Fantasy Baseball: Is Albert Pujols back?

 

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim first baseman Albert Pujols

After a disastrous 2013 season, Albert Pujols looks to return to MVP form in 2014

Albert Pujols was widely considered one of the best hitters in baseball from 2001 to 2011. When Pujols left the St. Louis Cardinals for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, his career fell off track. Pujols put up decent numbers in 2012 – his first year in Los Angeles – but 2013 was a complete nightmare, especially for fantasy owners that drafted him early. His 2013 struggles seemed, in large part, due to injuries.

On July 26, 2013, Pujols tore his plantar fascia and was forced to sit out the remainder of the season; he only played 99 games. Before the injury, Pujols was already struggling. He was hitting just .258 with 17 home runs and 64 RBI. Compare this to Pujols’ 162 game averages of .321 with 41 homers and 124 RBI and he looked terrible. Of course, that 162 game average is ridiculous, but for the three-time MVP, those numbers were simply expected.

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When analyzing Pujols’ decline in 2012 and 2013, it may be best to take a look at some advanced stats. In his MVP seasons – 2005, 2008, and 2009 – Pujols displayed fantastic plate discipline; his walk rates were 13.9%, 16.2%, and 16.4% respectively. In 2012 and 2013, those rates fell substantially to 7.8% and 9%.

Pujols’ strikeout rate dramatically increased as well. He struck out in just 9.1% of his at bats in 2009, but stuck out in 12.4% during his shortened 2013 campaign. This led to a decline of his BB/K ratio from 1.93 in his 2008 season to .68 and .73 the last two seasons. His contact rate has also dropped over the last two years.

The final advanced stat I want to focus on is Isolated Power (ISO) – the formula for ISO can be found here. In ’08 and ’09, Pujols had an ISO of .296 and .331, which is considered absolutely incredible. Since that 2009 season, his ISO has dropped each year; it dropped all the way to .179 in his injury plagued 2013 season.

Let’s turn our focus to his stats thus far in 2014. Remember, this is a small sample size – just 20 games to be exact – but it is still indicative of how Pujols is hitting so far this season. After 90 at bats, Pujols is hitting .274 with eight home runs and 19 RBI. Those eight home runs are tied for the most in the league.

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Now let’s see how Pujols is doing in those advanced stats. Pujols has still not walked much. His walk rate is sitting at just 7.6%, but his strike out rate has been much better; so far, it is 8.4%, which is even lower than it was in his MVP seasons in ’05 and ’09. The decrease in strikeouts has also shot his BB/K ratio back up to .88. It’s nowhere close to where it was during his MVP seasons, but it is certainly on the rise. Finally, his ISO has gone up to .345, which is the highest of his career.

Pujols is poised for a huge come back season as evidenced by just a few of these advanced stats. I don’t believe that Pujols is going to hit around .320 again, but he’ll still be a huge contributor to any fantasy team. At the end of the 2014 season, I expect Pujols to hit .275 with 35 home runs and 110 RBI. Any fantasy owners that drafted Pujols look to have gotten a steal.

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