Is Albert Pujols the greatest first baseman ever? No.....at least not yet....but I was surprised to realize that he arguably has a good chance of achieving that honor before he retires.
Last week's cover story in Sports Illustrated was about Pujols, and it addressed in part the allegations, made without any actual evidence, that Pujols has used steroids, and the flat denials of juicing made by Pujols.
I like Pujols and I want to believe him, but I also realize that a number of players have previously denied using steroids, only to have those denials later prove to be questionable at best and lies at worst.
The article did get me to take another look at Pujols's statistics, which have been remarkably consistent ever since he reached the majors in 2001.
The status of Lou Gehrig as the greatest ever first baseman has never been seriously challenged, and I never really expected it to be challenged, but I compared the numbers of Pujols through age 28, the 2008 season, with those of Gehrig through age 28, the 1931 season.
Pujols has 947 runs scored; Gehrig had 937.
Pujols has 1531 hits; Gehrig had 1350.
Pujols has 342 doubles; Gehrig had 279.
Pujols has 13 triples (Albert has little speed); Gehrig had 104 (Lou was both faster and played in bigger parks).
Pujols has 319 home runs; Gehrig had 233.
Pujols has 977 RBI; Gehrig had 995.
Pujols has a .334 BA; Gehrig had .342.
Pujols has a .624 SLG; Gehrig had .642.
I then used Baseball Reference.com's stats neutralizer to place those stats in a neutral park, 715 runs per team context, per historical averages. The raw counting stats didn't greatly change for the most part. Pujols runs/hits/doubles/triples/home runs/RBI become 917/1493/334/13/311/947, while Gehrig's become 898/1322/273/103/227/951. Gehrig does gain some at bats to reflect the 162 game schedule. The neutralized stats that really jumed out at me were batting average and slugging percentage; Pujols had .329 and .613 while Gehrig had .327 and .614---in other words, a virtual tie..
I wish I could calculate the respective neutralized OBP of Pujols and Gehrig to compare the same through age 28 for each player. Pujols's "real" OBP is .425 and his neutralized OBP is .419, but I do not have those numbers for Gehrig at age 28.
We obviously have no way of knowing how long Pujols's career will last, or how well he will play as he enters his thirties, but remember that Gehrig was finished as a player at age 35 (he briefly played at age 36 in 1939). When you consider that the quality of play has also probably improved over the decades and factor in that Gehrig played in a "whites-only" league, Pujols is building a decent argument to be eventually considered to be the greatest first baseman of all time. I find that to be remarkable.
Does anyone have runs created totals for Pujols and Gehrig through age 28, or their respective win share totals through those ages? If so I would be curious to see those stats.