworldly unstoppable pitching monster.

      Koufax ’63-’66: 97-27, 1.86 ERA, 1228 Ks in 1192 IP, 89 CGs, 31 shutouts, 0.909 WHIP.

      That’s just insanity. There’s no way he’s not on the list, forget I said that.

      Reply
      1. cohnjusack

        That is insanity, and it’s also stripped on all context.

        Taking nothing away from the greatness of Koufax, who was truly great. BUT, these numbers occurred in the best pitching environment the liveball era ever saw: 1960s Dodgers stadium. Koufax’s road ERA was typically about a run higher. He actually “only” lead the league adjusted ERA+ twice.

        Sandy was undeniably great, but he’s a case where we we tend to look at raw numbers and ignore the environment they were created in.

        Reply
        1. Jake Bucsko

          Cohnjusack, well,his ERA+ for those 4 seasons are 159, 186, 160, 190. At worst he was still 60% better than the average pitcher. But I did have to look up the home/road splits:

          1963: home ERA 1.38, road ERA 2.31
          1964: home ERA 0.85, road ERA 2.93
          1965: home ERA 1.38, road ERA 2.72
          1966: home ERA 1.51, road ERA 1.97

          overall, Koufax had a home ERA of 1.31 against a road ERA of 2.44. So, um, yeah, you have something there.

          Reply
          1. bellweather22

            I don’t know why all the hate for Koufax, just because he retired early due to injury. DiMaggio had a short career too. Where are all the DiMaggio haters?

          2. BobDD

            it’s not hate to rate one player higher than another – you seem to have unnecessarily imported over-heated commentary from some of the political sites

          3. invitro

            “I don’t know why all the hate for Koufax, just because he retired early due to injury. DiMaggio had a short career too. Where are all the DiMaggio haters?”

            Koufax had 6 seasons with WAR over 4, and DiMaggio had 12. DiMaggio’s career was short mainly due to the three lost seasons to WWII.

            I don’t think the two are at all comparable.

      1. DM

        Geoff,

        I have it on good authority that AndyL is actually Joe’s distant cousin Andy Losnanski. Please disqualify him from the contest.

        Thank you,
        DM

        Reply
        1. AndyL

          DM,

          Although Joe is not aware of it, I actually do have a connection to him, but not familial. I was (and still am) in-house attorney for one of Joe’s prior employers. Had he been sued for, say, defamation, I would have handled it. But much to my disappointment, we never were spoke at all, let alone about his top 50.

          Reply
          1. DM

            AndyL,

            Very interesting. Despite your stated innocence, I’m sure we’ll still find a way to hold the connection against you if you continue to stay hot in the contest. Of course, if you cool off, all will be forgiven. :)

            Geoff…..do we have any other legal experts involved in the contest that can spot a loophole here?

            Thanks.

  5. Mike K

    I do not see how Albert can only be No. 47. Joe pretty convincingly demonstrated that “there have only been 11 everyday players since 1900 who were CLEARLY and ALMOST INARGUABLY the best players of their time,” and he is one of them. And “their time” in Joe’s analysis is rolling 10 year periods, so 1 or 2 (or 3 or 4) good seasons do not get it done. If Albert quit tomorrow, he’s still in the top 20 or just outside it.

    Reply
    1. Ian R.

      Well, consider:

      A) Albert is pretty clearly at the bottom of that list of 11 players, so there’s 10 guys ahead of him.

      B) That list only included everyday players, not pitchers. One assumes that guys like Lefty Grove and Walter Johnson and Greg Maddux and others will be ahead of him.

      C) Joe is including guys who never played in the big leagues, like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson and other Negro League stars. Obviously their rankings are somewhat conjectural and speculative, but they’ll be ahead of Pujols.

      D) That list of 11 doesn’t include some legendary players who played at the same time as other legendary players. I think Hank Aaron, for instance, is clearly ahead of Pujols. So are Rogers Hornsby and Rickey Henderson and Mickey Mantle and a few other guys Joe mentioned.

      #47 seems about right when you take all of those groups into account.

      Reply
        1. M. Kirk

          I don’t think that gets you to No. 47. I’ll give you the list of 10 (though I think Albert may be better than Schmidt and maybe Morgan), the pitchers (I would put Clemens above Albert in addition to Johnson, Grove, and Maddux), the top Negro Leaguers (Charleston in addition to Paige and Gibson), and Hornsby, Mantle, and Henderson, and I will throw in Foxx and Speaker. Accepting all that, Albert’s still No. 25.

          Reply
          1. Ian R.

            Oh, I wasn’t giving anything like an exhaustive list. Here’s a few more names I’d expect to see ahead of Pujols:

            Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra (Catchers aren’t ever going to be your 10-year WAR leaders, but those two are the best ever).

            Randy Johnson, Cy Young, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Christy Mathewson (a few more all-time great pitchers).

            Alex Rodriguez (I realize Joe said his 10-year lead comes up short of Albert’s, but his career’s been longer, and there’s no way he misses the top 100).

            George Brett (suffers from being a contemporary of Mike Schmidt).

            Hank Aaron (don’t think he needs much explanation – did you mean to leave him off your list?).

            Carl Yastrzemski and Roberto Clemente (Aaron’s contemporaries who stopped him from making the list of 11).

            Frank Robinson (a consensus top-20 all-time player).

            Mel Ott and Joe DiMaggio (two more legends whose careers clashed).

            Eddie Collins (arguably the best second baseman of all time).

            Cal Ripken (the guy who kept Rickey out of that list of 11).

            With the guys you already granted, that takes Albert down to #40. I’m sure there’s a few more I’m missing – this is why I didn’t enter the top 50 contest – but there you go.

          2. Johnny B

            Schmidt & Morgan – up the middle players, and those higher on the defensive spectrum might get more love than a first baseman on this list. Just sayin’.

          3. invitro

            “Frank Robinson (a consensus top-20 all-time player).”

            He may be a consensus top 30 player, but not top 20. James had him #24, and ESPN #22.

          4. Ian R.

            “He may be a consensus top 30 player, but not top 20. James had him #24, and ESPN #22.”

            Fair enough. I might have been excluding pitchers and Negro League guys – Robinson is certainly a top 20 all-time position player – but those guys are included in Joe’s list, so yeah.

            The larger point here is that Frank Robinson’s career beats Pujols’ career thus far – though Pujols could certainly pass him with a late-career surge.

      1. dshorwich

        Ian R –

        “C) Joe is including guys who never played in the big leagues, like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson and other Negro League stars. ”

        Paige played in the big leagues.

        Reply
        1. John Gale

          This is true, but Paige was already in his 40s when he made his big league debut in 1948 (he and Larry Doby were the first African-American players to win the World Series). For the purposes of this list, he’s essentially in the same group as Charleston and Gibson (and Oh, for that matter). But for the sake of accuracy, you are most certainly correct.

          Reply
        2. Ian R.

          …what John said. Paige played in the big leagues, but he’s going to be ranked based on what he accomplished in the Negro Leagues.

          You’re technically correct, though. My bad.

          Reply
  6. Andy

    Ok Mike Trout is undoubtedly the best player in baseball right now. If he gets injured tomorrow and never returns he should still make that list but he’ll never be in the running because of Joe’s method

    I think Mantle was clearly the best player for a few years before Mays got started.

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      The list isn’t supposed to represent those who were clearly the best player in baseball at any given moment. It was those who had clearly been the best player in the game over an extended period of time. Those are two different things.

      However, it’s a bit odd in that by the time your name gets added to the list you’re almost certainly *not* going to be the best player in the game at that time (though a few were).

      Reply
      1. Andy

        A 10 year period is too long in my opinion – make it a 5 year period and I’d think it would be fairer – especially around the 2nd world war and the Korean War

        Reply
      2. Craig From Az

        Note that there are 2 guys on the list that were still the best in the game after their first 10 year period of dominance ended – Ruth and Bonds (with a very near miss by Mays). Top 3 ever?

        Reply
        1. David Runyon

          Steroid questions aside, those three are generally agreed to be the best three players of all time. ESPN.com’s top 100 list has Ruth, Mays, and Bonds as the top three, followed by Ted Williams, Aaron, and Cobb, with Clemens as the top pitcher at no. 7.

          Reply
      1. JH

        Not to take anything away from Pujoles, but this article just makes me think again how awesome Trout’s been the past 2 years.

        Using Fangraphs WAR, Trout’s currently tied for #1 overall in WAR from 2011-present, even though he only played 40 games in 2011. He’s in the top-50 position players (#49) from 2007-present, even though that captures 4 and three-quarters seasons that he didn’t play.

        He has a non-zero shot, health permitting, at topping this list beginning in 2009 — he currently ranks 28th in WAR from 2009-2013, and he’s only 11 WAR behind the leader (Cabrera) with 5 years to go. He was comfortably more than 2 wins/year above the field in ’12-’13.

        Realists (aka: buzzkills) point out that it’s pretty much impossible to be quite as good as he’s been the past 2 years for a sustained period of time. They’re probably right. I don’t care. The Angels are my least favorite team, but this guy makes me feel like I’m watching history every time I see him play.

        Reply
        1. John Gale

          Call me a buzzkill if you want, but the only guy who has ever done that 12 times is the roided-up Barry Bonds. Even Babe Ruth only did it 11 times (10 consecutive). So unless we think Trout is one of the five best players in the history of baseball, I’d put the odds of this happening at roughly zero percent.

          Reply
    2. bellweather22

      Well, there’s also the “HOF method” which requires a player to be in MLB for 10 years. That standard has to be respected. The HOF would be vastly different if it required players to have two great years. There are plenty of players who started out like sure HOFers. Fred Lynn or Don Mattingly anyone?

      Reply
  7. Jake Bucsko

    I recently read The Extra 2% by Jonah Keri, about how the Rays turned their franchise around. It’s a really good book, but there’s a standout section about a scout the Rays had that begged, pleaded, implored Tampa to take Albert Pujols. It’s a great story.

    Reply
    1. Anon

      Read an article not too long ago that the Red SOx also had a scout that was on Pujols and management wouldn’t meet his demands of something like $50,000 as a bonus.

      Reply
  8. MisterMJ

    Can’t talk about Pujols without the PED sword hanging over his head. Knowing his background, his motivation, and the many times people doubted him … all the more reason to take PEDs. The main issues that hurt his draft stock were 1) dubious age and 2) physique (basically fat). And then, less than 2 years after the draft, he’s somehow become incredibly sculpted? Again, considering context, he would’ve been a fool NOT to take PEDs.

    Perhaps this is why Joe Po has Pujols so low on his list.

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      Speak for yourself. I have absolutely no trouble talking about Pujols’ accomplishments without mentioning (or even thinking about) PED’s.

      Reply
    2. Brian

      A) Not at all Joe Po’s style to demote a guy for such flimsy “evidence.” B) Pujols is one of the few athletes (Bo Jackson and Manny Pacquaio are others) who has sued someone over a steroids allegation. This means his accuser would be able to subpoena all kinds of otherwise private information to support his claim – something that an actual steroid user would tend not to do. C) Pujols is an intensely religious man who believes that drug use – including steroid use – is morally wrong. I know several people who know Pujols and they swear his religiosity is not for show. That proves nothing, of course, but add all it up and I’m highly dubious of the claim that Pujols is or was a steroid user.

      Reply
      1. invitro

        I believe Joe explicitly stated at the start of this venture that steroid rumors or proved use had no bearing on his rankings here.

        Joe does not totally ignore steroids though: note his 2014 HoF ballot, with Bonds and Clemens being docked several notches.

        Reply
  9. Alejo

    This is a rich, complete post, with biography, data, insight and even discussion on other athletes.
    I hope Joe will also do justice to Clemente and Rose.

    Reply
    1. elfego slaughter

      Doing justice to Clemente? Where have you been? Search : Roberto Clemente br bullpen. The real experts have known he’s right there with Mays. Roger Angell and Bowie Kuhn knew. They played Jesus Christ Superstar during the the first night time world series where 60+ million people saw what Angell said : There was Clemente playing a level of baseball NONE of us had ever seen before, throwing and running and hitting at something close to the level of absolute perfection…playing to win ,but playing as if it was a FORM OF PUNISHMENT for everyone else on the field. It was divine intervention as Clemente created his own form of justice against all the nonsense media that simpy saw him as something we have to HIDE or as Mel Brooks said in Blazing Saddles : We need to protect our phoney baloney jobs!!! Clemente did the two(2) rareist things in baseball better than ANYONE 1) hit the very best pitching in history and 2) had the strongest,most accurate throwing arm which if there were never outfield walls erected would have easily made him the most valuable player of all time according to physics dudes. As far as Rose is concerned on at least 3 separate occasions he said Clemente is the greatest hitter i’ve seen…….how ironic that he was left on the all centuy team as an OUTFIELDER while Roberto was REMOVED. All the advanced metrics in the world won’t change what WE saw as the purest ENTERTAINMENT this somewhat flawed game has provided. Tear down the walls and let truth in!

      Reply
  10. Tony Francis

    Of course, you have to accept wins above replacement as a bonafide stat and not some metric innovation without merit.

    Reply
    1. adam

      WAR *is* a stat, regardless of whether it has merit.

      Personally I think it has a lot more merit than RBI or pitcher wins. YMMV.

      Reply
  11. cohnjusack

    Hard to believe Pujols is ranked this low. He’s ranked 40th all-time in WAR, still probably has a number of productive(but not great) seasons left in him…

    Reply
    1. John Gale

      Well, I think it depends on what we’re talking about. If he’s ranked 40th in WAR, 47th doesn’t sound like much of a stretch for him, especially since there will some Negro League players like Charleston, a guy like DiMaggio who lost some years to World War II, etc.

      Reply
      1. Bothrops Asper

        40th in WAR in far fewer PAs than most of the guys ahead of him. With a bunch of 19th Century guys ahead of him too.

        Reply
    2. largebill

      Nothing is final. Trout, Harper and other young players may someday warrant inclusion on these lists. Pujols at 47 is very impressive seeing as we are ranking his incomplete career against thousands of players’ complete careers. Five years from now Pujols may be considered a top 15 all time player. 30 years from now he might be further down the list as he’s passed by guys currently in elementary school.

      Reply
  12. Dave Hoppen

    I wonder how many people would be surprised to see Chase Utley on that list. He’s had his moments in the spotlight, but you never think of him in such austere company (I’d imagine Joe appreciates Utley’s work, but he barely even acknowledges him). I wouldn’t expect him to reach any HOF benchmarks, but I hope he gets his day in court when he hits the ballot. Probably more in-line with the Hall of Very Good though….

    Reply
    1. tayloraj42

      Mentioning Utley as a Hall of the Very Good-er got me thinking: when it comes to that penultimate hallowed hall, how common is it for someone to have Utley’s career shape? Most guys that come to mind when the HoVG label is applied seem to be ‘compilers’; guys like Rich Reuschel, Vada Pinson, or Rusty Staub that may have had some big seasons but mostly just hung around forever racking up counting stats. How often do you see someone like Utley, who was one of the very best players in the game from 2005-09 and has had some other good seasons but yet doesn’t seem to stand much of a shot for HoF election?

      Reply
        1. Patrick Bohn

          The trouble with Mattingly is that we now know he was overrated, even at his peak. No speed, rarely walked, played a non-premium defensive position. His value at the time was heavily tied to his high average and RBI totals, both stats that are seen (correctly IMO) as having much less value than people assigned him at the time. His 1985 MVP trophy is a pretty obvious example

          Utley on the other hand, was probably underrated by a lot of people as his contributions were much more well-rounded, but not the kind that were appreciated at large.

          Reply
          1. otistaylor89

            How Henderson did not win the MVP in 1985 is crazy to think about. WAR of 9.9 (Mattingly 6.2), 146 runs scored in only 143 games during a relatively lower scoring period (neutralized it’s 156 runs).

        1. tayloraj42

          You’re completely right on this point; pitchers, with their higher year-to-year volatility and injury rates, do pretty frequently have those kinds of careers. I should rather have specified position players (and not used Rick Reuschel as an example) with that kind of career shape. Dale Murphy I think fits the bill, Cesar Cedeno, maybe somebody like Albert Belle (who was certainly perceived as being one of the best players in the game from 1993-98). There do appear to be more than I had originally thought, but it certainly seems like there are more compilers when it comes to the HoVG

          Reply
    2. largebill

      No telling how much Utley has left, but could see possibility of him finishing his career not too far from top 100. 140ish? Needs several good seasons to get there.

      Reply
        1. Thile

          Right now, Utley is ranked 13th by WAR (58.2) for second baseman, but with a 7-year peak 49.1 over the average HOF 7-year peak of 44.5. He is not quite there with JAWS 53.6 to 57 which should not close given that he is in the decline. Nor does he have gray ink, black ink or other awards to push him over the hump. (All according to Baseball Reference).

          I wanted to see, because after seeing him above and in the comments, I did not realise that Utley had such a very good career. For me, it is a way to appreciate the player by looking at those things.

          I tend to be more of a when in doubt, let them in kind of Hall of Fame guy, so it will be interesting to me to see where he ends up after the 5 year wait which hasn’t even started.

          Reply
          1. Thile

            I forgot to mention Pujols, but I was kind of surprised he was as low as well. It is hard to look at it in a way, as a Cardinals fan, because of him leaving for LAAAAA.

            Now, I do hope he does well. I think of him as perhaps the best hitter I have ever watched, but not sure where I would put him all time. (In retrospect I wish I had filled out a top 50 but did not get around to it).

    3. Patrick Bohn

      Utley’s the kind of player who clearly had (and demonstrated) Hall of Fame talent for a number of years, but probably did not have a Hall of Fame career. It’s always a little bittersweet with those guys because you play the “what if” game. His 7-year peak WAR matches up well with other HOF 2nd basemen.

      But he got such a late start to his career, and he’s missed so much time due to injuries, it’s really startling. According to B-R, his most similar player is Robinson Cano. Cano is four years younger than Utley and has played in 51 more games.

      He’s a very interesting Hall case, but unless he manages to play another 5-6 years at a decent level, I think he’s going to be short

      Reply
  13. AaronB

    I would like to point out that cookie cutter Busch and Busch III are both pitchers parks, so Pujols has always played half his games in a pitching friendly environment. Now in the NL Central he has getting another 20-30 games in some pretty hitter friendly parks + 3 more at Coors, but I think the park issue is a bit overblown.

    Fact is, Pujols is aging, and he’s aging at a more traditional rate, not a PED type rate which fortifies my belief that he’s clean. He was starting to decline a bit towards the end in St. Louis, and it’s only gotten worse in CA. I really hope that he bounces back, but it’s clear that his best days are behind him, which make the contract he got even more of a goof.

    Reply
  14. Rick Rodstrom

    I’ve only got see the Angels version of Albert play on an everyday basis, so obviously I’m not seeing him in his prime, but the most surprising thing to me in watching Pujols is how bad a baserunner he has been. Perhaps it is the need to prove himself with a new team and a new contract, but he is as reckless a baserunner as anyone this side of Vladimir Guerrero. There seems to be something about certain sluggers who fancy themselves to be faster then they really are—Babe Ruth famously got thrown out stealing for the last out of the World Series.

    Alas for the Angels, Albert’s days as a premier hitter seem to be over. He cheats on the fastball, which leaves him exposed to breaking stuff away. With the tandem of Pujols and Hamilton, the Angels are anchored with two rapidly fading sluggers siphoning the lions share of their payroll for years to come.

    Reply
    1. jb

      Cardinals fan here: It’s a shame, because Albert in St. Louis was such a smart and aggressive baserunner. He seemed to have a 6th sense that told him when he could make it – and usually he was right. Seeing Albert in Anaheim, I’m convinced his mind still tells him “go” but his wheels just won’t let him get there.

      As a hitter, we could start to see him changing around 2010. He became more of a dead pull slugger than a guy who used all fields. Before the 2011 Series, I remember seeing a clip of him hitting a home run off Verlander in the 2006 Series: fastball, high and away, off the plate – and he crushed it to right center. I remember thinking he hardly ever did that anymore.

      But if he gets his legs under him again, he is still such a smart hitter I think you’ll have a few more good seasons out of him. I hope so anyway.

      Reply
      1. Rick Rodstrom

        Given the funny way he ran the bases, I’m not so sure the Babe was ever a burner, though he wasn’t as slow as he became after he added the gut (which was in evidence in 1926, when he was 31 and thrown out stealing in the World Series). He did manage to steal 123 bases, but he was also thrown out at least 117 times—there are several years early in his career where there isn’t any info as to how many times he was caught. It’s a safe bet to say that the Babe was, at best, a break even base-stealer—which is to say pretty lousy.

        Reply
  15. Bryan Frances

    It’s amazing that Rogers Hornsby is in the lead just once. For instance, for 1920-29 his WAR is 93.1. Jeez. And of course that wasn’t enough, as the God of baseball was doing his thing for the Yankees during that period.

    Reply
  16. Charles

    This list doesn’t cover all baseball players. It only covers hitters. For instance, from 1985 to 1994, Roger Clemens had more WAR than any position player.

    Walter Johnson is WAY ahead of the pack for several years centered around the start of his career and before Ruth became Ruth (1906-1914, I think).

    There are probably some others in the mix, too.

    Reply
    1. Which hunt?

      I’m glad you pointed that out, because it did strike me as odd, although mostly it seems a truly dominant position player is the most valuable baseball asset, but never a pitcher?

      Reply
  17. EnzoHernandez11

    Here’s a question: how long will Pujols keep winning the decade? I would think he’s a shoo-in for 2005-2014, but after that, it’s less clear (which is to say, I’m too lazy to do the work necessary to propose an answer to the question). And who will replace him? I’m assuming Cabrera within a couple of years, probably followed by Trout.

    Reply
    1. EnzoHernandez11

      OK, I did a little work, and it looks like Pujols has 63.8 WAR between 2005-2013. He leads Utley by 8.3, a gap that obviously won’t be erased in 2014, or any subsequent year. Miggy is at 50.6, so he won’t catch up this year or possibly even next, unless Pujols is truly finished. Other players in the 40s between 2005-2013 include Beltre, Cano, Wright, and Mauer. So unless I missed someone (which is quite possible), and excluding pitchers, it looks like Pujols or Cabrera will stay on top until the Trout generation is ready.

      Reply
      1. EnzoHernandez11

        Also, if Pujols stays down and Cabrera collapses, Evan Longoria might have a shot at winning a decade or two before the Trout/McCutchen era begins.

        Reply
  18. KHAZAD

    I thought 47 was kind of low, but we are talking about the greatest players in the history of the game here, and Albert’s career is not over. Perhaps Joe is saying he 47 if he completely goes into the tank from here, I don’t know.

    I’ll tell you about my first experience with Pujols. There was a young guy working part time where I worked that was playing for one of the local community colleges, so I went to see him play a game- against Maple Woods. The first time Pujols was up, with that menacing stance, he did look like a man among boys. Have you ever seen a line drive to a pitcher or a third baseman playing in that is hit so hard that he ducks out of the way and kind of throws his glove up in that direction, but is mostly interested in protecting himself? Pujols did that to a shortstop playing deep. The ball got there that fast. The guy didn’t touch the ball with his glove, so the ball kept going, in between the two outfielders. It bounced just in front of the warning track and caromed hard off the wall. It was never above 5 feet high the whole way.

    I played baseball for 14 years, until I was 22. I have seen around 250 major league games in person, and have watched some minor league games from the stands (mostly AAA) as well. I have been to the college world series. That was the hardest hit ball I had ever seen in person, and it still is today. When my buddy came in from the field I said ” Who in the hell is that guy!?” He shakes his head and said “That’s Albert Pujols. He’s probably too good for this league” Pujols homered later in the game, but even though I am no scout, I knew this guy was something special from that first at bat.

    When I heard a Cardinal fan talking about him during spring training in 2001, I drafted him in every one of my fantasy leagues, or bought him cheap late in auction drafts, (including some with keepers) and enjoyed that rookie season, all because I went to see one community college game a couple of years earlier.

    Reply
  19. Daniel

    The rolling 10 year WAR analysis is fantastic. The thing that surprised me was how dominant a player Mike Schmidt was. Everybody knows he’s a HOF’er but he was the best player in baseball for 8 consecutive 10 year periods. That’s dominant!

    Reply
    1. SBMcManus

      He’ll always be unfairly punished for having his peak at a time when batting average was the be all and end all of hitting, and that wasn’t his strength. For a lot of people he as “just a .260 hitter” no matter what else he did.

      Reply
  20. John Gale

    I’ve thought about this a bit more, and I will admit that Pujols is ranked lower than I probably would have expected him to be at first blush. But I don’t think he was underranked nearly as badly as Nap Lajoie was.

    Reply
  21. SouthSide

    I like the rolling list of dominant players. One thing that surprised me was how spread out across all the positions the players on this list are. There are more outfielders than infielders, but you can field almost a complete team of “greatest players of their era”:

    1B: Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols
    2B: Joe Morgan
    3B: Mike Schmidt
    SS: Honus Wagner, A-Rod
    LF: Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Ted Williams
    CF: Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays
    RF: Babe Ruth

    The only position that is completely unrepresented is catcher, which isn’t surprising. Hard for a catcher to sustain that level for that long.

    Reply
  22. KB

    Generally considered one of the two best right handed hitters of all-time, a multiple time World Series Winner, multiple Gold Gloves, the top player of his time for 14 seasons by Joe’s logic, and he’s #47? I have the feeling for the next 10-15 players on the list I am going to be doing the “but is he better than Pujols” thing.

    Reply
  23. Herb Smith

    By not including pitchers, Joe’s list seems quite incomplete. For instance, a certain pitcher accumulated more WAR in a decade that BABE RUTH did during the 1920′s!

    Reply
  24. Herb Smith

    Where is Ron Santo?

    I’m not certain how to calculate bWAR over 10-year periods, so I went to the fWAR site.
    It’s a little stunning to see just HOW high Santo rates on these 10-year lists, especially since his prime overlapped with those of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Yaz, F Robby, and a bunch of other 1st-ballot HOFers.

    In the two 10-year periods from 1963-1972, and 1964-1973, Ron Santo is the second best player in all of MLB.

    Second. Over an entire decade. (Hank Aaron is first). In EVERY 10-year period from 1960-1969 through 1966-1975, Santo is in the Top 5 in MLB WAR. (and it goes on like this forever; he’s in the Top 5 in the SIXTEEN year period from 1963 to 1978.

    Wow.

    Reply
  25. Herb Smith

    Oh, and I agree with the BR who posted earlier that it would be more accurate to list the best WAR in 5-year periods.

    And Santo looks even better using that scoring system. In the 5-year period from 1965-1970, he’s the number one player in baseball. And that’s not a “timing” fluke, either, because if you extend it to a 6-year period, Santo is still #1. Convincingly. WAY over the second place guy (Willie Mays), followed by (in order) Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, and 2 guys who won Triple Crowns during this exact period: Yaz and Frank Robinson.

    Wanna go 7 years? From 1964 through 1970, Santo was, again, the very best player in all of baseball. That period of 7 years is usually what we’d call a player’s peak. On the Baseball-Reference site, Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system is how they rank all-time greats…by using a “7-year prime” (compared to career WAR).

    In his 7-year prime, Ron Santo was the absolute best player in Major League Baseball. Seems like this deserves a mention.

    Reply
  26. DM

    All,

    Looks like I’m a little late to the Pujols party, as there are 114 replies already. By the way, if you’re ever at a Pujols party, be very wary of the Pujols platter. It’s a little iffy……

    Count me among those who was surprised at where Pujols is ranked. I predicted him in the top 25 in the contest. Most people had him at least top 35. The average “miss” on Pujols was right around 14 slots, and the Wisdom of Crowds was off by 13. Not one of our better efforts.

    Clearly, most of us that had Pujols much higher didn’t anticipate the fact that Joe must have been basing this just on the years that he has in the books, with no adjustments for that part of Albert’s career that may lie ahead. Maybe he was influenced again by some of Bill James’ prior works.

    Way back in the “original” Historical Abstract (not the “New” one from 2000, but the one written around 1985), James made some references to the “troublesome problem” of ranking active players. In that original Abstract, James expressed some reluctance at that that time to put Mike Schmidt #1 among third basemen. At that time (which was through completion of the 1984 season), Schmidt was 34 (just a year older than Pujols is now), and was sitting at 425 HR’s. James felt like it might be just a little premature to rank him #1 when he was still about 90 HR’s short of Eddie Mathews, and because they were such comparable players, if Schmidt ultimately fell short, the ranking could look strange a few years down the road. As he said, “premature rankings can embarrass you”. He also mentioned the fact that two of the other “top 100″ sources he used as “benchmarks” (the Ritter/Honig and the Maury Allen books from 1981) both included George Foster, who seemed to be heading towards a much finer career than the one he ultimately finished with. He did end up naming Schmidt as the greatest 3B ever, but not without some hesitation.

    One of the fun things to do is to play with the bb-ref comp list using the similarity scores concept. Now, most people know that there are issues and limitations to that method. It computes similarity based on “basic” stats like (for hitters) games played, at bats, runs scored, hits, HR’s, RBI, walks, steals, batting average, slugging pct, position played, things like that. I would love if it included things like WAR and OPS+ or other similar metrics, but it doesn’t. Still, I think it does a decent job of identifying similar players.

    If Pujols’ career ended right now, his comp list would be (with similarity scores in parenthesis):

    Vladimir Guerrero (850)
    Jeff Bagwell (848)
    Carlos Delgado (848)
    David Ortiz (823)
    Frank Thomas (822) *
    Manny Ramirez (819)
    Larry Walker (813)
    Todd Helton (812)
    Fred McGriff (802)
    Willie Stargell (795) *

    Let’s see….2 Hall of Famers (Stargell, Thomas), 2 “top 100″ players on Joe’s list (Thomas & Bagwell), plus some other nice HOF candidates, but not quite what we would think when talking top 50. Now, to be perfectly blunt, this is a prime example of one of the shortcomings of this method, because Pujols’ WAR is over 93 and his OPS+ is 165, and none of these guys are all that close to either of these figures. So, this is his comp list, but he’s much better than any of them. If he retired today, you know a lot of people would eventually look at this and be just a little underwhelmed.

    Now, that list is based on CAREER. The real fun begins when you compare to the players that Pujols is similar to THROUGH THE SAME AGE. Obviously, not everyone ages the same, but when you compare for career stats accumulated through age 33, you get this list:

    Frank Robinson (851) *
    Hank Aaron (845) *
    Ken Griffey (823)
    Manny Ramirez (820)
    Willie Mays (817) *
    Jimmie Foxx (811) *
    Mickey Mantle (804) *
    Lou Gehrig (802) *
    Mel Ott (787) *
    Vladimir Guerrero (775)

    Now we’re talking! 7 Hall of Famers, with Griffey pending, and Guerrero likely to get some decent support (MannyBManny might be allowed to visit the HallBHall). A much more legendary list.

    Through 33, here’s how it looks:
    Pujols – 13 seasons, 93.0 WAR, 492 HR, 1,498 RBI, .321/.410/.599, 165 OPS+
    Avg of other 9 – 14 seasons, 92.1 WAR, 457 HR, 1,464 RBI, .315/.408/.581, 161 OPS +

    A really good comp list, I’d say. What did that group do after 33? This is very speculative, of course, because there is no law that just because he has been similar to this group through age 33 they will predict his future, but it does give some idea of the potential.

    The average of the 9 players played 5 more years, accumulated 16.4 in WAR, 114 HR’s, 356 RBI’s, and hit .276/.375/493, with a 137 OPS+. Now, granted, two players (Aaron and Mays) skew the results because they had a lot of post-age 33 value (WARs of 38 and 47, respectively, both hit over 200 HR’s after age 33, and I certainly wouldn’t expect Pujols to do that). However, Foxx was essentially done by then, and some of the others only played 3 more seasons, so they do at least somewhat offset.

    If Pujols were to replicate the average result of this group from age 34 and after, he would end up at WAR of 109, 606 HR, 1,854 RBI, .311/.402/.575, and an OPS+ of 159. Now, I think that’s a little high, mostly because of how well Aaron and Mays did, but it certainly shows the potential. My guess would be that he ends up somewhere around 570 HR’s.

    Anyway, if he manages to get to somewhere, let’s say, around 105, 106 WAR….well, that would be pushing top 25. And 159 OPS +? That would be top 15. He’s got a legitimate chance to finish top 10 on the HR list. He’s currently 28th, and with any kind of a decent year this year, he could be getting close to the top 20.

    So, I certainly understand why Joe listed him this “low” at this point. I think if he reprises this list a few years down the road, I suspect Pujols will be much higher the next time around.

    Thanks.

    Reply
      1. James

        No more so than Mariano Rivera. Rivera was great in limited action. Cabrera’s name is in the top 100 all-time in numerous hitting categories, and is coming off his best season.

        Reply
        1. dirtydanbooking

          Sure, but his defense puts him well outside the top 100 for career value. Rivera’s a different case. The notion is the closers should be treated separately than other players.

          All I’m saying is that if you give credit for extrapolated career, Pujols should be higher. If you don’t than Cabrera shouldn’t make the list. Can’t have it both ways.

          Reply
          1. James

            Obviously Pujols is 3 years older, and is therefore beginning his decline ahead of Cabrera, but at this point Pujols is showing decline, whereas Cabrera is not as of yet. In fact, the 4 highest OPS+ of his career have come in the last 4 years.

            If you give Cabrera Pujols’ stats for the last 3 years (I think he will exceed what Pujols did those 3 years) and add them to his career totals, you come up with the following:

            HR: 449 (T-36th all time)
            RBI: 1528 (48th all time)
            R: 1303
            Hits: 2442
            Avg: .313

            I did not calculate his slugging, but it would end up top 20 of all time.

            Those are his totals IF he only matches the totals Pujols put up the last 3 years (84 HR, 239 R, 447 hits, .283 avg). With his body type, you never know how he will age, but with his contract he will probably be playing another 10 years, and I think he far exceeds the totals projected. 500 Homeruns, 3000 hits, 1800 RBI, with a .310 average are all not only in play, I almost think they’re likely.

            That said, I agree Pujols should be higher, but I am guessing Joe is figuring in the apparent decline we are seeing in his ranking.

          2. dirtydanbooking

            Ok so those are basically Rafael Palmeiro’s career numbers. I’m not sure why you’re just posting his offensive stats, obviously defense matters. And there’s no way Cabrera has a .310 career average if he plays another 10 years :)

            Anyway you agree that the gap between them is too small. Either Pujols should be higher or Cabrera should be left of the list. Of course the gap between Pujols and Jeter is hilariously small.

          3. James

            Yes, I think Pujols should be higher, say in the 20′s. I know Pujols is a better defender and baserunner, but their hitting stats through their age 30 seasons might be closer than you think:

            Games: Cabrera, 102 more
            Runs: Pujols, 122 more
            Hits: Cabrera, 95 more
            Doubles: Pujols, 12 more
            Triples, Pujols, 1 more
            Homeruns: Pujols, 43 more
            RBI: Cabrera, 30 more

            Pujols leads in all the slash stats (.331/.426/.624) to (.321/.399/.568) and in OPS+ 172 to 154.

            We’ll have to see how each finishes their careers to make any proclamations, but I readily agree that Pujols has been better to this point and deserves to be ranked higher. Cabrera is one of the top 10-20 hitters of all-time to this point; his career just happens to be overshadowed by someone who ranks higher on that list than he does.

            As a hitter, I’m sorry but Cabrera is in a different league from Palmeiro. Cabrera’s career OPS+ is 154, while Palmeiro only had 2 years that were that high, and just barely (160, 155). As to the average, if I put Cabrera up to 11000 AB (another 4779, which I think is reasonable) he would need 3410 AB to be at a .310 average, which would be .296 for the rest of his career. The question is whether or not he can stay healthy that long, but if he gets less than that, the greater the likelihood that he finishes .310 or higher.

  27. invitro

    There are some good analyses here. I took a bath on this pick. I had him #16 and that was just stupid. I did it because ESPN has him #16, and I might have fell for the “Poz loves Pujols” some, but it was still just a really dumb move. A #25 pick would’ve been reasonable.

    I still think this pick is the second in a row to be ridiculously low. I will use a very small argument: Jimmie Foxx. Albert is 3.5 WAR behind Foxx, and has Foxx beaten in WAR7 by 2.0. If we rank him as if he were to drop dead tomorrow, I think it would be reasonable to put him about five spots below Foxx, at most.

    Now Foxx hasn’t come up yet. He was #29 on James, is #28 on ESPN, and (though this doesn’t seem to be an influence) is #31 on Hall of Stats. It seems that a reasonable spot, using Joe’s thinking, would be about #34, at the lowest.

    I’d be interested in any feedback on Pujols vs. Foxx, especially where you would rank them.

    Reply
  28. Rick Rodstrom

    So when there’s a system that ranks Ron Santo above Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Carl Yastrzemski and Frank Robinson, the response is, gee, isn’t it amazing that Ron Santo was better than all those superstars, rather than, man, something is wrong with this ranking system?

    Santo is ranked that high because he walked a lot. And he walked a lot because, hitting in a home run hitters park, he had some pop, and so pitchers would rather put the slow-footed Santo on first base and pitch to Dick Nen or Willie Smith or Byron Browne or whatever garbage the Cubs had hitting behind him (this includes a washed up Ernie Banks). That Santo could be counted on to swoon in September along with the Cubs was overlooked because Santo could be counted on not to swing at four wide ones?

    Reply
      1. Rick Rodstrom

        I want to hear you say that Ron Santo was better than Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Carl Yastrzemski the way fWAR does and then we’ll talk.

        Reply
        1. Chad

          My comment was more about your hatred of the walk. You inferred that the only reason Santo ranks that high is because he walked so much. His walk rates in that time frame were almost identical to Mays and Robinson, and quite a bit lower than Yaz. Santo’s ranking in that particular measure has nothing to do with his walks, and everything to do with his being in the lineup more than those other guys.

          Looking at fWAR for 1962-1971, Santo ranks 4th – well behind Mays and Aaron, a few wins behind Yaz, and just ahead of Robby and Clemente. WAR being a counting stat, he accumulated more than those 2 guys because he rarely missed a game and played 181 more games than Clemente and 154 more than Robinson, and yet was barely ahead of them. Had they played an equal number of games, Santo would have been behind both, and would rank 6th or lower.

          From ’63-’72, Santo ranks 2nd – .2 WAR ahead of Mays, with the benefit of 174 extra games. He’s 5.4 WAR ahead of Clemente with 194 extra games.

          So, I think it’s pretty clear Santo wasn’t better than them, just that he played more. His walks have nothing to do with it.

          Reply
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  30. otistaylor89

    I have to say I don’t get the Ron Santo love. Yes he got on base a whole lot, but he didn’t score once he got on (the only times he finished in the top 10 in runs scored he finished 3rd, 7th and 9th). Granted, the reason he didn’t score that much relative to the number of times he got on was where he was in the batting order, but he didn’t drive in a ton of runs either, never leading the league. A great fielder who played every day, but not close to the legends who played in the 60′s. Too much weight given to the 3rd base position in WAR calculations?

    Reply
    1. Ed

      Runs scored and RBI are team stats. You can’t knock people in if no one is on base in front of you, and you can’t score if no one gets hits to knock you in once you’re on base.

      You can’t really blame him for having bad teammates.

      Reply
  31. otistaylor89

    Maybe if he wasn’t as slow as he was they would have batted him 3rd, not cleanup, where he should have been given his OBP. The fact that he didn’t have any speed can’t be blamed on the team he played for.

    Reply
  32. invitro

    I ran the 10-year WAR champs, using the daily WAR data from b-r, but including pitchers. It does change things — six pitchers are champs.

    I do think a 7-year span might be better… well I’m not sure how to decide which span is better, but I like it better. So I ran that, and some surprises happen. Well, I suppose whether they are surprises depends on your point of view, but three players who are not and will not be on Joe’s 100 are 7-year champs: one hitter, two pitchers. One pitcher is back from Honus’s era, one isn’t. And there is a current player that maybe should be ahead of Cabrera, per this test.

    When Koufax shows up, an argument I hope to see is whether he has been given preferential treatment over these three big-peakers and others due to his super-duper-star status.

    I have to do more programming to make the list printable and then I will post it, after I run an errand.

    (I do not see Santo 1st or 2nd for any 10- or 7-year span. He’s 3rd a couple of times, and is very close in 1964, so maybe Mr. Smith used fangraphs or he or I made an error.)

    Reply
    1. invitro

      Here are the 7-year WAR champs. This has all years of baseball in b-r, from 1871 to 2013. Pitchers are included. I added 3rd-placers.

      The 7-year champs, for years >= 1900, that are not in Joe’s Top 100 are: Ed Walsh (1906-1912), Bucky Walters (1939-1945), Lou Boudreau (1940-1946), Hal Newhouser (three times: 1941-1947, 1942-1948, and 1944-1950), and the mighty Phil Niekro (1973-1979). (I was not counting batting and pitching together quite correctly when I wrote the above comment.)

      1871-1872 (2 times): Al Spalding (ahead of Bobby Mathews and Tommy Bond in second; and of Candy Cummings (2) in third)
      1873-1876 (4 times): Tommy Bond (ahead of Spalding (2), Jim Devlin, and Jim McCormick in second; and of Devlin (3) and McCormick in third)
      1877-1880 (4 times): Jim McCormick (ahead of Old Hoss Radbourn (2), Bond, and Pud Galvin in second; and of Monte Ward, Radbourn, Tim Keefe, and Galvin in third)
      1881 (1 time): Old Hoss Radbourn (ahead of Keefe in second; and of Jim Whitney in third)
      1882-1883 (2 times): Tim Keefe (ahead of Radbourn and John Clarkson in second; and of Radbourn and Galvin in third)
      1884-1887 (4 times): John Clarkson (ahead of Bob Caruthers (2) and Silver King (2) in second; and of Roger Connor, Mickey Welch, Caruthers, and Kid Nichols in third)
      1888-1890 (3 times): Kid Nichols (ahead of Amos Rusie (2) and Cy Young in second; and of Rusie, Young, and Clarkson in third)
      1891-1900 (10 times): Cy Young (ahead of Nichols (7), Honus Wagner (2), and Joe McGinnity in second; and of Rusie (2), Clark Griffith (2), McGinnity (2), Ted Breitenstein, Ed Delahanty, Rube Waddell, and Wagner in third)
      1901-1905 (5 times): Honus Wagner (ahead of Christy Mathewson (3) and Young (2) in second; and of Nap Lajoie (2), Mathewson (2), and Ed Walsh in third)
      1906 (1 time): Ed Walsh (ahead of Wagner in second; and of Ty Cobb in third)
      1907-1914 (8 times): Walter Johnson (ahead of Cobb (4), Pete Alexander (3), and Eddie Collins in second; and of Cobb (3), Collins (2), Tris Speaker, Mathewson, and Babe Ruth in third)
      1915-1927 (13 times): Babe Ruth (ahead of Rogers Hornsby (9), Lou Gehrig (3), and Johnson in second; and of Speaker (3), Harry Heilmann (2), Lefty Grove (2), Johnson (2), Gehrig, Hornsby, Alexander, and Dazzy Vance in third)
      1928-1932 (5 times): Lou Gehrig (ahead of Jimmie Foxx (3), Grove, and Ruth in second; and of Foxx (2), Wes Ferrell, Mel Ott, and Grove in third)
      1933 (1 time): Jimmie Foxx (ahead of Arky Vaughan in second; and of Ott in third)
      1934-1935 (2 times): Arky Vaughan (ahead of Ott (2) in second; and of Joe DiMaggio and Foxx in third)
      1936-1937 (2 times): Joe DiMaggio (ahead of Johnny Mize (2) in second; and of Ott (2) in third)
      1938 (1 time): Mel Ott (ahead of Bucky Walters in second; and of DiMaggio in third)
      1939 (1 time): Bucky Walters (ahead of Lou Boudreau in second; and of Ott in third)
      1940 (1 time): Lou Boudreau (ahead of Ted Williams in second; and of Hal Newhouser in third)
      1941-1942 (2 times): Hal Newhouser (ahead of Williams and Stan Musial in second; and of Boudreau (2) in third)
      1943 (1 time): Stan Musial (ahead of Newhouser in second; and of Boudreau in third)
      1944 (1 time): Hal Newhouser (ahead of Musial in second; and of Williams in third)
      1945-1949 (5 times): Stan Musial (ahead of Jackie Robinson (2), Williams (2), and Robin Roberts in second; and of Robinson (2), Roberts, Newhouser, and Warren Spahn in third)
      1950 (1 time): Robin Roberts (ahead of Musial in second; and of Duke Snider in third)
      1951-1953 (3 times): Mickey Mantle (ahead of Willie Mays (2) and Musial in second; and of Eddie Mathews (2) and Snider in third)
      1954 (1 time): Willie Mays (ahead of Mantle in second; and of Mathews in third)
      1955 (1 time): Mickey Mantle (ahead of Mays in second; and of Hank Aaron in third)
      1956-1963 (8 times): Willie Mays (ahead of Aaron (7) and Mantle in second; and of Frank Robinson (3), Ron Santo, Mantle, Mathews, Aaron, and Roberto Clemente in third)
      1964-1966 (3 times): Bob Gibson (ahead of Clemente (3) in second; and of Carl Yastrzemski (3) in third)
      1967-1969 (3 times): Tom Seaver (ahead of Gibson (2) and Joe Morgan in second; and of Yastrzemski, Fergie Jenkins, and Gaylord Perry in third)
      1970-1972 (3 times): Joe Morgan (ahead of Seaver (2) and Phil Niekro in second; and of Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, and Perry in third)
      1973 (1 time): Phil Niekro (ahead of Mike Schmidt in second; and of Morgan in third)
      1974-1979 (6 times): Mike Schmidt (ahead of George Brett (3), Gary Carter (2), and Niekro in second; and of Niekro (2), Brett, Robin Yount, Rickey Henderson, and Carter in third)
      1980-1981 (2 times): Rickey Henderson (ahead of Schmidt (2) in second; and of Wade Boggs and Carter in third)
      1982-1983 (2 times): Wade Boggs (ahead of Henderson (2) in second; and of Cal Ripken (2) in third)
      1984 (1 time): Rickey Henderson (ahead of Boggs in second; and of Roger Clemens in third)
      1985-1986 (2 times): Roger Clemens (ahead of Barry Bonds and Boggs in second; and of Henderson (2) in third)
      1987-1998 (12 times): Barry Bonds (ahead of Greg Maddux (6), Clemens (2), Alex Rodriguez (2), Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson in second; and of Martinez (4), Ken Griffey (4), Henderson (2), Clemens, and Rodriguez in third)
      1999-2001 (3 times): Alex Rodriguez (ahead of Bonds (2) and Albert Pujols in second; and of Martinez, Bonds, and Pujols in third)
      2002-2007 (6 times): Albert Pujols (ahead of Chase Utley (3), Rodriguez (2), and Robinson Cano in second; and of Johan Santana (2), Roy Halladay, Utley, CC Sabathia, and Rodriguez in third)
      — below: the 7 years have not completed yet —
      2008 (1 time): Cliff Lee (ahead of Pujols in second; and of Miguel Cabrera in third)
      2009-2010 (2 times): Robinson Cano (ahead of Cabrera (2) in second; and of Clayton Kershaw and Ben Zobrist in third)
      2011 (1 time): Clayton Kershaw (ahead of Cabrera in second; and of Cano in third)
      2012-2013 (2 times): Mike Trout (ahead of Cano and Kershaw in second; and of Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gomez in third)

      Reply
      1. invitro

        And keeping the 10-year runs, but including pitching, gives these changes to the champs:

        1905-1913 (9 times): Walter Johnson
        1914-1925 (12 times): Babe Ruth
        1930-1931 (2 times): Lefty Grove
        1963-1965 (3 times): Bob Gibson
        1966-1970 (5 times): Tom Seaver
        1985 (1 time): Roger Clemens

        Reply
  33. Herb Smith

    Great list, invitro. And yes, FanGraphs must see Ron Santo as a far greater player than B-ref does. It’s difficult to know exactly where FanGraphs gives Santo’s career more heft, because Santo did almost EVERYTHING that would make a guy underrated:

    1. The peak of his prime was 1963-1968… the precise era that was the worst hitting environment since Deadball.
    2. He played on bad teams for most of his career. On the few years he played on good teams, those teams became infamous for underperforming/collapsing. As the team’s most vocal/prominent/controversial player, he took most of the heat.
    3. He was an excellent all-around player, and fame tends to shine on guys who are great at ONE thing: Nolan Ryan, Mark McGwire, Lou Brock, etc. (btw, I don’t get the posters above, who insinuate that he was BillyButler-Cecil Fielder slow. He wasn’t. He led the league in Triples one year with 13, was in the Top-10 in runs scored numerous times, etc.)
    4. His HOF skills were the ones that are least celebrated: good fielding, good eye/plate discipline, led league in sacrifice flies 3 times, times-on-base 3 times…that kind of guy. Extremely durable: in one 8-year period, he averaged 161 games played per season.

    So, I don’t know, maybe FanGraphs gives more weight to defensive range (his was superb) and less to errors (he committed more than you’d think for a 5-time Gold Glover), and Baseball-reference does the opposite?

    Reply
    1. otistaylor89

      Does FanGraph adjust for ballpark the same? Santo has a massive Home-Road disparity. I know you can say this about a lot of players, but you look at his road figures and you have to say, “Now, why is this guy in the HOF?” BTW, Pujols has probably an even bigger Home-Road disparity.

      He did walk a lot compared to most everyone during that time. In 1967 he walked 15% more than 2nd place and in most years he walked almost 20% more than 3rd place.
      He was on some pretty weak teams (when you have Don Kessinger leading off a lot of the time, your team is probably in trouble), however it leads to two questions:
      - Why didn’t he bat 3rd more instead of Billy Williams? (Blame the Lip?)
      - Should he have been more aggressive during the pitching dominate 60′s in that cleanup spot instead of letting weaker hitters behind get over matched?

      Reply
      1. Ty Sellers

        Pujols home/road split
        Home: .325/..417/.597
        Road: .317/.403/.601
        Scored 60 more runs and hit 40 more homeruns on the road in 10 less games.

        Santo home/road split
        Home: .296/.383/.522
        Road: .257/.342/.406
        Scored 180 less runs and hit 90 less homeruns on the road in 29 less games.

        Santo wins the disparity award going away.

        Reply
  34. Vidor

    I guess no one will ever read this, but it’s a myth that Pujols only made the team in 2001 because Bobby Bonilla was injured. He had already made the team. The last addition to the roster, after it became clear Bonilla would go on the DL and not be ready for opening day, was John Mabry. Note that when it was time for Bonilla to be activated, Mabry got traded, like a week into the season.

    Reply
  35. invitro

    Ok, rank these three players from best to worst, based on their WARs by year:

    A: 9.9 9.8 8.6 7.0 5.0 3.8 1.9 1.1 0.9 0.7 0.7 -0.4
    B: 10.4 8.4 8.0 8.0 6.9 6.6 6.3 5.7 5.2 5.0 4.6 4.0 3.7 3.2 3.0 2.5 2.1 1.7 1.2 1.0 0.3 -0.1 -0.2 -0.9
    C: 10.4 8.0 8.0 7.4 6.0 4.5 4.5 4.2 3.9 3.1 1.4 0.9 0.9 0.0 -0.1

    Go ahead, tell me that A was better than either B or C. Player A beats B & C in their 3rd and 4th best seasons, and loses the rest. Player B versus Player A seems to be total annihilation.

    As you already know, A is Koufax. B is Phil Niekro, and C is Lou Boudreau.

    Reply
  36. DM

    A few quick observations.

    To “Otis….my man” (my homage to Animal House)….

    Regarding Santo, you mentioned “but he didn’t drive in a ton of runs either, never leading the league”. Is that how we’re evaluating whether someone is good at something, by whether or not he led the league? Really????? If you don’t lead the league, it doesn’t count for anything? How about the three times he finished 2nd? How about finishing top 10 for 8 years in a row? Doesn’t that imply some kind of success at driving in runs?

    Let’s do the 5-year moving total approach with Santo and RBI’s, just to see how he rates over time vs. his peers:
    ’61-’65 – 8th in RBI (in the majors….not just NL)
    ’62-’66 – 5th in RBI
    ’63-’67 – 3rd in RBI
    ’64-’68 – 2nd in RBI
    ’65-’69 – 1st in RBI
    ’66-’70 – 3rd in RBI
    ’67-’71 – 4th in RBI
    ’68-’72 – 4th in RBI

    If you take this entire 12-year span (’61-’72), he’s 4th. Here’s the top 10
    Name – RBI
    Hank Aaron – 1,294
    Harmon Killebrew – 1,239
    Billy Williams – 1,190
    Ron Santo – 1,169
    Frank Robinson – 1,164
    Willie Mays – 1,066
    Carl Yastrzemski – 1,007
    Frank Howard – 1,005
    Willie McCovey – 1,001
    Brooks Robinson – 998

    So, with this track record….are you still telling me that “he didn’t drive in a ton of runs?” To the contrary…..driving in runs was one of the things he was quite good at.

    Reply
    1. otistaylor89

      Santo, to his credit, was 3rd in games played during this period (behind Billy Williams and Brooks Robinson). You’d expect someone who is that high up WAR during this period, who played every day to stick out I some category, other than walks. I think you can attribute his high WAR on a) He played every day, year after year; b) he was a great fielding 3rd baseman; c) He took a ton of walks during a period when others didn’t. He was an accumulator and that, along with his Home-Road splits) really can’t be compared to the other greats of the 60′s.

      Reply
      1. DM

        Otis,

        Your words from your original post were “but he didn’t drive in a ton of runs either, never leading the league” Not my words….yours. Then you say he “took a ton of walks”

        You like to use the word “ton” a lot, don’t you :)

        How can you say that he drew a “ton” of walks but didn’t drive in a “ton” of runs? That’s a little inconsistent, don’t you think? If you do it by rate rather than by raw total, Santo didn’t really draw all that many walks. During the time frame in questions, his walk rate was below the following:
        Mickey Mantle
        Harmon Killebrew
        Joe Morgan
        Eddie Mathews
        Willie McCovey
        Jimmy Wynn
        Bob Allison
        Carl Yastrzemski
        Norm Cash
        Rocky Colavito
        Don Mincher
        Don Buford
        Frank Robinson
        Dick Allen
        Willie Mays
        Al Kaline
        Boog Powell
        Dick McAuliffe

        They all walked more per plate appearance than Santo. So which is it….are you looking at “accumulate” totals, or rate? If you go by totals, OK, he walked a “ton”…..but he also drove in a “ton” of runs. You can’t have it both ways.

        Look I agree that some of the names mentioned in prior posts (Aaron, Mays, Clemente, Yaz, F. Robinson) were better over that same time frame than Santo. No question. I’m certainly not advocating that he was as good as they were. But you really don’t get the “love” for Santo?

        Let me ask you…..if you had to rank the top 3B of all time, where would you rank him? I have him behind Schmidt, Brett, Mathews, Chipper, and Boggs. Who else would you prefer? Brooks Robinson? Beltre? Who? The man was top 10 3B of all time, possibly as high as 6th, he was the best 3B of his era (unless you prefer Brooks Robinson, who wasn’t the hitter Santo was). Don’t you think that deserves some consideration? How good you are relative to others AT YOUR SAME POSITION is an important criteria. Everyone has to play a third basemen in their lineup. You might as well have a great one.

        By the way, when considering home/road splits…..do you hold Yaz’s home/road splits against him? .306/.402/.503 at home, .264/.357/.422 on the road. Ready to kick him out of the Hall? Of course not. A significant home/road split doesn’t automatically mean you weren’t any good.

        Reply
  37. DM

    Rick,

    Regarding you comment of:
    “So when there’s a system that ranks Ron Santo above Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Carl Yastrzemski and Frank Robinson, the response is, gee, isn’t it amazing that Ron Santo was better than all those superstars, rather than, man, something is wrong with this ranking system?”

    WAR is not a ranking system. I’ll concede that some people may use it that way, but that’s their problem. Anyone attempting to rank by WAR isn’t using it right. You can rank by HR’s, by batting average, by ERA, by steals. We know how many of those that players register. Nobody knows how many “wins” each player generates. The creators of WAR know this. They know it’s intended to estimate and summarize runs in all of its various forms (hitting, pitching, baserunning, defense) and present an APPROXIMATION on a single scale.

    I feel like we need a warning label: “DO NOT RANK BY WAR…….IT MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR LISTING”.

    I’ll go on the record…..Santo may have had a greater WAR than those players over a particular slice of time. It doesn’t mean he was “better” than them. What I do believe WAR says about Santo is that, during his time in the majors, he was AMONG the most valuable position players in the game. If you take his career of ’60-’74, here are the fWAR leaders among position players:

    Name – WAR
    Hank Aaron – 99.5
    Willie Mays – 93.2
    Frank Robinson – 81.2
    Brooks Robinson – 76.9
    Carl Yastrzemski – 75.7
    Roberto Clemente – 72.7
    Ron Santo – 70.9
    Harmon Killebrew – 62.6
    Willie McCovey – 60.5
    Joe Torre – 60.3

    How does that sound? Think it did a pretty good job of identifying the really good players of that time frame? Never mind the exact “ranking”….Does that feel about right? See that’s what WAR is good for….not that Santo “ranked” 7th….but that it identifies him as one of the top 10 position players of that time frame. THAT’S what it tells me.

    Oh, and Chad hit on a very important point…..it’s not the walks that make him rate so high. I know you’d like to think so, because it would go nicely with your general contempt of the walk. However, Santo’s walk rate over this time frame is less than Yaz, Killebrew, Mays, McCovey, and Frank Robinson, and essentially the same as Aaron. No, what really boosts Santo on the WAR front is his defense. You see, Santo does tend to rate below Mays, Aaron, Clemente, Yaz, and F. Robinson as a HITTER using WAR. But the defense at 3B gives him a boost.

    Ever see his leader board on Putouts and Assists @ 3B?
    Assists as 3B
    1961 NL 307 (2nd)
    1962 NL 332 (1st)
    1963 NL 374 (1st)
    1964 NL 367 (1st)
    1965 NL 373 (1st)
    1966 NL 391 (1st)
    1967 NL 393 (1st)
    1968 NL 378 (1st)
    1969 NL 334 (2nd)
    1970 NL 320 (2nd)
    1971 NL 274 (3rd)
    1972 NL 274 (3rd)
    Career 4,581 (5th)

    Putouts as 3B
    1961 NL 157 (2nd)
    1962 NL 161 (1st)
    1963 NL 136 (1st)
    1964 NL 156 (1st)
    1965 NL 155 (1st)
    1966 NL 150 (1st)
    1967 NL 187 (1st)
    1968 NL 130 (2nd)
    1969 NL 144 (1st)
    1970 NL 143 (2nd)
    1971 NL 118 (2nd)
    1972 NL 108 (4th)
    1973 NL 107 (4th)
    Career 1,955 (13th)

    Now, I still think Brooks Robinson and the Boyer boys were even better defensively. But, is it not apparent that a player with good power, a good batting eye, a decent batting average, and excellent defense, all at a position where good players were extremely rare during his era should be considered to be an extremely valuable player? Why would anyone think otherwise? He wasn’t better than Aaron, Mays, Yaz, F. Robinson, or Clemente. But he does deserve to be considered among the better players of his generation.

    Reply
  38. Bothrops Asper

    “So, in my viewpoint, there have only been 11 everyday players since 1900 who were CLEARLY and ALMOST INARGUABLY the best players of their time:”…

    And yet he only ranks 47th?

    Reply
    1. EnzoHernandez11

      I had a similar thought. In fact, isn’t it possible (depending on how Cabrera and–especially–Trout do going forward) that we could someday write a paragraph about Pujols similar to the one written above about A-Rod:

      “Four [or five] times, [Pujols] led a 10-year period in WAR. But basically it’s all timing. The four [or five] years he led, happened to cover time after Bonds retired or did not play and before [Trout] was in the big leagues. In every period when Bonds or [Trout] played every season, they topped [Pujols].”

      Not that I think A-Rod was better than Albert, but of the first eight years they overlapped, Rodriguez had the better bWAR four times, and Pujols four times. Now, obviously, Albert hit his prime later, but I still think it’s hard to argue that his dominance falls into in the same class as Bonds, Mays, Musial, etc. (Of course, if he suddenly becomes 2009 Albert again, that would change things dramatically.)

      Reply
  39. AGinNJ

    Re Ron Santo….a deserving HOFer, even if he wasn’t Aaron, mays, or Clemente….in his autobiography “I Had A Hammer” Henry Aaron talks about the impact of black players on baseball. He points out that if baseball had remained all white, the number one home run hitter of the 1960s, that is the top white home run hitter of the decade, would have been….Ron Santo.

    Reply

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