Down Year for Pujols Could Produce Triple Crown

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Down Year for Pujols Could Produce Triple Crown
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

For the first time in many years, we have a Triple Crown race in Major League Baseball. Not one, but two players are within striking distance of one of the most elusive achievements in all of sports.

Not since 1967 has anyone led either Major League in home runs, RBI, and batting average. Not since 1937 has a player done so in the National League. Yet with August winding down and the divisional races heating up, Albert Pujols ranks first in home runs and RBI, third in batting average, just six points behind leader Joey Votto, who also ranks second in home runs, just three back of Pujols, and second in RBI, again, only three behind Pujols.

For Votto, this is a career year. At just 26, he has plenty of time left to show that 2010 was not a fluke, and that he belongs among the games elite. But as good as he was the past couple of years, he’s really put things together this season and should he win the Triple Crown it would simply top off a breakthrough season for the Red slugger.

On the flip side, there is no doubt that Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball. He’s had many great season before, and should he pull off the Triple Crown, he’s all but guaranteed to become the second player in baseball history with four MVP awards. He’d also become the second player in baseball history to win three such awards in a row, following only Barry Bonds in both instances. But what’s so incredible about this season, and about Pujols, is that 2010 might just be a bellow average year by Phat Albert’s standards.

Let’s take a step back, and look at Pujols’ numbers as they appeared on July 31st, less than a month ago. Albert was hitting .299 on the season with a .399 OBP, a .551 SLG, and an OPS of .950. This would certainly be considered a great season for just about anyone. But for Pujols, a .950 OPS would represent a career low, as would the .299 batting average, 15 points lower than in any season of his career, and the .551 SLG, 11 points lower than in any season of his career. With two months to go in the season, Albert had just 23 home runs.

The Machine flipped a switch in August, and is no longer in danger of having one of his worst seasons. Over the past month, he’s hit .411 with 11 home runs, 22 RBI, and a 1.336 OPS. For the first time since April, Pujols batted over .300 for a month. It was also the first time since April his monthly OPS topped .950. One big month has taken Pujols from a career-low year to the strongest Triple Crown candidate we’ve had in decades.

But what about his numbers as of today? Pujols is hitting .320 with 35 home runs and an OPS of 1.022. He leads his league in hits, runs, home runs, RBI, and SLG, he’s second in  OBP and OPS, and third in SLG. A great season by any measure, sure. But one of his best? Hardly. This is Pujols 10th season in the Major Leagues. His 1.022 OPS would rank seventh best in his career, his second worst OPS since 2002, his worst over that stretch coming in an injury plagued 2007. His 172 OPS+ would be tied for fifth best in his career.

His 2010 OBP and 2010 SLG both rank as the third worst of his career, his OBP at it’s lowest level since 2002. His average is the second worst of his career, only six points above his career-low .314 in 2002. 2010 is also shaping up to be a middle of the pack year for Pujols in the power department. He’s on pace right now to end up in the low-40s in home runs. Not really a down year for the Cardinals slugger, but certainly not off the charts.

This has been an incredible season to be a baseball fan. We’ve seen five (six) no-hitters, two (three) perfect games, and cast of rookies that’s unmatched in recent memory. But this is something truly unique. We have a player so incredibly talented that, in a year that arguably ranks as bellow average for his career, he has a chance to win the first batting Triple Crown in more than four decades, the first in his league in more than 70 years.

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