Albert Pujols Still Looking For Consistency With Los Angeles Angels

By Thom Tsang
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Considering that Mark Trumbo has a 1.025 OPS with seven home runs over the last two weeks, you’d think that the Los Angeles Angels would have been in enough positions to really turn their season around in their recent stretch of games.

Instead, the team is still hanging around its fourth-place limo in the AL West, having lost seven out of their last 10.

Sure, a good number of them have been close games, and the pitching staff continues to shoulder part of the blame. Still, the most glaring problem with the Angels right now is that their game-changers simply aren’t doing enough to change games.

That includes Mike Trout (.228/.324/.439 over last 14 days) and Josh Hamilton (.462 OPS over the same span), of course, and the latter’s struggles have become so well-documented and gotten so bad that the team has decided to give the high-priced free agent a breather from playing.

In doing so, though, they might have put the spotlight on a whole other can of worms — namely, Albert Pujols.

But hold on, wasn’t he already out of his Opening Week slump? Yes and no. The first baseman did bust out in a hurry after a .365 OPS first week, and had a Pujols-ian .324/.480/.595 triple slash headed into play on April 14.

Since then, however, it’s essentially been two steps back for the Angels’ $210 million man. While you’ll likely remember that he 33-year old is only days removed from a four-hit, two-homer night in that 19-inning epic against the Oakland Athletics, what you probably haven’t heard too much about is that well … he’s bee pretty awful otherwise.

How bad? Combined with an 0-for-4 performance against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday, Pujols now owns a brutal .153/.194/.305 triple-slash over the last 14 days.

There are three home runs mixed in there, but for the most part, those numbers aren’t doing anything to help the Angels, let alone being expected to key the offense at the No. 3 spot. That 1.000-plus OPS is long gone, and Pujols is in a struggle to find any piece of his old form with a .237/.319/.407 line heading into play on May 4.

So what’s wrong? It’s hard to pinpoint, exactly. The slugger’s swinging strike rate is the highest it’s ever been at 9.1 percent, and he’s still chasing outside pitches more than he used to (34.5 percent vs. 23.1 percent career).

Most notably, however, is that while he’s swung more at pitches inside the zone (65.5 percent, highest since PITCHf/x system was implemented), his contact rate with those pitches is as low as ever (88.9 percent), leading to a 79.7 percent contact rate that’s his lowest since the PITCHf/x era.

That could suggest a lot of things, but the thing that comes to mind is a natural decline in hand speed.

Is Pujols simply having a more difficult time catching up to pitches? The power is obviously still there, but he’s still having trouble maintaining the level of hitting that he’s exhibited in his all-time career on a consistent basis.

Perhaps it’s just gotten to the point in his career where slow starts are to be expected, and his perennial All-Star form will be alive and well by the time it’s July.

Considering what happened to Los Angeles’ playoff aspirations in 2012, however, the 11-19 Angels have to be wondering whether the cold streak — combined with Hamilton’s slump — will once again be just a little too much to overcome.

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