Albert Pujols was having one of the greatest starts to an MLB career of all time. In Pujols' 11 full seasons, all with the St. Louis Cardinals, he hit at least .299, 30 homers, scored 99 runs and drove in 99 more in all of them.
However, it's clear Pujols' skill-set is rapidly declining, and faster than we could have ever imagined.
In 98 at-bats thus far, Pujols is hitting .217/.265/.304 with zero homers. Zero!
No longer is Pujols feared by opposing pitchers. After leading the league in intentional walks from 2008 to 2010 with 116 intentional free passes, Pujols is no longer being walked at such an astronomical rate. In 2011 Pujols drew only 15 intentional walks, and through April, he only has two.
Now, his .256 BABIP suggests he's been unlucky thus far and perhaps the sample-size is too small to make judgment. In addition, Pujols' line-drive percentage is 24.4, more than five percent above his career average, and another indicator of well-placed defenders.
How much will his numbers go up once they are adjusted to equilibrium? Certainly Pujols is going to hit a few balls out of the park, but it's hard to believe Pujols will return to the Pujols of old anytime soon.
Perhaps Pujols' wrist injury that put him on the disabled list in 2011 is still bothering him. Originally supposed to be out for 4-6 weeks, Pujols returned after the minimum 15 days. Pujols may have returned prematurely.
Another theory for Pujols's struggles is that he is having difficulty adjusting to American League pitching. This theory is highly unlikely considering Pujols crushed AL pitching when he was a Cardinal. In Pujols' career against the AL, all during inter-league play, he hit .348 with 39 homers.
A third theory is the thick air of Los Angeles and the deep dimensions of Angel Stadium are preventing Pujols from hitting homers. This theory holds little water as Pujols is hitting significantly better at home (.262 and seven extra-base hits) than on the road (.180 with one extra-base hit).
The slump is less about who he faces and where he hits and more about Pujols' age.
The Angels paid him for past contributions, not his expected value in the 10 years of the contract. Pujols is 32 years old right now, and if Pujols' decline continues, he won't be playing baseball at 42.
The Angels made a mistake —a $240 million one—that will financially handicap their team for years to come. Pujols is clearly on the decline and the Angels never saw it coming.
Their mistake was dishing out the cash to the player on decline, when they should have found a younger player who hasn't yet reached his ceiling. But the open market always rewards (overpays) star free agents, giving them lucrative contracts that they almost never live up to.
The Angels will regret their 10-year, $240 million contract for years to come.
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