Last Tuesday, ESPN kicked off their all-time MLB top 100 list by revealing numbers 100-51. While there were some questionable picks to make the list (ie: Bryce Harper, but that may be my bias that crops up), the list was viewed pretty well overall. No one was too mad at where everyone was placed. Then Wednesday turned around and everything went to hell.
This tweet from ESPN alone was enough to send many baseball fans into a frenzy. Why? Because of where Albert “The Machine” Pujols stood, and who was ahead of him.
Albert Pujols at number 30. Derek Jeter at number 28. Those were the rankings that really messed up the feathers. How in the world was Derek Jeter a better baseball player than Albert Pujols? That’s just… madness.
There are a lot of different ways we can evaluate these two players: honors, basic stats, post-season success, impact on the game, etc. If you look at this ranking based on each player’s recognizability and impact on baseball as a whole, I could understand why you’d want to put Jeter first, but that doesn’t explain the other rankings on this list, such as the placement of Jackie Robinson at number 38 and Mike Trout at number 15. Obviously, the man known for his not being a sellable superstar has no more impact on the game of baseball than the man who broke the game’s color barrier, so voters clearly didn’t use that as one of their main arguments when making this list.
With that in mind, in what other categories does Jeter Pujols top? Won World Series titles, batting average, hits, OBP, stolen bases and Gold Gloves. That’s not a lot of things. Sure, his post-season success is incredible, but Pujols’ success is arguably more impressive, as he was never surrounded by the same level of talent as Jeter, and in half of his post-season at bats, Pujols ended up with one less home run, seven fewer RBI, and only 16 fewer walks. Pujols also recorded a higher post-season batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and WPA (although recording more at bats will undoubtedly lead to lower career totals, so take those numbers as you please).
“What about defense?” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, do not make me laugh. Jeter may have collected more gold gloves than Pujols over the course of his career, but Pujols was clearly the superior outfielder. Per Baseball Reference, Pujols had saved a career of 141 defensive runs from 2003 to the end of his career (DRS was not recorded before 2003). Pujols also only recorded negative defensive runs saved at first base after turning 36 years old. It took Pujols FIFTEEN YEARS to become a below average fielder at first base. Jeter, on the other hand, recorded a negative defensive number of runs saved from shortstop in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. The only reason there aren’t more years left. on the list is because, as I mentioned earlier, saving defensive runs was not a measured stat until 2003. However, Jeter also recorded a negative Total Field Runs Above Average at shortstop in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Jeter won his Gold Glove Awards for spunk and wow factor. He was never really an elite defensive shortstop, just one who could make crowds.”ooh‘ and ‘ahh‘ better than anyone. Oh, and by the way, Pujols has a better DRS/year stat as an outfielder than Jeter at shortstop. Think about that for a moment.
On offense, Pujols was clearly better than Jeter during his career. That shouldn’t even be up for debate. I shouldn’t even be arguing about that. However, there is still the argument that Pujols should be a better attacking player because he played a more attacking position. Everyone expects first basemen to hit nukes and bring in runs. Shortstops are supposed to be leaders, and the best of the best in the position routinely get on base in front of their power guys, scoring runs and maybe stealing some bases along the way. That’s all true, and shortstop is clearly a less crucial offensive position than first base. Still, Jeter doesn’t match Pujols when the two are compared to their positional counterparts.
This is where each of them is always in the ranking of players by their position:
rWAR: Jeter (13th under SS); Pujols (second from 1B)
fWAR: Jeter (6th under SS); Pujols (5th under 1B)
BA: Jeter (10th); Pujol (62nd)
OPS: Jeter (17th); Pujol (16th)
wRC+: Jeter (15th) ; Pujol (20th)
+WPA: Jeter (3rd); Pujol (1st)
HR: Jeter (6th); Pujol (1st)
BB%: Jeter (165th – probably lower than expected as pitchers were forced to throw at him for fear of the batters who came next); Pujols (165th) Hey that’s neat!
Jeter has some edge over Pujols in terms of positional comparisons, but overall it’s pretty clear that Pujols had more impact with a bat in his hands, even taking the positional discrepancies into account. For God’s sake, for most of his career, Jeter wasn’t even the best shortstop on his own team, while Pujols was always the best positional player, until he moved west to Anaheim, the most feared first baseman in all of baseball. .
This isn’t a hit about Jeter either. I think it’s placed exactly where it should be. This is just to show how underrated Pujols was on this list. When The Machine finally makes its way into the Hall of Fame voting in 2027 or later, depending on when it officially announces his retirement, it better be the second unanimous decision ever. The Hall of Fame has made something of it questionable decisions recently, but this should be an absolute no-brainer. Pujols may not always be a top-10 player, but he’s definitely top-20. Keep in mind that Pujols’ first ten years in the league were arguably better than Trout’s, and Trout is already considered a top-20 player according to this list.
Yes, Pujols’ career with the Angels and brief stint with the Dodgers were disappointing and fraught with inconsistency, but that bias of recency shouldn’t take away from someone who spent every one of his first six seasons and nine of his first ten while serving in many of who competed for honors with Barry Bonds.
Come on, ESPN! Give Pujols the respect he deserves.