Ever since Albert Pujols hit his first home run, the alarm over his slump was supposed to be over. However, since then he is one for nine, and his batting average has slipped another nine points.
You have by now heard all the reasons. He is old. He is hurt. He is pressing too much. He misses his family. He’s lost it completely.
We just heard his old manager Tony La Russa chime in. Joe Strauss with the St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote, “During a speaking engagement last week La Russa told a crowd that Pujols is bothered deeply by the time spent away from family, which is in St. Louis until school is out for the summer.”
This could be the answer. Last year, Pujols got off to a rough start as well. We heard a lot of the same cries, with one exception. The twist was that the lack of a contract was weighing on him and that’s why last year's start was the worst in his career.
If you look at 2011 compared to this year, there is one stat that is prominent. During the month of April in each year Albert came up empty in 12 games.He went exactly 12 games without a hit the last two years.
This is not the first big contract that Pujols signed. If we look back, we see that in 2003 during the month of April during the last year of his original contract, he hit .385. So much for the stress factor from a contract coming to an end. After signing his $100 million contract, he hit .287 in April of 2004. Not bad for mere mortals, but that is a hundred points off from the year before.
In 2011, Pujols hit .257 in April, and this year he hit .217. That’s a drop of 40 points.
In both cases after signing a big contract, April was no fun. The only other April in which he hit under .300 was in 2007.
The beauty of baseball is the history. You can look back and see that good hitters will hit. There is no doubting that fact. Barring injury, good hitters will not see this kind of a drop in production and not come back from it.
That said, this prolonged slump should not come as a surprise. The numbers were there for us to see. The last time he signed a big contract he got off to a really slow April. He is now older and slumps are harder to break from. When he signed the last contract, he was still with the same team and had his support group around him to help him come out of it.
Albert has also had declining production for the last three years. His averages have all declined. His power has dissipated, as evidenced by the decline in home runs, doubles and slugging percentage over those same three years.
He will not be in this slump forever. He is too good. But even when he does come out of it, don’t expect him to be the Albert of five years ago. Expect more of the Albert of the last three years.
If he has trouble now dealing with trying to live up to a new contract, just wait until it sinks in that his new team paid him to be the hitter he was five years ago.