Baseball now approaches the quarter pole, and one of the early season stories has been the resurgence of Albert Pujols, following a disastrous, injury riddled 2013. Through the Angels’ first 32 games, Pujols is hitting 302/368/957, good for a .409 wOBA (12th in all of MLB) and a 166 wRC+ (5th overall). Despite the resurgent numbers, I just traded him away in @Ottoneu, and here’s why:
(1) Bad Rate Trends. Pujols currently sports an 8.3% BB rate (which would be a career low, far below his 12.4% career number and even below his 9.0% from a nightmarish 2013). Similarly, his ground ball rates have spiked and pop-up rates have spiked, while line drive rates have cratered. Even discounting because of the variability of these stats through 30 games, the trend raises question marks in my mind and portend the end of the rebound.
(2) Fly Balls and Home Runs. Though Pujols has hit 10 HRs, his HR/FB rate stands at 23%, double what it was in 2013 and nearly 80% higher than 2012 (and 25% higher than his career rate). Further, according to baseballheatmaps, his flyball and home run distance stands at 283 feet, good for 90th in baseball (just a few spots behind noted sluggers Luis Valbuena and Nate McClouth, albeit one spot above the struggling and now injured Jay Bruce).
(3) Pitchers Unafraid? I am interested to see how pitchers attack him for the rest of the year. Early on, Pujols is seeing more fastballs (59%) than ever before, perhaps an indication that his bat has slowed and pitchers are less afraid to challenge him. While his Zone% is unchanged from career norms, he is seeing almost 60% first pitch strikes, and his contact rate is again at career low 2013 levels (albeit slightly above league average).
Sometimes I worry that the new era of advanced analytics has led me to a place where we are too critical, especially of the games great players. Baseball is fundamentally about failure so let’s not lose sight of what the greats can do while we talk about what they can’t do. I hope that Albert’s rebound is real — but I just don’t see any reason to be optimistic. I suppose I will console myself by watching replays of this moonshot in the playoffs against Brad Lidge.