Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Out of Nowhere

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland

Saint Louis, MISSOURI--Roy Halladay became the odds-on favorite to win the 2010 National League Cy Young Award when he signed with the Phillies last December. Switching to the Senior Circuit, where the opposing pitcher would only add to his strikeout total, made him an enticing pick.

Most experts had him as the winner.
Few expected him to win it quite like this.

Many, myself included, gave up on his chances early. Nothing seemed to go smoothly for the Phillies or Halladay. He took several tough-luck losses in quick succession and his walk total began to mount, uncharacteristically.

By the end of July, Halladay already had a number eight hanging in his loss column. This was more defeats than he usually has in an entire season; Halladay had only nine losses in 2005 and 2006 combined.

His struggles were only part of the reason he appeared to be a long-shot by the All-Star Break. The other piece of the equation was a certain ace in Colorado named Ubaldo Jimenez. He stormed out to a near historic start, complete with a no-hitter. On June 30, Halladay had a 9-7 record and Jimenez was 14-1. It sure felt like a comfortable lead at the time. This only goes to show that anyone with a Cy Young under their belt should never be discounted.

Ultimately, Halladay may not win the award, but his efforts to restore candidacy sure are admirable. Then again, this is what Philadelphia paid him the big bucks to do. To those tough fans, he is finally as advertised. Call it what you want, Halladay is at the top in the Majors in Pitcher Rating... this week.

Pitcher Rating August 25

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NL Rookie of the Year Heats Up

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland

You have to go back to 2003 to find the last National League Rookie of the Year Award that was handed out to a pitcher. Jaime Garcia is doing everything in his power to end the six-year drought. His Sunday outing, a complete-game 9-0 victory against the Giants, brought his name back into the RoY discussion.

2010 was supposed to be the year of Steven Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman. Yet these two prodigies have combined for just twelve Major League starts and two trips to the Disabled List (all statistics accumulated by Strasburg alone).

In effect, the RoY predictions of baseball insiders were looking towards the wrong horizon for the next great National League pitcher. The incredible start of a 24 year-old Cardinal caught the entire Major Leagues off-guard--including the St. Louis organization.

Unfortunately for Garcia, there was one position player on everyone’s radar in Spring Training that has panned out. The Braves' Jason Heyward burst on the scene with a home run in his first Major League at-bat and has not looked back since.

Heyward and Garcia do have something in common. They both left Spring Training with a spot on the Opening Day roster for their Big League clubs. They joined Ian Desmond (Nationals), Alcides Escobar (Brewers), Mike Leake (Reds), David Freese (Cardinals), Jon Niese (Mets), Tyler Colvin (Cubs), and Gaby Sanchez (Marlins) as the only National League rookies to do so. The rookie spotlight was there’s alone; a nice head start over the rest of the field.

Unfortunately, Heyward was given a media boost to push his name out there even further. The Opening Day homer did nothing to hurt the hype. So even though Garcia has current statistics that are far superior to Heyward, scouts and analysts christened the Braves' outfielder as the Rookie of the Year before the season even started. He parlayed all of this publicity into an unworthy All-Star starting position. It would not surprise anyone if he rode the hype train straight to the Rookie of the Year Award.

This is not a knock on Heyward. He is a franchise-changing player, one that will probably have a better career than anyone else in this rookie class. The Braves should lock him into their right field spot for the next 20 years. But he has missed a few games with an injury, and is only hitting .265 for the season.

The award is not given out to the player that exudes the most potential for future greatness. Heyward would win that, no arguments. It is for the best statistical season by a rookie, one year sample size.

It probably will not happen, but Cubs' shortstop Starlin Castro and Florida's Gaby Sanchez should each receive more votes than Heyward. They are frankly having better seasons. And even they are not at the head of the rookie class.

Garcia's ERA is now seventh in the National League, not just among rookies. He is one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game right now, regardless of Major League tenure. That is the mark of a Rookie of the Year--someone who blends in so seamlessly to a lineup or rotation that their first-year status can quickly slip people's minds. A winner of the award sure does not look like a rookie by midseason.

Every year, however, there is one player that bursts on the scene late and never cools down. This year's player is San Francisco's Buster Posey. The catcher/first baseman exceeded the Giants' organization expectations so rapidly that he left manager, Bruce Bochy, scrambling to find an everyday spot for him. Eventually, Posey forced out the incumbent backstop, Bengie Molina.

If the writers want to reward pure hitting, they will vote for Posey. Whereas Heyward is currently sitting eighth in batting average among NL rookies (minimum 250 at-bats), Buster Posey leads that category with a .341 average. This is nearly 90 points higher than Heyward.

Posey also leads in slugging and on-base percentages, which means he is also tops in the most unnecessarily talked about statistic in baseball--OPS (on-base plus slugging).

It is just another fluff category that Posey can say he leads. Pitchers could throw two categories together and make up a new stat too. Jaime Garcia leads all rookies in WPSO (wins plus strikeouts). This amalgamation of indirectly-related figures makes about as much sense as OPS. There is no narrative to substantiate its value. It simply has John Madden logic that great players will have great numbers.

People need to be more conscientious about what they put under a microscope. Data has to speak to something you wish to prove, something that cannot be put into words. News flash: a great power hitter will have both a high on-base percentage and a high slugging percentage. It might be a better tool than batting average, but it is not a pure offensive value. Why summate two known numbers if it is not going to tell you anything different?

If the writers seek to reward a freakishly talented power hitter, Posey is not even close to the best candidate. Gaby Sanchez, of the Florida Marlins, has 48 extra base hits. His teammate, Mike Stanton, has 14 home runs in just 63 games.

Voters cannot sleep on Ike Davis' 15 homers, playing his home games in the caverns of Citi Field. The leader among all rookies in the stat is Tyler Colvin, with 18 home runs.

So there is a pair of C's in Chicago: Castro and Colvin. There is also an alliteration of candidates in Florida: Stanton and Sanchez. Sprinkle in a Posey in San Fran, a Davis in the Big Apple, and a Heyward in Hotlanta and that is the list. The Cardinal faithful can hope that the "same-team vote split," the one that infamously plagued Wainwright and Carpenter in last year's postseason awards, can take down the two Cubs and two Marlins.

This canceling out would only act like the 50/50 in "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" The game show staple never took away anything contestants actually wanted; only those they already knew had no shot at being the answer. The two favorites, the leaders in the proverbial clubhouse, would still be in the race.

If each hitter statistically negates one another, there is only one pitcher in the National League that would emerge. This first-year player leads the entire Major League rookie class (not just the NL) in wins, ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, and now tied in shutouts.

Garcia has also been with a pennant-contending team for the entirety of the season. Buster Posey did not see his first Major League action until Memorial Day. By that time, Jaime already had a 5-2 record and a 1.32 ERA.

What the RoY cannot turn into is a team-MVP contest. Heyward is already one of the best players on his club; same with Posey. You could make an argument that Garcia is the sixth or seventh best player on the Cardinals. This is hardly his fault, nor what the award is about.

Sadly, past votes would appear to carry that line of thinking. In 2003, Angel Berroa was the best thing going for a lousy Royals team. It definitely hindered Hideki Matsui that he had the protection of a Yankees lineup.
Garcia will make a maximum of eight more starts. A realistic 5-2 record would push him to 16-8 overall, and most likely sustain his sub-3.00 ERA. This would really put the pressure on the voters to take notice of someone not named Heyward or Posey.

Regrettably, the preseason brainwashing might be too much for the Cardinals' lefty to overcome.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Part II: Highly Conditional Love (A Mockumentary)

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland

Saint Louis, MISSOURI--Are we that naïve to believe that a confession of “past” usage in a press conference or 60 Minutes segment signifies that the player is currently clean? This country is too quick to forgive. If someone says “I’m sorry, I did it” the smoke screen goes up for that player to go right back to cheating.

You think Jason Giambi is not back to using some type of performance-enhancer? Do you think Alex Rodriguez has ever stopped using? Short of an angel on their shoulder, there is nothing in place for them to change.

What needs to be put into perspective is the behavior that drives these people to cheat. We are talking about people that have very limited roles in society after baseball. Professional athletes have a small window of relevance. Their careers are essentially a cash grab; stockpiling as much fame, notoriety, and millions--like a squirrel nearing winter--to hopefully last for decades to come.

If some drug-assisted records accompany this time spent in the money booth, so be it. It really does not seem to bother people like Roger Clemens that they effectively killed baseball for fans who love the numbers. They looked at the hallowed record book, spilled their morning coffee on it, and expect us to clean up the mess.

Let that be a lesson to us. Maybe we all need to reevaluate what we cherish about baseball. Cheating is not going to stop. Today’s kids have grown up with ‘roid abusers as role models. And their message has been simple: most of the time, cheaters win.

If Roger Clemens was approached by Major League Baseball with a proposition: give up $20 million and in return, you will be a Hall of Famer. Most people would agree that he would keep the money. The Hall of Fame is for the fans. These players took PEDs to boost their stats for the monetary compensation, not to see their plaques in Cooperstown.

With that being said, we--the fans--need a resolution. Whether they care or not, the Hall of Fame needs to continue inducting players.

Sportswriters, with Hall of Fame ballots, are waiting to make a judgment on the Steroids Era until more information becomes available. The problem is that when it does, and more PED usage emerges in the current “clean era,” they will either have to let everyone in or shut everyone out.

Current stars could be taking more drugs than Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire combined. They should not get a pass because the media tells us the Steroids Era is closed. If they want Miguel Cabrera, they should have to give the Hall Rafael Palmeiro first.

It was well chronicled in Part I that the cheating is now stitched into the fabric of baseball so tightly that PED users in Cooperstown are only a matter of time. Let's do it now and move on. As long as their entry is not graceful, every baseball fan should be on board with the following proposal.

All eligible Hall of Fame candidates linked to PEDs, whether hearsay or admission, will have a Steroid Era Lottery.

Yes, this is a direct shot at the NBA. For if you think that this idea sounds ridiculous--which it is the intention--just remember that there is a prominent American professional sports league that uses such a childish system to handle some of its postseason business. Baseball is not going to be the only sport whose closet is cleaned here.

Just like the NBA variety, ESPN could cover the event and players could select ridiculous representatives. Roger Clemens could have his best buddy, Andy Pettitte, sit at the podium for Team Rocket. That is, if Pettitte isn’t busy showing Clemens the underside of a bus.

The rules of the game are simple. Regardless of total games played, every season a player accumulated in their career is given an individual ping pong ball. So, using the example of Clemens, 24 balls (labeled 1984-2007) would be placed into the transparent machine upon his turn.

Then, here comes the kicker. Five balls will be drawn; five seasons in his illustrious career that are now banned from consideration in his Hall of Fame candidacy. Forget asterisks, a little game of chance seems like a better fit for men that have disgraced the game.

It would be fun to watch them sweat it out in the humiliation of a nationally-televised spectacle. Their once-proud careers would be reduced to an embarrassing side show. It would be refreshing retribution for fans to see the "greats" give back their charade years. The funny/sad part is that some of these former players have egos big enough to agree to it.

For those that think this is cruel and unusual punishment, remember that the odds are still there for each Steroids Era candidate to get in. That is more than they can currently say.

It would be so degrading to agree to this invitation, but some would definitely jump at the opportunity. These blacklisted players would recognize it as their only hope left. A lottery would actually be an upgrade in Hall of Fame probability for people like Mark McGwire.

But if these Steroid Era stars do make it to Cooperstown, the fans will still have peace of mind. The lottery takes those five years away regardless; its best effort to take back some of their drug-aided stats. The attempt is to let some air out of the balloon that is their inflated records.

This way, Clemens would only enter the Hall by the skin of his teeth, not as the third greatest pitcher in the history of the game. The lottery will skim off some numbers that could be directly attributed to HGH.

So if the baseball equivalent to Adam Silver draws 1984, 1985, 1994, 2006, and 2007 then Roger Clemens would close the book on his career with 316 wins. He would be a 7-time Cy Young Award winner, with one MVP.

The Rocket would get his day in Cooperstown, and no one could argue. There is no appeals process (regardless of outcome) after this one-time event. His only punishment would be the forfeiture of 38 wins.
Can you imagine the made-for-television drama that would unfold on Andy Pettitte’s face if Team Rocket is dealt a crushing blow instead? Chris Berman would be perfect to call, "Here comes the next number for Clemens. Whoop! He just lost his MVP season of 1986. This is really going to hurt his chances."

If ping pong balls numbered 1986, 1987, 1990, 1997, and 1998 emerge from the lottery machine, Clemens would hit rock bottom. This worst-case scenario would leave Clemens with 248 wins and just three of his Cy Youngs. That is a rock bottom many pitchers would love to hit.

With those numbers, Clemens would likely say goodbye to his Hall of Fame chances. As a consolation prize, however, he would not see any jail time. There would be no further action taken by Major League Baseball or Congress, as long as each eligible candidate--present at the Steroids Era Lottery--attests the adjusted career totals.

For a perspective on what five ping pong balls would mean to an offensive player, we bring in Mark McGwire. Best-case scenario would leave him with 516 home runs--likely Hall of Famer. If he rolls the anti-perfecto, McGwire would be left in the rubble of a monstrous career being torn down. Over half of his home runs would be swept away, leaving only 289 for his career.

Neither McGwire nor Clemens would likely have their five best or five worst statistical seasons all join together like this. The result would be a mix of both good times and bad. It would put the numbers right where they belong; where they would have been if they never took illegal drugs, squarely on the fence.

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Part I: Inconvenient Truth

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland

Saint Louis, MISSOURI--Scientists are always going to be one step ahead of those who police performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Even with new testing working its way through professional ranks, the situation will continue to play out like a cheesy Dukes of Hazzard episode.

First it was steroids, and now it is human growth hormone. It is hard to believe that players did not make transition along with their suppliers. Why quit cold turkey when you can simply move on to the next best stealthy product?

Cheating follows the path of least resistance. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig can block one avenue, but there are side streets and alleys that scumbag doctors and ex-con personal trainers will be happy to explore. Baseball would do better than its steroid investigations if it keeps the lid on the HGH version of Pandora’s Box.

By not fully disclosing the 104 names that tested positive for PEDs in 2003, it shows that Major League Baseball wishes they never knew.

For this reason, HGH is likely as widespread of a pandemic as its predecessor. Its rampant abuse will not be exposed for several years, but when it is, we will find that a vast majority of players have been injecting all along. The reasoning simple: HGH is inconspicuous, carrying fewer telling side effects (i.e. Barry Bonds' steady hat size increase).

Optimistic baseball fans are encouraged that there is an HGH test currently in place in the Minor Leagues. They are confident that it is on the fast-track for the Big Leagues as soon as next year. Some even believe that a blood test on the horizon has scared current MLB users into sobriety. The only problem with all this sunshine-and-gumdrop logic is that the test for HGH is a joke.

The current test is practically an incentive for players to continue, or even begin, an injection regiment. You would have to have a severe mental handicap to fail the current MiLB model, with as short of a measurable window as it has.

Therefore, certain players are naturally going to give lip service to the test. Players can egg on the witch hunt by saying things like, “I would love to have that in the Majors right now.” That way, when they pass the pathetic little checkpoint, they look to be as clean as Craig Counsell.

To catch an abuser, the test requires a blood sample within six hours of the injection/injestion. Seeing as the average American sleeps eight hours a night, and the average HGH user injects himself before bed, the drug cops are going to have to wake Major League athletes up in the middle of the night for this whole charade to be effective. Not going to happen. So, by the time an offender is eating his Cheerios, the drug is undetectable.

The abusers will also get a big cushion from their Players Association. The MLBPA will never let anyone draw blood from players during their pre-game routine. This means that a Major League version of an HGH test will take place after each game--likely 20 hours after a player injected. There go those rascal Duke boys, outwitting Roscoe P. Coaltrane yet again. How will players keep from smiling when their results come back negative?

Testing players would only paint an inaccurate picture of the modern landscape. Bud Selig will breathe a sigh of relief with every empty report card. Fans will believe their heroes are honorable and clean. Ignorance may be bliss, but deception (due to smarter science on the sides of the bad guys) is not.

Players will never “juice” in the same methods as the past 20 years. You have to give credit to Selig for that. But what part of being done with anabolic steroids means a player is drug-free?

The incentive to use performance enhancers is just too high. It is that multi-million dollar contract that Player A (using HGH) signs at age 37, while a worn-down Player B (same age, but completely clean) is forced to hang up his cleats. As in anything, money is driving this ship.

It will take a magical scenario to stop the uncontrolled HGH use that is out there. Unless anti-doping science creates a urine-based HGH test, or the window for detecting traces widens, baseball needs to concede its evitable loss to PEDs.

By the time that HGH test is perfected, everyone will already be onto something new. The “groundbreaking” innovation will be so late to the party that catching three or four players would be ambitious. If you are thinking, “Is that a knock on the current steroids test?” you are correct. Tests (past, present, and future) are only going to bring down the back of the pack; those stuck using the archaic drugs. In business terms, you would waste money creating a product that would only affect the "laggards"--the last 16% in the Law of Diffusion of Innovation curve. Not a sound business model to adpot.

So when the Hazzard County Sheriff's Department solves the HGH riddle, fifteen years from now, the kids of current Major Leaguers will be using ICX or PB&J9000 to aide their careers.

With the inevitability that cheaters will have the upper hand during their playing days, the only way a MLB Commissioner can have the last laugh is by targeting their life after baseball. Our current leauge officials have lumped together the legacies of all the greats associated with PEDs into one neglected pile. But how far can you take it? Can we really ban everyone from the Hall of Fame?

To date, there has never been a player--associated with steroids--who has been officially "blacklisted" from the Hall of Fame. On paper, everyone is still granted an equal shot and due process. Just try telling that to Mark McGwire.

If Major League Baseball will not directly come out and say that the Steroids Era is not welcome in Cooperstown, the voters sure will. They have only one tool on their utility belt--a ballot--but it has powerful implications. The past five years of polling has shed light on what future Hall of Fame classes will be: the revisiting of questionable candidates from an era gone by, managers, umpires, executives, or no one at all.

If this voting trend continues, there will someday be more people with 500 home runs out of the Hall of Fame than those who are in. This will become even more apocalyptic when more than half of the 600 and 700 home run clubs will be shut out of Cooperstown.

To some degree, they can be stubborn about ever having another induction ceremony. People will still visit to celebrate the past. People still go and the all-time hit king is nowhere to be found. But what will happen when the HoF crop goes stale and the museum’s financial numbers drop deep into the red? We shall see who caves first.

If the feeble HGH test does appear in the Major Leagues, it will actually make the current players look like saints compared to the Steroids Era. Bud Selig is about to cast out a "full-proof" net into the ocean; just be careful how you interpret the headlines when it keeps coming back to the boat empty. It will be sold to fans as "he got 'em all" when the truth is they swam to deeper waters.

In that, the Hall of Fame class of 2020 could consist of heavy HGH abusers, who skated by nearly 1,000 “trustworthy” blood tests in their career. That is a hypocritical stance if the Steroids Era is shut out due to poor technological timing. McGwire might be in the Hall had he taken X while a lousy MLB drug program searched for Y.

This explains why Baseball Hall of Fame voters are crying out for assistance. They are looking to a higher power to draw a line in the sand, but Major League Baseball refuses to step in. Why would Selig bear the brunt of a cold hard ruling on what to do with steroid users? There is just too much speculation to weigh in with conviction. And in today's court of public opinion, there is no number of clean tests to prove innocence.

If they deny players like Roger Clemens, but let in Ken Griffey, Jr., Frank Thomas, or even Albert Pujols the message is mixed. By all accounts, the latter three are completely natural talents. But how can you say with certainty? Not one of these four players have ever tested positive to anything. Their dark secrets could all be the same.

It is painful to say, but the only difference between abuse then and now is the sophistication of the drugs. Players like McGwire had too many physical features balloon too quickly. In the minds of many, his admission was inessential to prove his guilt. Current stars benefit from the stealth of a more progressive, more natural-looking, size increase; growth and recovery that better mimics that of an extreme work-out program. They are able to stay around the 200 pound plateau and not grow biceps that look like thighs, with just as many illegal drugs and benefits in their system.

From the blood test to the eye test, it is becoming harder and harder to detect abusers; there is no way of ever knowing. Mandating the use of PEDs seems like the only option to level the playing field and remove suspicion.

Truly, what would be the harm? Baseball is the ultimate skill sport. Increasing muscle mass by 25% does little to help novices hit an 0-2 curveball. Steroids Era or not, these players were freakishly talented athletes. Their numbers simply need a little tweaking. [See Part II]

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Ten Years Down and Already Cooperstown-Bound

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland

Saint Louis, MISSOURI--The biggest compliment that is bestowed on any professional athlete is election into their respective Hall of Fame. Inclusion into the Hall states that he or she is among the top 1% of the 1% that plays a sport for a living. If you have ever questioned the greatness of Albert Pujols, find solace in this: he could quit playing baseball tomorrow and still get into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The numbers do not lie. Pujols has done things in ten short years that many wish to emulate--even baseball’s elite.

People are supposed to scratch and claw for 20 hard seasons to maybe wind up in the discussion for Hall of Fame induction. Not Pujols. His body of work allows him to comfortably coast into Cooperstown on the mediocrity train, or even hang it up right now. But do not expect to see such an occurrence from the three-time MVP. Complacency is his only enemy.

Pujols’ work ethic borders on obsessive compulsive, in the most complementary of ways. And it seems to flow into all aspects of his life; he scored a perfect 100 on his U.S. Citizenship Exam. It is proof that anything he puts his “robot” mind to, and “machine” heart is in, he will perfect. Becoming an even better baseball player is absurd to ponder, but not out of the question for the 30 year-old.

This mentality translated to his defense. People are quick to forget he has experienced three position changes during his ten years in the Majors. And this was not a middle infielder switching from shortstop to third or second to short. He went from the hot corner to the outfield, back to the opposite corner infield position.

Movement across the field would suggest that his defense is shaky; that Tony La Russa attempted to hide his liability somewhere in a lineup without a DH. History shows that Pujols simply had better defensive third basemen squeeze him out. Whatever the original intent, Pujols never complained. He just worked even harder on his glove.

Being labeled “half a player” was never an option, even when he found a home at a position where such a title is tolerable. Pujols’ 2006 Gold Glove, at first base, might be the greatest (and his most proud) achievement thus far. The hitting came naturally. This award represents his ability to transform weakness into strength, and do everything the game asks him to do--at the highest level.

With all of this, Pujols still receives criticism; the victim of hype he never asked for and book-cover judgment. Casual baseball fans see him with his thick gold chain and expect him to be something he is not: flashy, egotistical, and vocal. It is what every other superstar athlete has conditioned the masses to anticipate.
Fans of all types are guilty of expecting Pujols will be clutch in every situation. However, his mind-boggling career numbers do not always scale down to a single plate appearance, nor should they. No one, not even Pujols, is immune to an 0-for-4 night with a couple of strikeouts. Baseball is still a sport where failure 7 out of 10 times is extraordinary.

Naysayers are quick to point out that Pujols holds no single-season records, been involved in very few milestone “races,” and has only once finished a season as the Major League leader in home runs (47 in 2009), once in batting average (.359 in 2003), and remarkably never finished as the best in RBIs. Since when did showing up to work and doing it better than anyone in history become uninteresting?

Even our A.D.D./viral media society has begun to downplay the greatness of Pujols. His consistency, demeanor, and family life are dull compared to the modern sports landscape that loves its drama. While his global brand is minimal and he does not play in a large market, do not presume Pujols will “pull a LeBron.” Selfish decisions to keep the spotlight on him are highly out of character.

It is fitting that the career of a soft-spoken legend will be better represented by a spreadsheet than a highlight reel (with one jaw-dropping exception). It is much the same as watching the ocean crash against a rocky cliff is not that noteworthy. However, measuring the amount of rock and earth that has been swept away over a large period of time is remarkable.

Pujols’ legacy will be remembered in a similar fashion, as all the current career records may be washed away in a monotonous manner. Oh, if we could all be so boring.

There is only one way to explain how a 13th Round pick has transformed into the “first” Major League player to do this, or the “youngest” to do that. Albert Pujols is the most consistent human being on the planet.
You can take the lowest single-season totals in the illustrious nine completed seasons of Pujols and they read as misprints: .314 AVG, 103 RBIs, 32 HR, .561 SLG.

By comparison--counting only seasons where he played over 100 games--Willie Mays’ “worst of” would look like: .263 AVG, 18 HR, 58 RBIs, .437 SLG. The scary thing about those numbers is how pedestrian one of the greatest players in the history under the microscope, focused on the wrong areas.

Even scarier is that Pujols lacks these pockets of data that could even be skewed negatively. Mays, like every baseball immortal, simply had blips on the radar that were statistical outliers; it’s only natural. People are not machines. Well, the jury is still out on Pujols.

So for everyone who thinks that Albert Pujols is having a down year and the best could be behind, forget about it. As certain as the Earth orbits around the Sun, Pujols will hit .300, have 30+ home runs, and knock in 100 runs. He will finish in the top 5 in the MVP voting and probably carry his team into the playoffs. It is what Pujols does, and why the Hall of Fame should go ahead and jot his phone number down.

As long as the MVPs never get tangled up with headlines involving PEDs, he is a first-ballot sure thing. All baseball fans are crossing their fingers.

Now the 300 million dollar question remains not whether his numbers will continue, but whether his numbers will continue in a Cardinals uniform. Maybe after his contract expires next season he should retire. That way he won't break the game of baseball by achieving every possible high score.

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