This was spurred by a couple Tweets I saw today. Jonah Keri said something about Miguel Cabrera, someone asked if Miggy has taken over Albert Pujols as the best right-handed hitter of this generation, Keri said ‘not yet.’ Up to this point, I’m on board, until a reply comes that Pujols’ first ten years make him the best right-handed hitter of any generation.
Not quite, and we don’t need a very long memory to find a player who hit better than Pujols when young, who trails Pujols in career wOBA now, but who is likely to lead Pujols in career hitting once Pujols’ career is in the books. That’s Frank Thomas.
Age 21: Pujols .423 wOBA — Thomas in minors. Edge age 21: Pujols.
Age 22: Pujols .404 wOBA — Thomas .437 wOBA. Edge age 22: Thomas.
Through age 22: Pujols .414 wOBA — Thomas .437. Edge through age 22: Thomas. (in a small sample)
Age 23: Pujols .461 wOBA — Thomas .442 wOBA. Edge age 23 : Pujols.
Through age 23: Pujols .429 wOBA — Thomas .441 wOBA: Edge through age 23: Thomas
Age 24: Pujols .442 wOBA — Thomas .432 wOBA. Edge age 24: Pujols.
Through age 24: Pujols .433 wOBA — Thomas .437 wOBA. Edge through age 24: Thomas
Age 25: Pujols .432 wOBA — Thomas .434 wOBA. Edge age 25: Push.
Through age 25: Pujols .432 wOBA — Thomas .436 wOBA. Edge through age 25: Thomas.
Age 26: Pujols .447 wOBA — Thomas .499 wOBA. Edge age 26: Thomas.
Through age 26: Pujols .435 wOBA — Thomas .447 wOBA. Edge through age 26: Thomas.
Age 27: Pujols .419 wOBA — Thomas .441 wOBA. Edge age 27: Thomas.
Through age 27: Pujols .432 wOBA — Thomas .446 wOBA. Edge through age 27: Thomas.
Age 28: Pujols .459 wOBA — Thomas .451 wOBA. Edge age 28: Pujols.
Through age 28: Pujols .435 wOBA — Thomas .447 wOBA. Edge through age 28: Thomas.
Age 29: Pujols .447 wOBA — Thomas .454 wOBA. Edge age 29: Thomas.
Through age 29: Pujols .437 wOBA — Thomas .448 wOBA. Edge through age 29: Thomas.
Age 30: Pujols .419 wOBA — Thomas .376 wOBA. Edge age 30: Pujols.
Through age 30: Pujols .435 wOBA — Thomas .438 wOBA. Edge through age 30: Thomas.
Age 31: Pujols .384 wOBA — Thomas .385 wOBA. Edge age 31: Push.
Through age 31: Pujols .430 wOBA — Thomas .433 wOBA. Ege through age 31: Thomas
Age 32: Pujols .360 wOBA — Thomas .441 wOBA. Edge age 32: Thomas.
Through age 32: Pujols .425 wOBA — Thomas .434 wOBA. Edge through age 32: Thomas
Age 33: Pujols .329 wOBA — Thomas .317 wOBA. Edge age 33: Pujols.
Through age 33: Pujols .419 wOBA — Thomas .433 wOBA. Edge through age 33: Thomas.
That’s where we have to stop, this being Pujols’ age 33 season, and here are some demonstrably true things we can say about Pujols–strictly as a hitter and going by wOBA–compared to Frank Thomas, as illuminated by the bolded “Pujols”es above.
- Albert Pujols debuted one year younger than Frank Thomas.
- Albert Pujols was a better hitter than Frank Thomas at age 23.
- Albert Pujols was a better hitter than Frank Thomas at age 24.
- Albert Pujols was a better hitter than Frank Thomas at age 28.
- Albert Pujols was a better hitter than Frank Thomas at age 30.
- Albert Pujols was a better hitter than Frank Thomas at age 33.
- Albert Pujols in his worst was not as bad as Frank Thomas in his worst season.
- Albert Pujols in his best season was not as good as Frank Thomas in his best season.
- Except as noted above, in all same-age seasons Frank Thomas was equal to or better as a hitter than Albert Pujols.
- At all career-to-date points by age, Frank Thomas was a better hitter than Albert Pujols.
We do know how Thomas finished his career. His wOBA from age 34 through his retirement after his age 40 season was .381. He finished his career at a .413 mark.
What we don’t know, but can take an educated guess about, is how Albert Pujols’ career will end. Pujols has a career .416 wOBA, a three-point margin over Thomas. As we can see above his seasonal wOBAs over the last six years have gone .459 -> .447 -> .419 -> .384 -> .360 -> .329. Pujols has shown no signs of a rebound to the slide he’s been on for half a decade. Sam Miller at Baseball Prospectus has humorously cited repeatedly how the effects of age and foot injury have taken a toll on the once-great slugger. The next 8 years are not going to be pretty for Pujols, and he’s going to finish his career as, overall, a lesser hitter than Frank Thomas.
That doesn’t really matter, of course, in the context of the Tweets that set off this line of thinking. Not the Jonah Keri tweet–Young Pujols was the best hitter of his generation–I’m happy to divide him and Thomas into different generations. Thomas debuted prior to the last work stoppage, which seems eons ago. Pujols didn’t enter the league until it had been revitalized by Ripken, McGwire and Sosa. But to the point of Pujols being the best right-handed hitter ever based on his first ten years, well….Frank Thomas was demonstrably better. It’s not a runaway, but Young Thomas was superior as a hitter to Young Pujols.