Albert Pujols is no longer Major League Baseball’s best player. He hasn’t been since the start of 2010, or 26.5 months.
Using Wins Above Replacement, in order, Joey Votto, Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Holliday have been more valuable, per FanGraphs. By Weighted On Base Average (wOBA), in order, Votto, Bautista, Cabrera, Hamilton, Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Paul Konerko, David Ortiz, Tulowitzki, Holliday, and Prince Fielder have out-hit Pujols, making him the 12th-best hitter of the last 2+ years.
Pujols is in steady decline that is steeper than the typical decline of an average player, steeper than the decline of a star player who logs at least 10 years and 5000 plate appearances, and steeper than the typical Hall Of Famer.
The decline might seem slight–hey, he’s still been the 12th-best hitter and 11th-best all-around player in the game the last 2+ seasons. But being 12th best after a decade in which Pujols was mostly at a level unparalleled by any other player in any single season let alone in a stretch of seasons is a big drop. From 2001-2009, Pujols had almost exactly the same number of plate appearances as Alex Rodriguez. Pujols’ posted 11.2% more WAR than Rodriguez, with an 18-point wOBA advantage over the game’s second-best player in that span. The next-best player in that span was Carlos Beltran, whose wOBA was 55 points beneath Pujols, and who produced about two-thirds as much value as Pujols.
Because of his decline, Pujols isn’t even the best player on his team. That distinction belongs to Mike Trout, who’s not old enough to drink a beer, but is a prodigiously talented hitter and an elite defender at a premium defensive position. And because upside and improvement and breakout potential are almost universally the province of youth, Albert Pujols is remarkably unlikely to ever be better than/as good as Mike Trout at any point in the future, since Mike Trout is likely to get better every season for the next six years, while Albert Pujols is likely to get worse every season from now until the end of time.
That stinks for Angels brass, since they’re paying Pujols a lot of money to get worse and worse at a very fast pace. Arte Moreno won’t just pay Pujols for 9.5 more years of underperformance on the field. He’s going to pay Pujols for 10 years after he retires to be a marketing piece for a team whose fans will not want to be associated with a player whose contract and lack of justifying said contract will likely come to represent an albatross around the ankles of ‘their’ team.