A Tale of Two Sluggers

Slugger No. 1 has been vilified as being too old and no longer productive, and that has resonated across baseball because, despite an unquestioned Hall-of-Fame career, he is in the middle of one of MLB’s biggest contracts ever, a deal that covers ten seasons for the sum of $254 Million. True, the last few seasons, including those under this massive contract, have not been as productive as was season after season before the mammoth contract. I have always considered a season with 40 home runs, 100 RBI and a .300 average to be the magic numbers for a slugger to reach, numbers that can happen maybe a couple of times for a Hall-of-Fame caliber player. Prior to his 10-year contract, Slugger No. 1 achieved these numbers in six of his first 11 major league seasons, including four in a row. Before the contract, besides hitting over 40 home runs in six seasons, he drove in over 100 in ten seasons, missing the 11th by a single RBI. His .299 average that last season was the only year he failed to hit .300, hitting well over that number every season with a

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high of .359. His OPS numbers were generally 1.000 to 1.100 and higher each season before the contract, and his WAR was in the eights and nines for seven consecutive seasons. He seldom strikes out, and year after years has figures such as in2004 when in 592 at bats he struck out only 52 times. For his career he has struck out about once every nine at bats.

Then came the massive contract, a new team, a new city, a new league, and above all, eventually a series of injuries. He missed a lot of games in only one of the first four years under his new contract, but he played hurt much of the time and he hit 40 home runs only once over those four seasons, twice failing to hit 30, and averaging a mere 92 RBI per season. But, his batting averages for those seasons were way, way down – .285, .258, .272 and .244, and with that his OPS was in the .700s. WARs averaged barely over three.

For his career, including this season, Slugger No. 1 has now hit close to 600 home runs, has driven in over 1800 runs, has a career B.A. of .309 and a career OPS of .967. He is currently 36 years of age, is making $24 Million this seasons, and there are five more seasons left on his contract. But he had off-season surgery and is this season as healthy as he has been in many years, and his performance has reflected that.

Slugger No.2 is 23 years old in his fifth major league season, is making $3.7 Million this year, and when the season ends, will be a free agent. A look at his first four seasons shows some missed time due to injury, three very mediocre seasons, and one sensational year. Over his first three season, he averaged 18 home runs with a high of 22, 52 RBI with a high of 61, and he hit in the .270s each season. His OPS hit a high of.854, and his WARs were

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5.0, 3.8 and 1.0. He strikes out a lot, about once in every four at bats throughout his career. Then, last season, he put it all together, with 44 homers, 99 RBI and a .330 average, plus a 1.109 OPS and a WAR of 9.9. His 2016 season, however, has been a clear reversion to pre-2015, with his power way down and a batting average that has hovered in the .240s and low .250s all season.

Throughout the tenure of his massive contract, Slugger No. 1 has been vilified by the press, with constant criticism that he is over the hill and nothing more than a burden to his team. The fact that his team has underachieved over his tenure has magnified this, and this season, despite his vastly improved numbers, has been a horrid one for his team, due significantly to an unprecedented number of major injures to the starting pitching staff, and others. Slugger No. 2 has been glorified by the press, who repeatedly have called him the best player in his league, and they have assumed that an time record will be set when he signs a new free agent contract this offseason.

But is any of this talk warranted or at all realistic? Here are their respective stats for this season, up to today:

NameGamesAt BatsHitsHRRBIBAOPS
Slugger No. 113351713929110.269.794
Slugger No. 21264341092376.251.848

Granted, some pundits are now coming off of the high horse of unprecedented accolades rained down upon Slugger No. 2, due to what is now accepted to be a very disappointing season, despite the great year his team is enjoying. Some have even admitted that in fact there may even be another more talented player or two in his league. Heresy! But, such pundits are very slow to see and express the value and performance of Slugger No. 1 – in great part due to his team’s overall performance, and also due to the fact that he has always been, on this team, overshadowed by the player generally accepted as the very best in either league and who continue stop put up numbers and perform to the standard of the game’s all-time greats. That is a hard act to follow.

But, come on, writers, fans, and the rest of you! Bryce Harper is just not that good, and Albert Pujols IS!

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