All season long, the Angels have lingered a good 10 or 11 games in back of the Oakland A's, a team whose entire estimated 2013 payroll is only $27 million more than the Angels are paying Pujols and Hamilton this year. Meanwhile, Hamilton's former teammates, the Texas Rangers, are just three games in back of Oakland in the AL West andeight games ahead of the Angels, and the St. Louis Cardinals are not only leading the National League Central Division but have the best record in baseball. As Alden Gonzalez, the Angels beat writer for MLB.com, phrased it, "It is with great shock, disappointment and - in many ways - amusement that a star-studded Angels team fresh off a second straight offseason splash, finishes the first half in grave danger of missing the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year."
What the Angels thought they were buying when they acquired Pujols in 2011 was the best player in the game and perhaps the best hitter in baseball history. That sounds like an exaggeration, but from his rookie season in 2001 through the 2011 season, Pujols was indeed both. In 10 of his 11 seasons with the Cardinals, he drove in more than 100 runs; he missed the triple-figure mark by just one in 2011 with 99. He hit 445 home runs, compiled a batting average of .328, and led the league in runs scored five times and OPS (combined On Base Percentage and Slugging) three times. He was named National League MVP three times, unanimously in 2009. As Pujols soared, baseball analysts were fond of comparing his numbers - making due allowance fordifferent conditions in earlier eras -- with those of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, and just about any other great hitter -- and pointing out that Pujols measured up to all the greats.
Josh Hamilton may have been a riskier investment for Los Angeles than Pujols, despite his .305 batting average and his 140 home runs with the Rangers. He led the league in RBIs in 2008 (130) and in batting in 2010 (.359); in 2010, he was voted the American League MVP and went to the Angels with three Gold Gloves. He was coming off a 2012 season in which he hit 43 home runs and drove in 128 runs. What made the acquisition of Hamilton more questionable was his much-publicized history with drugs and alcohol, includingrelapses in 2009 and 2012 followed by public apologies. (He is currently required to submit urine samples three times a week for drug testing.)
Still, judging from their statistics and all-around ability, Pujols and Hamilton seemed to be the closest thing baseball offered to a sure bet.
Or were they?
Back in the 1980s, Bill James published several studies which found that most baseball players peak before their 30th birthdays. James published his findings in his 1988 Baseball Abstract: "If you must assign a five-year peak period to all players regardless of description, the best shot would be 25 to 29."