Albert Pujols currently has 30 home runs and 96 runs batted in, well on his way to yet another 30/100 season that we are so accustomed to seeing from the iconic slugger. These are outstanding numbers especially when you consider the dreadful slump he endured for the first 6 weeks of the season. So everything is fine and he is back to normal, right?
According to FanGraphs, Albert Pujols has a walk rate of 7.9%. That is far below the second worst walk rate he has posted in his career, which was 9.4%. That 9.4% occured last season. And even that solid yet unspectacular rate of 9.4% is well below his career rate of 12.7%.
But for now, let's take a closer look at this season's numbers.
Below are the walk rates by month for this season by Pujols:
March/April - 6.1%
May ---------- 6.5%
June -------- 12.2%
July ---------- 11.2%
August ----- 5.0%
September - 3.8%
The first thing to notice is that his walk rates for June and July were very healthy. But they are also misleading. Of the 26 combined walks he accumulated during that 2 month period, 8 of them were intentional. So his unintentional walk rate for June was only 9.8% (14 BB, 3 IBB) and for July, it was only 6.9% (12 BB, 5 IBB).
We can also look at this issue from another angle.
Listed below are the percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone which were swung at by Pujols for his career:
2002 - 15.1%
2003 - 22.4%
2004 - 15.7%
2005 - 16.8%
2006 - 19.6%
2007 - 18.3%
2008 - 21.6%
2009 - 22.9%
2010 - 27.5%
2011 - 31.8%
2012 - 36.1%
It appears as though his eye at the plate started to deteriorate in 2008 and then each year after 2009 it has taken a huge downward spiral the following season. His 2012 rate of 36.1% is absolutely atrocious.
In order to fully grasp exactly how impatient Pujols has been this season, here is a look at the percentage of pitches out of the zone which were swung at by fellow teammates who are well known for their hacking ways.
Kendrys Morales (35.7% for 2012, 33.4% career)
Howie Kendrick (35.1% for 2012, 34.0% career)
Torii Hunter (35.1% for 2012, 27.9% career)
Vernon Wells (34.1% for 2012, 27.3% career)
*All numbers obtained from FanGraphs
Believe it or not, Pujols has been a bigger hacker than our ol' pal Vernon this season.
Part of me wants to think that a big reason for his decline in patience was due to being new to the American League and facing pitchers he's never faced before, or possibly because he is under so much pressure to hit homers and drive in runs because of his new contract, but it's obvious that this steep downfall began in St. Louis.
Is his bat slowing down to the point where he needs to cheat on fastballs he normally wouldn't have swung at? Is he just losing his feel for the strike zone?
Who knows, but whatever it is, it's disturbing.