During Fox’s broadcast of the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday night, Eric Karros interviewed Albert Pujols in the NL dugout. Karros started off the interview by matter-of-factly pointing out that Pujols is the best player in baseball. Pujols embarrassingly responded by saying, “I don’t think I’m the best player in the game.” In fairness to Phat Albert, I appreciate his attempt at humility. However, to quote The Rock, “it doesn’t matter what you think.” Albert, you are the best player in MLB and it’s not close. There’s even an outside chance that Pujols could end up being the greatest baseball player of all-time when various factors are taken into consideration (i.e. strength of era). We won’t know that for a while, though. What we do know is that no player in the history of MLB has had a better start to a career and, at 29, he has no peers in either league.
Pujols is the active major league leader in both batting average and Slugging %. That means he is the best pure hitter and the best power hitter in baseball. He’s a better pure hitter than Ichiro and a better power hitter than Ryan Howard. He also sports one of the best “eyes” in the game which has led to a ridiculous BB:SO ratio of 767 to 541. Over the past three years, that ratio has climbed to almost 2 to 1. Even more impressive is his SO/AB ratio. Of the top 20 active players in that category, there are 19 singles hitters and Albert Pujols. He is the ultimate baseball player. His nickname is “The Machine” which is apropos considering his likeness to one. He does the same thing at an unbelievably efficient level, year after year.
Pujols has been a superstar ever since he entered the majors in 2001. The fact that he is the first player in MLB history to start his career with eight (soon-to-be-nine) consecutive seasons of at least 30 home runs, 100 RBIs, and a .300 batting average has been well-documented. No player in MLB history has reached 300 home runs in fewer games. No player in MLB history has hit more home runs through nine seasons. He has two MVPs to go along with three seconds, a third, and a fourth. He's even the best defensive first baseman in the NL. Did I mention he’s only 29? Those accomplishments speak for themselves. He has already cemented himself as one of the greatest players in MLB history regardless of what happens going forward.
The story here isn’t that Pujols is great. That has been established. The story is that he is greater now than he has ever been. He leads MLB in Runs, RBIs, Home Runs, OBP, Slug %, TBs, Walks, Runs Created, OPS+, and XBHs. It would be impressive enough if he just led his own team in those categories let alone the National League and MLB. His OPS+ of 209 would be the highest full-season mark by a non-steroid user since 1957. He has a very good chance—perhaps the best chance of anyone since Yaz did it in 1967—of winning the Triple Crown. A MLB Triple Crown—something that has only been accomplished five times in MLB history—might even be within reach. Pujols leads MLB in home runs and RBIs by margins of eight and nine, respectively. He’s quite a ways behind Joe Mauer and Ichiro in batting average but he is sitting in a good position at .332. It’s unlikely that Mauer (.373) and Ichiro (.362) will keep hitting at their respective paces while Pujols is simply hitting his career average. If he can catch the leaders in batting average, he would likely become the first player to win the MLB Triple Crown since Mickey Mantle in 1956.
His path to the NL Triple Crown, however, is much easier. He trails Hanley Ramirez in batting average by 17 points. After that, it’s Pujols and Pablo Sandoval in a virtual dead heat. Pujols’s quest for a Triple Crown very well could be the story of the second half. However, the season he is putting together is even more impressive than a Triple Crown. Most serious baseball fans would agree that Runs, OPS, Slug %, and OBP are all more important statistics than “Batting Average.” So even if he falls short in batting average, he would lead the league in four categories even more impressive than the third—and least important—leg of the Triple Crown. Leading the league in all of those categories might not have a catchy name but it certainly would win out in degree of difficulty. Now just imagine what he could do with some protection in the Cardinals lineup!
Before the news broke in Spring Training that A-Rod had used steroids, he was viewed by some as the savior of baseball’s record books. The juicers of the last 15 years had littered the record books leaving a multitude of black marks for the sport. A-Rod was to be for baseball what Mr. Clean is to countertops; or that was the plan. That dream ended abruptly when he was proven to be a cheat. Because of Pujols’s assault on the record books and the fact that he hasn’t been connected to PEDs, the unofficial responsibility of Mr. Clean will inevitably fall into the hands of Pujols. Here’s hoping he’s better with a mop than A-Rod.