3 skills Mike Trout can learn from elder statesman and MLB-leading HR hitter Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols hit three home runs during the Angels' Monday doubleheader against the Red Sox, passing Mike Schmidt and moving into 15th place on the all-time list. Pujols now has 29 homers on the season, just edging out Mike Trout (who has 28), to lead all of MLB.
Since Pujols is something of an elder statesman to Trout's junior representative (not that this is a great metaphor, because both players are WAY more productive than Congress), we've decided to look into Pujols' past to see what the future might hold for Trout. Though we often speak of the Fish God with tones of reverence reserved for royalty and Beyoncé, don't forget that young Pujols was also truly incredible.
In his age 23 season (the same age Trout is now), he hit .359/.439/.667 and led MLB in batting average, runs scored and doubles, with a National League-high 212 hits. He still came in second in MVP voting. Of course, that happens when you're playing in the same league as Barry Bonds. Don't worry, though -- Pujols won the award three times in his years with the Cardinals. Though Trout has an MVP Award of his own and, like Pujols, has been a consistent All-Star presence in the first years of his career, he still has a lot of work to do before he reaches that same legendary status.
So, what can Pujols teach young Michael?
1. How to, well, teach
Pujols was just 21 when he made his MLB debut with the Cardinals in 2001, a team that included Jim Edmonds, Placido Polanco and Edgar Renteria and was managed by the historically great Tony La Russa. Pujols told reporters after his 500th home run earlier this year that he had learned a lot from those teammates, saying veterans like Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders had a lot to do with his success. Now, as a vet himself, he's ready to pass his knowledge along.
And we think he's uniquely qualified to do so. First of all, he looks great teaching:
Yes, you're correct, this photo SHOULD be a poster hung in every seventh-grade geography classroom across the land. If Pujols looks that cool reading a map, you can too! And that's not his only experience as an educator:
We expect to see Trout continuing the long and excellent tradition of baseball players on "Sesame Street" sometime within the next decade. But more than that, we expect a similar accumulation of baseball knowledge. According the Los Angeles Times, Pujols "freely acknowledges Trout is the best player on [his] team." Thanks to Pujols' example, we're pretty sure Trout will be able to pass on his own experience some day.
2. How to arrest the progress of time
Baseball, they say, is a grind. It's the longest season in professional American sports, where averages count more than singular athletic performances. It's hard to stand out in a sport like that, harder still to continue standing out year after year after year. But somehow, Pujols has managed to do it.
In the first decade of his career -- from 2001 to 2010 -- he led MLB in slugging and OPS three times and hit at least 30 home runs each year. His batting average never dipped below .300, and he accumulated 81.2 WAR over that ten-year period. For reference, Chipper Jones' career WAR, after 19 seasons, is 85.
That level of consistency and skill is very difficult to maintain. Sure, there's a mix of natural talent and hard work involved, but we really believe that Albert Pujols has just learned to stop the flow of time itself. We even have photographic evidence.
Here's Pujols in 2005:
Here's Pujols in 2015:
Ten years have passed and nothing has changed. Even his beard shape remains the same, a thing very difficult to do in MLB.
Trout already seems to be learning this lesson well -- after all, he hit for the natural cycle across his first four All-Star Game appearances and has maintained his place in the MVP conversation since his first full season in 2012, winning the award in 2014. But he's still young, so this could be nothing more than talent growing into its full potential … or is it? To the photos:
From 2011 to 2015, not a single hair on his head has changed, unlike some people (we're looking at you, Bryce "Man-bun" Harper).
3. Dramatic timing
As our walk-off graphic of all walk-off graphics attests, Pujols, along with David Ortiz, is the active MLB leader in walk-off home runs:
As Cardinals fans (or any fans of stirring narrative, really) may remember, Pujols is good at dramatic dingers in general:
Trout is also pretty good at doing things that make our jaws drop:
He's not too bad at dramatically saving the day, either:
But will he be able to sustain the high levels of production we've come to expect from him, the way Pujols could for so long? We (and Pujols) are pretty sure the answer is yes, but we're excited to find out.