The Los Angeles media has turned to a pair of St. Louis superstars for encouragement about the long-term prospects of Albert Pujols.
But longtime St. Louis manager Tony La Russa and former St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire both say they think Pujols is worth the money and that he will still be an elite producer eight or even 10 years from now.
A story that appeared Sunday in the Los Angeles times points out the the statistics suggest the Angels' investment in a 32 year old Pujols isn't a wise one.
The piece notes he has had a significant offensive decline in almost all of the major production statistics over the last three years: His batting average fell from .327 in 2009 to .312 in 2010 to a career low .299 in 2011. His on base percentage fell even more dramatically from .443 to .414 to a career low of .366 last season. His slugging percentage fell from .658 to .596 to 541 in 2011.
La Russa, who seems to have been appointed Pujols' ambassador to St. Louis as he periodically gives Cardinals Nation a pep talk about why we should root for Pujols even in an Anaheim uniform, says that the stats are an illusion. He said Pujols takes care of his so well and is so driven that he has no doubt Pujols will overcome things like age and wear and tear that us mere mortals are subject to.
"I'd bet significant money that in the second half of his contract Albert will be productive," La Russa told the L.A. Times. "Albert knows he has a chance to be one of the greatest players of all time. He lives with that responsibility."
McGwire said he thinks that it's easier for a player to have a long career on the west coast where the weather has less of an impact on their bodies.
"I played in Oakland for 11 years, and when we came back from a hot summer city, it was refreshing," McGwire told the L.A. Times. "Your body felt a lot better. I truly believe the weather, plus using Albert as a designated hitter, will add three years to his career."
I wouldn't doubt Pujols has a few good years left in him. But there is little doubt that Pujols' slide was more than a statistical hiccup. What the numbers don't tell you -- but that St. Louis fans witnessed -- is that Pujols doesn't hit the ball hard as consistently as he did in the past. He hits a lot more pop-ups and ground balls than he used to -- which led to his record-setting number of double play grounders last season.
Pujols still has power. But I wonder if the reason he is fooled more often by pitchers is because his bat has slowed and he's starting his swing quicker to try to get around on the ball.
As the spring training camps around baseball start to open I still feel the same way about Pujols as I did in the past: It's hard to wish the guy ill because he meant so much to us for so long. But, after all our emotional investment over the last decade plus, it's sort of hard to hope to see Albert re-write the record book wearing another uniform.