St. Louis Cardinals: Jim Thome, Albert Pujols, and Junior- The cleanest hitters
While it was only a matter of time, the fact that former St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols passed Jim Thome on the all-time career home runs list, and only trails Ken Griffey Jr. by 16 is a truly incredible feat.
The St. Louis Cardinals great Albert Pujols is entrenched in a list including Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr. as is noted above. Each of these three players had their own path to the echelon of baseball history, but who of these steroid-less sluggers has the best numbers? Which is the best hitter?
When taking a look at the very top of the home run boards, there are few aging names like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. There are also some modern players whose names have been tainted by PED’s and other forms of cheating. However, there are just three who are in neither category and are still at the summit of baseball power.
Thome was the slowest starter of the three, not managing to eclipse 20 home runs in a season until his fifth in 1995, though he would have most likely reached it if the 1994 season was not cut short due to the strike, as he had reached 20 in just 98 games.
From the get-go, Albert Pujols was the benchmark of consistency in the baseball world, hitting .285 with 30+ home runs for his first 12 seasons, while missing 100 RBI’s just once in that span when he drove in 99 runs in his 11th season.
“Junior” was arguably the most-hyped baseball prospect in history, and was unquestionably so at the time of his debut in the 1989 season at only 19 years old. While it took him a few years to get going (as it did Thome), he too was somewhat hindered by the 1994 strike early in his career. Junior hit .323 with 40 home runs in 111 games that season.
At first glance, Griffey had the most power of the three hitters. He is the only one of the trio to hit over 50 home runs, and he did it twice. While he reached 20 home runs without much trouble, it took him five seasons to become the Ken Griffey Jr. that we remember.
That doesn’t always equate to being the best hitter though. While home run power is important, being a good hitter fundamentally also plays a huge role in harnessing that power.
|Base Reaching Stats||Thome (1991-2012)||Pujols (2001-Present)||Griffey Jr. (1989-2010)|
|Best BA in single season||.314||.359||.327|
|PA’s per BB + H||2.53||2.65||2.76|
|PA’s per K||4.05||9.76||6.35|
As I mentioned earlier, Pujols is still the benchmark for consistency in baseball, and it shows in how much he dominates contact numbers among the three hitters. His historically low K-rate is also notable, despite not having as high an OBP as Thome. From peak to quantity to consistency, Pujols takes the cake among the three hitters.
But these three are grouped together because of home runs, so looking at their power stats was a given. For power guys like these, the ability to drive runs in was crucial. This is where the other two are able to shine alongside Pujols and make for a real discussion.
|Run Driving Stats||Thome (1991-2012)||Pujols (2001-Present)||Griffey Jr. (1989-2010)|
|Total Home Runs||612||614||630|
|AB’s per Home Run||13.76||15.84||15.56|
|Highest Single Season HR Total||52||49||56|
|30+ home run seasons||12||14||9|
|40+ home run seasons||6||7||7|
|50+ home run seasons||1||0||2|
.538Highest Single Season RBI Total
Highest Single Season SLG131
.674100+ RBI seasons9138120+ RBI seasons264140+ RBI seasons003
It’s close, but Griffey’s overall power seems to shine just a bit more than Pujols, but Albert does have him beat in overall consistency and availability. It’s no secret that Griffey’s career was hampered by injuries, but he clearly had the best overall peaks of the three. However, since it was so short-lived, the other two have a claim in their longevity.
Slugging percentage is another interesting aspect when arguing for Griffey because he surprisingly has neither the best overall or best single season slugging percentage. This is in part due to the low number of doubles and triples that Griffey recorded: his highest double total was 42, which was paired with just a single triple. Pujols recorded more than that for six seasons.
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Surprisingly though, it is Jim Thome who had the highest SLG percentage in a season, but there is another, more subtle factor to attribute to this. Slugging percentage is determined by at-bats, so having a high number of walks will naturally increase a player’s percentage. In Thome’s case, he had 122 walks drawn amounting to an absurd 19.9% walk rate during his .677 SLG season. Pairing that with 52 home runs certainly helps, but Griffey hit over 52 home runs twice.
As a whole, its hard to argue for Thome’s power over the other two. His peaks weren’t as high, and many of his advantages come in part due to his elite walk drawing ability.
While the pure power and explosiveness from Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime is one of a kind, Albert Pujols is the most complete hitter of the three. He has power comparable to Griffey and discipline comparable to Thome without giving up too much on either, making him the best overall hitter of the three.
Next: Under the radar impact bats
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think about this argument. Do you agree? If you disagree, who do you think is the best and why? Be sure to give it some thought.