10 years, 254 Megabucks.

Ten years.

That’s an eternity in baseball, particularly when you are dealing with a player who has already passed the age of 30.

I have a new card for him up here. Lets start with the projections for this year and beyond, down at the bottom of the page:

Year Age PA  AB   R   H   DB TP  HR RBI  BB  SO SB CS  BAvg OBP  SLG  EqA  RAR  WARP  Defense   MJ Brk Imp Col Att Drp
2012 32  596 520  90 160  25  1  34  98  71  58  9  4 .308 .396 .556 .329  57.3  7.1 139-1B  3 100   9  38  18   3   1 
2013 33  592 518  88 159  25  1  32  96  70  58  7  4 .307 .394 .544 .326  54.1  6.7 138-1B  3 100   2  32  25   9   1 
2014 34  575 503  84 153  24  1  30  90  68  59  6  3 .304 .391 .535 .323  50.7  6.3 134-1B  3 100   3  25  31  15   6 
2015 35  553 483  78 144  23  1  28  84  66  56  6  3 .298 .387 .524 .319  45.9  5.8 129-1B  3 100   6  19  42  25  13 
2016 36  485 423  69 126  20  1  25  75  58  49  5  3 .298 .388 .527 .319  40.6  5.0 113-1B  2  99   3  15  52  37  24 
2017 37  447 392  64 116  18  1  23  69  52  46  4  2 .296 .383 .523 .316  36.1  4.5 104-1B  2  99   0  12  58  45  33
2018 38  407 357  56 104  17  1  21  62  47  42  4  2 .291 .378 .521 .315  31.8  4.0  95-1B  2  97   1   8  63  51  42
2019 39  360 316  50  91  15  1  18  54  41  37  3  2 .288 .375 .513 .311  26.6  3.4  84-1B  2  98   1   6  69  61  53 
2020 40  300 263  39  76  10  0  15  44  35  32  2  1 .289 .377 .498 .309  21.3  2.7  70-1B  1  96   0   4  81  71  63
2021 41  248 221  31  63   9  0  12  36  26  27  1  1 .285 .363 .489 .301  15.2  1.9  58-1B  1  96   0   2  88  81  71

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(I’ve cut some columns to make it fit here, and added more projection years than the pages are going to have). The top-line projection is for him to steadily drop from an EqA of .330-ish with a 7 WARP down to .300 with a 2 WARP – my gut feeling is that the long-term projections underestimate the EqA decline while exaggerating the PA decline, but that the overall level comes out about right. There’s 47.4 WARP showing on the board for the duration of the contract. The marginal value of those WARP needs to be about $5.35 million over the life of the contract for it to break even, which is pretty close to the current rate. If you allow for a 5% growth in the marginal value per year, then you only need to start around $4.15M to break even; since current marginal values are probably around 5.25, there’s a little (very little) bit of room to come up short in the expectations. The value looks OK for the expected production, as a total. Even for that, though, you are looking at a strong, strong likelihood of overpaying for the years at the end of the contract…you just have to hope you come out far enough ahead in the first few to make up for it.

But the risks, oh, those risks. The drop rate (“Drp”), which is the percentage of his comparables who are completely out of the league, is already up to one-third through six years; that number is a big part of why the expected plate appearances drop so steadily through the forecast. His breakout (Brk) scores, the chances of turning in a performance well above his 2009-2011 baseline, is only in the single digits throughout the contract; his collapse rates, the chance of underperforming that baseline, grows steadily, as expected. There is far more downside risk than there is upside, and the contract doesn’t leave much downside room to keep from becoming a stinker.

There is also the case – already factored in to the total forecast, but something I’d like to look at a little closer – that we may have already seen some decline. Here’s a cut from the regular translation portion of his card:

Albert Pujols Born 19800116 Age 31 Bats R Throws R Height 75 Weight 230 Regular DT Year Team Lge AB H DB TP HR BB SO R RBI SB CS Out BA OBP SLG EqA EqR POW SPD KRt WRt BIP 2009 St_Louis____ NL 571 191 36 1 50 109 57 129 144 16 5 395 .335 .442 .664 .357 150 31 0 16 12 1 2010 St_Louis____ NL 585 189 32 1 46 103 66 122 128 14 5 409 .323 .423 .617 .340 138 26 -1 14 10 1 2011 St_Louis____ NL 573 182 24 1 42 64 50 119 114 9 1 402 .318 .384 .583 .320 117 22 0 17 2 -3

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The last five columns I’ve left in, after EqA and EqR, are component breakdowns. They are rate statistics, not totals, measured in runs per 650 plate appearances. To digress a moment, there was a comic book character in the DC universe by the name of Ultra Boy, who had all the powers of Superman – but he could only use them one at a time. If he turned on the strength, he wasn’t invulnerable, if he was invulnerable he couldn’t use the heat vision, if he was using X-ray vision he couldn’t fly to get a good vantage point, and so on and so on. I think Peter Petrelli had the same thing in Heroes. That’s kind of the idea here, with Pujols standing in for Superman. I have taken a perfectly average player, and replaced his averageness with one aspect of Pujols at a time. The POW column gives Mean Joe Mean Pujols’ power – mostly his home runs, with some doubles counting in as well – while leaving everything else perfectly average. SPD does the same thing for speed – stolen bases, triples, some doubles. KRt is strikeout rate, WRt is walk rate (which, for this purpose. includes HBP), and BIP is essentially singles.

What I really want to focus on is the drop in POW – from +31 in 2009, to +26 in 2010, and to +22 last year, to find players who underwent similar changes at the same ages (29-31), and to see what they did in the future. I’ve run cards like this for every player since 1954 (which you can find, for now, by going through the search bar at the top of each player’s page), so I started looking for players who had POW scores at ages 29-31 that matched Pujols’ scores, plus or minus some value. There weren’t any players found when that plus or minus value was 0, 1, or 2, which isn’t surprising since a +20 power score is a pretty high bar. I started to get some nibbles at +/- 3, a few more at 4, and by +/-5 I had twelve players to work with. Chronologically, they are

Ted Kluszewski 1954-56 34, 24, 18 Stan Lopata, 1955-57 32, 27, 19 Bill Skowron, 1960-62 26, 23, 23 Lee May, 1972-74 28, 27, 21 Johnny Bench, 1977-79 31, 29, 17 Dwight Evans, 1981-83 27, 23, 17 Steve Balboni, 1986-88 28, 22, 24 Barry Bonds, 1994-96 32, 22, 27 Jeff Bagwell, 1997-99 31, 21, 27 Mo Vaughn, 1997-99 28, 28, 22 Manny Ramirez, 2001-03 37, 27, 21 Troy Glaus, 2006-08 26, 21, 20 ALBERT PUJOLS, 2009-11 31, 26, 22

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(Note that for the older players, pre-1980, the “new” design player cards haven’t caught up yet.)

These 12 players, between them, were able to meet or beat their worst age 29-31 POW 28 times over the remainder of their careers, an average of 2 and a third times per player, which doesn’t sound too bad. Nine of those 28, however, belong to Barry Bonds; six more belong to Manny Ramirez, which means that more than half of the good results come from two players with PED issues. The remaining ten players tally only 13 seasons, just a little over 1 per player

Kluszewski had a 21 in half-time play for the Angels in 1961
Lopata was done.
Skowron never reached 20 again.
May had a 29 in 1976, age 33, and had a couple more high-teens.
Bench bounced back with a 30 in 1980 and a 19 in 1981, so he gets credit for two.
Evans went 21-14-18-22 over the next four years, giving him three hits.
Balboni put up a 28 and 36 in the next two years, and then was out of the league.
Bonds went ape on the league for the next decade, including an incredible 68.
Bagwell went 26-21-18-20-12 for the remaining five full years he played, that counts for 2.
Vaughn had a 22 in 2000, missed 2001, had another 22 in 2002, then an 8 and then was done, so that counts for 2.
Ramirez had a 31-34-33 over the next three years, and then a 21, 25, and 33 later on, for a total of 6.
Glaus was pretty much done.

This is, to some extent, factored into the general projection, although the comps there are based on similarity across all performance sectors, not just power (as well as height, weight, position). Pujols has significant advantages over many of the players on this list in terms of speed (just by being average, instead of -5 or -10), strikeout rates (very strong +15 typically, compared to -22 from Balboni), and walk rates (although the drop from 12 to 10 to 2 is troubling), which should help him remain a star player even if his power drops into the mid-teens. Compare him to someone like Balboni, for whom power was the only component worth anything; and even at a +36 the major leagues didn’t think it offset his high strikeouts (-29), lack of speed (-8), and lack of singles (-23) enough to justify bringing him back for more. We would expect that kind of broad toolset to age better than a narrow one.

 

One Response to Albert Pujols

  1. Anon says:

    I don’t think teams offer 10-year contracts without thinking that they will offload the worst years of the deal to the Yankees or Red Sox. I.e., teams know they are overpaying, but only do so because there is always another team willing to overpay even more and eat the contract. A.k.a., the A-Rod effect.

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