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Goold: There's a case to be made that Albert Pujols is a top-five player all-time

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Cardinals, Rockies at Busch

The Cardinals' Albert Pujols takes a curtain call after hitting a grand slam in the third inning against the Rockies, driving in Lars Nootbaar, Tyler O'Neill and Dylan Carlson, on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, at Busch Stadium.

Check out the highlights from Derrick Goold’s Cardinals chat with readers. The full transcript of the chat can be found here.

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman compares Albert Pujols’ home run feats to combos of other famous names in baseball. And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

Q: What is the meaning of the hand gesture the Cards players make after they get a hit?

A: They are making the hand gestures of a pepper mill -- like you might see at a steakhouse when they ask if you'd like cracked pepper on your salad, steak, shrimp, etc. That's the gesture, and that's why Lars Nootbaar picked up a birthday-gift pepper mill that he now uses as a prop in the dugout. The hand gesture got its inspiration from "grinding" out at-bats, and so they went with grinding pepper. Andrew Knizner deserves some credit for the inspiration, and Nootbaar has made it popular.

Q: Any concern with Cardinals pitching lately, starters and bullpen haven't been great, and mostly against weaker teams

A: Sure. Pitching is always a concern. For any team, really. But the Cardinals have depth now due to moves and some development of young players that should firewall them against five-alarm concerns. Yes, it's coming against weaker teams. Yes, Helsley has allowed runs here in a stretch of appearances. Yes, Quintana has not pitched deep into games, and that maybe of all things stands out most here. The short starts from him and others really stand out as what's been at the root of some of the consistency elsewhere on the pitching staff. What also stands out is that the Cardinals' bullpen surely seems to have found roles with performance, and that bodes well for how it can snap back from some of the recent hiccups.

Q: Hi Derrick. I’m a Cardinal fan in Brewer country. After he hit number 697 I said I thought Pujols was a top 5 player of all time. And, of course, they disagreed. Fourth all-time in home runs. Third all-time in RBIs (17 away from 2nd all-time). Ninth all-time in hit total. Three time MVP. Multiple gold gloves. Two-time World Series winner. Pretty hard to top that resume, regardless of era. So my question/s is, do you agree he is a top 5 player of all time and who are in your top 5?

A: I think you could make the case. You have to take into account the time in which a player played. Albert Pujols is easily the best right-handed hitter the Cardinals have had since Rogers Hornsby. Well, Hornsby played before integration. So isn't Pujols the best right-handed hitter the Cardinals have ever had because he had to go against the best available in the world, not the best permitted to play? Similarly, consider how hard it is to hit these days, how much velocity there, how much tech there is, and the shifts, and everything. It's the hardest era to hit, and here Pujols is ... hitting. Matching some of the greatest records of all times.

He's fourth in homers. He's SECOND in total bases. 

Team sports are difficult to rank Top Fives all-time because there are just so many different roles, so do you consider the role and how they performed in it? Well, that would vault Mariano Rivera into the top five because of how he performed in the role he had compared to others. Or, do we just focus on players. To me, you've got include three players when you're thinking about a top five all-time in baseball: Hank Aaron, of course and likely No. 1; Willie Mays; and Rickey Henderson. Barry Bonds will stir plenty of debate, and then you start going into the Mantle, Williams, Musial, and back to pre-Robinson days in MLB. You start putting Pujols against that group and look at the scope of the numbers he's put up and the era in which he's done it, the time he spent as the best player in the game, the all-around play...Look, it's not far-fetched. Not at all. 

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman compares Albert Pujols’ home run feats to combos of other famous names in baseball. And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

Q: Do the Cardinals offer the same technology to help hitters and pitchers improve as private entities like Driveline?

A: I get this question a lot and I'm not sure what's expected here. The Cardinals have a hitting lab. They do not yet -- again -- have the pitching lab they wanted. They have increased the spending on tech over the past few years to really expand the use through the minors and were even outfitting every hitter in the organization below the majors with individual tech for their training. The infrastructure is much improved. But please keep in mind that places like Driveline exist and the lab in Baton Rouge exist to offer more than teams -- that's how they get business. They push the edge, they push tech, they experiment, and they do things that teams cannot do because of that, again, is how they stay in business.

Teams have hired from Driveline and other places to get that insight and expertise, but there's no need for a team to bring all of that in house any more than a team should buy up all the personal trainers that players use.

Teams, like the Cardinals, encourage players to see out such places. Gorman and Knizner recently went to Baton Rouge so that they could work in the hitting lab there -- and get immediate bats from the manufacturer to see how it worked. Should the Cardinals go into the bat business? Or, should is encouraging their hitters to see out this information the same thing without the overhead?

Using everything at a player's disposal to improve is what the best players do, and it's what the best team's encourage.

Where the Cardinals have improved and needed for years to improve was with the in-house availability and in-house advocacy of such curiosity. That has changed.


Q: Gorman at DH next year? Isn't the DH supposed to actually make contact?

A: Players do improve. It's why teams employ coaches. And why players seek out places like Driveline.

Q: Not being a Cardinals fan and also having covered them all season, what would you realistically consider a triumph and misfire in terms of a run in the playoffs? Assuming that a triumph doesn't have to be a ring, despite what you read in the chat and on social media.

A: It sure seems like a pennant would go a long way to the Cardinals being as good as they say they need to be and the Cardinals expect themselves to be. Reestablish themselves as a leader in the National League, along with Atlanta and Dodgers. Assert their place as the NL standard.

Q: Lukewarm take - Teams will come to "avoid" the first-round playoff bye because of the "getting hot in the postseason" hypothesis. For example, sitting out for the better part of the week may not be a good thing for this Cardinals team this year. Thoughts?

A: I don't know, honestly. The format is so new that there's no real feel for it. Track record says to avoid the excess innings, to get the pitching lined up, and to not give away that edge from the start of a five-game series. There's no margin for error and yet, there you would be, starting behind in the pitching game while the opponent has well-rested, full-complement pitching staff. Short season that could prove more costly. If momentum is the next day's pitcher, then the team with the bye has the edge, not the team that kept playing...

Hochman: Cardinals closer Ryan Helsley has had hiccups of late, but should be OK

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman discusses Albert Pujols’ chase of 696 homers, while recalling this day in 1998, when Mark McGwire hit his record-tying 61st home run. Also, a happy birthday shoutout to Jason Isringhausen. And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

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