His numbers are so bad, that in order to match last season’s numbers (if we assume the same number of plate appearances) he would have to have an on base percentage of .401 and slugging percentage of .611 the rest of the way. It’s likely then, that Pujols’ numbers will decline for the fourth year in a row. Of course, until this year, that drop off wasn’t steep, and it still left him as one of the best hitters in the game, even if he wasn’t putting up the prodigious numbers from 2001-2009.
I took a look, using OPS+, at the most similar hitters to Albert Pujols who met the following conditions:
1) An OPS+ of 170 or more in year 1;
2) An OPS+ that was equal to or lower than the previous year in each of years 2, 3, and 4;
3) An OPS+ of 130 or lower in year 4.
From that list, I calculated a similarity score for the first three years (we obviously don’t know exactly where Pujols will end up this year) using the difference between Pujols OPS+ and the other player in each year, and then squaring that difference and subtracting from 1000. Here are the most similar four year stretches of decline, with ages of each player for the four year period listed.
Those fifteen comps averaged OPS+ of 192, 169 and 148, compared to 189, 173, and 148 for Pujols. The fourth year, they checked in at an OPS+ of 104 on average, basically a league average hitter, but a major downgrade from what they had been.
The average age in year four for this group was 33.3 years old. There have been plenty of speculation about Albert Pujols’ age, though never anything close to substantiated. Lest you think that this decline shows anything, keep in mind that Pujols is an old 32 in a system where players are classified by birth year, with an early January birthday. If he were born one month earlier, he would be right in line with the group average. His closest four year comp, Tris Speaker, put up league adjusted OPS numbers at age 28 to 30 similar to Pujols at 29 to 31.
How did this group do going forward? Well, it depends on age. The six players that were 35 or older at the end of this slow four year decline from MVP caliber to near league average never had a single one get 500 plate appearances again, and only Pop Stargell in his magical “We Are Family” 1979 season posted an OPS+ of 150 or more.
For the nine who were age 34 or younger, they bounced back somewhat as a group. The most successful were the aforementioned Tris Speaker, Jimmie Foxx, and Jim Thome. They averaged 3 more seasons of 500 or more plate appearances, and almost 2 more with an OPS+ over 150.
Of course, I’m not sure the Angels would be thrilled if Pujols, who is in the opening months of a ten year deal, went on to post only three more seasons of 500 AB’s and two more with an OPS+ over 150 (basically, every year for Pujols from 2001-2010).
The guess here is that Pujols will rebound, even though this stretch shows he is turning more human. He’ll still have some great months and great seasons, but this decline probably hints that there will be more ups and downs in Pujols’ future than he has provided in the past, when he was the model of year to year elite consistency.
[photo via US Presswire]