Albert Pujols is one of the greatest players of all time, but the Cardinals version and the Angels version have been much different.
As a teenager, I took an annual trip to Arizona with my uncle to watch baseball. It started with going to spring training in March, but later we opted for the Arizona Fall League in November and I came to enjoy those trips even more. There were rarely more than a few hundred people in the stands, and the game results themselves mattered little; it was all about prospects furthering their development. As a young baseball fan who had begun down the path to baseball obsessive, I spent weeks before every trip reading up on prospects so that I’d know who to look for, and could impress my uncle with tidbits about players.
Our last trip to Arizona was in 2000. I was 17 years old and had started reading Baseball Prospectus, Rob Neyer, Baseball America, and old-school Bill James, so I was fully prepared for serious prospect spotting. Three times during our week-long stay we saw Albert Pujols' team. We sat a couple of rows behind the first-base dugout, which gave us an excellent view of the 20-year-old third baseman. I remember my uncle immediately making note of how huge Pujols was for the position. I dumped my prospect notebook, telling him that Pujols was a former 13th-round pick who crushed Single-A to get on the prospect map.
Is Mike Trout suffering from a lack of respect? Or is the batter behind him overrated?
Here’s a story about Mike Trout and intentional walks: During his junior year, in the state playoffs, the opposing Cherry Hill East manager got so spooked by Trout’s batting practice display that he intentionally walked him to lead off the game; then again in his second at-bat, with a runner on first; and once more in his third at-bat, with the bases loaded.
What can the way that pitchers have approached Albert Pujols tell us about his post-peak ups and downs?
In the beginning (of the millennium), there was Albert Pujols, and Albert Pujols was good. Bursting onto the scene in 2001, Prince Albert immediately won a Rookie of the Year award and posted a 7 WARP season. What followed was perhaps the best 10-season stretch since the glory days of Mickey Mantle. Each year for those 10 years, Pujols recorded an MVP-level ~6-10 WARP season, replete with 30-40 homers and an OPS above 1.000 (even sprinkling in a couple of Gold Gloves for good measure).
Then there was the fall from grace. As it turns out, even the Machine ages. Beginning from his peak season in 2009, his WARP fell precipitously: 12.8, 10.4, then a humble 6.3, on to 4.0, and last year a barely average 2.2 WARP. Contract dynamics aside, the legend of Albert Pujols seemed to have disappeared in a historically unprecedented way.
Instead of limping into the 500-homer club, Albert Pujols went in leading the league.
Not long ago, it looked like Albert Pujols’ 500th home run, whenever it came, would at best be an opportunity for us to revisit the better days behind him. And that wouldn’t have been the worst thing, since Pujols’ past—thanks to his four-season streak of declines and his injury-shortened 2013—has already become chronically underappreciated.
Compare Pujols and the consensus top right-handed hitter du jour, Miguel Cabrera. The two were similarly productive at the plate in their best offensive seasons: Pujols posted a .373 True Average over 700 plate appearances in 2009, while Cabrera achieved a .372 mark in 652 PA last season. Scan the single-season TAv leaderboard, though, and you pass five more Pujols seasons before you get to Cabrera’s second strongest. Add in Pujols’ superior defense and better baserunning, and the gap between them grows: Pujols has had eight seasons that WARP says were worth more than Cabrera’s best.*
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Albert Pujols hits a big homer, Jose Fernandez and Alex Wood duel, plus more Tuesday action and Wednesday's What to Watch.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Of the 25 players in the 500-home-run club entering play on Tuesday, none had joined by hitting nos. 499 and 500 on the same night. Albert Pujols, who became its 26th member in the Angels’ 7-2 victory, is the first to do it in two-tater fashion.
A look at the hitters who could outperform their PECOTA projections in RBI.
One of the fun ways we all try to outsmart our opponents in fantasy is by searching for hidden value in players who, for one reason or another, we suspect have the ability to outpace their projections (and, relatedly, their draft cost). Our Darkhorses series features staff picks for players who could very well outpace their PECOTA projections for the year and provide the top overall production in one of the standard five-by-five categories. We’ve all picked one player currently projected by PECOTA to fall outside of the top 10 and one longer-shot player currently projected outside of the top 25. We’ll take a look at offense this week and pitching next. For the earlier editions in this series, click below:
Our fantasy crew's favorite value picks at a spot where elite production is critical.
First base is a position that harbors many good fantasy players. These are some the aforementioned good players who we feel are comparatively more good than their peers.
Brandon Belt, Giants
Heading into 2013 there were legitimate concerns about Belt’s power and by extension his viability as an everyday major-league 1B. Belt answered those concerns with a strong season, complete with 60 extra-base hits, a solid walk percentage (9.1) and a pretty damn good 139 wRC+. Belt plays in extreme parks the majority of the season—AT&T and PETCO strongly favor pitchers, Coors and Chase Fields both favor hitters, and LA falls somewhere in the middle, depending on what time the game starts. He hit well on the road in 2013 and his production didn’t nosedive at home. Belt will be undervalued this year, and while he isn’t an elite-level 1B, he provides enough production to warrant being a starter in standard fantasy formats. —Mauricio Rubio
Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Davis lead the way, but there are plenty of power bats in the middle and lower tiers.
This series began last week with a look at the catchers. Today, our positional tier rankings series continues with a look at first base.
Players at each position are divided into five tiers, represented by a numerical star rating. Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players that will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and they are projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of last year’s values but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen in 2014.
We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from last year’s PFM using a 12-team, standard 5x5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and, as we did last year, we allocate $180 of a $260 budget to hitters. Players needed to play in 20 games at a position to qualify there. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format, you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players’ dollar values.
Players with multi-position eligibility are listed at the position where it is most likely they would start in a standard fantasy league. Buster Posey and Carlos Santana both have eligibility at catcher and first base but are not included in this part of the series for this reason. While there are unique situations where a fantasy owner might start Posey or Santana at first, these situations are the exception and not the rule.
A look at the players who should improve after the All-Star break and those who might go the other way.
Years ago, before analytics and baseball became acquainted, many analysts focused on first-half and second-half stats. For many good reasons that are too lengthy to go into here, this type of analysis has become dated and isn’t used in any type of serious study.
However, the All-Star break is still a good time in fantasy to take a step back, look at some poor first-half performers, and figure out who is due for a bounce back in the second half. Rather than analyze the types of players who “traditionally” hit well post-All-Star break, this is a look at players who have struggled so far but who should improve based either on underperforming their metrics or based on past historical performance, as well as players who either will slip or won’t bounce back despite a slow first half.
Next year's draft season is still nine months away, but the lessons we've already learned this year could carry over.
We’re taking a break from my series on streaming hitters with sharp splits to discuss the future a bit. There is nothing in particular about this point in time that makes it worth discussing 2014 now. Most teams have played about 75 games, but I didn’t even know that before I planned this; again, the point in the season is irrelevant. It’s just something I like to do around the start of summer as the first check-in point.
As much as I love to enjoy the here and now of the season we’re in the throes of, I also like to look forward and see how the current season might be affecting the following spring’s drafts. We are about nine months from the 2014 draft season so a whole lot will change from now until then, but I guarantee that some of what we’ve seen thus far will stick and have a lasting impact on 2014. In fact, in part one of a two-part look at what we’ve learned (or think we’ve learned) thus far, we start with something that I’m certain will be true in March 2014.