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July 18, 2012

Pebble Hunting

Albert Pujols Walks Again, and Other Reflections on Earlier Articles

by Sam Miller

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July 18 is as good a time as any to go back and read old pieces to see whether they make a lick of sense in hindsight. It is as good a time as any because there is, from the writer’s perspective, no good time to do this without wondering why that thing was written in the first place. Baseball is really just a lifelong project to break down any sense of certainty you might have about cause and effect.

Nonetheless, let’s review a few of the conclusions I made in March, April, and May to see what new information tells us.

April 24: Albert Pujols Never Walks

Topic: Albert Pujols was hitting poorly, but beyond that was the continuation of a trend that started the previous year: Few walks, less plate discipline, lot of swings at sliders outside.

Excerpt: "The Angels signed Albert Pujols for 10 years because even the decline phase of a .328/.420/.617 hitter should be pretty good. It turns out they’re getting a different hitter entirely. Probably a great hitter, maybe still the best hitter, and if there's anything you take from this piece, I really hope it's not that Albert Pujols is anything less than awesome still. He is awesome still, and I hate all of you who quit reading way up there and think that I'm giving up on Pujols. But he's a different hitter."

Update: Since April 24, Pujols is hitting .279/.347/.496, but I don’t mind using a more generous endpoint for this. Going back to the midway point in May, Pujols is hitting .317/.397/.603 in 53 games, with 20 unintentional walks. Over a full season, 60 unintentional walks would be at the low end, but not the lowest end, of his career norms.

Looking at some other observations in the piece:

  • Pujols had typically swung at 42 percent of pitches, until the 2011 All-Star break, when he began swinging at about 49 percent of pitches. But since we ran our piece, he has swung at 45 percent of pitches, and since our generous May 16 endpoint, he has swung at 44 percent.
  • Pujols had traditionally swung at 40 percent of curves+sliders+changeups, but was swinging at 53 percent this year. Since May 16, he is down to 41 percent.
  • Pujols had swung at 27 percent of pitches outside the zone in 2010, 33 percent in 2011, and was swinging at 35 percent through April 24 of this year, according to StatCorner’s figures. That figure hasn’t changed. He’s still swinging at 35 percent of pitches outside the strike zone.

So Pujols doesn’t quite have the same patience he used to have, and the Angels probably wish he did, but he has mostly gone back to the swing rates and walk rates he had during his MVP seasons. Optimistically, you could look at his performance since mid-May, and the underlying swing rates he has since then, and conclude that Albert Pujols was merely going through a really weird phase and that he is still mostly the hitter we thought he was. Swing rate is about the fastest measure to stabilize, so you might say he is stable huzzah. But you might also note that even measures that stabilize quickly can fluctuate quite a bit.

March 26: Pick an Old or Injury-Prone PItcher.

Topic: Who will win more games going forward: Mark Prior, Scott Kazmir, or Jamie Moyer.

Excerpt: "Jamie Moyer is still Jamie Moyer: the worst bet of the three to win 50 more games in the majors, but the best bet to win one."

Update: Moyer actually won two before the Rockies (and then the Orioles and then the Blue Jays) cut him loose. So two is the leader in the clubhouse. Prior has held it together for 12 ⅓ innings with the Red Sox’ Triple-A team, striking out 25 but walking 13. He spent two weeks on the disabled list (side injury) but returned to win his first game as a professional since 2006, a 19-pitch relief effort in which he retired just one batter. Then there is Kazmir, who signed with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters to make his comeback. In two starts, he has thrown two innings and allowed eight runs, striking out three of the 17 batters he has faced but allowed two walks, a hit batter, and eight hits. Since the start of the 2011 season, he has made nine starts spread over Anaheim, Salt Lake, the Dominican winter league, and now Sugar Land. Cumulative stats: 19 ⅓ innings, 47 earned runs. A 21.88 ERA.

In March, I had Moyer as the favorite, followed by Prior, followed by Kazmir. Sticking to that.

May 4: When Age-27 Doesn’t Work Out

Topic: Brandon Wood’s age-27 season is friggin' depressing

Excerpt: "(Colorado Springs is) the craziest place to hit in the craziest league to hit, and it’s where Brandon Wood is hitting .253/.289/.418, with 19 strikeouts and three walks. It’s his age-27 season."

Update: Through 80 games, Wood was hitting .250/.297/.398 with the Sky Sox. Six home runs, 64 strikeouts, 15 walks. Despite the months-long injury to Troy Tulowitzki, he hasn’t been promoted to Colorado, and so, my original piece would argue, this is officially the end of hoping Brandon Wood’s career turns into a thing. More interesting than Wood’s performance is Colorado Springs’ performance. The club started using a humidor this year, and offense is way down at the park. The team’s home ERA has dropped by nearly three runs.

May 9: The Evolution of a Save Celebration

Topic: Because we get to see Kenley Jansen become a closer from scratch, we get to see Kenley Jansen develop a save celebration from scratch.

Excerpt: "What's interesting is that Kenley Jansen is building a save celebration as he goes. Over the course of two years, Jansen has hit most of Sullivan's closer-celebration categories at least once. He has acknowledged. He has been indifferent. He has pumped his fist. He has done an adorable tiny hop. He came pretty close to a showstopper on his most recent save. He hasn't glove-punched, but he has done everything but glove-punch....My guess, based on what we've seen from Kenley Jansen so far, is that Kenley Jansen will eventually be a showstopper."

Update: Jansen has actually gone the other way, getting calmer with his post-save routine and seeming to settle in as an indifferent hand-shaker. This is save no. 15, his most recent save that ended with a strikeout.

May 23: How Josh Harrison Beats Justin Verlander

Topic: Josh Harrison swings at way more pitches than you realize.

Excerpt: “Harrison now has 64 plate appearances and nine two-ball counts. There are 35 major leaguers (minimum 50 PA) with a higher walk rate than Harrison’s two-ball-count rate. He has reached three-ball counts twice this season, once every 32 plate appearances. As I write this, 405 players have more than 50 plate appearances, and 382 of them have walked more frequently than Josh Harrison has reached three balls in a count.Aaron Heilman, the pitcher Aaron Heilman, is 1-for-47 in his career. His career walk rate is higher than Josh Harrison’s three-ball-count rate this year. His walk rate is higher than Josh Harrison's three-ball-count rate.”

Update: Harrison has 78 plate appearances since that ran, and he has 19 two-ball counts in that time. He has seven three-ball counts in that time. Those rates aren’t much, but Josh Harrison isn’t much, and those rates are much for Josh Harrison. He has two-ball counts in 24 percent of his plate appearances, compared to a league average of 40 percent. he has three-ball counts in 9 percent of plate appearances, compared to a league average of 19 percent. Josh Harrison, with his .222/.279/.373 line, is now just conventionally unproductive.

***

There was also the one where I considered the anonymous GM who told Jon Heyman that Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo were already better than Albert Pujols. I dismissed the idea, especially regarding Trumbo. Over and over I've been wrong about Mark Trumbo in my life, so I'm not surprised that I may have been wrong about him again.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

1 comment has been left for this article.

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