“The Machine” finally broke down in 2013, as Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols tried to play through plantar fasciitis in his left foot, did not play after July 26 and was ultimately shut down for the season in August. He wound up playing just 99 games, and failed to top 500 at-bats for the first time in his career (391) on his way to career-lows across the board (.258, 17 home runs, 64 RBI along with a .330 on-base percentage and a .437 slugging percentage).
A right knee issue also bothered Pujols last season, but all indications are he will be close to 100 percent healthy heading into spring training. Shouldfantasy baseball owners expect him to recapture his previous form in 2014?
Looking at Pujols’ peripheral numbers, we’ve seen a decline from his elite-level walk rate (nine percent last season, 14.5 percent or better from 2006-2010 and over 10 percent every year from 2001-2010 with the St. Louis Cardinals ) and a slow decline in his contact rate (86 percent in 2013 from a peak of around 90 percent). But his batted ball peripherals have remained fairly stable, and his fly ball percentage (42 percent) topped 40 percent last year for the first time since his final season with the Cardinals in 2010. On notable outlier, which can be considered a product of dealing with injuries, is Pujols’ .258 batting average on balls-in-play (BABIP) in 2013, which is far below his career .306 BABIP and should correct some this season while bring his batting average up with it.
Pujols is no longer the elite fantasy first baseman he was in his prime, and he carries more risk than he used to at age 34 with durability an ever-present concern now. The added bonus of stolen bases that used to come with owning him went away last year (one steal in two attempts), and is unlikely to return even without a lingering foot issue that renders him unable to run. Assuming a return to health and 500-plus at-bats, a .280 average with 25 home runs and 90-100 RBI is a realistic projection for Pujols this year and makes him someone to target as a potential value pick in a lot of drafts.
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.