Albert Pujols: 2014 Angels Year in Review
The Angels lured Albert Pujols away from the St. Louis Cardinals with a massive 10-year deal worth 240 million in the winter of 2011. The signing was met with jubilation amongst the Halo faithful, as Pujols is considered one of the greatest players of all time.
After an injury riddled 2013, there were plenty of question marks surrounding Pujols entering last season. But after a healthy 2014 season, Pujols has re-established himself as one of the top players in the game.
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Pujols is more than just a name on the lineup card, he is a star, and he is the leader of this squad. This season changed on a hot summer’s day in mid-July when Pujols and Mike Trout shot their imaginary arrows in Fernando Rodney’s direction during an epic comeback against the Seattle Mariners. He is a difference maker on the field, and in the locker room.
Obviously, making it though the entire campaign injury free was the biggest take away for Pujols in 2014. After playing just 99 games in 2013, Pujols participated in 159 contests this season. This was good for his highest total since 2010.
Pujols rebounded offensively this season, posting a batting average of .272 and driving in 105 runs. Pujols has an uncanny ability to make contact. This trait makes him nearly impossible to strike out. For a power hitter to strikeout just 71 times in 695 plate appearances is extremely rare. Although it was not an MVP caliber season for Pujols, he did everything the Angels asked of him.
Phat Albert shined with the leather in 2014, narrowly missing out on winning his third Gold Glove award. Pujols manned first base in 116 games this past season, making just three errors all season. His range factor of 8.49 is below his career average of 10.22, but still well above average for his position. Pujols figures to play over 100 games at first again next season, assuming he stays healthy.
Simply put, Pujols is getting older. He is regressing in nearly every category, but this is only natural. By the time next season rolls around Albert will be 35-years-old, and a slight drop off statistically should be expected.
Pujols’ numbers this season do not compare favorably with his career averages. His .272 batting average was the second lowest of his career, as were his 28 home runs. His .324 on base percentage was the lowest of his career. Perhaps the most troubling statistic was his slugging percentage, which dropped below .500 for the first time in a season with at least 100 games played.
Keep in mind that these numbers are by no means “bad”; they just are not up to the standard he has set over his 13-year career. Pujols is still one of the best offensive first basemen in baseball, and should remain a force in the middle of the Halos lineup for at least the next few seasons.
Pujols’ long-term future is in Cooperstown, but his immediate future will be at first base and batting in the heart of the Angels order. I do not foresee a significant drop in production next season provided his health co-operates.
Much of the Angels success in 2015 hinges on Pujols’ health. As with any elder statesman, Pujols is more fragile than he used to be, but that is not to say he is injury prone. ‘The Machine’ has played in less than 143 games just once in his illustrious 13-year career. If Pujols can stay healthy next year he could produce similar numbers to what Victor Martinez did this past season in Detroit.
Pujols is not the offensive force he once was, but he is extremely valuable to the Angels. Not many players can be described as “regressing” and still hit .272 with 28 dingers and 105 RBI’s. Not only does he play superb defense, but he still has a shot to win his fourth MVP award next season.
Having a future first ballot Hall-Of-Famer on the team makes everyone better. Pujols plays the game the right way, and is the definition of class. You can bet that Mike Trout studies his every move, and really, who would you rather have guiding Trouty through the early stages of his career?