One of the most difficult problems facing Bill DeWitt as he prepares to negotiate what will prove to be the largest contract in baseball history involves gazing into his crystal ball and determining what the rest of Albert Pujols’ career might look like. The first ten years have been spectacular, launching Pujols on a statistical destination that very few ballplayers have ever dreamed of reaching. His ceiling of achievement seems limitless.
Of course, the human body diminishes with time. Pujols has already achieved much and is only 30 (supposedly) while at the peak of his physical conditioning. But DeWitt isn’t going to pay Pujols on past achievements, but rather what he might do in the future.
Below is my attempt to foretell the future based on the statistical performances of similar players. For this study, I used home runs and WAR score (wins above replacement) to examine the declining abilities of six players through the ages of 31-40. I calculated their average home runs and WAR from the ages of 27-30 (their “peak”) and then determined the percentage of increse/decrease over that early average. This gives us a rough outline of how players generally regress as they move through their thirties.
|Tot Avg. % change||74%||86||89||74||69||57||37||35||35||25|
I chose different types of ballplayers for this analysis based on their value and similarities to the numbers Pujols has produced at his 27-30 peak. I also wanted some variety – though Henderson or Ripken weren’t as prolific with the home run as Pujols or Aaron, their values came from other aspects (running, fielding) that help us “age” the numbers.
If we plug in the averages against the numbers Pujols has produced, we get this:
WAR PROJECTIONS – PUJOLS
As you can see, we are left with a nice curve in declining value over the rest of Pujols’ career. It’s a testament to Pujols’ talents that he is able to still be worth a 3 WAR at the age of 39; Jayson Werth just received almost $20 million a year for a WAR that has risen over 3 just once. Paying Pujols $20 million nine years from now at the age of 39 for a 3 WAR might not be a bad deal in an ever-increasing market.
Unlike new-fangled statistics like WAR, home runs give us a solid foundation upon which to project future numbers. Almost all of the players examined in this study experienced a large bump in home runs around the age of 34, indicating that some combination of physical strength and experience produces the largest home run increases at that age. This has been true of players not studied as well; Jim Edmonds, though not generally considered a prolific home run producer, had his highest home run totals during his early thirties.
Here are the home run averages from the ages of 27-30, followed by the percentage change throughout thier thirties:
HOME RUN STATISTICS
|Tot Avg. % change||111%||112||132||129||91||81||76||77||79||48|
When we look at Pujols’ numbers, we predict something like this:
HOME RUN PROJECTION – PUJOLS
Those are pretty incredible numbers, honestly, and probably a bit optimistic considering that Pujols has never reached 50 home runs thus far in his career (although he’s been close at least twice). It’s also interesting to note that, if Pujols follows this kind of curve, he will overtake Barry Bonds as the all-time home run leader by 19 home runs (781 – 762), although it’s hard to say where Alex Rodriguez might be at that point.
While these gently-decreasing figures indicate that the Cardinals might consider front-loading any contract to get maximum worth out of their money, Pujols’ numbers don’t project to be too far off of his averages later in his career. How much might someone who hits 30 home runs a year be worth in 2019? For example, in 2010 Carlos Beltran made $20 million a year and he averages just under 30 home runs a year for his career. What do you pay Pujols for the same production nine years later as he nears 40?
Surely DeWitt will balk at giving Pujols a contract worth $30 million AAV for the next ten years. But, given his estimated production and the ever-increasing market, would that kind of money be a bad deal?