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Albert Pujols and how the best players ever through age 31 performed from age 32 on

Dec 8, 2011, 12:40 PM EDT

Albert Pujols

Perhaps the only thing everyone can agree on when it comes to Albert Pujols leaving St. Louis for the Angels and $250 million is that his Cardinals career was amazing.

Pujols debuted on April 2, 2001 after surprisingly making the team out of spring training as a 21-year-old with just three games of experience above Single-A and performed at an MVP-level for 11 straight seasons.

Based on Baseball-Reference.com’s Wins Above Replacement calculations Pujols was worth 89.1 more wins than a replacement-level first baseman in 11 seasons with the Cardinals, which is the seventh-highest WAR total in baseball history through age 31:

Ty Cobb           112.5
Mickey Mantle     101.1
Rogers Hornsby    100.9
Babe Ruth          96.8
Hank Aaron         90.2
Alex Rodriguez    89.7
ALBERT PUJOLS      89.1
Lou Gehrig         86.9
Willie Mays        86.9
Mel Ott            86.8

Obviously that’s some ridiculously amazing company, but seeing Pujols on that list did make me curious about how those other guys fared after age 31. Here are the Wins Above Replacement totals for those same players from age 32 on:

Babe Ruth          75.2
Willie Mays        67.8
Hank Aaron         51.4
Ty Cobb            46.9
Lou Gehrig         31.5
Rogers Hornsby     26.9
Mel Ott            22.5
Mickey Mantle      19.1
Alex Rodriguez     15.2
ALBERT PUJOLS      ????

It’s tough to find too much meaning in those numbers given that most of those careers finished decades ago–and the one recent player, Alex Rodriguez, is still adding to his total–but clearly the odds are stacked against Pujols being worth anywhere near as much from age 32 on as he was from 21-31. In fact, the highest WAR total in MLB history after age 31 belongs to Barry Bonds at 86.5 and even that’s lower than Pujols’ mark through age 31.

  1. 78mu - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    No one, even the Angels, expects him to match what he did with the Cardinals.

    The question is how close he comes (Mays & Aaron or Manny) and how much peripheral value the Angels can get from having the biggest star in baseball. Fortunately this isn’t football where every superstar is one knee injury away from retirement and where star halfbacks are only good for 4 or 5 years.

    • cintiphil - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:37 PM

      If your statement is true, then just how stupid was it for the Angels to pay him the top dollars he is getting? You pay 25 Mil for a guy who will not be heads and shoulders above everyone else? That is stupid. They just paid him for winning a W-S for the Cardinals, but won’t win for them? That doesn’t make sense, unless they are just trying to justify paying for the guy.

      • 78mu - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:01 PM

        It won’t be stupid if the Angels win a WS or two while Albert is still putting up 5 WAR. If the price is having to pay Albert for 10 years instead of 5 then that’s the price and no one was going to get him for a five year contract.

        I can think of a lot of teams that would be happy to suffer through 5 bad years at the back end of his contract if it would give them a couple WS. Heck, some teams would be happy to make it to the WS.

        But if anyone is betting that he gets to 80 WAR over the life of this contract I’ll be happy to take the other side.

    • wendell7 - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:38 PM

      No matter how many games Pujols helps the Angels win, or how many homers he hits, or runs he drives in, .. I believe that one of the biggest expectations the Angels have is how many game tickets he will help them sell.

      • cintiphil - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:48 PM

        No Wenlell: The big money is in Television contracts, not necessarily seats in the stands. The league found that out, because now the stadiums are getting much smaller, except for a few. The big bucks in this game is for the luxury boxes and T-V revenue. Aen’t the Angels at the 2.5-3 Mil in attendance anyway? That shouldn’t change much, unless they can double the price of the luxury boxes. If they don’t sell them out for a few years at increased prices, this is not a good deal. They MUST win, and they have to max out T-V and Ad revenue and sell those boxes to big money people.

  2. davidpom50 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    One thing to consider (and I have no idea what the effect would be)… Of the players on that list, on A-Rod and Pujols play in the era of the DH – could be possible that it will extend their careers (or at least keep them in the line-up more often late in their careers) and allow them to pile up some extra WAR.

    • Ari Collins - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:59 PM

      Yes, but playing at DH greatly decreases your WAR, since you’re providing no defensive value whatsoever. Ortiz outhit Pujols this year, but was only worth 4.2 fWAR.

      • 78mu - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:04 PM

        I thought of Adam Dunn being more valuable as a DH since he was such a butcher in the field. But then if he had played first base last season his fielding might have been more valuable then his batting.

      • davidpom50 - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:12 PM

        “Ortiz outhit Pujols this year” is patently false. b-ref has Ortiz at 3.8 oWAR to Pujols’ 4.5.

      • davidpom50 - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:15 PM

        After looking at some more stats, I’ll take back “patently false” and replace it with “heavily debatable,” since Ortiz leads in wOBA and Fangraphs batting RAR.

  3. Jonny 5 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    And Aaron, many of the guys on that list faced (don’t tell old Hoss) the more inferior pitching quality from “back in the good ole days”.

    • paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:16 PM

      This is true…there are a lot of differences between pitching pre-1980 and pitching now, guys throw harder and if a player loses bad speed and starts to cheat on pitches, pitchers have much more complete repertoires to attack that than they used to.

      …but I’m still not sure how informative this comparison is….most of these “all-time-greats” are only considered such BECAUSE of what they after age 31…there are other hitters that were similarly awesome before age 32 than didn’t achieve “all-time great” status because of early declines.

      • Kevin S. - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:35 PM

        Um… Aaron compiled his list by looking at the top ten players in rWAR through their age-31 seasons. Most all-time greats were among the best in the first decade of their careers, too.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:58 PM

        PL, the guys from “the good ole days” didn’t have the overall velocity plus they pitched their arses off throwing many more innings. I’m sure they had to make sure they didn’t push themselves as hard so they could keep up with the much heavier work load.

  4. cleverbob - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    Wouldn’t it be more useful to look at avgWAR for all seasons after 31? I’m sure that it’s safe to say most of these guys played more games before the age of 31 than after.

  5. 78mu - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    The thing with Mantle is that he played so well up to age 31 even with his bad knee that he first hurt in the 1951 WS.

  6. anotheryx - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    Pujols only need to produce about 40 WAR over 10 year to be worth the contract though, which would put him in the middle of the pack.

    • paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:48 PM

      That’s actually no where near true. On the FA market, it is estimated that 2 WAR costs $10M, but 2 WAR is a league average player, that can actually be had for much less than that…every win acquired via FA is not of equal value….and the first few wins aren’t worth much because those are easy wins to replace…the valuable part is getting wins 4-10 from a single player.

      • Kevin S. - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:58 PM

        I’m mildly curious which two-win players are signing for “much less” than that, because we’re seeing bench players getting the $5 million or so their one win is valued at. Can’t link to the actual study, but I know that Fangraphs has shown in the past that $/WAR actually is linear in practice.

      • anotheryx - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:59 PM

        That’s a pointless point, since you are expecting WAR generation to be completely random.

        As you point out, due to the non-uniform value of the WAR, higher the STD of Pujols’ WAR distribution, more surplus value it would bring (a 2 WAR and a 8 WAR season would be worth more than 2 5 WAR seasons).

        For Pujols to be a 40 WAR player and not worth 250 mil over 10 year (counting inflation of $/WAR), he pretty much have to go 4 WAR per year for 10 straight years. It’s possible if WAR is random rather than a function of age. However, realistically If Pujols manage 12 WAR in his 40-42 seasons, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect him to be at the same level of production for his 32-34 seasons.

      • paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:20 PM

        There is no distribution of WAR values over a 10 year period that would make a 40WAR player worth $250. Four 10 WAR seasons are not worth $250.

        Have any of these guys been worth $250M the last decade? Because they’ve all put up 40 WAR or more (some taking < 10 yrs to do it).

        Beltran
        Utley
        Berkman
        Ichiro
        Beltre
        Rolen
        Chipper
        Jeter
        Cabrera
        Rollins

      • anotheryx - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:24 PM

        Inflaction Inflaction Inflaction.

        10 years ago gas cost 1.35 a gallon, that’s not the price today.

        2000 average MLB salary is 2mil, today it’s 3.5mil.

        You can’t compare a 10 year deal going forward to what already happened, makes zero sense.

      • paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:26 PM

        Kevin, the problem is that FA is not the only place to find players. Bad farm systems generate players that are 2 WAR or better on a regular basis…and those guys get paid squat…if you are paying a guy $25M above the league minimum to be a 5 WAR player, that is not good value. Trumbo was a 2.3 WAR player last year as a 25 yr old rookie that hit into bad luck (.274 BABIP). He is projected to be about a 3 WAR player this year for the bargain basement price of the league minimum.

      • anotheryx - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:44 PM

        Home grown talent has no relevancy in FA value discussion. Draft picks have their own set of cost which are not included in FA where you just pay salary. Draft picks have opportunity cost (you can only draft so many people per year, especially high picks), development cost (they provide minimal and often negative overall value while in the minors), and uncertainty cost (the success rate of draft pick is nowhere comparable to that of FA, where you generally know what you are getting).

        Everyone would rather have Longoria and his contract than A-Rod and his, but it’s not really a possibility.

    • anotheryx - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:30 PM

      At 2001 level the $/WAR is about 3.2mil. Assume everyone got the same deal as Pujols at then value, that’s 160/10.

      Guess what, they all worth 160/10, every single one of them.

  7. Kevin S. - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    Anything Cobb or better, and Pujols earns this contract just from on-the-field play.

    • cintiphil - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:41 PM

      Maybe. If he doesn’t deliver at the plate, he is not worth 25 Mil a year. You don’t pay defensive players at that level.

      • Kevin S. - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:53 PM

        If Pujols doesn’t deliver at the plate, he isn’t reaching Cobb’s post-31 WAR level. That was kind of a given.

  8. 1972wasalongtimeago - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    Yeah but Ruth was on the Juice

  9. 8man - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    Any numbers on what having those guys in your lineup did for ticket sales? I can’t believe that the Angels signed him to that contract based solely on winning more games.

  10. phillydano - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    are you saying that pujols needs to start taking steriods? cough….barry bonds…cough

  11. Brian Donohue - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    mic check!
    MIC CHECK!!!
    Albert what are you thinking?
    ALBERT WHAT ARE YOU THINKING???
    Ur now hitting btwn…
    UR NOW HITTING BTWN…
    Torii and Godzilla
    TORII AND GODZILLA
    for a lousy quarter billion
    FOR A LOUSY QUARTER BILLION
    wtf???
    WTF?????!!!

  12. bbk1000 - Dec 8, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    “Pujols debuted on April 2, 2001 after surprisingly making the team out of spring training as a 21-year-old with just three games of experience above Single-A and performed at an MVP-level for 11 straight seasons.”

    I think there is something helping this guy, always have and always will. Seeing this makes me more comfortable with this belief.

    The recent past history of sports in general perhaps has tainted me, time will tell.

    • Reflex - Dec 8, 2011 at 11:47 PM

      Yeah, him and that Griffey kid. Clearly juicers. And did you see that out of the blue 61HR season that Maris put up? He never hit like that before or after. I wonder what his hat size was in 1960 compared to 1961. And nobody stays as awesome as long as Hammerin’ Hank. Clearly he was on some chemical assistance if you catch my drift…

      • bbk1000 - Dec 14, 2011 at 6:31 AM

        naaa, just Pujols…well and Ryan Braun….like I said, I think most of them are on something….

      • Reflex - Dec 14, 2011 at 1:59 PM

        The second part of your sentence does not match the first.

      • modman11957 - Jan 13, 2012 at 1:07 PM

        Attacking someone who played in an era with no evidence or suspicion of steroid use is ludicrous

      • Reflex - Jan 14, 2012 at 4:39 AM

        Its not an attack. The point is that abberrations happen. Lots of players have outlier seasons, thats what the term outlier means. Roger Maris alone proves that a player can have an outlandish season every so often. Lots of other players had great careers and peaked early and were washed up by their 30′s. Dale Murphy, Andruw Jones….

        And btw, steroids existed and were used by professional athletes in the 60′s, and its well documented.

      • modman11957 - Jan 21, 2012 at 10:37 AM

        It’s funny that someone who questions roger’s hat size accuse someone else of slander.again this is not england,my questioning a players integrity in the roid era is resonable as opposed to someone insinuating maris was on roids in 61.shame.u take this much too serious.but a do appreciate u helping make my argument.

        Roids explain a lot.we don’t know who is using,braun? Clean players could have protected their reps by speaking up about cheaters and demanding testing. They didn’t now they suffer the consequences.

    • modman11957 - Dec 23, 2011 at 11:53 AM

      Couldn’t agree more tat ap was juiced or older than he said.how else do you explain his 4 year power surge at such a young age.

      • Reflex - Dec 23, 2011 at 1:03 PM

        1) You mean like Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Miguel Cabrera and Frank Robinson, who all had similiar career arcs? Were they all juicing too? How about from the modern era, Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas? Are only juicers and liars about age able to have power at a young age?

        2) Would you appreciate someone accusing you of fraud at your job with no actual proof? What if their only evidence was that you were ‘too good at your job for your age’?

      • modman11957 - Dec 26, 2011 at 10:20 AM

        Griffey power surge lasted 8 yrs not 4 yrs.griffey is not the best argument for your point.he played in the steroid era and in my opinion everyone is suspect including junior.foxx was traded during his home run power surge which may have affected his numbers.also he was 24 when his numbers increased.2 years make a big difference.it’s supposed ap is 3 years older in which case ap numbers look perfectly normal.robby.s hr max of 50 came much later in his career.thomas,steroid era.didn’t check joe d’s numbers yet.I suppose u have something to support that bb didn’t juice also.just don’t use people from the era in question to support your argument.

      • modman11957 - Dec 26, 2011 at 10:37 AM

        Joe D had one year that kinda sticks out.but he also played very few full season after that one year.don’t really know all the details of his career I would assume he was injured also had war years during his peak.his power numbers look very odd do not really know what happened to his power.he did have one other year with fewer homers but comprable slugging number.

      • modman11957 - Dec 26, 2011 at 10:42 AM

        Also I didn’t say u couldn’t have power at a young age .I said he had a power surge at a young age he averaged 8 homers a year more in that 4 year span than he did in his other 7 years.

      • Reflex - Dec 29, 2011 at 8:28 AM

        Your dismissing the fact that your point has been debunked. Lots of players had serious power surges at young ages. Some sustained it, some did not. Some declined a bit but were still excellent. There is nothing inherently suspicious about a power surge at a young age, that was my point and it stands, regardless of how much you move the goal posts.

      • modman11957 - Jan 13, 2012 at 3:32 AM

        The fact that u say it’s debunked doesn’t make it so.this isn’t star trek and ur not capt. whoever.u have explained a single point I made.

      • modman11957 - Jan 13, 2012 at 3:37 AM

        There certainly is something unusual about a power surge at a young age.check out a new thing called sabermatics u may not have heard of it ,it’s only been around about 40 years

      • Reflex - Jan 14, 2012 at 4:43 AM

        Its debunked because counter examples were demonstrated that you could not explain away. Lots of players have historically had power surges at young ages, and faded as they aged. Dale Murphy. Was he juicing? Seriously, what malarky.

        And learn Sabermetrics. It says no such thing. Hell, ‘it’ dosen’t even speak to this type of discussion as ‘it’ is simply a methodology.

      • modman11957 - Jan 21, 2012 at 1:18 AM

        Again u fail to address my counterpoints.stating something over and over does not make it so.sabermetrics does address age,players on average start their peak around 27 , they don’t start their decline at 27 like albert aka falso carmona.

      • modman11957 - Jan 21, 2012 at 1:25 AM

        I did sight faults in ur argument apparently u didn’t read.too many of ur examples were roid era.i also had others statements about older era players that countered ur assertion.

  13. modman11957 - Dec 22, 2011 at 11:00 PM

    I suppose pre 80′s pitchers like feller who was crudley timed at 107 would dispute the statement that they didn’t have good stuff.post 80′s pithers like maddux and cliff lee might dispute the statement that stuff makes great pitchers.pre 80′s pitchers knew the craft of pitching.the argument that the talent pool was smaller years ago don’t understand sports.any good athlete years ago had only one choice baseball they couldn’t go to another sport like football if they wanted to make money i.e. bo jackson.the number of boys playing the sport doesn’t matter it’s how many make baseball thier priority.if the number of people playing a sport mattered the u.s would be the soccer king of the world.more kids play soccer in the u.s than probably any other country but it’s not thier rop priority.pitching is more of a craft than athletic endeavor.

  14. bbk1000 - Dec 25, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    It’s a bit different comparing someone born in the early 1900′s in Maryland than somebody born in the 1980′s in a place known as the steroid capital of the world……go back to bed….

  15. modman11957 - Jan 21, 2012 at 1:29 AM

    Happy belated 35th birthday albert.nice seeing u at the white house. What usa only good enuff to play ball in?

    • Reflex - Jan 21, 2012 at 3:35 AM

      Lets address more of your BS here -

      1) Sabermetrics does not addresss age. Sabermetrics is a methodology for reading and understanding stats and valuing them appropriatly. Whether a player is 25, 35 or 70 is not relevant to using sabermetric analysis on their value as a player.

      2) A player’s prime is considered to be between the ages of 26-31. This is an average, however, not a hard and fast rule. A LOT of players are great at younger or older ages even if they had mediocre ‘prime’ years. Thats why its an ‘average’, that means it describes where *most* but not all players had thier best seasons. Lots and lots of players had their best seasons before their prime(Griffey, Dale Murphy, etc), and lots and lots of players had their best seasons *after* their prime(Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer), and lots of them got a late start but produced well during their Prime and after(Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista). Its not a hard rule and there are as many players who fall outside of it as inside of it because its just an average.

      3) If Albert’s in decline its one hell of a decline phase. Aside from two months and a broken thumb last year he raked with the best of them and damn near carried his team into the playoffs. He’s remarkably consistent and has been since he entered the league ten years ago. If you think this is a decline, geez, I’d hate to see what you think his prime years should have looked like.

      4) Now as for the age thing, all I can say is how the hell did his parents fake his age and somehow know he was going to be a MLB superstar when he was just a kid and not a baseball prospect in the slightest? Are they psychic? I mean really, he wasn’t even drafted his first time through! What did such fakery ever gain him? And given that, if he really were ’35′ or whatever, then the last few seasons have been some of the greatest seasons ever by someone of that age. I mean holy hell is he one heck of a ballplayer to hit like he does with good defense in his mid-30′s. Only the true legends of the game ever pulled that off.

      Look, I understand that you’ve tossed rationality aside in order to be dedicated to hating a man you’ve never met and never will, but seriously could you lay off the slander? Just think of how you’d feel if someone spread things like this about you in your life and career. Do unto others and all that…

      • modman11957 - Jan 21, 2012 at 10:18 AM

        Roids explain a lot.we don’t know who is using,braun? Clean players could have protected their reps by speaking up about cheaters and demanding testing. They didn’t now they suffer the consequences.

      • modman11957 - Jan 21, 2012 at 10:23 AM

        It doesn’t matter where he ranked against fellow players,a decline is a comparison against ur own past.most o the points u make are meaningless or support my argument ,thanks

      • modman11957 - Jan 21, 2012 at 10:54 AM

        Drafted low? Doubts about age? Questioning age? When and why did falso carmona lye about his age? How do I know when or why albert parents lied? Some speculation he lied for school reasons. Do we even know albert’s real name? Maybe FAUSTO HERIDIA.

      • modman11957 - Jan 21, 2012 at 11:00 AM

        BS thats all I read in ur post.

  16. modman11957 - Jan 21, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    I don’t think u get it.i don’t hate ap,just think he’s a lying cheater.this is not england I can express my opinion.again your sabermetrics argument supports my position about age.bill james does state a player hits his prime at about 27. AP should still be good at 34 and declining.thanks for making my point.

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