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What Is Albert Pujols Playing For?

Albert Pujols has had a massive career at the plate, but as his career winds down, and his production declines, what is he still playing for?

Erik Drost by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What Is Albert Pujols Playing For?


Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Massive contracts are all the rage nowadays. Young players want them. Older players have them. Owners aren’t given them out. It’s a whole big mess. What’s more of a mess are the players who still have years on their deals, underperforming with overpaid contracts. So what do these players have left to play for? What can they achieve in the time they have left on their mega-contracts? For Albert Pujols, the answer is a lot.

Seriously, Albert Pujols can do a lot.

Heading into 2020, Pujols had two years and $59 million dollars left on the contract he signed with the Angels back in 2012. That’s a lot of money for a guy who can barely run to first. Seriously. Albert Pujols is very slow. How slow? Albert Pujols has grounded into more double plays than any other hitter to ever play the game, and he broke the record back in 2017. So he’s got some time to create some space from the rest of the pack. In fact, Albert Pujols is one grounder away from being the first player to ever hit into 400 double-plays. That’s amazing. What a time to be alive.

While that’s not the record Pujols would like to be known for breaking, the question we’ll be exploring today is, can he break any other all-time records before hanging up his cleats? What is Albert Pujols playing for? When it’s all said and done, where will the great first baseman end up on the all-time records list?

Home Runs

This is probably the one everyone’s the most excited about. As it stands right now, Albert Pujols has hit 662 home runs. Joining Pujols in the 600 club are eight other men, three of whom are already below the Cardinal great. Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Frank Robinson are all in the 600 Club, but below Pujols’ 662 dingers.

In the upper echelon of the 600 club are the likes of Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez. As of publication, Pujols has two more long-balls than the Giants legend’s 660 homers. However, A-Rod’s 696 might prove to be more challenging to achieve.

If we take the average number of home runs hit by Pujols in the last five years of his career, or as I like to call it, “the decline”, Pujols averages 27 home runs a season. If Albert can hit that mark, he’ll finish the 2021 season with 689 round-trippers, seven behind A-Rod, and good enough for 5th all-time.

Doubles

But what happens when a fly ball just barely misses clearing the outfield wall and stays in play? Well, that’s when Albert has to leg out a double. Over the last five seasons, Pujols has averaged 20 two-baggers a season. Prior to arriving in Los Angeles, Pujols consistently put up over twice as many doubles a season, dropping an average of 41 doubles a season in St. Louis.

For his career, Pujols finds himself 5th on the all-time doubles list with 669 to his name. Ahead of him, are the usual legends you’d expect to find. Ty Cobb (724), Stan Musial (725), Pete Rose (746), and atop the list is the Double King, Tris Speaker with 792.

With 669 doubles heading into the 2021 season, and a last five season average of 20 per season, Albert Pujols should finish with 689 doubles. This would leave him right where he started, as fifth on the all-time list. Even in his heyday, Pujols wouldn’t be able to move ahead of anyone on this list, but he could do something even more important.

If Albert Pujols can hit 31 doubles, a 50% increase from his recent average, he would become the 5th player ever to reach the 700 Doubles Club. Sometimes just joining the club is the big achievement, rather than topping the list.

Hits

While joining the all-time Top 10 for Home Runs, Doubles and RBIs have been career highlights for Pujols, there’s one exclusive club he isn’t apart of. Having joined the 3,000 hit club a few seasons back, Pujols sits at 14th overall for most hits in a career with 3,236. He can break the Top 10 in 2021. Here’s how.

Pujols have averaged 137 hits a season over his last five full seasons. If that’s where his efforts fall in 2021, he’ll finish in 9th on the all-time list. Those 137 hits would push Pujols to 3,373 hits, edging out Paul Molitor by 54 and sitting 96 behind Carl Yastrzemski. That would mean that Eddie Collins would be bumped back to 11th, after spending over 90 years in the top 10.

Sure, finishing Top 10 all-time for hits is great, but within the boundaries of 3,000 hits and the 4,000 hits club, it becomes a game of dodgeball, bobbing and weaving between Hall of Famers, climbing the ladder toward Pete Rose. However, while racking up hits is important, staying above .300 is the mark on an elite bat. And for Albert Pujols, that might be the biggest hurdle remaining in his career.

Average

Coming into the 2021 season, Albert Pujols’s career batting average sits at .299, a single point below the .300 threshold. Sounds easy enough to get that point back, right? Should be a piece of cake for someone like Pujols, just not the Albert Pujols that plays in Los Angeles.

In order to raise his career batting average to .300, Albert Pujols needs to hit .330 in 2021. For such an accomplished hitter, he should at least come close to doing so, except he hasn’t been able to hit above .300 since joining the Angels.

If you looked at Pujols’ career statistics and removed the team name from the corresponding season, you’d easily be able to determine which uniform he wore for each set of statistics. There’s one exception that might trip you up, his 2011 season, the final one he played in St. Louis, where he hit .299.

Averaging 549 at-bats over the last five years, Pujols would need 181 hits in 2021 to reach .330 and move his career average over .300. If he manages to do so, he’ll become the 9th member of the Top-10 hit list to have a career average north of .300. If he can’t, he’ll be the second player to finish under the mark, joining Yastrzemski and his .285 average.

Can it be done? Maybe.

David Ortiz‘s final season was one for the ages, as he put up some insane numbers on his way out of Fenway Park. Ortiz ended the season with 169 hits, but did it in fewer at-bats than Pujols has averaged over the last five years. If Albert were to reach that same mark, he’d have a .308 average for the season, but would keep him at .299 for his career, the same mark he entered the season with.

It should also be mentioned that 169 hits would be 23% more hits than Pujols has averaged over the last five seasons. But then again, 181 hits would be 32% more than his last five seasons too. It can be done, as Ortiz saw a 20% uptick in production from his five previous seasons, during his final 162 games. There’s hope that Albert can pull it off.

Albert Pujols has done things with a bat that only the greats can do. Hitting 600 home runs is not easy, in fact, I’d venture to say it’s pretty damn hard to do. Reaching 3,000 hits, bringing in 2,100 runs, hitting 650 doubles, even hitting just shy of .300, are all seemingly impossible things to do in a career.

And yet, Albert Pujols has reached all of those marks and then some. So, what is Albert Pujols playing for?

His legacy, and it’s a damn good one.

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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