I was asked to write an article previewing Albert Pujols for the 2013 season. This can be done in one line:
Those really, really big numbers make up the average slash line Albert Pujols has compiled during his twelve year career. Now I could just end my article here, stating that Pujols is a professional destroyer of white balls with red stitching, but my incomparable over-wordiness will not allow me to do so.
Albert Pujols facts:
The dude is just a stud in every facet of the game. This next fact is my favorite fact of them all:
It was not love at first sight with Pujols and Angels fans. It was more of a break your face with my palm at first sight. The unendurable .192/.228/.277 start through May 11th was well documented and often groaned about. Combining that putrid start with the fact the Angels were severely underperforming, Pujols was commonly used as the scapegoat for the Angels struggles. Like a quarterback in the NFL, the best player on a baseball team usually is awarded too much credit for a team’s success (See: Cabrera, Miguel), while being blamed for too much of a team’s downfall (See: Rodriguez, Alex).
When that darkest moment of May 11th had passed and the sun of May 12th rose, the sleeping beast that is The Pujols awoke. For the next 122 games, Pujols batted a Pujolsian .310/.373/.581 and was a main reason why the Angels were even close to sniffing the second wild card berth. If he had started with that normal Pujols pace in April, Pujols would have projected to hit 39 homeruns, 56 doubles, and 197 hits. This Pujols is also known as: The Machine.
Critics of Pujols lamented his declined walk rate in 2012, and they are right—Pujols’ walk rate has declined from 14.7% in 2010 to 9.7% in 2011 to 7.8% last year. However, he is still getting himself into good hitting counts.
Hitting a baseball is really, really hard as shown by the league wide triple slash line for batters in 2012 being .255/.319/.405. Yet, hitters can help themselves by getting into more favorable counts. The three counts which are most favorable to hitters are the 2-0, 3-0 and 3-1 counts.
For his career entering 2012, Pujols had faced a 2-0 count, a 3-0 count, or a 3-1 count in 17% of all plate appearances. From 2001-2011, Pujols hit .418, .527, and .342 in those situations. In 2012, those plate appearances with the same counts dropped to 14.3% (compared to the league average of 9.1%), yet his average in those counts dropped to .250, .111, and .292, respectively. Considering all of his rates (line drive, ground ball, and fly ball) stayed in line with his career numbers, Pujols’ career low BABIP rates in those counts might be a good starting point in explaining his ineffectiveness in these counts. Seeing these rates and his BABIP, an improvement towards his career numbers is an obvious conclusion.
Detractors can also point to the fact that he swung at more pitches outside the strike zone in 2012, as well as swung and missed more often than he has. Once again, these are all facts. Pujols swung at 36.4% (compared to 22.9% in his career) of pitches outside of the strike zone in 2012, and swung and missed 7% (compared to 5.7% in his career) of the time. But, why? Why would Pujols’ plate discipline suddenly disappear? Why would he just start whiffing?
First, Pujols faced an adjustment to the pitching last year. The average fastball he faced last year was nearly a mile and a half per hour faster than he faced in the previous 11 years. He most likely had a slower bat in the first month and a half before catching up to the heater and murdering it Ray Lewis style (allegedly) from there on out. That awful first month might end up being the best thing for the Angels in 2012, because now that the adjustment is made, it should be a Ray Lewis style death (allegedly) to all fastballs near him.
Another thing about Pujols sudden whiff spike and decline in discipline is his age. There’s no defending (although there may be debating) the point that Pujols is 33 years old, and on the decline. Luckily for us Angels fans, his declining years are still .310/.373/.581. You know you're a good hitter when you have bloggers drooling at your declining years. He’s probably not the .357/.462/.653 alien that he was in 2008, but he’s definitely not the .192/.228/.277 guy we saw in April. Throwing out the disproven myth that Josh Hamilton hitting behind him will have any impact on the pitches he sees, Pujols will hit, will hit it hard, and will hit it hard often in 2013.
Answering the question “What to Expect from Pujols in 2013?” is probably the easiest thing about this entire piece. Therefore, instead of just listing even more stats than the 132,099,327 that I’ve already listed, I will leave you with this: