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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Paine: Baseball Is Finally Remembering How Good Albert Pujols Can Be

The preseason narrative was that this year would be different. Every player claims health in spring training, so much so that it’s a running meme to mock stories about players coming to camp in “the best shape of their lives.” Pujols tried it in March, telling anyone who would listen that his painful plantar fascia injury was a thing of the past, and that he was ready to silence the doubters. You would have been forgiven for being skeptical, though, given that this was a 34-year-old slugger coming off four straight years of declining production.

However, this season already seems promising. There’s the 500th home run, of course, but also an April that was reminiscent of Cardinals Albert. Pujols is hitting the ball with terrific power again — over 14 percent of his hits have gone for extra bases — and he’s mashing fly balls for home runs, instead of harmless flyouts. His strikeout rate is back down under 9 percent, where it was during his best seasons. And his per-inning rate of defensive runs saved at first base is back up where it was before last year’s collapse.

All isn’t what it once was, though. Worryingly, Pujols is still swinging the bat more than he used to — and chasing more pitches outside the strike zone than the average hitter. In spite of his decreased strikeout rate, he’s also making less contact now than ever before, as a percentage of his swings. And his baserunning may never again be where it was in his prime.

In other words, age is catching up to Albert Pujols, as it does to every ballplayer. But the early returns suggest his 2014 won’t be nearly as trying as his 2013, or even his 2012, was. And, perhaps more important, his reception this week suggests that fans may be ready to move past heaping scorn on his mega-contract with the Angels and the way he left St. Louis. Pujols probably won’t ever again be the same all-around superstar he was during his peak years as a Cardinal, but we should still enjoy what he is now: a future Hall of Famer who still has plenty of artistry left in his once-legendary bat.

Thanks to Drew.

Repoz Posted: April 27, 2014 at 11:40 AM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: angels

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   1. Yastrzemski in left. Posted: April 27, 2014 at 11:58 AM (#4695261)
I laughed at the hyperbolic celebration of his alleged collapse and am absolutely thrilled to see him healthy and hitting. Be nice to see the trio of Trout, Pujols and Hamilton healthy for a long stretch.
   2. Esoteric Posted: April 27, 2014 at 12:43 PM (#4695278)
Poor Dave Cameron.
   3. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: April 27, 2014 at 12:44 PM (#4695280)

absolutely thrilled to see him healthy and hitting

Me too. I don't think he's going to slug over .600 for the season but I'm pulling for him to return to his status as one of the game's elite hitters.
   4. Daunte Vicknabbit! Posted: April 27, 2014 at 01:44 PM (#4695306)
I am conflicted. I love Pujols and Trout and loathe their team.
   5. BDC Posted: April 27, 2014 at 02:01 PM (#4695312)
And I like the team but don't care much for Pujols. Together we balance out.

Can't see how anybody doesn't like Mike Trout, though. Somebody obsessed with the WAR strawman, maybe.
   6. Jim (jimmuscomp) Posted: April 27, 2014 at 02:34 PM (#4695331)
Walt said it a while ago in another thread, but it's worth repeating. To paraphrase Walt, "Pujols is/was trying to hit his way out of his problem instead of walking his way out of his problems." Walt was exactly right. Pujols was swinging too much and making less contact than in the past. Right on cue, he started walking a bit more and the results followed.

While I think he is likely going to be very good this year and for another year or three, there is a part of me that wants to wait another two months before declaring him "back". Let's make sure that this hot streak isn't just that, but a change in baseline after the abysmal 2013.

But, this team is much, much better when Albert and Trout are both playing well.

And seriously, can David Freese just go away? What a wreck of a player he is....
   7. cardsfanboy Posted: April 27, 2014 at 02:48 PM (#4695338)
And seriously, can David Freese just go away? What a wreck of a player he is....


An utter collapse like he has had is just a little surprising.

I am conflicted. I love Pujols and Trout and loathe their team.


I have to agree. There may not be an individual player that I dislike, but Scioscia and the ownership of the Angels is something that makes me not like them.
   8. Perry Posted: April 27, 2014 at 05:54 PM (#4695444)
An utter collapse like he has had is just a little surprising.


Still only April, though, and this is his first time playing in the AL and his first big league experience outside of his home town. Might just need a little more time to adjust. I haven't seen him this year, but it seems a little early to write him off.
   9. salviaman Posted: April 27, 2014 at 05:54 PM (#4695445)
My reading of the stats this year suggests that Pujols has had a spate of good luck on HR per FB. 28% is not a sustainable rate. Otherwise, he is no different than he has been over the last 2 or 3 years---except that he is older. I see no reason to expect star-level production from Pujols the rest of the season. And since I don't like his personality--at least his public one--I couldn't be happier...
   10. cardsfanboy Posted: April 27, 2014 at 06:03 PM (#4695453)
Still only April, though, and this is his first time playing in the AL and his first big league experience outside of his home town. Might just need a little more time to adjust. I haven't seen him this year, but it seems a little early to write him off.


Agreed, I haven't watched him much this year either, and it's still early and people can rebound, but from the sound of Angel fans around here, it seems like he looks just as bad as the numbers suggest. The drop in defense last year, might have been an indicator of some of his physical tools dropping. He is in his age 31 season, and he wouldn't be the first player to just fall of the face of the earth at this age, after all he's only had 1 1/2 good seasons.

I'm going to root for him, local boy made good type of thing, and would hope to see him put up a 110 Ops+ with average defense.
   11. valuearbitrageur Posted: April 27, 2014 at 06:33 PM (#4695474)
My reading of the stats this year suggests that Pujols has had a spate of good luck on HR per FB. 28% is not a sustainable rate. Otherwise, he is no different than he has been over the last 2 or 3 years---except that he is older. I see no reason to expect star-level production from Pujols the rest of the season. And since I don't like his personality--at least his public one--I couldn't be happier...


If you drop his HR total from 9 to 6 (below his career HR/FB rate), he still has the highest OBP, SLG and lowest K rate of the last three years.

This year he also has lowest BABIP of his career. If you normalize his BABIP (even only to .280-.290) when you normalize his HR rate, you'd expect him to be hitting around 300/.360/..560.

You would think his surgery made him better, and you would think it would evidence in more power and a higher BABIP than he's shown the last two years, since he should get more of his legs in his swing, and get to first much faster.
   12. cardsfanboy Posted: April 27, 2014 at 06:34 PM (#4695476)
My reading of the stats this year suggests that Pujols has had a spate of good luck on HR per FB. 28% is not a sustainable rate. Otherwise, he is no different than he has been over the last 2 or 3 years---except that he is older. I see no reason to expect star-level production from Pujols the rest of the season. And since I don't like his personality--at least his public one--I couldn't be happier...


He's hitting a ton more ground balls this year than he has at any point in his career, even if the hr% drops to a more realistic 18%, his rate of fly balls is also probably going to go up. His numbers do not look like any Pujols type of numbers as far as flyball/groundball/line drive rates, so it's early to make a prediction on whether he is back or not.

I would love to see what his percentages are if you removed the first week of the season. (not that that would be evidence of anything, but I think that with how small of a sample we have, that there isn't really enough there to make any determination, and a poor streak or hot streak is going to have a bigger impact on the numbers than it reasonably should)
   13. Mendo Posted: April 27, 2014 at 06:56 PM (#4695483)
Walt was exactly right. Pujols was swinging too much and making less contact than in the past. Right on cue, he started walking a bit more and the results followed.


Looks like his BB% is at a career low, actually. Well, barely, but still.

His SO% has come back down in line with his career, though.
   14. cardsfanboy Posted: April 27, 2014 at 07:02 PM (#4695485)
Looks like his BB% is at a career low, actually. Well, barely, but still.


He didn't get his first walk of the season until the 8th game of the season, since then he has walked 8 times in 75 plate appearances, a tad over 10% in line with his first couple of seasons and better than the previous two. Meanwhile his strikeouts have gone down also....If you look at his game logs from the time he hit his first homerun of the season until now, you have a completely different hitter than in the first eight games of the season. Obviously that is probably correct with anyone if you take their hot streaks and compare it to their struggling streaks, but still Albert during this hot streak, looks a lot like Albert.


Of course I'm not saying he's going to produce a 150 Ops+ or lead the league in homeruns this season, but it wouldn't be uncharacteristic if that did happen.
   15. AndrewJ Posted: April 27, 2014 at 09:02 PM (#4695519)
Open question: How much of Pujols' collapse in 2012-13 might be due to the relative strength of the American League over the NL?

Pujols is hitting the ball with terrific power again — over 14 percent of his hits have gone for extra bases

I'm assuming that should read over 40 percent. I mean, nearly 25 percent of Bob Uecker's hits were XBH.
   16. cardsfanboy Posted: April 27, 2014 at 10:09 PM (#4695528)
Open question: How much of Pujols' collapse in 2012-13 might be due to the relative strength of the American League over the NL?


Probably very little, the AL/NL is pretty close for those years. The league disparity is dropping from it's mid 2000 heyday. AL is probably still slightly superior.

His collapse is pretty clearly injury related, and it's still up in the air, whether he's healthy enough for a full season.
   17. Greg K Posted: April 27, 2014 at 10:21 PM (#4695532)
He is in his age 31 season, and he wouldn't be the first player to just fall of the face of the earth at this age, after all he's only had 1 1/2 good seasons.

It blows my mind that Freese is three years older than Delmon Young
   18. bjhanke Posted: April 27, 2014 at 11:15 PM (#4695544)
Being from STL, I got to watch a lot of Albert in his heyday. Even in the last three years with the Cards, it was obvious that his feet were bad. He was just fighting the injury / illness / condition (plantar fasciitis) with painkillers and willpower. It's probably far more productive to look at him as an "injury recovery" case than as an "old player" case. And I have absolutely no idea why anyone would dislike his public personality. I'm very puzzled. What does he do that you don't like? I've always responded to him as a first-rate, classy person, who worked hard to not develop an obnoxious "superstar" personality, like so many superstars give in to. Has he changed in Anaheim?

David Freese's whole career has been one big injury after another. That's why the Cards were able to get him so cheaply in a trade in the first place. And it's also why they got rid of him; you had to have another starting third baseman to play the half season that David would spend on the injury list. As a Cardinal fan, I'm just happy we got what amounts to two good years out of him. I feel sympathy for him, actually. His life must be one big journey from pain to pain. Even Major League money will only fend that off for so long. - Brock Hanke
   19. Greg K Posted: April 27, 2014 at 11:44 PM (#4695557)
David Freese's whole career has been one big injury after another. That's why the Cards were able to get him so cheaply in a trade in the first place.

Freese for a month of an aging Jim Edmonds before the Padres released him. You aren't kidding about cheap. I'm learning all sorts of things about David Freese today.
   20. JE (Jason) Posted: April 27, 2014 at 11:46 PM (#4695559)
My reading of the stats this year suggests that Pujols has had a spate of good luck on HR per FB. 28% is not a sustainable rate.

FWIW, each of his last three home runs -- nos. 499 and 500 in DC, no. 501 in the Bronx -- were bombs, not cheapies.
   21. greenback calls it soccer Posted: April 28, 2014 at 12:25 AM (#4695577)
It's probably far more productive to look at him [Pujols] as an "injury recovery" case than as an "old player" case.

I think it's really hard to separate the two. A lot of what is considered age-related decline is a product of accumulated health problems.

Regarding walks, Pujols was always "aggressive" at the plate. His walk rates during his peak years were as much a reflection of pitcher strategy (it was common to hear of "the Bonds treatment") as his pitch selection skills. It was tough to tell if he was ridiculously confident in his ability, to the point of arrogance, or if he just had some Francoeur in him. Last year may have been enough of a humbling experience to convince him that he had to be smarter with his pitch selection.
   22. Sleepy supports unauthorized rambling Posted: April 28, 2014 at 12:58 AM (#4695587)
Freese for a month of an aging Jim Edmonds before the Padres released him. You aren't kidding about cheap. I'm learning all sorts of things about David Freese today.


IIRC the Padres also took almost all of Edmonds $6.5M salary (or was it 6.5 of 8M? Something like that).

One thing I think I remember about Pujols is that, in his prime, he seemed to really benefit from the umpires as well; he could afford to be extremely selective because by about 2004 his strike zone was reduced by a solid inch or so on each corner. I remember an announcer at one point (~2006?) saying something like umpires are "paying pujols the ultimate respect of not calling a third strike on him at home". I haven't paid much attention since he left STL but if he lost that luxury, it couldn't have helped.

Someone motivated could probably check that theory with pitch/fx, I guess.
   23. Walt Davis Posted: April 28, 2014 at 03:31 AM (#4695600)
Open question: How much of Pujols' collapse in 2012-13 might be due to the relative strength of the American League over the NL?

I think at its peak, bWAR put the gap at 4 runs for an average player -- i.e. replacement for the AL was 24 runs, 20 for the NL (after the great replacement level treaty of 2011 or whenever it was). Looks like it was down to about 2 runs last year.

Add in adjusting to new, tougher pitchers, maybe you expect for somebody in their first year. But he didn't decline a huge amount his first year -- from 148 OPS+ to 138.

On his components ... I think I agree with everybody! The HR/FB rate seems unsustainably high at 24% right now -- it's not impossible (and Frank Thomas had a freak year just like it at 37). But it also doesn't need to be that high -- Thomas's career rate is only 13% and he was rarely above 16; Cabrera's career rate is 14% and only last year was he substantially above 15%.

His current BABIP is a very low 250 so surely should go up ... except it was in the 250s last year too. Maybe this is the new Albert.

The K-rate may or may not be back to Albert levels of normal but it's still low and much lower than late career Thomas or career Cabrera. The walk rate remains too low.

But the scary bit is the G/F ratio -- what the heck, it's over 1. That is not a path to success for Albert. Get the G/F back around .66 and the drop in HR/FB won't matter a bit.
   24. Rants Mulliniks Posted: April 28, 2014 at 09:12 AM (#4695637)
Is anyone concerned about Trout being on pace for over 200 Ks? That shocked me when I looked his stats this morning.
   25. The Good Face Posted: April 28, 2014 at 10:24 AM (#4695698)
Is anyone concerned about Trout being on pace for over 200 Ks? That shocked me when I looked his stats this morning.


Wake me up if he's still trending that way in July. Besides, it's hard to be too concerned about a 22y/o CF with a .313/.383/.594 line.
   26. cardsfanboy Posted: April 28, 2014 at 11:28 AM (#4695784)
Wake me up if he's still trending that way in July. Besides, it's hard to be too concerned about a 22y/o CF with a .313/.383/.594 line.


He's already at 1.9 war (which I realize it's pretty stupid to look at war with this little of the season underway, but still an impressive start)

   27. 'zop sympathizes with the wrong ####### people Posted: April 28, 2014 at 12:00 PM (#4695822)
I was at the game last night and was shocked at how bad Pujols looks. He walks with a limp, like he's Greg Oden.
   28. valuearbitrageur Posted: April 28, 2014 at 06:12 PM (#4696146)


Looks like he hasn't been lucky on HRs at all.

Pujols HitTacker

Only 2 HR less than 390 feet. There is only one stadium with a left field fence deeper than 380 feet, Coors field, and obviously his true distance 387 footer is out there.. Pretty sure his 371 footer is out in every stadium as well.

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