The Angels finally had enough yesterday and decided to insert Mark Trumbo in at first base in place of the slumping Albert Pujols. I’m sure it’s only temporary. The general idea is to give the world-class slugger a day or two away from it all to clear his head. Luckily for the Angels, they have plenty of bats to insert in his place while he figures things out.
The numbers speak for themselves. Most in the press focus on the homerless streak that has surpassed 100 plate appearances, but there are much more alarming numbers to look at. We could start with his .202 batting average, but even that is not the most alarming statistic on the board. That might be his five RBIs. For those that look at performance more in depth, it is his dwindling walk rate that is the most alarming. His career walk rate of 13 percent is among the best in baseball. Couple that with a strikeout rate of 9.5 percent and you can see why he is perhaps the best hitter of our generation.
Those numbers have flip flopped this season has he walking only five percent of the time and striking out 13 percent of the time. That isn’t horrible. Span the league and you will find hitters that strikeout in nearly 30 percent of their plate appearances. There are hitters that walk less often. However, given where he has been, these numbers are nothing less than remarkable. There is bound to be some regression to the mean, but he is clearly in decline.
Occasionally, we have looked at Pitch F/X data to get a very detailed look at a player. Pitch F/X data breaks down the numbers directly to help us understand why these things are occurring. Below is a table showing his basic numbers from the past five seasons with some advanced metrics from Pitch F/X thrown in.
As you can see, this trend has been happening for awhile, with the exception of his line drive rate, all of the numbers are trending down. It is easy to see what’s happening when we look at the last two categories on the table. Those two numbers are our pitch f/x numbers. O-Swing% is the percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone that a hitter swings at. The major league average tends to be around 30 percent. As we can see, when Pujols was in his prime he was far better than the league average. Now, he is worse than the league average in that category.
The swing percentage is not as big a deal, but you do see the same general theme. Pujols is far less patient than he used to be. This is where the rubber meets the road. Pitch f/x data shows us what is going on, but it doesn’t tell us why it is happening. There are any number of things going on. It could be that pitchers have figured out a way to pitch to Pujols in the intervening years. It’s also possible that Pujols just isn’t seeing the ball as well as he used to. What is more likely is that he is pressing.
This is where the line drive rate comes into play. Normally, the higher the line drive rate the higher the batting average on balls in play. So far, he has a .226 average on balls in play. It must be difficult to live up to the pressure from a 250 million dollar contract when you are suffering from the effects of a slump. Obviously, he is doing some things well and those efforts are not being rewarded. Hopefully, the day off will refocus him into using the approach he did before.
In addition to being the editor of hardballchat.com, Scott Barzilla is also the proud father of one and the author of four books. His books can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Barzilla's Hall of Fame Index was nominated for the Sporting News Award for statistical advancement.