By In Stuff

Pujols: The Good News

Pujols can still salvage his season. (US Presswire)

Albert Pujols is hitting .160 in May. Obviously, that’s not the good news … well, part of it is the good. The “May” part. I have been fascinated — probably to the point of obsession — with Pujols’ early-season struggles, even while I have always tried to keep in mind that it is early. Very early. Very, very early.

Very, very, very early.

How early? Well, here’s what I decided to do … I took Pujols’ numbers so far this year (.197/.235/.275 with 1 homer) and added it to every single season of Pujols’ career, post-May 15. So I added those numbers to the numbers he had May 15 and after last year, and two years and three years ago, all the way back to his 2001 rookie season.

The results, I must admit, surprised me a little bit. It’s one thing to say you’re aware that it’s early in the season. It’s quite another to look and see that if Pujols simply returns to something resembling previous form for the rest of the season, he’s going to have a good season. A great season is still not out of the question.

I’ve included all the numbers below, but here are a handful of takeaways:

• Add ANY YEAR of Pujols after May 15, and his slugging percentage finishes above .500 for the season. Any year. If he hits for the rest of the year like he did after May 15 in 2003, for instance, his final slugging percentage will be .584, which would have placed him third in the American League last year. Yes, 2003 was a different era for hitters (and for Pujols) but the point remains: He still has enough games left to lift his numbers into classic Pujols’ territory.

• Except for his rookie season and 2007, Pujols hit at least 29 homers after May 15 every year. That would mean 30 for the season, which I’m sure any Angels fan at this point would happily take.

• Using the after-May-15 system, Pujols’ average finishes as high as .328 (2003) and as low as .280 (last year). He scores 100 or more runs most years and drives in 100-plus runs most years.

• If you use last year’s post-May 15, Pujols .280/.341/.504 with 31 homers would be, by far, the worst season his career. And the Angels would have every right to be thoroughly panicked with nine years left on the contract. But considering this lousy start, I suspect that if he could get it into that general area, there would still be a lot of hope that the bad start was a mirage … at least for the next two or three seasons.

The point is, Pujols is exactly right when he says that his numbers could be there at the end of the season. He doesn’t have to go on an historic run of awesomeness to get his numbers up into a pretty decent stratosphere. He just has to go back to being Albert Pujols.

The larger question, of course is: CAN he go back to being Albert Pujols? He is older and showing pretty clear signs of decline. He is playing in a tougher hitting ballpark and in a new league. That question is not as easily answered. But the point is: There’s time. There’s still lots of time.

* * *

What Pujols’ final numbers would have looked like had he started like 2012:

2011: .280/.341/.504 with 31 homers, 91 runs, 87 RBIs

2010: .284/.377/.524 with 35 homers, 104 runs, 101 RBIs

2009: .297/.402/561 with 35 homers, 101 runs, 110 RBIs

2008: .314/.394/.564 with 30 homers, 87 runs, 101 RBIs

2007: .316/.407/.532 with 27 homers, 94 runs, 96 RBIs

2006: .296/.364/.532 with 31 homers, 90 runs, 101 RBIs

2005: .299/.393/.535 with 33 homers, 114 runs, 100 RBIs

2004: .311/.379/.591 with 38 homers, 110 runs, 111 RBIs

2003: .328/.403/.584 with 35 homers, 118 runs, 110 RBIs

2002: .292/.355/.509 with 30 homers, 98 runs, 117 RBIs

2001: .288/.354/.503 with 25 homers, 94 runs, 100 RBIs

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29 Responses to Pujols: The Good News

  1. nightfly says:

    “He doesn’t have to go on an historic run of awesomeness to get his numbers up into a pretty decent stratosphere. He just has to go back to being Albert Pujols.”

    Joe, that’s the same thing as saying that yes, he does have to go on an historic run of awesomeness. Pujols’ entire career up until now has been an historic run of pretty much nothing but awesomeness.

    What’s most shocking about his first 35 games isn’t just that he’s not himself… right now he’s not anybody at all. It’s not like the Angels are paying for Pujols and getting “only” Teixeira or Votto… they’re barely getting Ordonez out of him right now. He didn’t just decline, he’s dropped off a cliff and sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

  2. Grulg says:

    Makes you wonder what his Real age is, eh?

  3. Regnier says:

    In order to get those numbers he’s gotten historically he’d had to totally forget the whole first month and a half…..tough thing to do. People don’t suddenly become good after being bad. There has to be some sort of progression. In order for him to progress he’s going to have to get at-bats. At the rate he’s going now he’ll be seeing himself on the bench quite often the rest of the season. It’s going to take a Herculean effort to make himself into a viable option in lineup, let alone get himself back on track to his Hall of Fame numbers.

  4. Matthew says:

    @nightfly

    they’re barely getting Rey Ordonez

  5. Jeff says:

    Great post as always Joe. One other important note though. While the stats you came up with are excellent. Had he posted those numbers each season of his career, there is no way he gets the contract he signed this off season.

  6. Rob says:

    It’s not like the Angels are paying for Pujols and getting “only” Teixeira or Votto… they’re barely getting Ordonez out of him right now. He didn’t just decline, he’s dropped off a cliff and sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

    No, it’s worse than that: the Angels are getting Adam Dunn, hitting .197/.322/.362 in 35 games last year. Pujols, 2012: .197/.235/.275 (h/t Jon Heyman).

    The Angels have won three series this year, two against Minnesota (home and away) and a home set against Baltimore. This is in no small part due to the fact that they have been blanked a major-league leading eight times. In no small part, this is due to Pujols’ absence at the plate as an offensive force. Pujols unintentional walk rate has collapsed dating back to the All-Star break last year. He has a grand total of one home run. Josh Hamilton has more home runs in May (9) than Albert Pujols has of any kind (8). This is not a localized problem; it is the sudden and total collapse of a player who is getting paid Cooperstown dollars. Literally, the Angels would be better off with Mark Trumbo at first.

  7. Rob says:

    Sorry, that should read Hamilton has more home runs in May (9) than Albert Pujols has hits of any kind (8).

  8. Mark says:

    Who knew Steve Blass disease could also infect hitters?

  9. Mark says:

    Also, how is it GOOD news if he hits 280 with 30 home runs for the season? Considering what they were hoping for, that kind of sucks, doesn’t it?

    • rdcobb says:

      “Also, how is it GOOD news if he hits 280 with 30 home runs for the season? Considering what they were hoping for, that kind of sucks, doesn’t it?”

      It sucks compared to what they were hoping for on April 1st. It’s awesome based on what they’re hoping for on May 15.

    • rdcobb says:

      “Also, how is it GOOD news if he hits 280 with 30 home runs for the season? Considering what they were hoping for, that kind of sucks, doesn’t it?”

      It sucks compared to what they were hoping for on April 1st. It’s awesome based on what they’re hoping for on May 15.

    • total says:

      How would a hall of fame caliber player putting up the same numbers that made him a hall of game caliber player fore the final 4.5 months of the season be a good thing?

      Imagine replacing the worst hitter on your team right now with average Albert Pujols for the rest of the season. I suspect your team would win more games, possibly compete for the division, sell more tickets, and be more confident going into next year.

  10. RA says:

    Nice to see Rob from 6-4-2 weighing in. Watching Pujols bat is borderline depressing. The sixth inning K last night were he seemed to think he had fouled off the third strike (but actually missed it by a great margin) was painful to watch. And, of course, all the way-out-in-front-of-the-plate ground outs to 3B and SS. Is this what 1973 Willie Mays looked like?

  11. RA says:

    Literally, the Angels would be better off with Mark Trumbo at first.

    Add to that Vernon Wells still playing everyday (literally, the Angels also would be better off with Mark Trumbo in LF) further compounds the Angels’ problems.

  12. Gadfly says:

    I think he misses the security blanket of La Russa, as well as “pressing,” etc. I do not think he’s suddenly aged that much or something. That said, I don’t know how long he’ll keep “pressing.”

    http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2012/04/whats-wrong-with-pujols.html

  13. For whatever reason, seeing his seasons with this first month made me realize in a way that I haven’t in a while how good this guy has been. Up until last year, he could spend the first month swinging blindfolded and still end up a top 10 hitter.

  14. It’s early, not very early….we’re two weeks away from being 1/3 of the season down. I’m just reminded of the guy on the radio who said he called his wife when the “Real LA” team signed Pujols. You could hear he almost wanted to cry and said “Christmas has come early” People never learn!! Players prime ends at 32, not the time to be giving away huge contracts moving to a less hitter friendly park.

  15. Unknown says:

    I admit some ignorance regarding this issue – yes I’ve seen Pujols numbers and have seen him play in inter-league games and post-season, etc., but let me ask this: Was past Pujols success a result of a weaker league, bloated park affects or something else? Could it be that Albert Pujols is NOT Albert Pujols? – BarryL

    • roarke says:

      Does the “weaker league” argument really work for hitters? I can understand the argument when talking about pitchers having an easier time in the NL (because of no DH), but how are NL rules an advantage to hitters?

    • doc says:

      The argument is that pitching is weaker in the NL…

    • roarke says:

      It is probably too late now and you’ll never see this comment, but why would the pitching inherently be weaker in the NL? If you are saying that it just happens to be weaker at this moment, I guess the numbers would show that to be true or not, but I’m not sure why it would be true other than random distribution.

  16. Gary says:

    I’ve noticed that sometimes the opponents fear of a hitter can make him a better hitter. Managers have a theory of “pitching around” certain fearsome hitters, like Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols. The problem is that pitching around a hitter means trying to be careful to not give him anything good to hit. Pitchers then have a tendency to take a little something off the pitch, meaning the fastball doesn’t move quite as much or the curve doesn’t bite the same way. Most of the time, if the pitch is far enough off the plate, this doesn’t matter. But suddenly that changeup doesn’t fade down and out of the strike zone, or the curve just spins and hangs in the middle of the plate. And the fearsome hitters crush those pitches.

    I often thought that teams would have been much wiser to pitch to Bonds, even during his great days with the Giants. Even if he was hitting .350, that meant he was making outs 65 percent of the time. And pitching him aggressively, i.e., trying to get him out rather than pitching carefully so that he didn’t hurt you, might have made that average go down further. He might have struck out more, grounded into more double plays, etc. Even if he hit the ball, he might hit a rope at the shortstop or the centerfielder might make a nice running catch.

    I remember a few years ago St. Louis was concerned that teams were pitching around Pujols, so they needed to get him some protection. They traded for Matt Holliday to bat behind him, which should make teams not want to put Pujols on base in front of him. And Holliday ripped the cover off the ball. In his first 10 games with the Cardinals he hit .541 with multiple extra base hits. This should have been great for Pujols, since now pitchers had to pitch to him. His numbers in that same 10 game stretch – .200, .304, .250. He had just eight hits, with two doubles and no homers, and just six walks. Eventually he recovered and had a strong September to put his numbers back into the stratosphere, but I believe that with Holliday hitting so well behind him, pitchers tried harder to get him out and his production dropped.

    Perhaps that is what is happening to him now. He’s seeing much better pitches when pitchers fear him less. I think, as smart as he is as a hitter, he’ll get this straightened out. But for now, having no fear is working well for the AL pitchers.

  17. Gregg says:

    Still waiting to see a case where a free agent signs a huge long term contract, that turns out to actually pay off. A-Rod put up huge numbers, but the deal was so bad he had to be traded. I guess Manny’s deal looks like the best “big deal” free agent signing. Oh, and CC. But Soriano, Beltran, Zito, Hampton, Vaughn, Giambi, Brown and even A-Rod were all bad deals.

  18. nightfly says:

    Disagree on Beltran. He was well worth his money in 2006-2008, was having a similar year in 2009 when he was hurt, and was having a very good year in 2011 when the Mets cashed him in for Wheeler. I’d say he was overpaid somewhat, but it wasn’t an openly bad deal like Zito or Vaughn got.

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