If you’re an MLB betting fan who has been following the Los Angeles Angels for the fast couple of seasons, then you’ve seen several of their major investments fail to pay off – most spectacularly with Josh Hamilton, but also with C.J. Wilson – and with Albert Pujols.
Hamilton is gone, now sent to the Rangers in a deal that leaves the Angels on the hook for the vast majority of his salary – a sure sign the Halos were done with Hamilton’s ways – and Wilson is still toiling. But Albert Pujols is finally showing signs of life.
It took time for Pujols to get going in 2015, and at the end of April he was hitting only .208 with a .364 slugging percentage, and you had to double back and check to make sure the numbers didn’t belong to some marginal utility infielder.
How Does Albert Pujols Give the LA Angels Safer MLB Odds?
You would read pieces on Pujols and notice that his age was cited earlier in the stories, placed higher in the copy, because this is what happens when fearsome hitters begin to age and decline. It’s a writer’s subtle way of composing the opening notes of a baseball dirge.
Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia assured everyone that the Great Pujols would be fine. Pujols was “scorching” the ball in Sciosia’s estimation, but the problem was bad luck, with too many line drives being snatched by Rawlings.
Pujols wasn’t concerned. “It’s a tough game, man,” he told reporters during the slog of an April slump. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I know my swing. I’m swinging the bat well, but sometimes it doesn’t go your way. The hits aren’t falling for me. But I haven’t forgotten how to hit. Trust me, I’ll be fine.”
As it turned out, Pujols was right. He’s fine. He’s more than fine. There’s still plenty of Pujols in Pujols. And even if the hits aren’t as frequent now, even if he doesn’t seem to have much interest in drawing walks, the sound is still there when he connects it’s like hearing a favorite song, one that you’ve listened to a five thousand times, a song that never gets old.
Since the start of May, Pujols is batting .299 with a dangerous-man slugging percentage of .625. In case you were wondering if Pujols still possessed the power to menace pitchers, he helpfully sent 14 reminders … in the form of 14 home runs in his last 36 games. Pujols enters this weekend with 17 homers on the season, tied for fourth-most in the majors, and his super-sized Isolated Power number (.267) looks like something from his St. Louis days.
There have been substantial changes in the Pujols’ hitting profile since he exited his long and distinguished career peak phase with the Cardinals. Pujols isn’t selective at the plate, and he hunts too many pitches out of the zone. This has collapsed a walk rate that came in at 13 percent between 2003 to 2010. It’s down to 6 percent this season.
Pujols was an on-base machine in St. Louis, with a .427 OBP in his first nine seasons. But Pujols hasn’t posted an OBP higher than .366 over his last five seasons, and it’s ebbing at .318 this season.
Shrinking OBP duly noted, go ask the pitchers if they want to challenge Pujols, straight up. That would be a ‘no.” What Pujols does best of all is stand in the box, lock eyes on the pitcher, jump on a pitch of his liking, and send it on a long-distance flight.
Pujols has homered every 10 at-bats since May 1, and that includes nine boom shots in his last 13 games. Is Pujols turning back the clock? No, Pujols is breaking the damn clock by bombing it.
“When he gets going, he’s in a class of his own,” Scioscia said. Pujols hit career homer No. 537 earlier this week, which bumped Mickey Mantle from 16th place on baseball’s all-time HR list. Pujols has muscled his way past several big names this season, surpassing the career home-run totals of Ted Williams, Frank Thomas, Willie McCovey,Jimmie Foxx, and now Mantle. Next up: Mike Schmidt, in 15th place with 548 homers.
Pujols is gaining on the all-time leaders in other hitting categories. He recently passed George Brett in career extra-base hits. And with 1,122 extra-base hits, Pujols is closing in on Tris Speaker (13th, with 1,132) and Ty Cobb (12th, with 1,138.)
Pujols has moved into 30th place in all-time in RBIs, driving home 1,635, and he’s about to overtake Ernie Banks (1,636) and Tony Perez (1,652.)
“I couldn’t even imagine what it’s like to have a career like that,” Angels catcher Chris Iannetta told reporters. “And pass a Hall of Famer every time you hit a home run. And his career is far from over. He’s going to have a lot more of that to come.”
Pujols is in his fourth season with the Angels after leaving the Cardinals to accept the largesse of a 10-year free-agent contract that will pay him $240 million through 2021. The other set of numbers, the Anaheim batting stats, aren’t close to what he left behind in St. Louis. But that’s to be expected; Pujols’ downturn actually began in 2011, in his final year of rule at Busch Stadium.
Pujols had a .328 average and 1.037 OPS in 11 seasons here, and is batting .273 with an .815 OPS for the Halos. None of this means he’s insignificant, or tumbling toward the bottom in the kind of extreme career descent that’s put David Ortiz in such a rotten mood.
There’s hope in a healthier frame. Pujols has been slowed by knee and foot injuries, but his wheels aren’t cracking this time. Pujols has said that this is the freshest he’s been as an Angel. Pujols still plays a smooth first base, and he helped lead the Angels back into the playoffs last season. His love of baseball hasn’t waned, and he’s delighted to have the dynamic young Mike Trout, 23, as a teammate. They’ve become close friends, with Trout praising Pujols’ generosity in offering advice, and for being there to listen if Trout needs to talk his way out of a frustrating slump.
“Players like him come along every 25 years,” Pujols said of Trout. And a talent like Pujols comes along about every 50 years.
While it’s impossible for a hitter to conquer advancing age, Pujols is fighting back, with force. Nothing about his game is a source of embarrassment. This proud man is still very much a proud hitter. Rather than being an object of pity, he still commands respect.
Pujols is the oldest Angel, and it’s amazing to think about the quick passage of time, with so many years zipping by. Pujols arrived on the big-league roster in St. Louis in 2001, a complete package at age 21, and he wasted no time in establishing himself an imposing presence in the middle of the Cards lineup.
Pujols still makes his home in St. Louis, still gives his time and money to local charitable causes. His history here is too deep, too strong, to break. One day Pujols will be return to Busch Stadium, retired as a player, and he’ll wear the red jacket on opening day, standing with with the Hall Famers that enhanced the Bird on the Bat brand. That’s something to look forward to, but for now Pujols still has many home runs to hit before it’s time to come home.