The Fielding Edge: Why Pujols is No Cabrera

When Miguel Cabrera signed his big new contract with Detroit earlier this year, the response of this blogger and many other fans was — No! Specifically, the seeming albatross of Albert Pujols’ contract, and somewhat lesser ones of Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard, were cited as warning signs.

However, Pujols’ injury-hastened offseason, with extra rest, seems to have put a bit of a new spring in his step through taking the fasciitis out. His quick start en route to passing the 500-homer mark would seem to be good evidence of that. Even if a start this hot doesn’t hold, if he finishes the year at somewhere between his 2011 and 2012 levels, it’s a major turnaround and one the Angels will gladly take.

Fielding has been known to set Pujols at least somewhat apart from the other three. But, how much? More than one might expect. Indeed, Pujols overall might come off better than one might expect.

Here’s a check of all four, on total zone runs and ultimate zone rating per 150 defensive games.

Pujols: 96/6.2

Cabrera: -7/-2.0

Fielder: -38/-5.5

Howard: 14/-3.4 (really)

All numbers are for first base only for each player. Howard’s numbers make me raise my eyebrows a bit. They also make me think that we still haven’t “nailed down” defensive sabermetric calculations as tightly as offensive ones. Not just this, but differences between FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference make me say that.

But, before I go down that road, I’ll present one other first baseman’s figures. He’s a bit older, so we don’t have UZR or UZR/150 numbers for him, just total zone runs. You’ve “probably” heard his name among defensive first basemen a few times. I present Keith Hernandez.

Hernandez: 121

And so, Albert Pujols’ fielding neighborhood looks a lot better than one might think.

So, let’s go to Baseball-Reference next. Here, I’ll have all games, not just at 1B, included, for two stats over there: fielding runs and dWAR.

Again, the differences are notable.

Pujols: 134/1.9

Cabrera: -77/-12.0

Fielder: -93/-17.8

Howard: -46/-12.4.

A couple of notes. With B-R, Howard falls a lot closer to Cabrera and Fielder. On both, the idea mentioned by some bloggers and sportswriters, that teams and managers would have to some day worry about Fielder losing his range, is shown to be wrong. He never had it to lose, claims about his prowess at first aside.

Let’s also see what B-R tells us about the Merry Mex.

Hernandez: 117/0.6

Whoa; Pujols actually ranks better than him. Really?

Yes. Another statistic has further proof.

Hernandez was famed for his ability to start 3-6-3 double plays. B-R says he initiated 127 ground ball DPs of all types.

Guess what? Pujols is close behind with 121. After he recently turned his first one this season, I decided, just out of curiosity, to check these numbers.

The others? Not even close. Howard has about 80 fewer and Fielder about 75 fewer. Cabrera, with much less time at 1B, is more than 80 such double plays behind Hernandez.

This is about more than illustrating Pujols’ individual value as a fielder. It’s about team issues.

Cabrera could well be moved to DHing more than 1B already next year, if the Tigers don’t resign Victor Martinez. Fielder, instead of Mitch Moreland, should already be the Rangers’ primary DH. Howard is in the National League, and with a GM who still believes he has a serious shot at the postseason, which is preventing him from being traded into the  AL.

But, Pujols, still playing league average or a touch above at 1B, and likely to do so for a few more years, gives the Angels and Mike Scioscia more flexibility on making out lineup cards. For more details about all this, visit my blog post, please.

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a eskpert
a eskpert

Pujols has long been one of favourite players (basically hitters with high walk % and pitchers with low walk %) and it’s nice to see him with some semblance of health. In spite of his salient greatness, I still think he’s a touch underrated, for reasons like those that you outline in this article.


Albert Pujols’ fielding neighborhood looks a lot better than one might think.

Pujols is well known as an elite defensive 1B. His 2007 season was one of the best defensive seasons of all time at 1B.