I haven't thought about our old friend Albert Pujols much these days. But someone asked me how he was doing, so I looked it up.
The long and the short of it is that he is doing a lot better than he did for the first six weeks of the season or so. But, his overall numbers are sobering for a guy who is owed $240 million over the next nine years.
Despite the fact that he eventually heated up, Pujols has been unable to overcome the undeniable trend that his statistics are shrinking. He has his worst batting average, slugging percentage, on base percentage and walks to strikeouts ratio of his career. And, in the case of several of those statistics, there is a very clear picture of decline.
YEAR AVG OB% SLUG% BB/K
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2008 .357 .462 .653 104/54
2009 .327 .443 .658 115/64
2010 .312 .414 .596 103/76
2011 .299 .366 .541 61/58
2012 .276 .340 .509 42/56
Total .325 .415 .610 1017/760
His best month, by far, was July when Pujols hit .330 with eight homers. But, even then, he struck out 13 times compared to 12 walks. And since the calender turned to August, he's batting .213 in 11 games with a .255 on base percentage, seven strikeouts and two walks.
Pujols might push his batting average to near the .300 mark to make things respectable. But there seems to be little hope to getting his on base percentage and slugging percentage anywhere close to his career averages. While there is no denying that Pujols is still a valuable player, it's pretty clear that he is no longer the best player in baseball. It is also clear that his slide seems to be becoming more pronounced.
I talked to Cardinals media types in April and early May and there was a lot of thought that Pujols lost a measure of comfort playing in a new place. But I don't think that could account for his uptick in strikeouts and drastic drop in on base percentage. And I wonder, now that the excitement has died down, if Albert's loyal fans in St. Louis would have begun to wonder if signing him to an eight or 10 year deal was a mistake since he's shown decline so early.
If you sign a guy to a 10-year deal and he's great for six, mediocre for two and shot for the last two, that's one thing. But he's in the first year of that new contract. At the pace he's declining, Pujols looks like he could be a .250-.260 hitter with 20-25 homers a year and 100 strikeouts in the next season or two.
It seems Pujols went from being nearly perfect as a hitter to being a guy who can be pitched to. And hurlers are getting him to make outs on a lot of balls he wouldn't have offered at in the past. A likely explanation is that Pujols has become more of a guess hitter to compensate for a loss of bat speed. I believe the fact that he has become such a pronounced pull hitter when he used to spray the ball to all fields supports this argument.
Now I'm not saying that Pujols is useless. He's still amongst the top 20 percent of major league hitters. But he used to be number one. And the Angels paid him to be number one. So it would seem to me to be a disappointment that they're getting less production than a good number of major league players for best player in baseball money.
If Pujols played for the Cardinals today, he'd be the team's third-best hitter behind Matt Holliday (.315 batting average, .394 OB%, .538 SLG%) and Carlos Beltran (.284, .354 OB%, .546 SLG%.) And those guys make less than $5 million combined more per season than Pujols will average over the life of his contract.
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