Albert Pujols will be in the Hall of Fame one day. He is one of the most consistently excellent hitters that that the game has ever seen (only Alex Rodriguez, with 13, has more consecutive seasons with 30 homers and 99 RBIs than Pujols who is at 12 and counting heading into the 2013 season). Pujols is third all-time in MVP Shares (6.90) behind only Barry Bonds (9.30) and Stan Musial (6.96) thanks to three MVP awards and 11-straight years in the top-10 in voting (he fell to 17th last season). Pujols is also 2nd in WAR – everyone’s favorite new measure even though less than one percent of people know how to figure it out – among active players according to BaseballReference.com. Pujols is also going in the top-10 in virtually every fantasy baseball draft this season. I’m going to burst that bubble and let you know that Pujols’ just isn’t the lock he once was, despite the prevailing wisdom, to return his draft day cost. I know Mike Trout is amazing, and the addition of Josh Hamilton to support Pujols is huge, but folks, there is skills slippage with Mr. Pujols.
Let’s start the bashing right off the top, shall we?
Pujols has seen his batting average go down, down, down. Here are his batting average marks the past five years: .357, .327, .312, .299 and .285. That’s four straight years of a declining batting average. Moreover, his .292 batting average the past two years is 28th in baseball and .033 points below his career mark.
Pujols has seen his OBP go down, down, down. Here are his OBP marks the past five years: .462, .443, .414, .366 and .343. That’s four straight years of a declining OBP. Moreover, his .354 OBP the past two years is 38th in baseball and .060 points below his career average.
Pujols has seen his SLG go down, down, down. Here are his SLG marks the past four years: .658, .596, .541 and .516. That’s three straight years of a declining SLG. Moreover, his .528 SLG the past two years is 11th in baseball and .080 points below his career average.
Are you nervous yet? All three of those categories are well above big league average and still very solid marks, but the consistent decline the past few seasons should, at the very least, give you some pause that Pujols is a lock as a top-10 fantasy selection in 2013 (truth be told, I don’t have Pujols as my first or second ranked first sacker this year in my rankings. You can find a link to those rankings at the bottom of this piece in the Draft Guide link).
Some further disturbing trends.
Pujols has averaged 34 homers the past two seasons after averaging 41 homers his first 10 seasons. He’s also dipped from an average of 123 RBIs and 119 runs over the first decade of his career to an average of 102 RBIs and 95 runs the past two seasons.
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Pujols, from 2001-10, posted a walk rate in the double-digits every season. The last two years that mark has been 9.4 and 7.8 percent. To put that last number in perspective, in 2008-09 his walk rate was 16.3 percent more than doubling his mark from 2012.
From 2003-09 Pujols had a K-rate in the single digits. In two of the past three years that mark has been 10.9 and 11.3 percent. The 11.3 percent K-rate from last season is his worst mark since his rookie season back in 2001.
In each of the past three years Pujols has failed to reach his career average with his HR/F ratio. He’s also had three of the four lowest marks of his career the past three years. A career 19.2 percent HR/F ratio has fallen to 18.3, 18.3 an a career worst 14.0 percent the past three seasons.
Pujols hasn’t reached his career 19.0 percent line drive rate since 2008. That’s 4-straight years of less than his career average with his line drive rate (you have to be noticing the trend by now).
His rate of swinging at pitches out of the strike zone continues to increase. A career 22.9 percent mark in this category has swelled to 27.5, 31.8 and 36.4 percent the past three years. That’s a pretty scary increase. As a result, pitchers are throwing him less strikes than ever before. Not only did he see a career low 43.1 percent of pitches in the strike zone last season, he’s failed to see his career average of 47.8 percent each of the past five years.
If you believe his birth certificate, Pujols is 33 years old, an age where some regression is to be expected. Therefore, I’m not the least alarmed at the picture I’ve painted above. What we are seeing here is normal. The problem becomes not his declining production but the expectation that Pujols is somehow going to recapture his past glory. ‘But Ray, with that great lineup around him in Anaheim, surely you think Pujols has another great season in him.’ I would say he has another season in him of excellent production. Is that production first round type of stuff in the fantasy game given the clear downturn in so many of his measures? I’d say the answer to that question is – maybe. Pujols is a lock to be productive if healthy, and I’m not saying he’s going to be Chris Davis in 2013, but I’m merely pointing out that your expectations have a better chance of being reached if you look at the Pujols of the past two seasons and remove thoughts of the .330-40-120-115 guy we are used to seeing at the dish – especially since his knee is still giving him all kinds of trouble.
* Don’t forget to pick up your copy of the 2013 BaseballGuys Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide which is now available. Nearly 150 pages of insight to help you dominate the competition in 2013.
By Ray Flowers