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Albert Pujols is Underrated

I never thought I'd see the day that people would actually question Albert Pujols' ability to perform, but it appears that the time has come. One of, if not the best player of the generation who displays consistency should be a hot commodity. No, he's not a 30/30 threat, and he isn't that young prospect who could explode on to the scene, but he's still the best hitter in baseball. One "down" season and people are running away from Pujols like 3rd graders run from cooties.

Why are people so afraid to take Pujols above everyone else? I want consistency from my first round pick, because I know I won't be getting surplus value with it. Pujols offers just that. His "down" season of .299/.366/.541 is one hell of a line from any first round draft pick.

The best part is, that's his floor.

His upside is immense. Yes, you read that correctly. A 31 year old first basemen has tons of upside, and considering his floor, he is the optimal 1st round pick. Albert Pujols is another victim of BABIP fluctuations. Many will argue that his power is declining, as evident by his declining ISO and slugging percentages, but that is incorrect.

Say hello to one of the flaws with power indicators. They are average dependent. ISO as we all know, is calculated by removing singles from slugging percentage.

Slugging% - Average = ISO

You can modify slugging if you believe that triples are equal to doubles on the power scale which will give you ISOP but that is just personal preference.

Where the issue truly lies is that ISO is dependent on at bats. This means that there are two determinants to a players ISO:

- Power

- Hit tool

If a player is unable to get a lot of hits, his ISO will suffer, regardless of his true power.

Let's go back to Pujols. His averages over the past three seasons are .327, .312 and .299 with BABIP's of .299, .297 and .277 respectively. As you can see, his averages have dropped in three consecutive seasons as has his BABIP, with only a slight drop from 2009 to 2010. As his average falls, his ISO will also tumble. How do we correct this?

We need to look at ISO differently. If we want to consider a player's power, and only his power, we want to look at how much power he has when he actually hits the balls. When evaluating power in this manner, we get:

Slugging%/Average= ISO

This gives a much better indication of a players power. Pujols' traditional ISO's over the past three seasons are as follows:

2009: .331

2010: .284

2011: .242

That's a pretty sharp decline because of the drop in his average. However, when we look at ISO differently, it's a whole new ball game.

2009: 1.99

2010: 1.91

2011: 1.81

Suddenly, the drop in power isn't so huge. The drop off in BABIP from 2010 to 2011 led to a massive drop in traditional ISO. Did his true power decrease this season? Sure, but there are reasons why. Remember when Pujols was supposed to be out for 6 weeks with a broken wrist? His recovery was remarkable, in the fact that he was able to come back so quickly, but to say his wrist was at full strength when he came back was foolish. Albert Pujols is not experiencing a drop in power like so many people wish to claim. He is still the same power hitter he used to be.

If you are no fan of calculating power this way, fine. Here's another approach: If a player has a lower or higher BABIP than you would expect, regress it towards his career average, extrapolate the number of extra base hits over the extra hits and then calculate ISO. You will see similar results as listed above in traditional ISO numbers.

Further skeptics will point to his plate discipline as a sign of his decline. To those skeptics, I say balderdash. His plate discipline remains the same, but a pitchers willingness to pitch to him is. The number of intentional walks over the past three seasons are declining, which has to due with the players batting behind him. Berkman and Holliday were more than formidable hitters last season which left no reason for a manager to walk him. The bigger concern would be if Pujols had an increase in strikeouts, which did not occur. His contact percentages remained relatively stable over the past three seasons meaning there isn't an imminent jump in strikeouts forthcoming.

Angels stadium is not a hitter friendly environment, but neither was Busch stadium and that never held Pujols back. Busch stadium was killer on the long ball and while Angels stadium is no Yankee stadium, it is still an improvement. It should be seen as neither a positive or a negative when evaluating Pujols.

With all this in mind, Pujols is easily the best first basemen in baseball, and should be on top of your first basemen board, if not your big board. What Pujols provides is sheer consistency that you can't get from anyone else. Is there anyone that you can project to get a .300 average, 40 home runs, 100 RBI's, 100 Runs and 10 Stolen bases and not draw blank stares? No. The floor is there, the upside is there.

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