By In Stuff

The Machine (Pujols Edition)

What has made Albert Pujols utterly amazing, of course, is that he has been a machine. This is so true that people call him “The Machine.” Until his sorta-psuedo-semi struggles last year — where he only ended up fifth in the MVP voting and hit less than .300 for the first time in his life — you could not even IMAGINE him struggling.

Yes, of course, if you looked deeper, he had his struggles now and again. No man is a machine. He had his power outages. He had his injuries. He had his months where he stumbled. For instance there was July 2001, when he hit .241 with little power.

*But that little fact might kind of prove the point: If you don’t include last year, I had to go back to his ROOKIE SEASON to find a month when he hit less than .250. Even last year, he only had one month when he did it — he hit .245 in April.

But in large part, Pujols’ career is defined by sheer relentlessness. His best season, great as it is, might not be quite as great as Ruth’s best, Bonds’ best, Mantle’s best, Brett’s best, Yaz’s best, Mays’ best, Ted Williams’ best, Frank Robinson’s best and so on. But with Pujols, it was always difficult to even pick which WAS his best season. Was it the year he hit .327 with 47 homers and led the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage? Was it the year hit .359 with 51 doubles and 43 homers? Was it the year he hit .331, led the league in slugging, hit 49 homers and won the Gold Glove? Was it the year he hit .357, walked 100 times and led the league in total bases?

Was it … well, you get the point. They were all great. Every single one. It was a career like Aaron’s or Musial’s or Gehrig’s — an annual barrage of greatness.

And that’s why Albert Pujols’ April means something, I think. I’m not sure exactly what it means — I do try to avoid falling for that temptress called Small Sample Size — but it was the worst month of Albert Pujols’ career. He did not hit a single home run. He could not get on base. He is in a new ballpark that is tougher on hitters than his old one. He’s playing in a new league with different pitchers, perhaps a a few better ones. He’s playing in front of new fans who do not love him as much as the old St. Louis fans did — and why should they? He’s playing under the hailstorm of a 10-year, $240 million contract. And, let’s face it, he is 32 years old (while cynics snicker).

It means something, I think. Does it mean that Albert Pujols is done as a great player? Of course not. But baseball can be a cruel game. Cal Ripken never had a great season after age 30. Willie McCovey had his last great season at 32. AL Kaline’s last great season was around 32 too. The years are harsher than people ever want to believe. And they turn in one direction.

I suspect that Pujols will soon have a stretch of hitting awesomeness that will blow the mind and once again remind America that he is Albert Pujols. And everyone will say, ‘OK, Albert’s as great as ever.’ But it might not be that easy. I have this theory about age. Remember the McDonald’s commercials about the McDLT which kept the “hot side hot and the cool side cool?” Jason Alexander was in one of those commercials. Anyway, I think that one thing that happens with age is that the hot side loses some of it’s heat, and the cool side gets a little colder. I’ve been convinced that streaks and slumps are largely illusions of time and chance, but they still happen. The month Albert Pujols just had — with a .265 on-base percentage — was simply not a possibility for a 25-year-old Pujols, not over a 100 plate appearances.

And while he will undoubtedly have big stretches — look at Derek Jeter’s April — how many of them does he have left? And how long will those stretches be? Does he have another 50-game streak in him where he hits .370/.450/650? How about a 40-game stretch? A 30-gamer?

I looked at Pujols’ first 23 games every season of his career. Of course, it doesn’t mean all that much. Six-sevenths of the season remains. But even if you just look at the first 23 games, Albert Pujols was a machine. He struggled a bit in the early going last year and also in 2007. But neither was anything like this year’s start. And the other years are, well, Pujols-like.

Pujols told Jon Paul Morosi that he is not pressing, and that this is just the rhythm of baseball, and that he doesn’t care what anybody says, and that his numbers will be there at the end of the year. These are exactly the things he should be saying. And these are exactly the things he should be believing.

But, he really does look helpless up there at the moment. It could be a passing thing. But I can never remember that happening before.

Albert Pujols through 23 games:

2001: .379/.443/.759 with 8 homers

2002: .286/.419/.571 with 5 homers

2003: .359/.456/.594 with 3 homers

2004: .287/.411/.609 with 7 homers

2005: .330/406/.606 with 6 homers

2006: .351/.495/.909 with 13 homers

2007: .247/.337/.494 with 6 homers

2008: .377/.525/.610 with 4 homers

2009: .337/.457/.675 with 8 homers

2010: .344/.438/.656 with 7 homers

2011: .250/.313/.500 with 7 homers

2012: .217/.265/..304 with 0 homers

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26 Responses to The Machine (Pujols Edition)

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Not one of my friends from the Dominican Republic is convinced that Albert Pujols is 32-years-old. Most of them suggest that he is at least 34, if not 36.

    • Scott says:

      And since all Dominicans know each other, this is relevant?

    • SEHumphrey says:

      Not one of my friends who is a time traveler is convinced that Albert Pujols was actually born in the 20th Century. Most of them suggest that he is actually a time traveler from 24th and a half century.

    • Matt says:

      Albert Pujols is Duck Dodgers?

    • Doug says:

      Not one of my friends who’s an experimental physics researcher is convinced that Albert Pujols is a baseball player. Most of them suggest that he is actually leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that the next leap… will be the leap home.

    • CoolHead says:

      This last reply may be the most logical explanation for Pujols April numbers.

  3. kctiger says:

    As a Royals fan it pains me, but the Cardinals are probably the smartest team in baseball.

    • Marco says:

      As a Browns fan, it pains me to say the same thing about the Steelers.

      A few days back, the browns reached for a 28 year old QB with question marks galore. Two picks later, the Steelers took an OG who’s being described as the best guard prospect since Hutchinson.

      Guess which guy is going to be more productive for his team?

    • Adam says:

      Not signing a 32-year old to a 10-year deal isn’t evidence that you’re the smartest team in baseball. It does suggest you aren’t the dumbest.

      We “all” knew years 7-10 were an issue with the contract. Anyone really think the Cardinals thought Pujols was going to fall off the table in 2012?

    • Scott says:

      “Anyone really think the Cardinals thought Pujols was going to fall off the table in 2012?”

      There’s a saying that luck is the residue of design.

    • Joe says:

      Considering the size of their market, the Cardinals have to be smart. Since the new ownership took over in ’96 they have been consistently competitive, which is the goal. And two championships to boot. Albert was great to watch; thrilled they didn’t give him $200 million.

    • David in NYC says:

      @Scott —

      And the person who said that was Branch Rickey, who used to be the “business manager” (his official title; actually, he was the first GM in MLB history) for…

      The St. Louis Cardinals.

  4. Mark Daniel says:

    Pujols’ consistency can be seen in his War graph on Fangraphs, especially his WAR by age. It’s smooth, not like the stock market historical chart that most players’ WAR graphs look like.

  5. Matt says:

    As a Tigers fan, if someone had said that an MVP candidate first baseman moved from the NL to the AL in this off-season and started stinking up the joint, I would have assumed you were talking about Fielder.

    Of course, Fielder isn’t doing super-fantabulous (and certainly not $23MM worth of fantabulous), but at least he’s hit a few homers and his OPS is north of 800.

    I fully expect Pujols to perform well, but there’s certainly the possibility that the Angels’ buyer’s remorse on that contract will start earlier than we thought.

  6. marshall says:

    Can anyone tell me how to search baseball statistics for a given timeframe? For example, how do you search by month, or from last May to the present time? I’ve looked around on B-R, but not had any luck. Thanks in advance.

    • David in NYC says:

      Use the Play Index at BB-Ref (link at the top left of the home page). Instructions on how to use it are right there on the main PI page.

      You do have to be a paying member of Sports-Reference to see full results, but it’s only $3/month.

  7. >>It was a career like Aaron’s or Musial’s or Gehrig’s

    actually, Musial had two major career slumps, even being benched at one point. Did his annual numbers shake out? Probably. But this just goes to show that annual numbers are notreally a direct indicator to consistency. It would be interesting to come up with a formula based on the number of days of certain types of droughts for hitters, and see who is the most consistent Hall of Fame hitter of all-time. My guess would be either Ted Williams, or George Sisler before the eye injury.

    • Rob says:

      Well, I’m not saying that Pujols will stay below the Mendoza line. But, his age is a factor. Let’s say he recovers and hits .290 with 25 HRs. That’s still not what they are paying him $27M/yr to do. Bottom line: he can’t live up to that contract & his numbers will continue to degrade for the life of the contract.

  8. Rob says:

    I think you’re right about Pujols getting old. His last “normal” season was at age 30. He’s coming off his worst season at age 31, and yet the Angels decided to sign him to a monster 10 year contract. Also, Angel Stadium is known for it’s thick night ocean air. The ball does not carry. I saw highlights of him standing to watch one of his blasts die on the warning track. It’s not a good homerun park at all. I had season tickets for a long time and a lot of balls died on that warning track.

  9. Rob says:

    Let’s compare Pujols to ARod. Both put up consistently great numbers before Age 32 and signed huge contracts. How did ARod do from Age 32 on:
    32 – .302/.392/.573, 35 HRs
    33 – .286/.402/.532, 30 HRs
    34 – .270/.341/.506, 30 HRs
    35 – .276/.362/.461, 16 HRs
    36 – .256/.360/.419 (so far)

    You can look at almost all great players and see the same degradation. Still very productive, but probably not all stars and certainly not an MVP candidate any longer. It’s sad to watch.

  10. Ima Ryma says:

    Albert Pujol’s April was tough,
    No home run, no getting on base.
    A new team in a new league – rough!
    Not yet to be fans on his case.
    But baseball can be a cruel game.
    One year a player is the rage,
    The next a whimper – what’s to blame?
    All machines get rusty with age.
    A 30 something player tiz
    A model under scrutiny,
    To be phased out in baseball biz.
    A 40 something player – gee!

    If “The Machine” should shed a tear,
    Wipe with 24 mil a year.

  11. Gregg says:

    Could be that his career is following the same path as Frank Thomas’.After 10 years, both had 320+ batting averages, and OPS over 1.001. Albert is 100 ahead in HRs, but Thomas didn’t play in as many games (strike and only played in 60 games his first year)

  12. James says:

    I have my own theory that relates to his new surrounding without his support system (his family): Family Affair

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