Am I really suggesting that the Cardinals trade Albert Pujols?
But not to the degree that you may have initially thought.
Pujols is the best player in the game today. Arguable, it is. After all, Pujols is fending off National League pitching. And we are confident that the AL is at least slightly stronger than the NL.
Should the Cardinals trade Pujols? No, they don’t have to.
Albert sells tickets. Albert kills the ball. And for my money, Albert
helps his team win games as much as anyone in baseball–and helps as
much as most that have ever played this fine game.
But it isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound the first time you read it.
The Cardinals seem to avoid spending money. They don’t seem like they
want to bring in anyone to help Pujols, and the rest of the team, via
free agency. Kiss the division goodbye, not technically, but I cannot
see the Cardinals giving the Cubbies a run for the division title.
And I do believe that the Cards have the ability to sneak up on us and
remain competitive throughout the majority of the year. But it seems
realistic that the Wild Card winner will need to earn 88+ wins.
Can the Cardinals do this? Can they win 88 games or more?
I don’t believe that they will be that good.
And that is short term of me, to only think about 2009. Because Pujols
is under contract for the 2010 season, too. And the Cardinals have a
$16 million team option for 2011, that will definitely be exercised
(unless Pujols floats away from the planet he has been on by himself
for the past few seasons).
The St. Louis Cardinals have a strong Farm system. So shooting for
contention, serious contention, is not unrealistic either in a year or
two. After all; Colby Rasmus, Brett Wallace, and Daryl Jones shouldn’t
be too far away from joining the Big League club. And all three of
those young guns are in Keith Law’s Top 50 prospects. So offensive
help is on the way.
But the Cardinals cannot force those players to develop faster. It
wouldn’t be the right approach, and of course very well may hinder
Pujols has concerns, injury concerns. And as far as I know, those
injuries haven’t subsided. If my facts are correct, Pujols may need to
have surgery to completely repair the problem. Hitting .355 last
season is a good sign that Pujols can play, but the injury is a reason
that the Cardinals are going to think twice about extending the
superstar’s contract to 6 or 7 seasons.
Simply put, it just seems interesting to me, thinking about the kind of
package Pujols could bring back. What kind of return? How much
talent? The return for Pujols, assuming that a team surrenders minor
leaguers, could potentially give the Cardinals the best farm system in
baseball. Law has them ranked sixth as of now, so acquiring 3-4 more
prospects, with a few very good ones, could give this team loads of
talent in, say 2011.
I don’t think Pujols should be traded, I simply think it should be
explored. I often wonder how much the organization could benefit in
the long haul, if they did, in fact, entertain the idea.
The Cardinals are against spending it seems, so they must rely on the
strength of their homegrowns/prospects going forward. And this move
would certainly strengthen what could be a very strong, young core for
But he IS Albert Pujols…
Sabermetrics is not just the science behind baseball, it is a way of life…
Not really though, for me anyway. But I do believe in what they do. And one of things that I feel strongly about is how overrated Ryan Howard has been over his career.
See, it isn’t as though Ryan Howard is a bad player, he is actually quite good. I have no problem with him getting MVP love in 2006. Howard posted very good numbers that year. And while I think Pujols had slightly more overall value, Howard was far from a horrendous choice. Although when do MVP voters actually make horrendous choices? They seem to choose the right player less often then I would like, but they don’t usually choose “average” players for the award or anything like that.
So Albert Pujols may have been the most deserving candidate in 2006, but Howard wasn’t a terrible choice either.
The problem with Ryan Howard is that he adds nothing defensively. Each of the last three years, Howard has cost his team runs in the field with “FRAA” figures of -7, -4, -14.
So to make up for his lack of defensive prowess, he must tear the cover off the ball. And not just for 2/3’s of the season either. Howard must post above an OPS+ of 126 (last seasons number) in order to be a great player.
View any metric that takes into account “total package” and see how they value Ryan Howard’s all around game.
Last three season’s numbers:
Win Shares 2007: 26 (tied 23rd in MLB)
Win Shares 2006: 31 (tied 7th in MLB)
Win Shares actually values Ryan Howard much greater then other metrics such as WARP1. They have him so low that I can’t even bring myself to admit that he is THAT overrated. His WARP1 was actually 160th in all of baseball in 2008.
But Howard’s WARP1 in his 2006 season fell in at tenth, very similar to his Win Shares total of that year. So BP does value Howard’s great season, as being just that, GREAT.
The metrics just do not love Ryan Howard. And I don’t blame them one bit. Howard is a first baseman (more easily replaceable). Howard is not a good defensive 1B (even more replaceable). Howard struggles mightily against lefties (a flaw that other lefties have, but not to this extent). And Ryan Howard, last season, was a terrible player for a few months (April and June). Terrible! Metrics basically weight that the same as when he is hitting the ball all over the yard in the latter months of the season. And I agree with that.
So anyway, after expressing how I feel toward Ryan Howard the player. To reiterate: A good player, but not great. I can now get to why I wrote this in the first place.
Ryan Howard was locked up for three years, $54 million.
The aspect of this deal that I love is that the long term committment is semi-absent. Three years for a position players good-great years is the best time to commit a boat-load of money. Howard will turn 29 in 2009, and will be at the age of 31 in 2011 when the contract expires. Howard should have good numbers throughout those years, and may even post an MVP quality year over that period.
The fact that the deal runs only three years is also good because for a one dimensional player, aging well isn’t exactly in the crystal ball. If this deal would have been a Teixeira like deal, it would have been a terrible move. But it isn’t. It controls Howard for three good years and cuts him loose (most likely as I cannot envision a scenario where giving Howard another contract after this is up, would be the best thing for the organization).
The money may be a little much for a one dimensional player, but whatever, he is good, and the Phillies don’t lack finances. Plus, Howard seems to be loved by the fans, so this should score some PR points.
If the contract were twice as long, I would have ripped the deal apart. But a relatively short-term contract, committed to a good player, for what should be his “prime”years, well, I cannot disagree with that.
In a magical world, a far off place. Dreams are made for “The Carriers of Wooden Clubs.” 90 MPH enemies shoot at their existence, yet they welcome the consistent approach of these “enemies.” They welcome the same mundane attack methods they induce upon the “Clubbers.” The “Leatherfaces” are tirelessly coming up on them, around 15 of them per day. They approach them in different locations, but always at the same speed. So there is no confusion on the “Clubbers” part. Different spots, but relatively the same location, they are an ease to fend off, to send on their way. Fairies aid in the process of ultimate completion, ultimate success. The magical fairies fly around recognizing each, telling them the secrets of the small, but deliberately shot “leatherfaces.” As each approaches, a fairy, whichever fairy recognizes it first, will yell something relating to the speed of which the enemy approaches. But in this world, there is no mix up, there is no change. Each fairy has grown tired, as they all yell in harmony–in that little fairy voice–“Gunner.” Gunner stands for fast, straight attack. The Gunner is the most convenient, the easiest for the “Clubbers” to club. Yet they seem bored. The “Leatherfaces” in the other forests have different strategies, different ways to try and win the battle. It must be since the omnipotent, most feared clubber stands behind them today. He makes everything easier. He is the leader of the “Clubbers,” the greatest of them all. For some reason, each time he follows the others, they have it easy, they laugh and smile, and have fun as they all have success in their own defense. Each will not admit it though, each is a little bored, a little too successful in defending their own on route to the nexus of creation, their chosen destination.
But it wasn’t always this simple, it wasn’t always this easy for “The Carriers of Wooden Clubs.” The previous forests, most of them, were without their omnipotent leader, their great wise-one. The “Leatherfaces” that have proceeded with their attacks, changed on them, they weren’t as predictable. Screaming through the air, changing speeds, differing, unpredictable approaches. There was success for the enemy. The object of defense when coming across these types was to stay back, wait as long as possible, then snap those clubs around. But it wasn’t that easy to apply it. The “Clubbers” would come out wounded, scarred after these battles. They felt banged up, bruised, and felt as though they could not go on. But they always found a way to continue on their path, to continue from one forest to the next, through the infested swamps, over the wretched hilltops. They made it, but it wasn’t as pretty. No, it wasn’t pretty, quite difficult in fact.
So they always wondered why with him, it was so much easier. Was it psychological? Was it the mind controlling abilities of the one who followed them, guiding their quest? Did the “Leatherfaces” feel that the best way to retire “The Carriers of Wooden Clubs” was to come at them as fast and as straight as possible? It just didn’t make sense. But they continued on, they didn’t ask questions, and they answered as if it was their own doing, their own victory, even though deep down, they knew that this “follower” had a lot to do with it, a lot to do with their own success.
The “myth” of protection. Is it a myth? Does it exist? Do pitchers throw more fastballs in this situation? “Baseball Between the Numbers,” a great book I might add, essential to all fans, attempted to dissect it. But what they ended up doing was making a mild stab, and then came off very dismissive of the subject. Their conclusion was basically this: “If protection exists, it matters very little.” I am not one to dismiss something on such a questionable study, but I do agree with the basic result; protection is overrated. I touched up on this in my early blogging days, but felt like expanding on it now, just a little expansion though.
Protection does matter to an extent in my opinion. I will use the current Nationals team as an example. Let us put Albert Pujols in the Nationals lineup. Now, without even digging much deeper, we all know that lineup is lacking danger around him. Why give him anything to hit? Why not nitpick most times Pujols comes up? Exactly. In a lineup like this, Pujols will probably see fewer hittable pitches, because there is no reason to let him beat you, as the rest of the lineup, in most cases, will not come through. Now, this lineup does have Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson. But this lineup also does not Nick Johnson. Confusing? Nick Johnson does not play most of the time. And while Ryan Zimmerman is a pretty good all-around 3B, he is nothing special at the plate, yet. The team has a few promising bats, that also carry heads that aren’t exactly on sewn on solid. But those “promising bats” have yet to prove much at all in the Major Leagues. So maybe, MAYBE Zimmerman sees a few more pitches that happen to be to his liking, as he bats in front of Pujols. But if Zimmerman actually, you know, hits incredibly well, pitchers would have no choice but to adjust to him, and start changing their approach, and treat him as a good hitter, too.
This came up a lot last season. Drew moved in front of Manny, and Drew started killing the ball. Manny moved to the Dodgers and Jeff Kent began killing the ball. And before 2008– back in 2003–David Ortiz moved into a lineup, and for basically a six-year period, killed the ball. Having never done anything beyond average in his career, Ortiz started crushing the ball in Boston. But it wasn’t just Manny hitting behind him in my opinion. If it were that simple, then there would be no way around it. But if Ortiz started hitting much better because there was a great hitter behind him, then pitchers would have adjusted. They would have changed their approach. I could see for a few weeks where a pitcher might come after Ortiz a little differently, not wanting anyone on base when Manny steps to the plate. Maybe the pitcher doesn’t mind catching a little more of the strike zone. But eventually, very quickly, pitchers would have to come after the hitter differently if he started having a lot of success. And the changing approach that the pitchers encounter would take place well before an extended period of 5 or 6 years. Ortiz was a great hitter, with or without Manny. There is almost no way that pitchers would continually let David Ortiz beat them the way that he did, simply because Manny Ramirez was on deck.
And about the studies that have been done…there have been studies as to whether or not Chipper Jones saw more fastballs once Mark Teixeira arrived in Atlanta. Chipper said he saw more fastballs, but if my mind is correct, I seem to recall a study where it discounted what Jones said. If “protection” increases the number of fastballs that the batter in front sees, then wouldn’t a higher number of fastballs be thrown, percentage-wise to that hitter? That is something that would have been seen through statistics. Yet, I believe that it was not seen. Maybe Chipper’s minds was playing tricks on him. Maybe Chipper just had more confidence because another great hitter was added to the lineup, and it gave him the feeling that he didn’t have to hit a home run every time he came up. I do not know the exact answer, but if a player says he sees
more fastball, and the numbers say that is not seeing any more fastballs, then, well, I have to agree with the stats.
What about having success with more runners on base? In 2008, hitters had an OPS of .769 with runners on base during their AB. But without runners on base, hitters had an OPS of .749. Hitters hit .264 with the bases empty, .270 with runners on. That isn’t a large difference, yet it is still a difference. But isn’t that skewed? Great pitchers are going to allow fewer baserunners over an extended period of time, so hitters will face poorer pitchers, in general, when there are runners on base. Livan Hernandez is going to allow more baserunners than Johan Santana. Dan Haren is going to allow fewer baserunners than Sidney Ponson, etc, etc, etc. So does this even matter much? Players are going to have more RBI’s with runners on base, that is through chance though mostly. Which is why I do not look at RBI’s. I look at percentage stats.
So how much does Manny Ramirez batting behind another hitter even matter? I can see Manny batting in a lineup by himself, mattering some maybe. But that isn’t very realistic. Most lineups consist of more than one quality hitter. In terrible lineups, with one great hitter, that hitter can be walked most times if that opposing team chooses. But lineups on average, are not as bad as the Washington Nationals lineup. I just don’t know if protection “is what we think it is.” Of course, I am far from the first to question this.
So what are your thoughts?
First of all, let me begin by stating a fact: The Rickey Henderson blog you see below, it was written as a joke, as satire, a baseball related fable (Without the animals), etc, etc, etc. Rickey Henderson is very deserving of enshrinement, and the 28 or so people that did not vote for him, well, don’t have much credibility, whoever they may be.
Second, I am going to finally get to my second installment of the “Five best players at each position.” Something I begin, and never seem to finish. But when in doubt, when there isn’t much that interests me on the blogging front, I can turn to it and pursue my desired conclusion which is: actually finishing it one day.
Remember these rankings are based on who is the best NOW, not who will be the best in 3 years, or four years, or necessarily even 2009. They are a prime indicator of who I believe deserves to be ranked, and where, right now.
And the five best first baseman are…
- Albert Pujols: I don’t know how much I even want to get into this. Pujols is probably the best player in baseball, and clearly the best at his position. His glove work is among the best, and his bat IS the best, in the entire game that we refer to as baseball. When it is all said and done, and this is no creation of mine, Pujols will be one of the absolute greatest players to ever play the game. Eight seasons in the big leagues, no less than an OPS+ of 151, and no fewer than 143 games played in any season. And this season, 2008, Pujols opted out of surgery so that he could play, and posted his best OPS+ yet; 190.
- Mark Teixiera: Is he worth the contract? Maybe not when it is looked at in its entirety, but right now he is among the best hitters in the game. A great defensive first baseman, who is a switch hitting, middle of the order bat. And I would much rather have any of these other first baseman for the money that they are paid, but this doesn’t take that into account. Tex has posted back-to-back years of OPS+’s greater than 150.
- Miguel Cabrera: Whatever position he does end up playing, this is where he belongs (or DH). Cabrera is a truly great hitter, who adjusting to a new, more difficult league, still had success. Cabrera posted three consecutive seasons of 150 or greater, and his 130 last year was quite good also. I will cut him some slack for being in a new city, a new league.
- Adrian Gonzalez: If he played on a neutral field, the perception that we would have of him would be much greater. Last season, Gonzalez had an OPS of .788 at home, on the road it was .946. That is what Petco does to a hitter, it kills their numbers. Just to show that 2008 wasn’t an aberration, in 2007, Gonzalez posted a .760 home OPS, and .928 on the road. He is a good fielder, and still hasn’t hit the height of his career yet.
- Kevin Youkilis: Youkilis has exceeded my expectations of him. He can field two positions, one very well, the other, good enough. Youk has a keen eye: great recognition of the strike zone, and good pitch recognition as well. At first I thought that Youkilis would be a great on base guy, but somewhat limited as a hitter, but he has proven me wrong in that area too. He can hit for power, average, get on base, play defense. I guess Billy Beane had his eye on him for a reason.
Since this was probably the hardest position to rank, I would like to apologize to Justin Morneau. Morneau deserves to be in here as well, and should probably be tied with someone if nothing else. Ryan Howard was a pretty close call as well, but I think that these other six 1B are better than he is. Not that Howard isn’t good, but he can’t play defense, cannot run, and is useless against lefties, all while playing in a hitter friendly park.
And some may question my including Miguel Cabrera because he may not have the greatest work ethic, and didn’t blow anyone away last season. Cabrera is a great hitter, don’t let 2008 fool you. I have a strong feeling that he will be an MVP in many people’s eyes this season, unless the Tigers win under 75 games or something.
EDIT: I totally forgot to mention Lance Berkman in this too. I give up, for the 1st base position is too difficult to rank. I think that I would need to do more research, but even then would still be undecided as to who goes where. Except for number one of course, that is Pujols.
Career Leaders in OPS+ (BR)
1. Babe Ruth 207
2. Ted Williams 191
3. Barry Bonds 182
4. Lou Gehrig 179
5. Rogers Hornsby 175
6. Mickey Mantle 172
7. Dan Brouthers 170
Joe Jackson 170
Albert Pujols 170
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest players to play this game…ever. And I know he must continue to have success to be included amongst the greatest players ever, when his career is all said and done. But as of now, he is simply incredible. The OPS+ should almost definitely be a little lower when he retires because of natural regression, but to be in this company at any moment of time, among qualifyiers, is remarkable. Pujols is one of the two best players in the game of baseball, and is potentially THE best player in the game. We can say Alex Rodriguez is the best, but do we really want him over Pujols? No offense to ARod, he gets a lot of crap for being great, but I would feel more comfortable having Pujols on my team than ARod. That being said, we cannot say that they face the same kind of competition day in and day out. If Rodriguez were playing in the National League, he may be killing the ball, like Pujols, even more than he already is (most of the time). But that is beside the point, because this is really written to show why Pujols is the MVP of the National League.
If Lou Gehrig were on the Cardinals this season, rather than Pujols, the Cardinals would still have missed the playoffs. That is an example of what I think of Albert Pujols. Pujols finished the league second, in the complex form of “Win Shares,” with 35, three fewer than Lance Berkman. His OPS was first in the NL at 1.114, over 100 percentage points higher than the second place finisher, who happened to be Berkman also. But of course Berkman played in more of a hitters park than Pujols. To take that into account; OPS+ for Pujols was 190, to Berkman’s 158. To break down Pujols line: .357/.462/.653. That is “Bondsian.” I mean the .462 OBP is just about as close as it comes to making an out only 50% of the time. “Albert the Incredible” “created” 142 runs, tops in the NL. His average was an impressive .339 with RISP. But Albert may have felt disappointed with that average in those situations, as it was actually lower than his average overall. Pujols had an OPS of 1.044 in “Late and Close” situations. And I don’t know how much strikeouts effect a game, rather than other outs. As studies have shown that the strikeout is probably exaggerated a little. Not that it is better than putting the ball in play, but an out is an out once everything is all said and done. So when one looks back, it probably makes little difference if the batter popped out to first or if he struck out. But if it matters, Pujols struck out only 54 times on the season, that is incredible. Because I am sure of this, the strikeout is definitely more frustrating than anything else (outside of the DP). So maybe Pujols is the MVP because fans don’t have to watch him rack up an insane number of K’s (Ryan Howard).
As far as glove work…Pujols is noted as being a wiz with the glove. Not Ozzie Smith-impact-the-game-significantly-like. But more like underrated-athlete-who-happens-to-be-a-power-hitting-first-baseman. Pujols used to be a 3rd baseman, and apparently, so I’ve heard, needed to be moved from one corner to the other because of surgery that constricted what he was capable of doing. I don’t have any defensive metrics that I have faith in available to me right now. But Pujols has been one of the best defensive 1B in the game for the past few years, and I don’t think it has changed much. So I choose him over a guy like Berkman because of defense, more reputation unfortunately, and because of the fact that Berkman is helped more by his home park. Although, Berkman may not even have been my second choice anyway, but nevertheless had a great season. It is just easier to compare the two, as they both play the same position.
Some critics used to get on the voters for voting Bonds over Pujols, saying that Pujols was more deserving. He wasn’t. Bonds was the best. But if Bonds didn’t exist, than Pujols may very well have deserved to win six different MVP’s by now, including this year (2002-2006, 2008). And he is only 28 years old. He is truly that great of a player. Since Bonds does exist, this should be his third MVP award, but will, if he wins it, only be his second. For a guy that was drafted in the 13th round, that isn’t too shabby.
Rob Neyer (ESPN Insiders Only)
I thought about this literally one day before Manny commented on “Manny” not being worthy of the NL MVP. I just chose not to write about it at the time, regrettably. And the “expert” Rob Neyer attacked the subject the following day after he heard the comments. I have to say, Neyer and I agree on the subject, along with Manny Ramirez.
But before I start on the subject…isn’t it funny how now Manny is being embraced once again by the public? This was a guy that did not even feel like playing for a championship contender because he was worried about whether or not the Red Sox would exercise a team option that they had. Now, out in Los Angeles, he knows that he can go out and get the contract he desires following the season, so he is back to being that fun loving Manny that most fans enjoyed.
Hint: He is still the same person. Teammates, media and anyone else following are being sucked into his game. I agree that LA needs a guy like Manny to make baseball seem more fun out there. He is actually in the perfect situation, but that great teammate stuff is obviously just a cover up from what he really is, and was just two months ago. And I don’t know that Manny was ever a BAD teammate up until this season, but he was definitely a bad teammate in 2008. Dodgers fans should cheer for him, because the team is more important. But I feel like the media is showing to much of the fun loving Manny in LA, and it is hindering the perception that we should of the guy, and the perception that we had of him only two months ago. And that perception was, well, not good.
But that is not why he is not the MVP. The reason that he is not the MVP is because he has only playing for an NL team for two months. One cannot win an award like this if they have played in the league for only 1/3 of the season. I actually don’t know that it is fair, because I generally want the best player to win, not just the best player on a team that stays in contention. But the award has qualifications, and what he did for four months in the AL just doesn’t transfer over. Not that I feel bad for him, he wanted this…and got it. But Albert Pujols has four extra months of great production, all within the National League, no way Manny can top that.
However it is funny, because an ESPN commentor on some article or blog had a good example of how it is kind of flawed. It went a little something like this: If Manny had been traded to another AL team then all of his stats would transfer and his cumulative numbers would be used. Yet he could not have helped each team enough to be the “MVP.” A four month period on one team, and a two month period on another team would not be valuable enough to a team, to help them enough. Yet, because all the numbers would be relevant toward the award he could win it. Seems kind of peculiar.
Manny, nevertheless, has been awesome since joining the Dodgers. Truly awesome. But Albert Pujols, one of the greatest players of all time, and arguably the best in today’s game, has been having a TRULY great season all year long. And more importantly for this discussion, he has accomplished it all season long in the same league. Of course, he isn’t a lock as people will find a way to vote for less deserving candidates just because they are on good teams. But that was the topic for another past blog that I wrote, and will once again be a topic when the awards are being determined after the year concludes.