Phat Albert

Old man look at my life
I’m a lot like you were
Old man look at my life
I’m a lot like you were

Old man look at my life
Twenty-four and there’s so much more

Neil Young, Old Man

Exactly one year ago today, I wrote a column about just how amazing Albert Pujols‘ numbers were through his first three big-league seasons. At the time, Pujols was coming off a year in which he hit .359/.439/.667 with 43 homers, 51 doubles, 124 RBIs, and 137 runs to finish second to Barry Bonds in the National League MVP voting — his third straight top-five MVP finish and second straight year finishing second to Bonds. Pujols is now a year older — he turned 25 over the weekend, if you believe his published date of birth — and has another incredible season under his belt. He finished third in the NL MVP voting last season, hitting .331/.415/.657 with 46 homers, 51 doubles, 123 RBIs, and 133 runs, while leading the Cardinals to the World Series.

Pujols’ numbers through his first four seasons are ridiculously good and his yearly production has been incredibly consistent: 47, 40, 51, and 51 doubles; 37, 34, 43, and 46 home runs; 130, 127, 124, and 123 RBIs; 112, 118, 137, and 133 runs scored. Add it all up and you get numbers that are extraordinary for someone who just completed his age-24 season.

YEAR       G      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG       H     2B     HR     RUN     RBI
2001     161     676     .329     .403     .610     194     47     37     112     130
2002     157     675     .314     .394     .561     185     40     34     118     127
2003     157     685     .359     .439     .667     212     51     43     137     124
2004     154     692     .331     .415     .657     196     51     46     133     123
TOTAL    629    2728     .333     .413     .624     787    189    160     500     504

Pujols’ ability to fill a stat-sheet with huge numbers in every column is astounding and his career numbers through the age of 24 put him in some pretty good company. As I did this time last year (with the help of our own Lee Sinins‘ must-have Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia), I’d like to take a look at just where Pujols stacks up among the all-time greats through this stage in their careers.

Eddie Mathews               190          Joe Medwick                 202 
Alex Rodriguez              189          Ty Cobb                     201  
Mel Ott                     176          Mel Ott                     195  
Jimmie Foxx                 174          Cesar Cedeno                195 
Mickey Mantle               173          Ken Griffey Jr.             194 
Ken Griffey Jr.             172          Alex Rodriguez              194
Frank Robinson              165          Robin Yount                 193
ALBERT PUJOLS               160          Vada Pinson                 193 
Orlando Cepeda              157          ALBERT PUJOLS               189
Johnny Bench                154          Buddy Lewis                 178

Pujols ranks eighth all-time in home runs through the age of 24. Of the seven players ahead of him, six have at least 500 homers and the one who doesn’t, Alex Rodriguez, just finished his age-28 season with 381 homers. Orlando Cepeda and Johnny Bench, who round out the top 10 behind Pujols, finished their careers with “only” 379 and 389 homers, respectively. Eddie Mathews is the all-time leader in homers through both age 23 and age 24, but ARod takes over at the top of the age-25 list (he owns 26 and 27 too, but not 28). To pass Rodriguez on the age-25 list, Pujols would have to hit 82 homers in 2005; to pass him on the age-26 list, he’d have to hit 139 homers over the next two seasons.

Only Mel Ott, Ken Griffey Jr., Rodriguez, and Pujols rank in the top 10 for both homers and doubles through age 24. Unlike the home run list, being in the top 10 for doubles through age 24 doesn’t guarantee a huge career total. While Joe Medwick, Ty Cobb, and Robin Yount all finished their careers among the top 25 all-time in doubles, none of Ott, Cesar Cedeno, Vada Pinson, or Buddy Lewis did better than 50th all-time. Though he still has time to add to his total, Griffey Jr. isn’t in the top 100 for doubles (whereas he ranks 20th in homers), while Rodriguez needs 120 more two-baggers just to break into the top 100.

Mel Ott                     402          Mel Ott                     711  
Alex Rodriguez              396          Jimmie Foxx                 666 
Jimmie Foxx                 390          Ty Cobb                     601 
Ken Griffey Jr.             385          Alex Rodriguez              595
ALBERT PUJOLS               358          Mickey Mantle               575 
Mickey Mantle               352          Joe DiMaggio                558
Vada Pinson                 345          George Davis                555 
Hank Aaron                  338          Hal Trosky                  553
Frank Robinson              337          Orlando Cepeda              553 
Joe Medwick                 336          Al Kaline                   544 
Orlando Cepeda              336          Ken Griffey Jr.             543
                                         Ted Williams                515 
                                         Johnny Bench                512
                                         ALBERT PUJOLS               504

The extra-base hits list is an interesting one, because it shows Pujols’ unique ability to both hit for huge home run power and slash doubles all over the field. It is fairly rare to find a hitter who does both in this era (only four hitters ranked in the top 20 for both homers and doubles in 2004), but Pujols has ranked among the NL’s top 10 in both homers and doubles in three of his four seasons. Pujols ranks a relatively modest 12th all-time in RBIs through age 24, and ranks just 23rd in runs scored and 38th in hits through age 24 (lists I didn’t show here).

Part of the reason for Pujols’ surprisingly low rankings in a few categories (and part of the reason guys like Ott, Rodriguez, and Griffey Jr. show up near the top of multiple lists) is that Pujols didn’t start putting up his massive numbers until he was 21 years old. That may seem very young, but quite a few of baseball’s greatest players got their start even earlier than that. Ott, for instance, got his first big-league at-bats as a 17-year-old and accumulated 61 homers, 72 doubles, 251 RBIs, and 237 runs before Pujols had even stepped on a major-league field.

If you look only at what hitters have done from age 21 to age 24 (rather than through age 24, which gives guys like Ott a head start), Pujols shoots to the top of nearly every category. He ranks first in extra-base hits and total bases, second in doubles and homers, third in runs, fourth in RBIs, and eighth in hits. In other words, not a whole lot of players in baseball history have put up the sort of monster offensive numbers that Pujols has at the same ages, and the few who have are guys with names like Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Ty Cobb, and Eddie Mathews (with a special nod to Ted Williams, who dominated like no other through the age of 23 and then spent his age-24 season in the military).

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