The Real Deal with Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols had a fantastic April, finishing with a triple slash line of .279 / .346 / .586 with a .927 OPS. It was quite news-worthy considering the injury plagued 2013 he had. One of the great players of the past decade and generally well-liked, many people were quick to assume his injury was holding him back last year and he was back to an elite level of play. Fast forward to today and Pujols is hitting .258 with a .825 OPS, which means his month of May has been quite bad (.212 BA, 1 HR, 3 RBI). So which one is the real Pujols going forward – the Pujols from April or from May?
Realistically it should be somewhere in between. In April Pujols had a HR/FB rate of 23.7%. Even at his peak, Pujols best HR/FB rate was 22.5%. With the Angels it has been 14% and 11.8% last year. In May so far it is at 7.7% (which of course is just one HR so far). You can expect Pujols HR/FB rate to finish around 16-18%, but if he continues to hit less fly balls than usual (36.6% in 2014, career average of 40%), it will mean less HR than ordinary -20 HR the rest of the way would be a fair prediction. One interesting note on Pujols’ strong April is that his BABIP was just .237. In that regard he is likely to improve meaning a batting average in the .270s or .280s is realistic.
Its still relatively early in the season, but the flip side of his lower than usual fly ball rate is that Pujols is also showing career highs in ground ball percentage and infield fly ball percentage. Both of those are bad indicators for a guy whose best value is in his power.
Pujols doesn’t have the speed to beat out ground balls anymore, and infields are shifting on him more meaning he needs to drive the ball more than ever. His batted ball distance of 281.93 feet is also actually down from last year and about the same as it was in 2012, another clear indicator that he is not making a return to the greatness he had with the Cards where he was near the top of the batted ball distance leaders annually with numbers over 300 feet.
So while Albert’s early HR numbers and low BABIP indicate that he has been good and is due for an increase in batting average with less power, I don’t see that fully being the case. The statistics support Pujols having a year similar to 2012, when he hit .285-30-100. While those numbers aren’t terrible, in fact they are probably better than what you paid for on draft day, people seem to be valuing Pujols a lot more than that right now making him a good sell-high candidate. If you can trade Pujols for a serious haul because of his quick start and name value, it’s worth exploring.
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