Will Injury-Riddled Angels Star Albert Pujols Ever Return to MLB Greatness?

Josh SchochAnalyst IIIJuly 5, 2013

June 27, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Albert Pujols (5) and center fielder Mike Trout (right) watches from the dugout in the second inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Albert Pujols has not been as good as Los Angeles Angels fans had hoped he'd be when he signed a $254 million, 10-year contract, and things just keep getting worse.

According to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, Pujols may need surgery on his left foot during the offseason, although Pujols seems uncertain as to what he will do at this point.

When we get to that point, we'll talk about it.

I'm definitely going to try to do something after the season to help me out and not play in that pain I've been playing in. There's no doubt that I'll be a full-time first baseman next year.

Pujols has been plagued by plantar fasciitis, which Shaikin describes as "a painful inflammation of tissue on the bottom of his foot."

Pujols has not been able to run freely in recent weeks, which is why he has seen more time at DH than at first base, playing just 31 of his 83 games at first.

This is just yet another problem for Pujols, who has not found much success with the Angels.

In his first year with the team he posted career-lows in batting average, home runs, slugging, on-base percentage and WAR. This season he's been even worse, batting a pitiful .244 with just 13 home runs and 49 RBI. That's pretty bad for a guy who batted .300 with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI in his first 10 seasons in the bigs.

Despite looking like he could have one of the best careers in MLB history after his first decade in the majors, Pujols has fallen apart with his new team.

Over the last five years his batting average has fallen 108 points, his on-base percentage is down 139 points, and his slugging was down 229 points over the last four.

After seeing him struggle, fans and analysts alike are wondering if he will ever be the 10-time All-Star who won six Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, the 2001 Rookie of the Year Award and three MVPs in his first 10 seasons.

The short answer: No.

Pujols' recent struggles may seem random, but the fact of the matter is that they are a direct result of his bat speed slowing by a considerable margin.

Whereas a younger Pujols could get the bat around very quickly, at 33 years old he is much slower.

According to ChrisOLeary.com, a big reason why Pujols was so successful was because of his freakishly fast swing, taking just one-sixth of a second.

It comes in at 5 frames (based on a 30 FPS clip). Because his swing is so short, and so simple, Albert Pujols has more time than the average player to read the pitch and try to get a sense of what it is and what it is going to do. That increases the likelihood that he will be able to hit the ball squarely and ... that is the key to Albert Pujols' ability to hit for both average and power.

This .gif shows just how quickly Pujols can turn on a pitch, blasting a home run on a swing that only takes five frames.

According to Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the most noticeable side effect of his slowing bat speed comes against fastballs.

From 2007 through 2009, Pujols hit over .400 against fastballs, whereas he is batting just .273 against them this season, including .242 against lefties. Even worse, his batting average against high fastballs has fallen to .188 against righties and .154 against lefties.

Because of his slowing bat, Pujols' power has dipped dramatically. After posting a home run/fly ball percentage of 19.7 in his first 11 seasons, he is down to 10.7 percent this year, being cut almost in half. He can't get around as fast, and therefore can't hit the ball as hard.

The final showing of his bat speed killing his production can be seen by looking at his strikeout numbers.

In 2012, Pujols struck out 76 times, which was the most since his rookie season. This year has been even worse, as he is on pace to set a new career-worst in strikeouts—even worse than his 93 Ks in 2001.

Pujols' strikeout numbers have been getting consistently worse over the last few years, as documented by Katie Sharp of ESPN in May 2010.

He has struck out in 15.1% of his plate appearances, which would be the highest strikeout rate of his career and much higher than the 9.1% mark he posted last year.

Not surprisingly, his swing-and-miss percentage has also increased from 14% last year to 19% this season.

The first thing to note is that he’s swinging at more pitches than last year, 45% compared to 40%. But much of the increase in his swing percentage has come on pitches in the strike zone, where he is swinging at 71% of the pitches vs 66% last year.

He’s missing nearly twice as many pitches in the zone this year compared to last year, with a swing-and-miss percentage of 11.4% in 2010 compared to 5.8% in 2009.

His numbers have gotten even worse since then, as they have fallen to the worst numbers of his career with the Angels.

Pujols has posted a swing-and-miss percentage of 18.3 this season. That's by far the worst since his rookie year and is almost twice his percentage of around 10 percent in 2009.

To compensate for his slowing bat speed, Pujols has been swinging earlier, and pitches are falling out of the zone.

After swinging at roughly 15 to 19 percent of pitches out of the zone during his 11 seasons in St. Louis, he's up to 36.4 percent last season, and 35 percent this year (per Bernie Miklasz).

As Pujols' bat speed has decreased, so has his production.

There's no fix to this problem, and now he is doomed to continue to struggle.