Somebody recently asked Albert Pujols if he was motivated to put up numbers like those of fellow Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout. Pujols didn't take kindly to that and was still stewing about it in a more recent interview this week.
Now here we come to wag our finger. It is, after all, our duty as People of the Internet to react to situations like these. And in this case, here's why finger-wagging is warranted:
Pujols just has the wrong idea, man. The question he was asked wasn't an insulting one. It was actually a valid question. Surprisingly so, in fact.
Pujols, as we're all abundantly aware, hasn't been so great in his first two years in an Angels uniform. Thanks in part to injuries he suffered in 2013, he's hit just .275/.338/.485 as an Angel. Very un-Pujols-like numbers, indeed.
Thus early on in spring training came the question—Jesse Spector of the Sporting News says it was his—about whether Pujols might rebound well enough in 2014 to put up Trout-like numbers. Though it was a while ago, it was still on Pujols' mind when he spoke to Bob Nightengale of USA Today this week:
Can you imagine someone saying that to me? I felt like saying, 'Come on, are you serious? Are you really asking me that? Check out my numbers. I know what Mike Trout has done in his first two years is pretty special, but will you look at my numbers. I've been doing this for almost 14 years.'
The only guy in baseball who can match the numbers I've put up is Barry Bonds, and someone is actually asking if I can put up numbers like Mike Trout?
Are you freaking kidding me?
I'll be honest: My initial reaction to these comments was something like, "Damn right! You tell 'em, Albert!" It would have been better if the question had been whether Pujols could get back to being the hitter he once was. If it's strictly hitting we're talking about; surely Trout hasn't been as good as that guy.
But then I actually ventured to look. And...yeah, it turns out that Trout now and Pujols then is actually a solid comparison.
Since we've gone and strayed into Trout fanboy territory, here's where you might be expecting something about Wins Above Replacement and what it has to say about Trout's general awesomeness.
Nope. Not even gonna go there.
Instead, we're going to focus strictly on the kinds of numbers that Pujols clearly had in mind when he spouted off. Because Pujols is one of the greatest hitters ever, you'd think that there would be a notable disparity between his and Trout's hitting numbers.
Whether you look at it from one direction or another direction, there's actually not.
Regarding the first direction, the first thing I did was use Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs to look up how Trout's rate stats in his first two full seasons (2012-2013) to compare them to Pujols' rate stats from his first two seasons (2001-2002). You know, just to see if Trout's off to as good a start at the plate as the one Pujols got off to.
Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs
Pujols was an outstanding hitter from the get-go, hitting for average, getting on base and slugging at terrific rates. Trout, however, only has a disadvantage in the power department. And because he's put up his numbers in a much harsher run-scoring environment, it's no surprise that he has huge edges in park- and league-adjusted stats like wRC+ and OPS+.
The point: As brilliant as Pujols' start was, Trout's has actually been better. No small compliment, that.
That'll do for an attention-grabber. But it is also admittedly unfair to a degree, as Pujols wasn't yet the great Albert Pujols in 2001 and 2002.
He didn't really enter that territory until he hit .359 with a 1.106 OPS in 2003. Between then and 2010, his OBP never dropped below .414 and his OPS never dropped below .997. Once Bonds left baseball after 2007, Pujols had the "best hitter in baseball" label all to himself.
That, indeed, was Pujols in his prime. And my, what a prime it was. Certainly good enough to make what Trout's done in the last two seasons look like some little league stuff, right?
Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs
The edges in the non-adjusted rate stats belong to Pujols, with by far the biggest of the bunch being in power. That was expected, as Pujols did average 42 home runs a season in that eight-year stretch.
But once again, look at wRC+ and OPS+. Pujols' prime holds the edge over Trout's first two full seasons, but the edge is very slim. Factor in parks and run-scoring environments, and there's virtually no difference between what Pujols was doing then and what Trout is doing now. In essence, "Trout numbers" means the same thing now as "Pujols numbers" did then.
So you know how I said it would have been better if the question had been whether Pujols could get back to being his old self? Well, that essentially was the question.
Now, granted, Trout indeed hasn't been raking all that long. Two great years does not a legendary hitter make. Trout has a few more years to go before he can begin even so much as tip-toeing into the same inner circle of all-time greats in which Pujols resides.
And while we're granting things, let's grant that Pujols can't be blamed for not having things like wRC+ and OPS+ on his mind when he was asked the question the first time around or when he spoke to Nightengale. It's typically the writer's job to convey the relevant stats. Not the other way around.
Heck, let's go ahead and grant a third thing: Even if Pujols were to be made aware of the statistical comparisons we just saw, here's guessing he wouldn't take back what he said. Just judging from his tone, you know.
If so, well, I guess that means you and I will just have to be content with the knowledge that we know better. We know that when Pujols was asked about emulating Trout, he wasn't being asked if he could handle emulating an inferior hitter.
No, what he was really being asked was whether he could manage emulating himself.
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