As you can see, Pujols’ combination of average, power and defense, even at first base, is rare in baseball history. It seems likely he’ll pass Cal Ripken Jr. in hits later this season and Willie Mays in home runs by early next year. And with a few more big moments he’s got a chance to pass Joe Morgan and Randy Johnson in WAR, and Frank Robinson and Willie McCovey in Win Probability Added in the near future. All this will pad one of the best résumés we’ve seen in baseball history.
Pujols has finished in the top five in MVP voting 10 times in his career, second-most all-time behind Bonds (11), and he’s one of 10 players to win three MVP awards.
It’s easy to forget how good Pujols was in his prime, so let’s take a look back at how great his career has been.
At the time, Pujols’ 37 homers were one shy of matching the major-league record for homers by a player in his first season. And only three position players have put up more Wins Above Replacement in their first season than Pujols (6.6) — Ichiro that same year, Williams in 1939, and Jimmy Williams for the 1899 Pirates. 7
Bill James came up with a comparison method called Similarity Scores to show which player someone is most similar to in their careers, and through a certain age. The hitter who Pujols was most similar to in his first five seasons in the big leagues (ages 21-25) was Joe DiMaggio.
He didn’t just do it at the plate either — Defensive Runs Saved is a stat that’s been around since 2003 and only four players have more Defensive Runs Saved than Pujols does since then.
|Years||Player||Consecutive seasons with 8+ WAR|
|He burst onto the scene as a 21-year-old in 2001, winning the Rookie of the Year award and finishing fourth in the MVP voting behind three players who all hit at least 57 home runs. He hit .329 with a .403 on-base percentage and slugged .610 with 37 homers — Ted Williams is the only other player in major-league history to slash .300/.400/.600 with 30 home runs in his first season.||Albert Pujols||7|
All of this doesn’t even mention his performance in big moments — he’s sixth all-time in postseason OPS (min. 100 postseason plate appearances) behind Gehrig, Ruth, Lenny Dykstra, Paul Molitor and Hank Greenberg. He’s one of four players to hit three home runs in a World Series game, joining Ruth (twice), Reggie Jackson and Pablo Sandoval. And he’s 12th in MLB history in Win Probability Added, meaning only nine hitters and two pitchers have given their teams a better chance to win over their careers than Pujols.
But it did make him the 31st player in MLB history — and 21st position player — with 100 career Wins Above Replacement (according to Baseball-Reference). It’s an incredible mark that many of the best players we’ve ever seen could not reach from Warren Spahn, Jimmie Foxx and Cal Ripken, Jr., to Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson and Ken Griffey Jr.
Other than giving the Angels a big lead, the homer didn’t feel monumental — it was only his 19th of the season, it didn’t move him past anyone on the all-time list or the franchise list, and it wasn’t off a Cy Young contender or future Hall of Famer.