Albert Pujols is off to a terrible start. At the end of play on May 23, he was batting .268 with eight home runs. His on base average is .340, and he is slugging only .421.
Many in the media are wondering what has happened to Pujols. Responses range from a lingering hamstring injury in late April that has affected his swing to Pujols being 31 and supposedly on the decline.
There is validity to the lingering hamstring injury, but it is healing. Last night, Pujols hit his first home run since April 23 to win the game for the first-place St. Louis Cardinals.
The idea Pujols is on the decline at 31 is ridiculous.
One "expert" who writes for MSNBC's Hard Ball Talk (HBT) compared Pujols to Jimmy Foxx, which is ludicrous.
Foxx played his first full season at 21, as did Pujols. His first 11 seasons were eerily similar to Pujols' first 10 seasons.
Foxx hit .337/.442/.649 to Pujols' .331/.426/.624, but then Foxx tailed off precipitously. After hitting 36 home runs at the age of 32, he hit only 19 home runs the following season. He never again reached double figures in home runs, and he never hit higher than .268.
On the surface, using Foxx—based on the offensive similarities between him and Pujols—seems valid. Defensively, Pujols has played third base, as well as first base. So did Foxx.
Sadly, Foxx was a chronic alcoholic, which was related to a beaning he suffered that knocked him unconscious. He was in the hospital for four days but suffered sinus problems from the beaning for the rest of his life.
The sinus problems were extremely painful, which probably changed Foxx from a mild drinker into an alcoholic, because alcohol helped ease his physical pain.
It is much better to compare Pujols to Lou Gehrig.
The following compares Pujols' first 10 seasons to those of Gehrig:
PLAYER H 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBA SA
Pujols 1900 426 15 408 1230 .331 .426 .624
Gehrig 1996 400 130 357 1487 .346 .452 .645
In his 11th season, at the age of 33 in 1936, Gehrig batted .354 with 49 home runs, a .478 on base average and a .696 slugging average.
Pujols will not come close to those numbers this year, but it must be pointed out that American League batters in 1936 hit .289, had a .363 on base average and slugged .421.
At this point in 2011, National League batters are hitting a mere .250 with a .319 on base average and a .384 slugging average.
Pujols' batting average will increase. He has a great chance to once again bat over .300.
Although eight home runs is well below his norm, even if he continued at that pace—which he will not—he would finish with close to 30 home runs.
Great players—even most non-great players—do not start to lose their skills at the age of 31. Pujols has been the best player in the game since Alex Rodriguez' 2007 season ended.
Interestingly, A-Rod's skills have gone down since that 54-home run season when he was 31, but like Foxx, the third baseman for New York's other team, the New York Yankees, had problems.
A-Rod admitted steroid use, which may have led to his hip problems, which affected his swing and production.
Pujols' season is just getting started. This year appears to be another "year of the pitcher," which is affecting almost all players' offensive production.
Pujols may finish with lower batting numbers than in the past, but there can be and should be little doubt he will finish among the top hitters in the league by season's end.
Pujols was injured after getting off to a slow start. The injury is healing, the slump is ending slowly and Pujols' production should soon return to normal
If it doesn't, it doesn't mean he is declining at 31. It means he had a bad year.
Hard Ball Talk
Jimmy Foxx at Sabr
Albert Pujols at Bleacher Report