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Monday, February 20, 2012
Over/under: Albert Pujols' batting average

By David Schoenfield

This guy named Albert Pujols will be reporting to Angels' camp on Monday.

As we all know, Pujols had the worst statistical season of his career in 2011, hitting under .300 for the first time (.299), failing to drive in 100 runs for the first time (99), posting a .366 on-base percentage (60 points below his career mark entering the season) and a .541 slugging percentage (83 points below his career mark).

Critics will point out that Pujols is now 32 years old and that his batting average has dropped three seasons in a row -- from .357 to .327 to .312 to .299.

Supporters will point out that after a slow start, Pujols hit .316/.383/.571 from May 4 through the rest of the season. His batting average on balls in play was .255 in the first half, .302 in the second half (which is similar to his career mark of .311).

So is Pujols aging or did he just have a bad month or two? For what it's worth, Angels Stadium doesn't do much to boost batting averages. The Angels hit .248 there in 2011, .257 on the road. In 2010, they hit .247 at home, .250 on the road. In 2009, .288 at home, .283 on the road.

One of things I don't believe is stuff along the lines of "Pujols will be motivated to have a big season." That's nonsense. There isn't a more motivated player in baseball than Pujols. He didn't have a bad season in 2011 due to lack of motivation and he won't have a better season in 2012 because of a new drive to excel. If he performs better it will be due to better health and a change in approach (perhaps a less aggressive approach than he used in 2011, when his walk rate plummeted).

Overall, I'll project a very slight uptick in batting average, chalking up his poor start in 2011 to some bad luck, although I do think there's obvious evidence he's starting to decline as a hitter. I'll set the over/under at .310.