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Albert Pujols is better than you think he is

Is The Machine still able to produce for the Angels?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Before the 2016 season even got started, ESPN dubbed the Albert Pujols contract as the "worst in baseball".  Most casual fans love having him on the team and probably enjoy that smirk on his face when he bats, as well as the times he does hit a powerful long ball and climbs the all-time list of most career home runs.  Pretty exciting, right??

Then you have the more ardent fans who follow stats, watch all the games, see how many times Pujols hits into a double play, and more importantly, look at how much money Pujols is making, and for how long.  I'm sure in another couple years, that 24+ million is going to feel like what it does for Josh Hamilton on his last year with the Angels when we pretty much got zero back in return.

But what about right now?  Right now, Pujols is playing pretty darn good and has even shown us glimpses of his old self from time to time.  Sure at 36 years old, we are never going to see that version who played in Saint Louis, but do we need to?  Pujols is still good when it matters.

If you take out that horrible month of April (remember Trout had a bad April as well?), Pujols is batting .277 this year.  He has a .278 in May, .281 in June, and .271 in July.  Not to mention, during the month of July he has a .829 OPS and only 1 GIDP.   Maybe Pujols is just having bad luck? His career average BABIP is .294 and last year he had a career low of .217.  In 2016 that number is .245, which is his second lowest ever.  Generally speaking, a lower than normal BABIP is a sign of some rotten luck.

Pujols grounds into double plays - a lot.  In fact he is 3rd in the AL among qualified first baseman (and second among DH).  You know who hits into double plays more than him? Horrible hitters like Miguel Cabrera, Jose Abreu, and David Ortiz.  HIs GIDP numbers certainly don't tell all of the story.

When Pujols swings, he is undoubtedly putting the ball into play.  He has the highest out of zone contact % of any first baseman other than Joe Mauer, and the second highest total in-the-zone contact % at 91.5.  Of these first baseman, Pujols also has the second lowest swing and miss percentage (right behind Joe Mauer again).

But putting the ball into play isn't everything right?  Well, you can't get on base or drive in runs if you don't put the ball in play.  Albert Pujols has the 3rd most RBIs in the American League right now behind Edwin Encarnacion and David Ortiz.  Hitting the ball hard is important.  Just about any kid coached in baseball or softball will be told to "hit the ball hard somewhere".  NO ONE on the team does that better than Albert Pujols.  Of teammates with more than 100 hit balls, Pujols has the highest average exit velocity of anyone on the team at 91.MPH.  Mike Trout comes in a close second at 90.8.  Think Pujols is old and rusty?  The man can still put the ball in play and he can still hit the snot out of it.

Other stats that matter?  How about high leverage situations?  Those times we REALLY need Albert Pujols to come through?  Pujols has a .282/.373/.494 line in those situations, along with 36 RBIs.  His 9th inning batting average is a staggering .425.  Put the game on the line and Pujols is the guy you want at the plate.  In "Late & close" games, Pujols has 60 plate appearances and a .956 OPS.  With runners in scoring position this year, the Machine is batting .311, which is his highest total since 2010 (when he was an All-Star and second in MVP voting).

Perhaps he's not performing like a 24 million dollar man, but he's better than you probably think he is.  In summary:

  1. Pujols hits the ball harder than anyone on the team
  2. Pujols has his best AVG with RISP since 2010
  3. Pujols is on pace for his most RBIs since 2009
  4. Pujols is having really bad luck and a very low BABIP
  5. Pujols is hitting around .280 when you take April out of the equation
  6. Pujols is on fire in key situations (high leverage, runners on base, late in the game, etc)