I compared Pujols to the great Hank Aaron and concluded that a few breaks in his career could have enabled him to match Aaron's batting average and pass him in both homeruns and RBI.
But how does Albert Pujols compare to the all-time homerun king, Barry Bonds? Pujols may reach 700, but he'll remain a long way from Bonds' record of 762.
Perhaps with better health and more at-bats, Pujols would be threatening to overtake Bonds' career homerun record.
But Pujols already has more at-bats in his career than Bonds, meaning Bonds hit more homers in fewer chances. And none of Pujols' seasons rival Bonds' record-shattering 73 dingers in 2001.
Yet Pujols' career surpasses Bonds' for pure greatness (emphasis on "pure").
Comparing Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols on Potential PED Use
Barry Bonds' homerun record carries a large "asterisk." Steroids may not help a batter's hand-eye coordination, but they certainly help a batter turn routine fly balls into fence-clearing bombs.
So we have to look at a player's performance, and stats, differently if that player used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
We have strong evidence that Bonds "juiced," but I'm completely convinced by Bonds' physical transformation. In his early-to-mid career, Bonds was a slim power-speed combination. In only a couple seasons, Bonds almost doubled the thickness of his chest and shoulders.
Compare these pictures of Bonds early in his career and then later with the Giants.
Weight training adds muscle, but by itself, it doesn't add that much muscle to a 37-year-old man. Age may add some bulk, but such bulk doesn't come along with corded muscles and bulging veins.
The older Bonds looks like he ate the younger bonds. Then he got better at the age when every major leaguer for a century prior started getting worse.
Was Bonds so much better than Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, and Albert Pujols that he managed to improve in his 40s where they couldn't? Or did he use PEDs? The simplest explanation is often the correct one.
Unlike Bonds, Pujols has never been linked to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). He also played much of his career during MLB's steroid testing regimen.
Most convincing, Pujols' body never underwent the dramatic transformation we saw in Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and others during baseball's "Steroid Era." For that reason, I'm as confident as I can be that Pujols played "clean."
Look at these pictures of Pujols as a rookie versus later with the Angels.
His body type remained essentially unchanged from his rookie year into his later years. You can see the same hard muscles in his arms, the same strong thighs, and the same shoulders. If anything changed much, it was his gut.
Also unlike Bonds, Pujols' performance followed the typical pattern we observed for over a century of professional baseball prior to the Steroid Era. He peaked in late 20s and early 30s, and then he steadily declined as a player through his late 30s and into his 40s.
There's a reason major leaguers during the Steroid Era began playing better in their late 30s and into their 40s, and it was not better weight training, conditioning, or diet compared to prior generations.
Comparing Career Stats for Pujols and Bonds
Albert Pujols played 22 seasons for the Cardinals, Angels, Dodgers, and Cardinals again, primarily at first base and designated hitter. He debuted in 2001 and will retire at the end of the 2022 season at age 42.
Barry Bonds also played 22 seasons for the Pirates and Giants, all in the outfield. He debuted in 1986 and retired in 2007 at 42 years-old.
As of this writing, Pujols has 1904 runs scored, 3371 hits, 698 homers, 685 doubles, 2203 RBI (runs batted in), 117 stolen bases, and 1369 walks.
Bonds scored 2227 runs and piled up 2935 hits, 762 homers, 601 doubles, 1996 RBI, 514 stolen bases, and 2558 walks.
The most significant career numbers, however, are their at-bats. Pujols has 11,387 at-bats versus Bonds' 9847 at-bats.
So, Bonds hit way more homers than Pujols with about 1500 fewer chances to do so. Pujols accumulated many more hits and RBI, but Bonds would've matched him with 1500 more at-bats.
Plus, there's no denying that Bonds brought a speed element (2227 runs scored, 514 stolen bases) that Pujols lacked.
Comparing 162-Game Averages for Pujols and Bonds
Albert Pujols' average season was an All-Star caliber performance.
Here are Albert Pujols' 162-game averages:
- 601 at-bats
- 101 runs scored
- 178 hits
- 36 doubles
- 37 homeruns
- 116 RBI
- 6 stolen bases
- 72 walks
- 74 strikeouts
- .296 BA
- .374 OBP (on-base percentage)
- .543 Slugging (total bases reached divided by at-bats)
- .917 OPS (on-base plus slugging)
Barry Bonds' average season was also All-Star quality.
Here are Barry Bonds' 162-game averages:
- 534 at-bats
- 121 runs scored
- 159 hits
- 33 doubles
- 41 homeruns
- 108 RBI
- 28 stolen bases
- 139 walks
- 83 strikeouts
- .298 BA
- .444 OBP (on-base percentage)
- .607 Slugging (total bases reached divided by at-bats)
- 1.051 OPS (on-base plus slugging)
Of course, these season averages include Bonds' "juiced" homerun bonanza over the last nine years of his career.
Here are some of Barry Bonds' stats for the 13 seasons before he began using PEDs from BALCO labs.
- .290 BA
- 411 homeruns
- 1216 RBI
- 445 stolen bases
That comes out to an average of 32 homers, 94 RBI, and 34 stolen bases.
That's right, Barry Bonds averaged a "30-30" season for the 13 years before he morphed into the Hulk with some chemical help.
If we project Bonds' 13-year "clean" averages over the last nine "juiced" seasons in his career, then we end up with a hypothetical total of 699 homeruns and 2062 RBI. That assumes no decline in his numbers toward the end of his career.
Of course, Bonds' career batting average, on-base percentage, "slugging" percentage, and on-base plus slugging (OPS) include the stats from the steroid-fueled surge of his last nine seasons.
So, if we discount some of Bonds' homeruns, on-base, and slugging, then we arrive at a career very similar to Albert Pujols except for the stolen bases.
Comparing Sheer Talent in Pujols and Bonds
Barry Bonds was an inner-circle Hall of Famer before he started using PEDs. No one in the history of baseball has hit 400 homers and stolen 400 bases, and Bonds did that in only 13 seasons. No player ever displayed such a potent combination of power and speed.
Albert Pujols probably earned a Hall of Fame spot based on his first ten seasons alone. He batted .300, hit 30 or more homers, and drove in 100 or more RBI in each of his first nine seasons, something no other major leaguer ever accomplished. He was one percentage in batting average and one RBI away from doing it for a tenth consecutive season.
Pujols hit 445 homers over his first ten years and passed the 500-homer milestone less than three seasons later. He had an OPS over 1.000 in seven of his first ten seasons.
Like Bonds, Pujols achieved historic feats during the first half of his career. He never had Bonds' speed, but he was at least as talented at the plate.
Bonds won eight Gold Gloves as an outfielder. Pujols won only two Gold Gloves at first base. With his speed and easier position, Bonds was the better defensive player.
Having said all of that, Pujols did something Bonds did not. He batted right-handed and without a suit of armor.
During his most epic seasons, Bonds wore a hard-plastic protector on his elbow and stood on top of the plate. As a left-handed batter, most pitchers had difficulty getting the ball inside on him anyway.
Afraid to pitch inside and hit him (pointlessly since it couldn't hurt), pitchers threw outside fastballs and breaking balls that were really "down the middle" for his stance.
Pujols probably could have hit well over 60 homeruns in a few seasons if he would have stood inches from the plate while wearing enough body armor to eliminate any fear or concern of being hit by a 95-mph fastball.
Applying the "Steroid Discount" to Barry Bonds' career numbers and 162-game averages, we can project that Bonds and Pujols had very similar career statistics.
Hypothetically, a "clean" Bonds and Pujols would have both achieved about 700 homeruns, well over 2000 RBI, and elite batting averages, on-base percentages, slugging percentages, and OPS.
There's no denying Barry Bonds brought much more speed to his game, and that speed separates him from Pujols in terms of subjective talent and greatness. If one was drafting a team, one would agonize before choosing Bonds for his speed.
But for "pure" greatness in career milestones and rankings, Albert Pujols comes out on top.