By In Stuff

Capital T Rhymes With P Stands For Pujols

There are so many things that are hard to see in sports, at least for me, at least in real time. Balks.* Hockey goals. Key lead blocks. And so on. This is why replays matter so much … I want to see what REALLY happened. I want to see why LeBron got so open underneath, what Jay Cutler was looking at when he threw the ball right into the linebacker’s hands, how much did Luke Hochevar’s slider really hang?

*There is a movement, apparently, to make the fake-throw-to-third, throw-to-first play in baseball a balk. I am totally, 100% behind this movement. For one, it would be nice for there to be a balk that I could actually recognize without the help of twenty-two slow motion replays (“OH, he hitched his belt or something!”). For another, I have no idea why it’s NOT a balk, and I’ve never known. There are, best I can tell, at least fifteen different ways a balk can be called, and the purpose of all these balk violations s so pitchers are not allowed to unfairly entrap or trick base runners. That fake third-to-first play is clearly in that category and should have been called a balk from the start.

The fake throw to second should also be a balk, I think, but mainly because I’m tired of fans in every stadium screaming “balk!” whenever it happens.

One thing I never see — ever, no how matter how many replays they show — is what the analysts talk about when they break down a golfer’s swing with the Konika-Travolta-Biz-Hub-Scientology-Royale-With-Cheese camera. It’s always “look at the downward plane of his and watch the hand position when he and notice how he maintains his body pose to create torque that torques when he torques and see the subtle movement of his left wrist as he …” No idea what they’re talking about. Was watching the Players Championship over the weekend and Johnny Miller — when he wasn’t talking about how every player chokes always — was explaining the left arm of some golfer, and all the other analysts were going “Yes, oh yes, I see that, oh isn’t that fascinating.” And I saw nothing.

So that’s why it was absolutely shocking when I watched Albert Pujols play Sunday night.

Even to a dunderhead like me, it’s clear: His swing has absolutely fallen apart.

You might note that Pujols has now played six games since hitting the home run that supposedly broke him out of his slump, and he’s hitting .192/.222/.192 over those six games. His five hits — as you can see by the slugging percentage — were all singles. In fact, the home run he hit is the only extra-base hit he’s had all month so far. We are now up to 145 plate appearances, and he’s hitting .195 and slugging .275. As a few people have pointed out — I believe it was first on the Baseball Prospectus Podcast — Josh Hamilton could go zero for his next 271, and still have a higher slugging percentage than Pujols has right now.

The common thought — one announcer Terry Francona hammered again and again during last night’s game — is that Pujols will snap out of it, and when he does snap out of it, well, look out, giant balls of hail will fall from the sky, the stock market will rise to new heights, people will agree on gay marriage and so on. I don’t doubt this, I really don’t. Unless Pujols is seriously injured and isn’t telling anyone, it seems impossible to believe that the best player in baseball would sign a big deal in a new league and suddenly be the worst player in baseball. Everyone around the game seems sure that Pujols will soon be destroying pitchers again and smashing baseballs all over the park, and it seems crazy to think otherwise.

But, there is something that seemed absolutely clear to me while watching the game … something I wish Francona (who I really enjoy listening to) would have been willing to talk more about. At a different point in the game, Francona broke down Vernon Wells swing and showed in a clear way how his hip opens up too much when he swings, which smothers his power and seems to knock him a bit off-balance. It was interesting and explains pretty well why Vernon Wells has been hitting .221 and obeeing .250 since the start of last season.

However, when it came to Pujols swing, Francona was not nearly as pointed. He did do a little breakdown — and did talk about how his hands were dead as they came through the zone during one at-bat — but he generally was saying that Pujols swing looked pretty good, and he was really close, and he it was only a matter of time. And Francona knows a billion times more about this than I do, so I am sheepish in what I’m about to say.

But I’ll say it anyway. I think he’s completely wrong. Pujols swing looks nothing like it did. The wide stance has narrowed significantly. His legs used to be tree trunks; a hurricane could not move this guy. Not anymore. He looks wobbly at the plate. His swing used to be the most balanced thing of beauty imaginable — everything stayed perfectly still as the bat would rush through the zone with fury — now he’s lunging at the ball, stepping at the ball, his head seems to be moving all over the place.

I don’t have the technological understanding of hitting to explain the differences, but even someone like me can see, in caveman talk, “That swing different from that swing.” I’ve had people explain to me Tiger Woods’ swing changes a hundred times, and sometimes I think I might see the difference — sort of like how sometimes I think I might see the pirate ship in the Magic Eye picture — but generally I don’t see it. But with Pujols you can’t miss it. The swing is completely different — so much so that it feels virtually unrecognizable to me. If i saw the shadow of Albert Pujols’ new swing, I would not know it was Pujols.

Maybe this is age. Maybe this is the story of a man trying to adjust to the worst slump of his life. Maybe this is the heavy pressure of a 10-year, billion-jillion-shmillion dollar contract. I don’t know. And maybe it’s just temporary, maybe his next game, the stance will widen again, the balance will return, the head will get still, Pujols will look like Pujols again. How could you bet against that?

I’m not betting against anything. I’m just saying if you watched Albert Pujols on May 13, 2012 you would not expect that guy to hit .328, hit 40 home runs, win MVP awards. You would wonder what the heck that guy was doing hitting third in the lineup. There is a lot of talk about what’s going on in Pujols’ head, what pressure he must feel, what panic has to be exploding in the Angels’ front office (no matter what they say). That’s all well and good … but Pujols better clean up that swing first, if his body will let him. For the little I can see, Pujols isn’t doing much with that swing.

25 Responses to Capital T Rhymes With P Stands For Pujols

  1. KMack114 says:

    Does Albert Pujols still play baseball? I hadn’t noticed. Go Cards!

  2. Joe says:

    As a life long Cardinals fan I was sad to see Pujols leave St. Louis, and relieved they didn’t sign him to a $200 million dollar deal. Had he stayed in StL at a reasonable price I don’t think we would see him looking like this. Hard to believe.
    Dark Side of the Mood

  3. Gavin27 says:

    Considering what Beltran and Freese have been doing to make up for his absence, I’m glad it’s happening now and the Cards didn’t end up handicapped by his gargantuan contract. If he doesn’t regain form, that will be sad, but oh well.

  4. If the internet had been around in 1939, would we be having the same conversation about Lou Gehrig? Is it time to wonder if something (I’m not suggesting ALS, but SOMETHING) is seriously wrong with Pujols? It’s more than random statistical fluctuation at this point.

    • Tampa Mike says:

      I think it is way, way, WAY too early to go there. He just changed teams and leagues so there is an adjustment period. If he is still putting up the same numbers in July, then maybe….maybe…

  5. Mark Daniel says:

    I feel like I’m watching my son when I watch Pujols at the plate. “Keep your eye on the ball, Albert!” “Get your elbow up, Albert!”. Maybe everything MLB hitting coaches are telling him goes right over his head. Maybe LAAA should send him to some Little League team for a couple of weeks for some remedial help.

  6. nightfly says:

    Maybe Pujols and Adam Dunn accidentally witched bodies in the offseason and need a wacky series of misadventures to fix everything in time for the playoffs.

  7. Dave says:

    I am reminded of stories that emerged in Chicago this Spring about Adam Dunn’s first Spring Training with the White Sox last year. When he got to camp, Greg Walker, the hitting coach, was shocked at how bad his swing looked. Before saying anything to him, he checked with Ozzie first. Ozzie, being Ozzie, told Walker to not say anything, presuming that Dunn would “play through it”. I think it’s plausible that the same thing happened to Pujols; star goes to new team; star has a screwed up swing in Spring training, but no one dares to say anything.

  8. Gary says:

    Over the past quarter century I’ve spent countless hours helping junior high and high school players with their hitting. For the past five or six years I’ve urged kids to watch YouTube videos of Major League hitters to see how the mechanics should look. One of the players I encouraged them to watch was Pujols.

    Over the weekend I saw one of Pujols’ at bats and, like Joe said, I didn’t recognize it. My thought was that he looked just like some of the AL pitchers we’ll see when interleague play starts. He appeared, for lack of a better word, clueless.

    As a hitting coach I’m at a loss to explain the sudden change except that it looks like he decided to adjust every single piece of his swing at the same time.

    I’m also curious why this happened when it did. In spring training, his numbers were .383, .437, .850 with seven homers in 23 games and just four strikeouts, so his swing seemed to be fine then.

  9. Dinky says:

    Probably already thought of, but since Pujols hit so well in spring training, has he seen side by side videos of March versus May? I know exhibition games don’t count, the competition isn’t as good, and all that, but still, seven homers suggests the bat speed is there and, at the end of the day, bat speed is the most important single element in losing ones ability to hit.

  10. Tampa Mike says:

    I agree on changing the balk rules. I have always thought the fake play should have been a balk because it’s intent is deception.

  11. James says:

    People (and I believe Albert himself) say he’s not a pull hitter. Really? For his career, he has hit .468 when his hits have been pulled to left field; .321 when they’ve gone up the middle and .304 to the opposite field. Consider this – 213 of his 446 career homeruns have been to left field. He has hit 93 to left center, 71 to center, 40 to right field and 29 to right center.

  12. Mark Daniel says:

    Regarding the fake to third, throw to first move, why doesn’t the pitcher just throw the ball to third? Sort of like how a lefty throws to first on a pick off move. I mean, the play as it stands right now is designed to fool the runner at first and get him out. Why all the focus on the guy at first? What about the guy on third? Managers take fairly extreme measures to prevent the guy at third from scoring, such as intentionally walking a batter to load the bases and set up a force at home, or they will bring the infield in. Sometimes they’ll bring the infield and outfield in when there’s a man on third. Yet no pitcher ever tries to pick off a runner at third. Ever. Why? I understand that it’s risky to throw over there, but a catcher trying to pick off a runner at third is fairly common, and that’s perhaps even more risky. What am I missing?

    • ethegolfman says:

      because there is nobody actually holding the runner on. all more reason to call it a balk. only pitcher I’ve ever actually seen pull it off i is Mike fetters and i saw him do it twice

    • Gary says:

      There are a couple of major differences in throwing to the base when there are runners on first and third. A runner on third is rarely a threat to steal so there is less need to hold him on. And if you make a wild pick off throw to first you end up with a runner at second or at worst, third, but if you make a wild pick off attempt at third, a run scores.

      The fake to third and then turn to first play works because in stepping toward third the pitcher breaks contact with the rubber and can then fake a throw to first just like he can if he steps off the back of the rubber. This play is usually used to see if the runner on first will make a move toward second that could give away his intentions of stealing.

      Even on pick off attempts at first, the goal is to make the runner take a slightly shorter lead or to hesitate just a bit, which can be the difference in throwing him out at second on a steal attempt or a force play. To actually pick him off is a happy by-product of the attempt.

  13. Jack says:

    The first pitcher I remember using that third-to-first move was Steve Busby of the Royals, though I think it was an old-time play that was brought back.

  14. Does anyone else remember Turk Wendell inexplicably having a lot of success with that move one year for the Mets? It was probably a significant portion of the outs he recorded. The way I remember it, he would step toward third, and then reverse, almost as if he had somehow been facing first the whole time, and catch the runner at first off the bag.

  15. ML says:

    I’m a HUGE Cardinals fan. Been one since 1961. I’ve never seen a better hitter than Albert Pujols. He is a fierce player and has a humble demeanor. I believe that the weight of this contract and the pressure of the move has him in a mental funk and I pray that he comes out of it real soon. He’s moved on due to the business of baseball. I’d take him back in St. Louis in a heartbeat…just not for 240 mil. He will adjust. Go Cards!!! Go Albert!!!

  16. KHAZAD says:

    The bad swing has been going on for longer than that. I noticed it when watching the Angels play 2 or 3 weeks ago. If you had covered up his face and his number I NEVER would have guessed it was him.

    You wonder how the coaching staff can’t see stuff like this. Maybe they have, and they are either afraid to confront him or just trying to fix it quietly while putting out the PR that everything’s fine.

    I have noticed this kind of behavior with the Royals (I live in KC) as well. In Gordon’s rookie season, he stood too close to the plate, couldn’t handle inside pitches, or lay off of them either. Teams busted him inside constantly and it took them more than two months to make an adjustment. I think he had 10 HBP’s in the first two months and has only had 21 in the 5 years since.

    This year it is Hosmer, whose struggles with the change up is reminiscent of Beltran’s similar struggles in the 2000 season. Everyone involved with the team spouts the company line that he is hitting the ball hard and has been unlucky, though he has the worst line drive percentage on the team. He is seeing a steady diet of them, and actually making contact more often than not, pulling weak grounders or “can of corn” type popups to the right side. Last year, he was spraying the ball all over the field, this year teams are shifting him as a dead pull hitter and throwing him change ups. It makes you wonder (as with Pujols) if the team is even aware of the problem.

  17. Pig.Pen says:

    Joe, you did a good job actually breaking down Pujols’ swing. The head is moving all over the place, the stance has narrowed and he’s lunging at the ball which means that there’s more sway in his swing and he’s not spinning on the ball, or generating the type of power that comes when you spin on the ball. (For the best example of spinning on the ball see: B. Bonds circa 2000-2002). There’s tons of wasted motion in the swing, but these things are all fixable. Doesn’t mean they will be fixed, but that they are fixable. Although lunging can be one of the tougher bad habits to break.

  18. sourcreamus says:

    The reason the fake to third move was not a balk is a balk is when a pitcher simulates a pitch to try to deceive the runner, whereas the fake to third the deception is not about a pitch it is where the pick off is going to.

  19. Nice! Since it is the golf swing that drives the ball through the air or over the ground, fixing any problems with that should show up in the score.
    golf swing basics

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