Superman No More?

As Albert struck out in the top of the fifth with two runners on, a friend of mine IMd to say “Typical of the Pujols of 2007”.

I responded, “What, just superhuman not perfect?”

However, it struck a chord with me. Pujols seems to have been a little less reliable in big situations this year than in the past. Before, it was almost automatic that he was going to get a run in, now you aren’t as surprised when it doesn’t happen. But was this true or more of a subjective issue?

I hunted back through some stats on ESPN’s player page. The stats went back to 2002, which is pretty much the length of his career. So what do we see? Let’s take it bit by bit.

First, let’s see what he’s looked like with nobody on the last few years:

Year AB AVG HR RBI BB K
2002 275 .273 14 14 26 38
2003 330 .342 22 22 36 39
2004 324 .315 26 26 37 29
2005 319 .345 21 21 41 28
2006 299 .321 22 22 32 34
2007 256 .340 18 18 38 23

All 2007 stats are through 8/30. Thanks to Roark1138 at CCH for help in figuring out how to do a table.

OK, so what, if anything, do we see with this first table? Pretty much, with nobody on, pitchers have to go after Albert, and he typically does a good job of making them pay with some sort of hit. He’s right on pace to be in his normal range of solo home runs when 2007 ends.

So we have pretty much determined that, when nobody’s on, Albert is still Albert. What about when runners are on?

Year AB AVG HR RBI BB K
2002 315 .349 20 113 46 31
2003 261 .379 21 102 43 26
2004 268 .351 20 97 47 23
2005 272 .313 20 96 56 37
2006 236 .343 27 115 60 16
2007 214 .299 12 66 41 31

Here is where we start to see a little of the slippage that subjectively we felt was there. Pujols has struck out more times already this year in these situations than all but one of the past five. For the first time, his average in this situation is under .300, and his previous low was .313 so it’s a pretty good drop off. The at-bats in these situations, though, is also on the low side, which may mean that Pujols is pressing a bit when he does get up with runners on, because those opportunities are a little farther apart than they have been in the past.

What if those runners are in scoring position?

Year AB AVG HR RBI BB K
2002 156 .340 16 98 33 12
2003 131 .374 12 76 29 15
2004 143 .343 10 71 35 12
2005 140 .329 9 70 48 16
2006 126 .397 14 88 41 10
2007 97 .299 7 54 31 9

Of course, the walks in these situations are going to be pretty overwhelming due to the intentional passes he typically gets when first base is open. Still, we again see that the 2007 average is a good 30 points below his prior low. The home runs aren’t noticeably different, but the RBI are.

What if there are two outs when those runners are in scoring position, a slot where Albert time and time again has come through?

Year AB AVG HR RBI BB K
2002 67 .284 7 32 18 6
2003 49 .347 3 26 14 6
2004 60 .333 4 29 17 4
2005 52 .308 3 27 28 7
2006 46 .435 5 34 16 4
2007 25 .240 2 11 13 3

It could be we were just ridiculously spoiled by Pujols’s performance last year. Look at that gaudy .435 in this situation in 2006! By contrast, his (again) career low of .240 for 2007 looks even more paltry. He’s striking out at about the same clip, so he’s still putting the ball in play. A function of the Cardinal offense being weak for most of the season is probably why he only has 25 ABs in this situation, but these numbers are all way down for whatever reason.

Finally, let’s look at “close and late”, which is defined at ESPN as “results in the 7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck.”

Year AB AVG HR RBI BB K
2002 63 .206 1 7 17 8
2003 82 .390 6 19 14 14
2004 79 .329 8 18 14 7
2005 80 .250 6 18 13 7
2006 72 .319 10 26 19 10
2007 55 .382 6 20 16 7

In this category, at least, AP can still wear the S on his chest. He is still a person you don’t want to see with the game on the line, because he’s more than likely going to get the job done.

What does all this tell us? Probably not much. It statistically looks like Pujols could be pressing to get the hit and drive the run in, something that was falling more and more on his shoulders especially early in the year. Of course, he had the worst start ever to his career this year also, which may be reflected in these numbers. It’s just surprising that in his Age 27 year, a year when most players take their first step into their prime, Pujols has slipped back just a bit.

That being said, a slipped Pujols is still better than 99% of the players in MLB today.

Getting that hit in the fifth would have been really big, though, as the Cardinals again make a no-name pitcher feel good about himself and lose 2-1. Pineiro pitched a pretty good game and can’t be faulted too much for serving up a home run to one of the hottest players in the National League. The Cardinals worked out of some jams, which again was very good. If only the bats could have come through in the couple of chances they had. Only 5 hits, though, means there weren’t a lot of chances.

So the Cardinals have to wait and really hope that Milwaukee is able to pull off the win tonight. That’d keep them two back of the Cubs. A Cubs win, pushing them three back, would pour even more cold water over the momentum of the last couple of weeks. The upcoming schedule should be favorable to the Cards, but they have a tendency to play down to the competition, as seen during this series and the 1-5 road trip through Pittsburgh and Washington at the beginning of the month.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the Reds series and hope for better results.

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