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I got a great question from reader Keith Blue over the weekend:


Albert Pujols is the obvious frontrunner for the NL Rookie of the
Year Award. But who would you rather have in the long run: Pujols or Adam
Dunn
?


I’ll admit, this stood out because it was a rare missive that didn’t include
the word "Bonds," but it really is a good question. Let’s start by
taking a look at their 2001 performances:


               AVG   OBP   SLG   AB   H  2B  3B  HR  BB  SO  SB CS  EqA
Pujols        .331  .401  .614  471 156  37   3  30  52  73   1  3 .328

Dunn (Majors) .277  .389  .599  137  38   9   1  11  24  41   2  0 .319
Dunn (Minors) .334  .469  .671  350 117  22   0  32  62  82  11  4 .292


Both players are having excellent seasons. At the beginning of the year,
Dunn looked like the more advanced prospect, but a big spring training and
an injury to Bobby Bonilla helped Pujols make the Cardinals, and he
made the most of that opportunity. Dunn absolutely obliterated Double-A and
Triple-A, finally reaching the Reds outfield in late July. He’s been
arguably their best player since his callup.

Both players are 21, with Pujols about two months younger than Dunn. He’s
advertised as a third baseman, but has been error-prone in his time there
and played more at other positions than at the hot corner. His work in the
outfield has been fairly good, actually, and–subjective evaluation ahead–I
like what I’ve seen of his arm. Dunn is a corner outfielder by trade, and by
most accounts a good one. Here are the fielding statistics for the two
players (major league only):


                         Inn.     RF    ZR    Pct.    A    E   DP
Pujols at third base:   415.2   3.20  .753   .937   108   10   17
Pujols in right field:  294.2   1.74  .900   .934     3    4    0

Dunn in right field:    240.0   2.78  .867   .974     2    2    1


Pujols’s primary advantage over Dunn is his ability to play third base. If
he settles in there, any offensive difference between the two players will
probably be overshadowed by Pujols’s positional value. Dunn’s main point
over Pujols is his speed; while not fast, he’s faster than Pujols, and that
speed shows up on the basepaths and in the field. Dunn isn’t going to be
just a masher in the outfield; he will be a good, and potentially very good,
right fielder.

Going forward, I think Dunn has one more advantage over Pujols, at least
over the next calendar year. I don’t think you can expect Pujols to
perpetually hit .330 with walks and power. If, for example, he starts off
next season in a minor slump (say, .260 with walks and a drop in power), the
perception that he’s having a significant falloff may lead to his being
mishandled, and that’s the kind of thing that can really screw up a player’s
career. I don’t think he’s being helped by playing four positions (left
field and first base, in addition to the two above), either, especially
since he’s essentially learning all but third base on the job. Dunn is
playing well, but with only ten weeks of major-league play under his belt,
he won’t have his 2002 performance measured against the monster 2001 stats
that Pujols will, and he’s pretty much the everyday right fielder at this
point.

It all sounds like picking nits, but in choosing between two players of such
accomplishment and ability, this is the depth to which you have to go to
separate them. This is really an area where I’d want to have more
evidence–scouting evaluations, extensive videotape, information from team
doctors on the two players’ body types and projected physical
development–to make my decision.

I believe that if I was running a major-league team, I would rather have
Pujols, because of the demonstrated upside and the defensive value. As an
outsider, say as someone running a fantasy or Strat-O-Matic team, I would
rather have Dunn, because I feel there’s less chance of him being affected
adversely by organizational decisions.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
clicking here.

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