What to Expect from Albert Pujols in 2018

TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 22: Albert Pujols
TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 22: Albert Pujols /

The Spring Training season officially begins this Friday, 2/23/18, for the LA Angels. A lot of excitement has built up around this Angels team over the offseason, including high expectations for aging slugger Albert Pujols. What can we expect to see this Friday from our star first baseman versus a very young, high-potential Oakland A’s team?

It’s official, the start to the baseball season is almost here. With Spring Training finally underway all the story-lines building up over the offseason will find their culmination. Will Ohtani be the dual-threat flamethrower/slugger we all expect him to be? Will Mike Trout find even more improvement in his 8th professional season?

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Just how will the pitching staff, bullpen and starters, shape up over the course of Spring Training?

One of the bigger keys for the Angels won’t be the performances of their young players. No matter how much of a clinic Shohei Ohtani puts no with his bat, no matter how explosive talent such as Jahmai Jones turns out to be, the biggest question is Albert Pujols‘ status as our first baseman.

Right off the bat, this move is highly questionable.

C.J Cron held 92 starts at 1B while Luis Valbuena locked up 40 starts. It’s difficult to imagine those 92 starts left behind by Cron can be covered by Pujols and Valbuena in any meaningful manner. In all likely-hood, the Angels would need to look for even more help covering 1B, and next thing you know you have a clustered platoon fiasco.

Given the recent trade of Angels first baseman C.J Cron to the Tampa Bays Rays for almost nothing ), it appears Albert Pujols will be manning 1B full-time. Sure, we’re seeing tons of reports that Pujols is entering Spring Training “leaner, healthier, stronger“, but this is a sentiment that is expressed for nearly every aging star with something to prove coming into Spring Training.

It’s a bit tiring to force another full-time Albert Pujols season down our throats, and a near practice of insanity given the repeated seasons we’ve been made to stomach 1B experimentations with negligible success. I understand the need to “field” his contract, but the fact is that Pujols is trending downwards at a terrible rate.

Neither of those OPS’ are suitable, yet we’re still going to be forced through this experiment of Pujols hitting cleanup for this otherwise powerhouse offense.It’s hard to understand how you can have Pujols hitting in the most critical area over players like Justin Upton, whom is only a year removed from his Silver Slugger campaign, in which he hit over 30 HR’s while collecting over 100 RBI’s.

What’s even more difficult to rationalize is Pujols presence in a power-slot when his clutch stats are beyond negligible. It’s hard to trust a hitter who pelts ground-balls like he’s swinging the Fungo-bat to give the opposing infielders some honest defensive work.It seems like Pujols would make one great coach given his proclivity for helping the opposing team get their workouts in, mid-game too! With 26  GIDP, the fourth highest of his career, you can expect to see a lot more of the same.

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What’s most disheartening is the potential we’re missing out on by slotting Pujols fourth; with guys like Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, and now Ian Kinsler leading the batting order there will be a bounty of RBI chances for the middle-of-the-order hitters.

In 2017 you had Pujols raking in 101 RBI’s despite his career-worst stat lines. 101 RBI’s while collecting only 143 hits and slugging a paltry .386. In fact, he’s only getting on base at a clip of .286, which is far worse than what you’d expect from a call-up Minor Leaguer.

All signs point to disaster.

Pujols is considerably worse than Angels backup infielder Luis Valbuena (launching 22 HR’s in a split-role), who holds a neutral WAR of 0. It isn’t even about WAR, even though C.J Cron held a much more valuable WAR of 0.8 over Pujols, a number which might not look so hot at first until you conclude it is an entire point higher than Pujols’. What it’s truly about it reliability, and from Pujols it’s hard to expect any semblance of reliability.

What really burns is the truth of this conundrum, this isn’t the fault of Pujols’, but the entirety of Angels decision makers and Mike Scioscia. It’s as simple as not slotting Pujols into critical batting spots, his 20+ HR’s would be very serviceable coming from the 8th hole, yet it seems to be that the powers above insist on forcing suffocating pressure upon his shoulders.

Could it be his veteran status which makes him an non-malleable player? Is it his bloated contract that keeps him on the field? (Yes).

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Spring Training is a long, arduous season built to force players back into shape while offering young studs the chance to compete; unfortunately it seems that he Angels are content with hitting all the same beats they’ve been striking for the past decade.

A “physically resurgent” Pujols, Mike Trout looking to avoid disappointment once again, and a non-player manager who cannot to give high-attention players the care they require to succeed.

Yup, it’s looking like another classic Angels team for 2018.