Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Albert Pujols

 This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $59.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.


An email exchange from last week:

Did Albert steal your girlfriend in middle school or something?

-- Robert E.

That would make him 49 or 50, so maybe you don’t want to open that can of worms. :-)


Albert Pujols presents a problem for an analytical writer. He is, as should be obvious, no longer deserving of a roster spot on merit, and surely not deserving of one on a team with a chance to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2014. These are just facts. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, Pujols is hitting .241/.291/.404 with passable defense at first base, good for a total of -1.7 bWAR. He is one of the slowest players in baseball, and he doesn’t even have a big platoon split that you can exploit: Pujols has a sub-.300 OBP against lefties since 2013.

This year, Pujols is hitting .231/.286/.308 with one extra-base hit in 42 at-bats. Injuries to Angels hitters have turned him into a regular again, with starts in five straight games at first base, and likely more to come until the team figures out when it will call up Brandon Marsh and/or Jo Adell. You can’t write around this story; Pujols, and the Angels’ insistence on playing him, are big barriers to Mike Trout returning to playoff baseball.

Still, we’re talking about one of the greatest players who has ever played the game, someone who at his peak wasn’t just a big bat, but an excellent defender and baserunner, a contact hitter for his era, someone who could execute a hit-and-run as well as any 5'8" second baseman. Someone who can still, in the right moment, do this.

The Angels fell behind 6-0 to the Rangers last night, a five-run sixth inning just about putting the game away. In the bottom of the seventh, they put together a rally, with Pujols’s RBI single part of the mix. The game was 6-2 with one out, Pujols on second and Jose Iglesias on first, when Pujols tapped into that big baseball brain.

Rangers righty Kyle Cody, who was finishing up first grade when Pujols made his MLB debut, had given up successive singles and was focused on not giving up a third to Kurt Suzuki. So focused, in fact, that he barely checked the old man leading off second. Pujols watched Cody throw strike one to Suzuki, then miss for a ball. As Cody came set for the third pitch, Pujols shuffled towards third, shuffled again, and as Cody lifted his left leg, never looking back, Pujols took off. He stole third standing up, stole it by so much that Rangers catcher Jose Trevino fielded Cody’s breaking ball and didn’t bother to throw.

Albert Pujols can’t hit and he can’t run and he can barely field, but he can still think. He traveled to third base on his legs, but he stole third base with his mind, for ten seconds playing baseball better than the 26-year-old on the mound did.

No, Robert, Pujols never stole my girl, never blew me off for an interview, never wrecked my fantasy team. I have an incredible amount of admiration for what he’s accomplished in his career, and I absolutely loved watching him with the Cardinals. When I write about the player he is now, I am doing my job: Pujols is hurting the Angels’ chances of winning the AL West, of making the playoffs, of ending the Trout Drought.

Still, late on a cool April night, I can be taken aback by something he does on the field, and acknowledge that little bit of greatness he still brings to the table.