A few weeks ago, the venerable Prof. Cyril Morong executed a rather interesting projection for Albert Pujols, comparing similar and even dissimilar players to Pujols to get a feel for how well he would perform at and beyond the age of 35.
In short, the Angels look like they need either majorly bumped revenue or a World Series ring collection in order for the projected Pujols to be worth his contract.
Sure, science may say that, but what about dated video games?
Well, let’s turn to Baseball Mogul 2008, the addicting baseball simulation game that feels dangerously close to spreadsheet management. Why not a newer version of the game, such as Baseball Mogul 2012? Well, what’s the fun in that?
Simulation No. 1
For this first go-round, I decided to keep Pujols in St. Louis. Because Baseball Mogul 2008 begins in the year, you guessed it, 2008, Phat Albert is still a red-bird. Rather than letting him escape via free agency during the simulations, I went ahead and just kept him in St. Louis after his 2011 free agency.
This way: I can ensure he will stay starting and playing for as long as possible. On a different franchise, the CPU will likely start benching him as soon as he becomes ineffective.
In this first simulation, Pujols starts strong, mashing up to present day — even having a career year (513 PA, 45 HR, 1.160 OPS) in 2011, where in real life he had a relatively “down” year.
He continues to mash for a few more years, hitting 32 homers in 2013 and leading his team to a couple of playoff appearances, but in 2016, a 36-year-old Pujols breaks his fibula and misses half the season. He is never the same player afterwards, going from an acceptable mid-.800s OPS to sub-.800 overnight.
After turning 38, the shell of Pujols play four more seasons, even getting another playoff run at the age of 39, but his OPS never climbs above .601 and he misses large chunks of the seasons with nagging injuries. Had I not forced Pujols to remain a starter, he might have retired at 38, but instead he fights on through his age-41 season, a forgotten, broken once-legend.
Simulation No. 2
In Simulation No. 2, I begin as the GM of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of Milky Way Galaxy, and to ensure I have Pujols under my wing when he hits free agency in 2011, I trade Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero, Scot Shields, and a laughable assortment of over-the-hill and over-paid players to acquire the singular Albert Pujols.
Pujols again starts strong. His OPS continues to shine in LA and he snatches an AL MVP trophy in his first season in California (he had two MVPs in Simulation No. 1). He keeps his OPS north of 1.000 through his 2012 campaign, but time begins to slowly nibble on his greatness like the hungry leach of inevitability.
Meanwhile, as Pujols’s OPS goes from .979 in 2013 to .819 in 2017, the Angels put together some truly horrid seasons. Because my top priority is keeping Pujols under contract, I pay him some $17M of my $120M budget and ignore the players around him. The team loses over 100 games several times and reaches the playoffs only once — to be swept right out of them.
Then, after several seasons of minor sprains and shoulder separations, Pujols breaks his fibula at age 42. He soldiers on for one more 100-loss campaign, OPSing a career-worst .612 while appearing in 441 plate appearances — incredible for his age and health at this point.
With his health rapidly failing and his financial future fully secured, Pujols retires with a still-impressive collection of career statistics and a few MVP trophies.
In both scenarios, Pujols hit a bit better in his simulated 2008-2011 seasons than he did in real life, which is intriguing, but perchance a byproduct of the changing run environment in the real MLB circa 2010-2011.
And, the first three seasons Pujols spent in his new contract (2012-2014) were all north of .900 OPS, but age 35 in Sim No. 1 began a rapid decline caused by injuries.
Simulation No. 1 (OPS)
35 to 39 .703
40 and after .555
Simulation No. 2 (OPS)
35 to 39 .866
40 and after .690
As we can see, the younger Pujols was enormously more productive than 40s and older Pujols. Which should be no surprise. The 40s and older Pujols was actually not worthy of starting in the first simulation and was more of a pinch-hitter, clubhouse specialist in the second simulation.
If we look at the actual first baseman or DHs who have offered any playing time at or beyond the age of 40, we see they have averaged a .744 OPS and a combined 670 or so PAs — in other words, the age-40 is the the final year for most DHs and first baseman.
What does this mean for Albert Pujols?
Don’t break your leg.