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Pujols’s Career May Not Be over Just Yet

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The Machine and his sub 200 BA aren't getting much love these days, but the criticism opens up a great opportunity for us to acquire his service at discount. The $240M man may not worth his money in reality, but he can still help us in our virtual world.

Let's bring out some love for Pujols.
Let's bring out some love for Pujols.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Once the most fearful name in baseball, Albert Pujols is nothing more than a laughing stock these days. Every day, people rip him apart how his $240M deal is one of the worst contracts in the history. The reporters keep soliciting Mike Scoiscia about C.J. Cron replacing Pujols as a cleanup hitter, and Pujols's .185 BA isn't really backing up his skipper's unpopular position.

As we all know, he is at least hitting the long balls, but his current brutal BA makes so difficult for us to roster him. If we flip through his numbers, the first thing comes into the sight is his .165 BABIP (the lowest in ML), which could instantly make us to think, "Oh, he can bounce back once his BABIP is corrected." It's not that easy, however, since his .217 BABIP in 2015 was also the dead last in MLB. His extremely low BABIP went on for long enough that we need to seek an explanation before we can shrug it off.

The biggest driver of his low BABIP is his low Line Drive rate. Line Drives, the highest quality batted ball without a question, are strongly correlated to BABIP. Since 2015, the 10 least LD hitters in the Major League averaged .268 BABIP while the top 10 averaged .325. Pujols's LD% since 2015 is 15.7%, which ranks as him at the third lowest, so it's pretty clear his BABIP won't bounce back up to .300.

LD% doesn't explain the whole story, however. The Machine was indeed never a good line drive hitter even in his prime. His career LD% is only about 18.8% (league average is usually little over 20%), and in 2009, he recorded 15.6% and still achieved .299 BABIP.

His first noticeable slide in BABIP started in 2011, when he recorded .279. Before that year, his BABIP was never lower than .297, and the 10-year average was .315, but since than it has dropped to .244. 2011 was his last season with the Cardinals, and if you are (or used to be) a Pujols fan, you know that was the year his real struggle has started.

BB

BABIP

O-Swing%

K

2002

10.70%

0.308

15.00%

10.20%

2003

11.50%

0.346

22.40%

9.50%

2004

12.10%

0.298

17.30%

7.50%

2005

13.90%

0.316

17.00%

9.30%

2006

14.50%

0.292

19.20%

7.90%

2007

14.60%

0.317

17.30%

8.50%

2008

16.20%

0.34

21.40%

8.40%

2009

16.40%

0.299

22.70%

9.10%

2010

14.70%

0.297

26.70%

10.90%

2011

9.40%

0.277

31.00%

8.90%

2012

7.80%

0.282

35.60%

11.30%

2013

9.00%

0.258

33.40%

12.40%

2014

6.90%

0.265

32.40%

10.20%

2015

7.60%

0.217

31.20%

10.90%

2016

9.40%

0.165

30.10%

11.60%

As you can see, everything has begun with his sudden jump in swings on the outside-zone pitches. For any other normal hitters, that would lead to sharply higher K rate with more swing and strikes, but just because he is one of the most talented contact hitters in history, he was able to put his bat on the balls almost at the same rate, which led to huge numbers of low quality in-play balls. In short, his BBs turned into in-play outs.

GB/FB

LD%

GB%

FB%

HR/FB

Soft%

Med%

Hard%

2011

1.17

17.00%

44.70%

38.30%

18.30%

20.60%

48.90%

30.50%

2012

1.04

18.80%

41.30%

39.90%

14.00%

14.20%

52.30%

33.50%

2013

0.91

19.80%

38.20%

42.00%

11.80%

12.80%

51.00%

36.20%

2014

1.29

18.90%

45.70%

35.40%

13.90%

14.50%

49.40%

36.10%

2015

0.99

15.90%

41.80%

42.20%

17.80%

15.80%

51.20%

33.00%

2016

1.27

14.70%

47.70%

37.60%

14.60%

25.70%

37.60%

36.70%

Total

1.11

17.52%

43.23%

39.23%

15.07%

17.27%

48.40%

34.33%

Now let's focus on his batted ball profile since 2011. We can see that his HR/FB and Hard% are still there, which indicates his power is fine at age 36. His current issue is too many ground balls from weak contacts.

Therefore, we can confidently say that once his GB starts to fly, everything should be fine. At this point, we can't be sure if his GB will eventually come down, but we at least know that his even lower BABIP isn't a result of another step down in his plate discipline. His 9.4% BB% and 30.1% O-Swing% are actually his best since 2011 (not by much, but it's good enough to tell us that his struggle doesn't lie there).

As long as his power and plate discipline haven't changed, we have good reasons to believe that his BABIP can creep back up to his post 2011 level, .244. It's not very high, but it should be good enough to bring his BA back up to around .250, and his power will take care of the rest.

The Angels still need to worry about $165M for the next 5 years, but luckily, we don't have to think past this season. All those bad publicity around him are actually creating exaggerated panic in the market while his struggle could easily be nothing more than an early season slump. He might not be the stat monster he once was, but the future Hall of Famer isn't done playing baseball yet. If you need to add some power into your roster, go ahead ask for his price. I'm sure his owner will greet you with both arms wide open.

Steamer Rest of the Season Projection

1B Rank (Yahoo Eligible)

PA

HR

RBI

R

AVG

SB

16th

474

22

69

58

0.256

3