$240 Million Whoopsie?


Last night’s game featured a lot of different things. Peter Bourjos made a nice running and slightly leaping catch against the wall. The Angels offense scored five runs off of two of the better relievers in baseball, one of them being Mariano Rivera. It also featured a snapshot off what Angels fans have come to expect in the short time that Albert Pujols has been an Angel.

With two outs and the bases loaded. Pujols stepped into the box against Mo. Two surefire Hall of Famers, a moment for fans to stop what they are doing and pay attention. At least, five years ago they would have done that. In Albert’s prime, he was must-see TV, and this at-bat would have been an epic battle worthy of a Hollywood big screen. Yesterday, it was anything but. Pujols watched strike one, fouled off strike two, and then struck out on an up-and-in fastball with a weak “please don’t hurt me” swing.

When Pujols signed with the Angels, he held a career slash line of .328/.420/.617. He was two years removed from a string of seven seasons where he put up a WAR of at least 8.0. For comparisons sake, only two other players have ever rattled of seven straight 8+ WAR seasons.

Those players are Willie Mays, and Babe Ruth.

Much was made about how Pujols was seemingly entering his decline years with three straight years where his OPS had dropped (1.101 in 2009 to .906 in 2011). But we were reassured by Jerry Dipoto that even if Pujols was becoming merely mortal as a baseball player, that he would still be a highly valuable player. And Angels fans believed it, because that made sense.

Well, Angels fans are now getting to see what a “merely mortal” Albert Pujols looks like. And I for one, am really disappointed that I bought his shirsey.

As an Angel, Albert’s slash line sits at a mediocre-at-best .276/.338/.493, thanks in large part to his hot streak to close out the 2012 season. Mistake pitches that he used to crush, are now fly outs to the warning track. Joe Posnanski wrote a month ago about how Albert Pujols is now irrelevant, and I can’t find an argument against that, even though I desperately want to.

Through yesterday, Pujols has a slash line .256/.327/.439. To put that into perspective, Brett Gardner has a higher slugging percentage than Pujols does this season. Yeah, that Brett Gardner.

But somehow, just putting up the numbers doesn’t feel, enough. it doesn’t feel like it’s driving the point home.

They say that a picture is worth 1,000 words, so, how about a few pictures to illustrate Albert’s power drop since 2008?

2008 SLG% by pitch location

Courtesy of Baseball Analytics

2010 SLG% by pitch location

Courtesy of Baseball Analytics

2013 SLG% by pitch location

Courtesy of Baseball Analytics

It went from, “Don’t pitch to Albert inside” to, “Don’t pitch to Albert at all” to, “Mike Trout is up and Albert Pujols is on deck? Walk Trout.”

A large part of Albert’s struggles this season could absolutely be due to his knee injury and the plantar fasciitis that he has been dealing with. In which case, someone should give him some time off. Make him sit. For a month if necessary. He is not helping this team win baseball games by being “gritty” or “gutting it out” or by “playing through the pain.” However, if this is continued, precipitous decline, well then…crap.

Albert has said that if he can’t live up to the contract that he signed, then he will walk away from it and the game. I’ll believe that when I see it. What Mike Scioscia should really do, since no one wants to force Pujols to the DL, is push him down in the batting order. Although where a player hits in the lineup doesn’t actually effect, well, anything, there is still an unquantifiable amount of mental demand that comes with being the “three-hole hitter.”

Once upon a time, I would have never suggested that a team should move Albert Pujols out of the three-spot. Nor would I suggest that just because he’s a little bit hobbled means that a team should force him to the DL. But Albert Pujols is not “The Machine” that he was five years ago. Albert Pujols is now a player on the back-side of his career, and by being prideful, he is hurting this ball club. And the three pitches from Mariano Rivera last night, really put it all into perspective.