AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Can Albert Pujols has bounced back so far in 2014. Can he keep it up?
Coming off of the worst season of his career, it was starting to look as if Albert Pujols were done producing at an All-Star level and that the over $200 million left on his contract was going to live in infamy. It still might, but it looks as if shutting things down early last season and allowing his body to heal has rejuvenated the now 34-year-old.
In Pujols' first two seasons with the Los Angeles Angels he hit a total of 16 home runs in the months of April and May. This season he already has 13 home runs with a week left in May.
Pujols is currently slugging .545 on the season, more than 100 points better than last year’s dismal .437, and his best since slugging .596 in his second to last season with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010. Having their slugging first baseman produce at a high level will be crucial for the Angels given the Oakland Athletics' hot start.
Fixing The Machine
One of the big problems for Pujols last season was that he hit only .283 on pitches in the strike zone, while missing on 12 percent of swings. This season his average against pitches over the plate is .322 with only an 8 percent miss rate. All 13 of his home runs this season have come on pitches in the strike zone.
Pujols is also back to being able to hit off of left-handers (.288 average) after last year's debacle when he hit just .213 against lefties. Before 2013, the lowest Pujols ever hit in a single season against left-handers was .279. That was as a rookie in 2001.
Areas of concern
Albert Pujols Last 6 Seasons
vs Pitches Outside Strike Zone
While Pujols' start is encouraging, there are some warning signs about his game. The first one that jumps out is his walk rate, which sits at a career-low 6.9 percent. During his MVP years, he walked 15 percent of the time. Those rates were inflated with intentional walks and pitch-arounds that Pujols no longer commands, but it would be good to see him get that up to at least 10 percent.
One contributing factor in the decrease in his walk rate in recent years has been his increase in chasing pitches out of the strike zone since joining the Angels. This problem is compounded by the fact that unlike earlier in his career when Pujols hit well against pitches out of the strike zone, he currently does not, as .114 batting average against such pitches proves.
The last area concern is that 99 of the 166 balls Pujols has put in play this season have been pulled (60 percent). In the previous five seasons, he had a 50 percent pull rate. With the success teams have had with defensive shifts recently, this type of tendency could be exploited to hurt Pujols.