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What to expect from Albert Pujols at age 40

Angels 1B this year joins a small group of older position players in franchise history

MLB: Spring Training-San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Angels Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Albert Pujols is in his 20th major league season, and having turned 40 in January, he reached a milestone not often achieved in Angels history.

Seventeen players have played for the Angels in their age-40 season or later, but only seven have been position players, with “position” loosely defined. Four of those were almost exclusively designated hitters by then, and another played over half his games at DH in his 40s season with the Halos.

Raul Ibanez played 21 games in the outfield in his age-42 season with the Angels, but was a DH 27 times that season. The standouts on this list who were regulars at a defensive position in their 40s were catcher Bob Boone and center fielder Steve Finley.

Boone had the best season of any Angels position player in his 40s, posting a .352 on-base percentage as a catcher in 1988, good for 3.1 Wins Above Replacement. Reggie Jackson was also productive, with 18 home runs and a 116 OPS+ in 1986 for a division winner. But for the most part, Angels position players in their 40s have been quite bad.

Angels position players in their 40s

Player Age Year PA HR BA/OBP/SLG OPS+ WAR Defensive games
Player Age Year PA HR BA/OBP/SLG OPS+ WAR Defensive games
Reggie Jackson 40 1986 517 18 .241/.379/.408 116 1.2 121 DH, 4 RF
Bob Boone 40 1988 392 5 .295/.352/.386 110 3.1 121 C
Dave Parker 40 1991 501 11 .232/.279/.358 76 -1.2 119 DH
Eddie Murray 41 1997 176 3 .219/.273/.319 53 -1.0 45 DH
Andres Galarraga 43 2004 11 1 .300/.364/.600 149 0.1 4 DH, 1 1B
Steve Finley 40 2005 440 12 .222/.271/.374 71 -0.7 104 CF, 5 DH
Raul Ibañez 42 2014 190 3 .157/.258/.265 52 -0.4 27 DH, 16 LF, 5 1B
Source: Baseball-Reference

This group doesn’t include Ron Fairly (12-for-64 in 34 games after turning 40), Rod Carew (4-for-16 in five games), and John McDonald (1-for-2 in two games), who were technically in their age-39 season but had a 40th birthday later in the season.

Pujols is coming off a 23-homer season, a 94 OPS+ and 0.4 WAR that if he could repeat in 2020 would be the most home runs by an Angel in their 40s and the third-highest WAR. He also played 98 games at first base (plus an inning at third base, if your fantasy league happens to have super-lax positional eligibility rules). With Shohei Ohtani around as the DH most days, Pujols figures to play in the field again this year, much more often than the bulk of previous Angels in their 40s.

The recent past

Sometimes I think the recent, diminished version of Albert Pujols makes people forget just what a dynamic force he was for over a decade. He hit 30 home runs in each of his first dozen years in the majors. averaging just a hair under 40 per year. From 2003-2010 won three MVPs, finished second three times and third another, and totaled 69.3 WAR. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Mike Trout’s last eight seasons include three MVPs, four second-place finishes and 72 WAR. This is inner-circle Hall of Fame production by both.

The Angels portion of Pujols’ career has not been nearly as productive as his Cardinals days, this is not in question. It’s worth noting that his 30s weren’t a total washout either. From 2011-19, Pujols averaged 29 home runs and 96 RBI, with a 121 OPS+. As decades go, you could do a lot worse.

Nobody drove in more runs in the 2010s than Pujols, and only three players hit more home runs. Pujols totaled 26.5 WAR in the last decade, higher WAR in his 30s than recent Hall of Fame inductees Vladimir Guerrero, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, Alan Trammell, Ted Simmons and Harold Baines.

But Pujols isn’t in his 30s anymore, he’s 40. In the last half of his 30s, from 2015-19, Pujols totaled 136 home runs and a perfectly league average 100 OPS+. Not too many people have hit at least 125 homers with a 100 OPS+ from ages 35-39 in the history of the sport. Just 18 in all, including Pujols.

Source: Baseball-Reference

Everyone on that list was a better hitter than Pujols from ages 35-39, and everyone had higher WAR. Ken Griffey Jr. was the closest to Pujols in production in his late 30s, but also was almost exclusively a DH by then. Griffey played only 33 games at age 40, hitting just .184/.250/.204 before retiring in June.

Let’s look at what some projections hold in store for Pujols in 2020.

Pujols projections for 2020

Projection PA 2B HR BA/OBP/SLG OPS wRC+
Projection PA 2B HR BA/OBP/SLG OPS wRC+
Marcel 522 19 21 .236/.290/.408 0.698 ----
Steamer 478 18 20 .252/.308/.435 0.744 96
ZiPS 468 18 20 .244/.293/.397 0.689 81
Source: Baseball-Reference & FanGraphs

Those are pretty much in line with what Pujols has hit the last few years, so nothing out of the ordinary there. There will be some milestones and moving up various all-time lists in 2020. He’s 15th in hits and could reasonably be in the top 10 by the end of the year, and Pujols is five home runs away from passing Willie Mays for fifth.

But just being on the field at age 40 makes Pujols quite memorable in Angels history. Be sure to leave any 2020 projections you might have for Pujols in the comments below.