For most of his career Albert Pujols has lived with the nickname of “The Machine”, and he’s done more than live up to it. Never in his 12-year career has he been held below 30 home runs in a season, and only once has his RBI mark been below 100, not to mention his career batting average sits at a superb .325. He’s the best player baseball has seen in a while, certainly the best in the last decade. And that right there is the problem.
It’s been a decade.
Twelve whole years have gone by since Pujols first dawned a St. Louis Cardinals uniform at the ripe age of 21, and now at 33 years old the, first baseman slugger is beginning to learn that, sadly, even machines break down eventually.
2011 and 2012 were the worst of Pujols’ career. He failed to reach a .300 average in both seasons, batting .285 last year, and his marks in home runs and RBI were career-lows as well. Some pointed to his age, others to pressure from the giant contract he signed with the Los Angeles Angels, but either way it’s quite clear that baseball’s best hitter has been, at least in the last two years, quite ordinary.
The machine is rusting.
Both Pujols’ home runs and average have declined in each of the last four years, and he only walked 52 times in 2012 compared to 115 three years ago. His RBI have fallen from the 130’s to barely triple digits, and his home runs have gone from the 40’s to only 30 in 2012. It doesn’t take a keen eye to spot the trend there.
So what does that mean for fantasy baseball in 2013? It means Pujols fans have a tough pill to swallow and fantasy players have a tough decision to make.
He’s still a top-10 pick, but he’s far from the top player in fantasy anymore, not with the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun, and Mike Trout out there. That much is certain. In fact, the Angels top slugger may not even be the best first baseman in baseball anymore. Joey Votto should probably hold that title. Altogether, though, Pujols belongs somewhere in the bottom five of the top-10 in 2013, and I personally believe that taking him there may be a stretch.
Some will say that it’s crazy to drop him from the top-10, but with all of the up and coming stars in the MLB today it’s crazier to waste your first pick on one who’s fading. Pujols has been the best of the best for a decade now, but time is a formidable opponent—undefeated, actually—and not even Pujols has what it takes to blemish that perfect record.
Take him with confidence if he’s there near the end of the first round, but don’t spend a top-five pick on the first base slugger. Until he shows us otherwise, he’s just not worth that anymore.
Follow Matt Schumacher on Twitter at m_Schumacher for fantasy baseball news and updates.