Hey, remember this series? Let’s see if we can knock out a few more positions before pitchers and catchers report, eh?
By games played at the position of first base:
I, much like other (all more esteemed) folks writing around baseball, am beginning to run out of superlatives to use for The Machine.
A third National League Most Valuable Player Award. Led the league in runs, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS+, and total bases – among other categories.
There really is no need to expound upon the offensive prowess and exploits of Pujols. He continues to produce at a high level at the plate, leading the Cardinals back to the playoffs.
So why the grade you see below? Isn’t Pujols the best player in the game? Most complete at his position?
Not so fast. He CAN be those things.
In my opinion, Albert stretched himself a little thin in the 2009 season trying to do too much, to be too much, for his team. I know that’s not necessarily a bad quality to have, but it resulted in some regression in a couple aspects of Albert’s game.
Gold Glove potential at first base gave way to the most errors Pujols has committed since 2005. Pujols’ UZR has declined from 18.8 in 2007, to 8.5 in 2008, to a paltry 1.3 in 2009.
Sure, the Cards don’t necessarily pay Pujols to be a Gold Glover, but he certainly has the ability.
I am willing to buy into the camp that believes Albert may have been overcompensating for outfielder-turned-second-baseman Skip Schumaker. Ranging for more balls than he would’ve with a “classically trained” second sacker to his right. Attempting to make many plays himself rather than depending on Skip being a fundamentally sound infielder. Hopefully this can change as Schu moves forward in ongoing seasons on the infield.
Another area where Albert can improve – and arguably another where he may have been pressing as the leader of the 2009 squad – is baserunning. AP has always been praised as a smart ballplayer, and a very intelligent baserunner. He has an uncanny ability to read pitchers, evidenced by his sixteen stolen bases in 2009 despite being, shall we say, “speed challenged.”
Where my concern lies is with Pujols’ twelve outs on base to lead the team. Compared to a 46% success rate taking the extra base, a rate good for third-worst in his career, and it seems Albert felt an increased need to push the issue in 2009 to force runs to score.
Will Matt Holliday’s full-time presence in 2010 ease some of this burden for Albert and make him once again the complete, even-more-brilliant player that will make a push for a $30 million annual payday following the 2010 season?
It will be interesting to see if anyone winds up spelling Mang at first base in an increased backup/relief role in 2010. Pujols logged a lot of starts and a lot of innings in 2009, and one can’t help but wonder if he should have an additional day or two off as his career progresses.
Regardless, 2009 saw Yadier Molina and Chris Duncan, of all people, tying for second-most games played at first base.
That’s all I need to know to take a pass on grading anyone but Pujols here.
Overall grade: A
We’re off to a good start with A grades for both the catchers and first base. It occurs to me that second base might start some of the lower grades. After all, we’re not grading against the challenge faced by the player incumbent in that position.
Hey, maybe we’ll even get around to writing these more often than every few months.