Albert Pujols – LVP (Historically)

Last season Albert Pujols was drafted in the mid- to late-first round. Some people expected a bounce-back after a disappointing 2012 season. All they got from him was a dead cat bounce. He ended up as the 352nd-ranked fantasy player according to our end-of-season rankings. Once again, he may look like a rebound/buy low candidate, but his rebound chances are slim.

Pujols final 2013 fantasy stats were pretty sad, for him at least. Here are his stats and some comparable players from this past season.

Name PA HR Runs RBI SB AVG
Albert Pujols 443 17 49 64 1 0.258
Matt Joyce 481 18 61 47 7 0.251
Justin Ruggiano 472 18 49 50 15 0.260
Kelly Johnson 407 16 41 52 7 0.276

Before the season started, it would have been unexpected to see Pujols get lumped in with this group of fringe-ish players. Additionally, speaking as an owner of him in half my leagues, I don’t remember him getting over 400 PA. It seemed he spent most of the season on the bench or DL.

His decline has been at a historic level for someone of his ability. The problem with finding recent comparables to Pujols is his previous Hall of Fame production level. To get some comparables, I looked at players from 1950 to present and used the Batting component of WAR. While WAR doesn’t translate perfectly over to fantasy stats, it will give a measure of the player’s hitting ability and playing time. I looked at players from age 29 to 31 who were withing 20 Batting Runs of Pujols. Here is the list along with their average fantasy stats for the 3 seasons.

Name PA Runs HR RBI SB AVG Batting Runs
Albert Pujols 684 115 42 117 13 0.313 161
Jeff Bagwell 702 125 40 124 27 0.298 178
Stan Musial 666 111 27 103 5 0.345 176
Joe Morgan 659 110 22 81 64 0.303 171
Barry Bonds 595 107 37 105 33 0.304 171
Alex Rodriguez 699 127 46 136 20 0.309 169
Mickey Mantle 454 89 33 84 8 0.318 163
Frank Robinson 639 105 37 110 8 0.307 158
Hank Aaron 662 111 33 105 26 0.321 156
Brian Giles 669 107 37 107 11 0.308 155
Todd Helton 671 114 28 97 2 0.343 152
Willie Mays 678 122 39 122 20 0.310 149
David Ortiz 689 117 45 134 2 0.306 148
Jim Thome 647 103 46 116 1 0.287 148
Wade Boggs 709 116 11 67 2 0.353 147
Willie McCovey 590 85 37 107 2 0.297 146
Sammy Sosa 713 118 60 146 11 0.305 144
Manny Ramirez 606 98 37 112 1 0.325 143
Rickey Henderson 638 117 15 56 78 0.301 142
Mike Schmidt 587 97 41 109 11 0.281 142
Average 646 109 35 106 17 0.312 52

That is a pretty good list of players. Here is how they did in their age 32 and 33 seasons.

Name PA Runs HR RBI SB AVG Batting Runs
Albert Pujols 557 67 24 85 5 0.275 22
Jeff Bagwell 718 139 43 131 10 0.299 93
Stan Musial 702 124 33 120 2 0.334 116
Joe Morgan 622 113 25 95 55 0.303 106
Barry Bonds 694 122 39 112 33 0.297 123
Alex Rodriguez 565 91 33 102 16 0.295 71
Mickey Mantle 501 68 27 79 5 0.282 70
Frank Robinson 576 90 24 76 10 0.291 80
Hank Aaron 679 115 42 118 19 0.293 85
Brian Giles 660 95 22 91 7 0.291 66
Todd Helton 666 90 16 86 2 0.311 35
Willie Mays 668 118 43 107 14 0.305 112
David Ortiz 559 76 26 94 1 0.250 7
Jim Thome 658 104 45 118 0 0.270 60
Wade Boggs 677 91 7 57 1 0.316 40
Willie McCovey 520 72 29 98 0 0.284 72
Sammy Sosa 689 134 57 134 1 0.308 129
Manny Ramirez 657 110 44 137 2 0.300 80
Rickey Henderson 539 91 17 52 53 0.275 67
Mike Schmidt 650 106 38 98 11 0.267 81
Average 628 102 32 100 13 0.293 39

Overall, the group of players were still fairly productive over those two season. They averaged 100+ Runs and RBIs, 30+ HRs and a near .300 AVG. Pujols performed worse than all the players except possibly two contemporaries, David Ortiz and Todd Helton. While Helton got a full season of plate appearances over those two seasons, Ortiz average only 2.5 more plate appearances a season.

Finally, here is a peek into the age 34 season. Injuries and/or playing time really began to effect this group of players.

Name PA Runs HR RBI SB AVG Batting Runs
Jeff Bagwell 691 94 31 98 7 0.291 35
Stan Musial 656 97 33 108 5 0.319 42
Joe Morgan 533 68 13 75 19 0.236 7
Barry Bonds 434 91 34 83 15 0.262 30
Alex Rodriguez 595 74 30 125 4 0.270 16
Mickey Mantle 393 40 23 56 1 0.288 28
Frank Robinson 553 88 25 78 2 0.306 34
Hank Aaron 676 84 29 86 28 0.287 38
Brian Giles 674 92 15 83 13 0.301 42
Todd Helton 361 39 7 29 0 0.264 -3
Willie Mays 638 118 52 112 9 0.317 63
David Ortiz 606 86 32 102 0 0.270 18
Jim Thome 242 26 7 30 0 0.207 -7
Wade Boggs 598 62 7 50 1 0.259 -7
Willie McCovey 304 30 14 35 0 0.213 1
Sammy Sosa 589 99 40 103 0 0.279 22
Manny Ramirez 558 79 35 102 0 0.321 41
Rickey Henderson 610 114 21 59 53 0.289 46
Mike Schmidt 632 93 36 106 5 0.277 37
Average 544 78 25 80 9 0.277 25

Their RBI, Runs, HR and PA were all down about 20%. Five of the nineteen players (Boggs, Morgan, Helton, Thome and McCovey) all had mediocre to horrible stats. Also, only five saw an increase in Batting Runs (Giles, Mays, Ortiz, Ramirez and Henderson), while the rest declined. If history is any indication, Pujols has about a one-in-four chance of seeing an improvement.

I have no idea how the community will value Albert Pujols in 2014. He could still get quite a bit of name recondition and go in the first three round. I think this way too high. I just can’t see taking him in the top 100 picks.

In a shallow mixed league (12 teams or less), I would just stay away until most of my starting team is set and only then take a change on him. I would not like to start the season relying on him for production. In deep or AL-only leagues, the pool of 1B is shallower. I would look at picking him up if I have a backup option in place. In auction formats, the dynamics may be a little different and he may go cheaper as people aren’t really willing to take a chance on him. It will be interesting to see how he gets valued in 2014.




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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.


17 Responses to “Albert Pujols – LVP (Historically)”

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  1. JT says:

    I’m honestly not sure what to expect. It is easy to blame the terrible year on injuries, and if his foot it better, maybe the bat will be to. I forgot how bad Ortiz fell for a few years, the last two years he’s been a top 10 bat on a per game basis. It just goes to show how variable the age cure is.

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  2. pogotheostrich says:

    I wish you player selection would have included Frank Thomas. Hitting-wise their careers seem very similar to me.

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    • MDL says:

      True, he had a similar decline.

      Thomas’ offensive contributions:
      Age 29-31: 110.2
      Age 32-33: 55.3
      Age 34-35: 43.5

      http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?players=1177,255&wg=3

      It’s interesting that these numbers appear to show a gradual decline when in reality those last four years were two offensively solid/excellent years and two crap/lost years.

      If nothing else I think the Thomas and Ortiz examples in particular show that Pujols could still have a major rebound (or at least it has happened before).

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  3. MDL says:

    Wow, Bonds and Sosa really aged well.

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  4. gee's up, hoes down says:

    Give Pujols some steroids. It’s sad to see our favorite stars age out so soon now.

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  5. Jon L. says:

    Pujols will bounce back, provided his age is accurate. I’m just not sure it will be in 2014.

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  6. Todd says:

    Pujols has been in the process of falling off a cliff since his age-29 season. Looking at the overall trendline, 2013 actually fits it pretty well (admittedly it probably shouldn’t be expected to be linear), and it was actually 2012 that sticks out as breaking the steep downward slope (for a shallower one).

    Since we’ve had all these ‘bold predictions’ pieces, mine is that Pujols will never be an above average player again. Easy enough to say injuries, but he spent most of his career injured, and I think he’s paying the price for playing through it now.

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    • Todd says:

      Fantasy-wise, I wouldn’t pay more than $3 for him in my auction.

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    • Feeding the Abscess says:

      wRC+ went from 180 (2009) to 164 (2010) to 147 (2011) to 132 (2012) to 111 (2013). Not entirely fantasy relevant, of course, but his 2012 was part of the steep decline. It just mostly happened outside of the 5×5 stats counted in fantasy.

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  7. Yahmule says:

    Even before he began breaking down he started swinging (and missing) at a much higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone.

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  8. Jon L. says:

    Here’s a look at what happened next for the five stars above who were poor in their age-34 season (using rWAR):

    Boggs: 2.2 WAR at age 34, then 3 straight of 4+ WAR (even while missing time during the strike seasons).
    Morgan: 1.6 WAR, followed by 5 straight better performances (even in the shortened ’81 season), peaking at 5.1 WAR.
    Helton: 1.0 WAR, then the next year hit .325 in 151 games for 3.3 WAR.
    Thome: 0.2 WAR, then averaged 3.5 WAR over the next 3 years.
    McCovey: -0.5 WAR, followed by 2 years above 3 WAR.

    Every one of these formerly great players still had better seasons ahead. Decline with age across a large number of players is steady, but when a great player who is still young enough to produce experiences a large decline, it’s reasonable to expect better seasons to lie ahead.

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  9. cubfever7 says:

    When one considers the Hamilton and Pujols contracts–how did DiPoto not get fired?

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