FanPost

Albert Pujols is Suddenly Stupid

<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <o:OfficeDocumentSettings> <o:AllowPNG /> </o:OfficeDocumentSettings> </xml><![endif]-->When the Angels signed Albert Pujols, many fans- myself included- were understandably ecstatic by the prospect of adding one of the greatest hitters of all time to the middle of our lineup. The thing that I was most looking forward to about adding Pujols wasn’t necessarily his ability or talent, but his overall baseball intelligence. I was looking forward to turning on the television at 7:00 PM and seeing a good at-bat by an Angels player once out of every nine times through a trip in the batting order. We haven’t had a player like that in years (with the exception of a past-his-prime Bobby Abreu). It was exciting to think that we had just signed a middle of the order hitter that was capable of taking bad pitches and smacking the good ones. It was heartening to know that we had gotten a player whose approach had taken his natural skills to off-the-chart statistical levels. And it was comforting that we were getting a guy that seemed to keep an even keel through the good times and the bad.

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And who knew? Maybe Pujols’ approach to the game was contagious; maybe Phat Albert would somehow be the never before discovered cure for the indelible stupidity that has plagued Angels position players for the past several years. Maybe we wouldn’t have to suffer through Torii Hunter getting caught trying to steal third in the bottom of the ninth with no outs and the Angels trailing by 2 (and then have to listen to him explain that it was a bad play because "you never make the first out at third." No, idiot. It’s a bad play because there is absolutely zero utility to getting to third when you are trailing by 2 in the ninth no matter how many outs there are. Love ya Torii- you’re one of my all-time favorite Angels, but I’ll go to my grave being upset at you for that one). Maybe Erick Aybar would finally learn how to stop on his ice skates and harness the aggressiveness that hurts us more than it helps us. Maybe Howie Kendrick would occasionally restrain himself from swinging Danny Hemmerling style at a two strike slider in the dirt. Maybe Vernon Wells would start taking a couple of more 3-1 pitches out of the strike zone instead of predictably popping them up or rolling them over to the third baseman. Honestly, it was probably a little much to expect that Pujols would have a significant impact on the other players on the team; nonetheless, it was reasonable to think that Pujols’ own ability to play smart baseball would mend some of the damage and save me impending biweekly trips to the local nuthouse to vent about why God chose to put the dumbest human beings on the freaking planet on the field, in the dugout, and in the front office of my favorite baseball team.

Not in a million years would I have predicted that Pujols would be the worst culprit of unintelligent baseball on the Angels, but that is exactly what has happened. I’ve heard many people say that Albert Pujols is already beginning to physically decline, but to anyone who has watched Angels games this year (and looks inside the numbers) that is clearly not the issue. Ever since the end of May, the brute strength and power and the gorgeous swing have both been there and have singlehandedly taken his numbers out of the crapper and into respectability. What’s missing is any semblance of a functioning human brain cell.

As Chzburger Jones aptly pointed out in his fanpost the other day, Pujols is swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone than Vernon Wells is this year. This year will be the first year since his rookie season that he will walk less than he strikes out and he will set a career low in walks this year. He will also set career lows in all of his rate stats this year, but in my opinion, the sole driving factor behind that is his 180 degree flip from being the most patient hitter in baseball to one of the games most aggressive hackers. It’s completely mental- and that’s what’s most frustrating. You have a hitter that has all of the tools to be the most dominant hitter in the game, but he isn’t because there is something wrong with his brain. Not the guy you want to pay $240 million to for the next ten years, especially when the physical skills start their inevitable decline.

Then there’s the base-running. If you put any value into Fangraphs’ UBR statistic, Albert came into Wednesday night’s game with a -5.2 UBR (labeled as BsR on the Fangraphs stats leaderboard) which makes him the fourth worst baserunner in all of baseball (and it’s probably worse after Wednesday night’s game). What’s alarming about that is that other than this year and last year, Pujols has actually been an above-average baserunner throughout his career. Yet he’s exercised such terrible judgment on the basepaths this year that it was predictable that Albert would try to take second last night on a play where Ian Kinsler could have caught the baseball, stripped naked , redressed, and tagged Albert out before he got to second base. Again, Albert’s physical ability to run is not the main culprit here. Kendrys Morales is more than 3 runs better than Albert as a baserunner this season. Rather it’s Pujols’ refusal to use any mental faculties that would allow him to make sound judgments on the basepaths.

Finally, there is fielding. Depending on what stats you use to judge fielding, there doesn’t seem to be an indication that Pujols’ defense is declining. If you look at range, throwing ability, and errors, it seems that Pujols is still an asset in the field. Certainly, there is no sign of any physical decline. But even in the field, we have seen momentary unthinkable lapses of judgment from Pujols. There have been several "fielders choices" gone wrong where Pujols tries to get a lead runner he can’t get instead of getting the sure and easy out in situations where the easy out is what is needed. Then there are plays like last night's play where Pujols made a spectacular diving stop on a ground ball- on a play where he should have stayed at first and let Howie Kendrick make the routine field and throw. Again, what is going on inside this man’s head?

So what is there to make of this disturbing trend of stupidity that has plagued Albert’s numbers and the Angels chances of making the playoffs this season? Well, on the positive side- if the stat decline isn’t a result of any physical decline, Albert used to be an intelligent baseball player and you would think he is capable of being one again. However, Albert is quickly approaching a point where he will hit a physical decline and if he doesn’t get his head on straight, the visions of him being even decent in the mid to back years of his contract are toast.

This Fan-Post is authored by an independent fan. Tell us what you think and how you feel.

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