Pujols was statistically odd!

FRIDAY, MAY 7, 2021

Statistics don't look like this: We've spent the last chunk of time weeping about Petuka Dvorak's attempt to discuss the gender wage gap in today's Washington Post. With a Mother's Day hook!

Simply put, Our Town is unable to conduct any real discussion. It's been this way for a good long time, and it just keeps getting worse.

We'll discuss that cultural problem tomorrow. For today, let's consider the oddness of a set of statistics which are currently being featured in the world of sports.

Albert Pujols is a presumptive future MLB Hall of Famer. He was released by the Angels this week at age 41.

His lifetime statistics feature two statistical oddities. For starters, consider his first nine seasons in the majors, all spent with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pujols broke in with the Cardinals in 2001, at the age of 21. Weirdly, these were his batting averages in six of his first nine seasons:

2001: .329
2004: .331
2005: .330
2006: .331
2007: .327
2009: .327

Those are very good averages, especially for a power hitter. What makes them so unusual is their stone-cold invariance. 

By the normal workings of statistics, a baseball player shouldn't have the exact same batting average year after year after year. Our planet isn't like that.

Pujols didn't quite manage to do that, but he came weirdly close.

In two of his first nine years, he exceeded his normal very high standard, hitting .359 in 2003 and .357 in 2008. Even there, he virtually matched his first extremely high batting average the second time around. 

Pujols averaged 41 homers per year during those first nine years. They may have been the best nine years any MLB player ever had at the start of his career.

He played two more years for the Cardinals. By 2011, his batting average had dropped to .299. Then came ten years with the Angels, producing the second statistical oddity in his unusual, great career:

Batting average with the Cardinals (11 years): .328
Batting average with the Angels (10 years): .256

Even accounting for advanced (athletic) age in the past few years, that large decline represents an unusual turn of the wheel. 

Pujols joined the Angels at age 32, an age when most players are still in their prime. He hit only .285 that year, and he never hit higher than .272 in any future season. 

People speak very highly of Pujols as a person. Statistically, he had a plainly great but highly unusual career.

You've heard of people who could hit in their sleep? Albert Pujols could hit .330, and barely a point more or less!


  1. The statistics that Somerby provides are describing the activity of a human being, Pujols. Pujols is affected by many more factors than statistical expectations.

    Somerby clear expects that the same conditions were present during his stint with the Angels as during the preceding 10 years. If you were dealing with a random function generating data, his assumptions about variation might be true, but Somerby is talking about a person, not a random process.

    Any number of things could have affected his hitting after age 30. First of all, something must have caused that trade to the Angels. Somerby doesn't tell us what. He may have had an injury that permanently affected his performance. He may have disliked his new town, climate, social environment and been unhappy. He might have gotten divorced or had a new addition to his family that disrupted his focus on his sport. He may have lost interest in playing or had distracting family problems. He may have acquired a drug habit (or discontinued a performance enhancing drug). There are so many factors besides age that could have affected his performance that it is useless to speculate in the absence of information.

    But we know that it was not regression to some mean or any statistical factor that caused the decrease in scores. How do we know? Statistics doesn't work like that. And Somerby has plainly forgotten that statistics describe things in the world. They are measurements and those measurements do not occur in a vacuum unless you are using a random number generator to produce your data.

    If Somerby were serious about this discussion, he would have presented variability for other top hitters, or for others on his team, or for other MLB Hall of Famers. We don't even know what variability up to age 30 looks like for baseball players.

    And don't overlook that Somerby removed the two highest values from that list, which makes the remaining scores look more uniform exactly because he removed the scores that provide variability. That is dirty pool -- a thumb on the scales -- deceptive -- a stunt.

    I'll bet Somerby doesn't even know how to calculate a measure of variability.

  2. I was hoping he would mention the OTHER thing that Pujols could be known for. He shattered Cal Ripken's record - for grounding into double plays.
    The numbers look like this
    Pujols - 403!!
    Cal - 350
    I-Rod - 337
    Hammerin Hank - 328
    Miguel Cabrera - 325 (now in 5th place, has a shot at the record if he keeps playing)
    Yaz - 323
    Dave Winfield - 319
    Eddie Murray - 315

    Comparing Winfield to Pujols, taking away his first partial season his career batting averages are
    265, 267, 283, 275, 308, 308, 276, 294, 280, 283, 340, 275, 262, 275, 322. The last was in 1988 when Winfield was 36.

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