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Pujols Slump Update

When I was a young reporter, a veteran baseball writer gave me some advice I haven’t forgotten. He said that one of the things he despised was when somebody wrote that a player “ended a slump” when he got a hit. For instance: “Buddy Bell ended a three-week slump when he singled up the middle and drove in two runs to lead Cleveland to a 6-4 victory.”

The writer said: “It’s just one hit. If he was two for his previous 31, he’s now only three for his previous 32. That’s still lousy.”

I bring this up because the theme today seems to be that Albert Pujols ended his slump yesterday by finally hitting first first home run for the Angels. It may be that the home run will spur Pujols to return to his machine-like ways. It also may be that Pujols was always going to return to his machine-like ways and that the small-sample-size concerns of the first month were misguided. Bill James has Pujols finishing .312 with 34 homers, and Bill tends to be the most level-headed guy in the room.

That said, it always struck me that the problem with Albert Pujols’ start was not the home run drought. Yes, that was interesting and baffling and the easiest thing to talk about. But if Pujols was hitting .274/.364/.456 with no homers, despite all those numbers being way, way down from his career totals, I don’t think it would have mattered much. You could have said: OK the home runs will come and then he’ll be back to normal. Pujols has had home run droughts before.

The problem is Pujols has never, ever gone a month where he looked so hopeless at the plate. Forget the lack of homers. He’s had more than 100 plate appearances, and he’s hitting .196/.237/.295. He has not had more strikeouts than walks in a season since he was a rookie — this year he has 16 strikeouts and only six walks, two of those intentional. He’s swinging out of the zone more often and putting those balls in play more often — this tends to be a bad, bad combination. Pitchers are changing speeds fearlessly against him now and, until he starts crushing those pitches, they will keep on feeding him change ups and curveballs and sliders that break and move out of the zone. So far it doesn’t really matter because Pujols isn’t hitting the fastball yet either.

Even Sunday, when Pujols hit the home run on an 84-mph slider that hung just a bit, he only went one for four, he struck out on an at-bat where he faced six fastballs and in his last at-bat, the one after the homer, he flew out to right on a fastball.

So, yes, the home run was nice. But I don’t see how anyone can say the slump is over and only good things are ahead. Maybe we should wait for a day when Pujols gets five at-bats, crushes three balls hard and walks twice. My baseball writer friend would say, even then, you could not call the slump over. But, it would be a nice start.

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21 Responses to Pujols Slump Update

  1. Bad Poet says:

    Final line for Pujols: .285/.347/.490 27 HR 92 RBI

  2. aburtch says:

    Pujols is way overvalued. He is not worth the huge contract the Angles gave him. Sure, maybe for the first two years he is, but in every year after that he is overpaid…even if his output is decent.

  3. Ike says:

    I’m a bitter Cardinals fan, but I don’t see how he is overvalued. He’s been the most productive offensive player over the past 10 years, and has played Gold Glove caliber defense in at least 5 of those seasons.

    “Decent” output is not why some refer to him as the “greatest of all time.” True, he will be overpaid at the back end of this contract, but in terms of the types of contracts being handed out in the MLB (see: Werth, Jayson), Albert is anything but overvalued.

    • When entering a new contract, owners should pay players based on current and expected future production. Contracts are not rewards for “the most productive offensive player for the past 10 years.”

      Jayson Werth’s contract is not an excuse for also being stupid.

      Pujols’ contract was overvalued and stupid — from a baseball production viewpoint. Sure, it has the element of obtaining the most productive player over the past 10 years, but that is paying huge sums to buy relevance or to make a statement to the team’s fans. It is not a contract that had a reasonable expectation of matching future baseball production.

      Why is it so hard for fans (or owners) to accept that their star of many years is on the decline — and some faster than others? Say it ain’t, so?

      The Cardinals organization made a smart and very tough baseball decision to not match Albert’s contract. I admire that.

    • Robert says:

      I think pretty much everybody agrees that he’ll be overpaid on the back end of this deal, the debate is about when the back end starts. If this slump is prolonged, that could be sooner than later. If the Cards had overpaid, you could make the case that they were repaying him for years of being underpaid…but that doesn’t apply to the Angels. Unless he hits near his prime output until 40, this was a bad baseball deal for them.

    • Dennis says:

      Key words : the past 10 years

  4. Gary says:

    Is there a difference in how American League pitchers attack hitters? Just yesterday I heard an interview with Jeff Francouer during which he said he sees more off-speed and breaking pitches in the American League. I remember Jack Clark, when he moved to the American League, complaining that AL pitchers wouldn’t challenge him with fastballs, instead devilishly throwing off-speed and breaking pitches he couldn’t hit. I’ve also heard on several occasions announcers talking about the tendency of AL pitchers to throw breaking pitches in “fastball counts.”

    For years we’ve heard about the National League style of play when it comes to baserunning and bunting, but is there also a difference in pitching styles between the leagues? I’ve only seen Pujols a handful of times this season but he looks completely baffled at the plate. Could it be that he hasn’t yet adjusted to the different rhythms of AL pitching?

    • Jeremy says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Chris says:

      That’s an interesting take and it’d be awesome if someone had some numbers handy to look at the difference in pitch selection between leagues.

      That said, here’s his career line in 635 PAs spread over 143 inter-league games (all with STL vs. the AL): .348/.438/.632, which includes 39 HR, 37 2B, 83 BB, and only 60 K.

      Granted, it’s still not a huge sample size — and it’s consists of multiple seasons/run-scoring environments — but I think the issue probably has less to do with the *type* of pitches he’s facing and more to do with his age/approach/etc. Plus, he hasn’t exactly faced the AL’s pitching elite at this point in the 2012 season (KC, MIN, NYY [no Sabathia], OAK, BAL, TB, CLE, MIN, TOR), yet his struggles have been well-documented.

      His plummeting walk-rate is likely the biggest harbinger of what’s to come.

    • Tampa Mike says:

      Just curious….When a comment is “removed by the author”, does that mean the commenter removed it, or Joe removed it?

    • Jeremy says:

      I removed it; typed too quickly and made really bad statistically errors. I didn’t have time to fix it, so I deleted it, not realizing that it would show up. Chris said what I was trying to say, a lot better that I was going to say it.

    • David in NYC says:

      @Tampa Mike —

      It means the author of the comment removed it. I don’t think Joe ever removes comments; at least, I do not recall his ever having done so.

    • brhalbleib says:

      When I was a kid (70s), the announcers always said that the National League was a fastball league whereas the AL was a breaking ball league. It supposedly had something to do with the small bandboxes that AL teams played in compared to the cavernous stadiums that the NL teams played in. I didn’t know that such discrepancies still existed.

  5. RA says:

    Having seen about half of his at-bats so far this season, Pujols look … well, bad. Not exactly Vernon Wells 2011 bad — Wells occasionally squared up the baseball or simply swung and missed — but like “I’m getting fooled on almost every pitch and I can’t figure out why” bad. Pujols seems to frequently dip down and lunge for pitches that are in front of the plate (which must be hard for him to do the way he digs into the rear of the batter’s box) that he either rolls to short or lofts to short LF.

  6. Ebessan says:

    Albert Pujols Turns 81.

  7. Unknown says:

    Its interesting to think of how excellent A-Rod has performed with the Yankees given the albatross (and overvalue) of A-Rod’s contract especially in the context of Pujols current performance. It’s clear how excellent A-Rod has been year-over-year but less spoken of is how graciously he’s handled fans, media, hostile manager (Torre) and controversy of his own doing. Will Pujols fare as well?

  8. Dan Davis says:

    A stat I saw on the innernet: Josh Hamilton could go 0 for his next 200 at-bats and still have a higher slugging percentage than Pujols has right now.

  9. David in NYC says:

    This is such a bizarre and precipitous change from his previous production, for more than a decade, that I wonder if he hasn’t become the everyday player version of Steve Blass.

    I certainly hope not, but the longer his current slump goes on, the more likely it seems.

  10. sam john says:

    The writer said: “It’s just one hit. If he was two for his previous 31, he’s now only three for his previous 32. That’s still lousy.”
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