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December 9, 2011

The BP Broadside

The Best First Baseman in Angels History

by Steven Goldman

I caught myself about to write this sentence: “Albert Pujols will be the best first baseman in Angels history.” This is a tautological statement, completely unnecessary: with rare exceptions, Pujols is the best first baseman in anybody’s history. In terms of career warp, he is already 31st on the all-time list, with only a couple of first-sackers leading him:
 

NAME

From

To

Seasons

ADJ_WARP

  1. Stan Musial

1941

1963

22

121.1

  1. Lou Gehrig

1923

1939

17

97.2

  1. Jimmie Foxx

1925

1945

20

96.4

  1. Cap Anson

1871

1897

27

93.1

  1. Albert Pujols

2001

2011

11

91.8

  1. Pete Rose

1963

1986

24

84.7

  1. Jeff Bagwell

1991

2005

15

76.6

  1. Frank Thomas

1990

2008

19

72.7

  1. Rod Carew

1967

1985

19

72.2

  1. Johnny Mize

1936

1953

15

71.3


If you don’t consider Musial and Rose first basemen, or want to simply shout, “F—k you, Cap Anson!” as loudly as you can without getting arrested, that’s cool by me. Removing them means, Jim Thome, Dan Brouthers, and Willie McCovey sneak onto the list, all behind the Angelic Albert.

If Pujols hits anything like he has in the past at any time during the course of his contract, he will become not only the best peak-value first baseman in Angels history, but the best hitter, period. While future Hall of Famers such as Carew, Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson, and Vladimir Guerrero passed through, and a few should-be-ins but aren’t and probably won’t be, such as Bobby Grich and Jim Edmonds, did some wonderful things while in town, there hasn’t been this kind of superman in Angels togs before. One important caveat: that Pujols still has some peak years left to give the Angels.

Tim Salmon was probably the best hitter to have his best years while he was actually playing for the Angels. A non-systematic review of the top ten offensive seasons in Angels history results in this list:
 

NAME

YEAR

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

TAv

BWARP

  1. Doug Decinces

1982

.301

.369

.548

.916

.317

8.7

  1. Darin Erstad

2000

.355

.409

.541

.951

.310

8.4

  1. Troy Glaus

2000

.284

.404

.604

1.008

.322

8.2

  1. Albie Pearson

1963

.304

.402

.398

.800

.331

8.0

  1. Vladimir Guerrero

2004

.337

.391

.598

.989

.330

7.6

  1. Chone Figgins

2009

.298

.395

.393

.789

.292

7.1

  1. Jim Fregosi

1964

.277

.369

.463

.833

.328

7.0

  1. Tim Salmon

1995

.330

.429

.594

1.024

.344

6.8

  1. Brian Downing

1982

.281

.368

.482

.850

.305

6.7

  1. Tim Salmon

1997

.296

.394

.517

.911

.319

6.1


Pujols has a career .342 True Average, so we’re talking a cut above here—Salmon was a career .306, very good, but not of that quality.

As for first basemen, the Angels haven’t had much in the way of truly outstanding performances at the position:
 

NAME

YEAR

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

TAv

BWARP

  1. Rod Carew

1982

.319

.396

.403

.799

.290

4.8

  1. Wally Joyner

1987

.285

.366

.528

.894

.305

4.5

  1. Don Mincher

1967

.273

.367

.487

.854

.322

4.5

  1. Kendrys Morales

2009

.306

.355

.569

.924

.314

3.9

  1. Lee Thomas

1962

.290

.355

.467

.821

.302

3.7

  1. Wally Joyner

1986

.290

.348

.457

.805

.292

3.5

  1. Mark Teixeira

2008

.358

.449

.632

1.081

.383

3.4

  1. Jason Thompson

1980

.317

.439

.526

.965

.330

3.4

  1. Rod Carew

1981

.305

.380

.374

.753

.294

3.4

  1. Wally Joyner

1988

.295

.356

.419

.775

.288

3.3


The list is thin enough that it has room for partial seasons, albeit very good ones, from Carew (strike), Teixeira and Thompson (trades). These are all good years, but only Teixeira’s is of the MVP level associated with the truly great first basemen.

I suppose this is all trivia, but interesting trivia in that it shows how the Angels’ signing of Pujols is a break with club tradition. The club was famous for going after the big names during Gene Autry’s heyday, and we could spend a separate article discussing his many free agent signings and prospects-for-veterans deals. Trades such as—

December 6, 1979: Traded Willie Aikens and Rance Mulliniks to the Kansas City Royals for Al Cowens, Todd Cruz, and Craig Easton.

December 10, 1980: Traded Carney Lansford, Rick Miller, and Mark Clear to the Boston Red Sox for Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson.

May 12, 1982: Traded Tom Brunansky, Mike Walters, and $400,000 to the Minnesota Twins for Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong.

—deserve to live in infamy. Yet, despite these moves and others, the Angels not only never rarely pursued the prototypical slugger at first base (Mo Vaughn is perhaps the only exception), they’ve had a difficult time keeping anyone there for very long. Their top 15 players in terms of games at first quickly drops off to players that didn’t even reach two seasons:
 

   

G

1

Wally Joyner

879

2

Rod Carew

718

3

Darin Erstad

581

4

J.T. Snow

487

5

Jim Spencer

474

6

Scott Spiezio

391

7

Casey Kotchman

310

8

Kendrys Morales

284

9

Joe Adcock

273

10

Don Mincher

255

11

Lee Thomas

229

12

Mo Vaughn

219

13

Bob Oliver

216

14

Ron Jackson

211

15

Robb Quinlan

195


So, welcome to a brave new world of herculean first basemen, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. You took a big risk to get there and it might not work, but at least it’s a new vision of what Angels team architecture can look like.  
 

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

Related Content:  Wally Joyner,  Tim Salmon,  Rod Carew

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