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Albert Pujols: The Utility Infielder at Clean Up

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

The decline in performance for Albert Pujols has been swift and brutal. It may be due to his certainly being older than his stated age. It may simply be the toll of 18 MLB seasons and nearly 10,000 career at bats. Whatever the factors, he is clearly shot and no longer The Machine as he was known in St. Louis.

Just how shot is Albert? Well, for the last 2 seasons his offensive output aligns closest with utility infielders. Considering utility infielders offer defensive and base running value, he’s actually less valuable to the team than a utility infielder.

And Mike Scioscia has him batting clean up.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some numbers.

Albert Pujols 2017-May 22, 2018

Over the course of 824 plate appearances, Albert has managed a .243/.285/.389 slash line. That is good for an OPS of .674, an OPS+ of 82, and a wRC+ of 82. For those not familiar with the last two metrics, they show Albert has been 18% worse than the league average hitter (100 is league average)..

There was hope for a healthy resurgence this year, but Pujols ranks 145th out of 168 batters in on base percentage. He ranks 110th in slugging percentage, and 103rd in batting average. Many of the players with too few plate appearances to qualify for post season awards are out performing Albert, which would push him further down those lists

Now let’s take a look at some actual utility infielders.

Maicer Izturis

Mighty Maicer was a fan favorite with the Halos. He had a reputation for coming through with the clutch hit and playing wherever Mike penciled him in. His slash line with the Angels: .276/.339/.384. The slugging is nearly identical, but Izturis would take a walk, which led him to an OPS+ of 95 during his Angels tenure.

David Eckstein

Not a utility infielder with the Angels, but not known as a prodigious thumper either, Eckstein put up a career slash line of .280/.345/.355. That was good for production about 17% below MLB average, eerily similar to 2017/2018 Pujols.

Angels v Mariners Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Cliff Pennington

Yes, folks, it is this bad. Pennington had an 11 year MLB career thanks to his defense, with a little help from his pitching arm. Only once did he prove to be an above average MLB hitter, back in 2009.

For his career, Pennington owns a slash line of .242/.309/.339, good for an OPS+ and wRC+ of 79.

The Solution

The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one. Until Mike Scioscia realizes that Albert is no longer The Machine, expect to see #5 hitting in the 4 spot for the foreseeable future.

However, there are some logical in house candidates, most notably Andrelton Simmons, Shohei Ohtani, and the possibility of rotating various guys through the DH spot depending upon match ups and handedness.

Simmons has really come into his own the last two years, slugging .430 over that time. Ohtani is a young phenom with his prime ahead of him, not in the rear view window.

The Reality

This is a sad sight to see, the baseball equivalent of something far too common in boxing: a manager who can’t see his guy is shot sending him out again and again to take punishment, thinking the greatness is still there. Pujols vs. a decent fastball is no more of a match nowadays than Ali was against Holmes.

Hopefully Albert will retire at the end of the year. But he has about 90 million good reasons to stick around. And as long as Mike Scioscia fills out the lineup card, the Angels will have a slap hitting utility infielder in the heart of the lineup.

What are your thoughts and comments? Leave them below.