Maybe the St. Louis Cardinals knew what they were doing when they decided to let Albert Pujols walk.
For a decade, as a member of the Redbirds, Pujols was the most feared hitter in baseball. Now, it's starting to look like those days are over.
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Grant you, it's April, and it wouldn't take much for Pujols to get going again. But the fact of the matter is, for $240 million, you shouldn't be allowed to have month-long slumps.
Still, the Angels should have seen this coming.
In 2008, Pujols posted a career-high 1.114 on-base plus slugging percentage. Since then, his batting average has fallen from .357 to .327 to .312 to .299. His on-base percentage has dropped from .462 to .443 to .414 to .366, and his slugging percentage, which was at .653 in '08, fell to .541 last season.
Seems like a semi-alarming trend for a guy you just inked to a 10-year deal.
Three consecutive seasons where he wasn't quite as good as the year before. Was he still a great hitter? Yes. He ranked 10th in the National League last season in OPS. But the problem is, Los Angeles didn't sign him to be the 9th, 10th or 11th best hitter in the league. They signed him to be the best, even at 32-years-old.
Teammate Torii Hunter believes it's just a matter of Pujols adjusting to a new league.
"For Albert, this is totally different," Hunter said. "He doesn't know any of the pitchers. But when he figures it out, there's going to be trouble. This guy is good, man."
Yeah, he's good. One of the best of all-time. And maybe it's that simple. Stop pressing and get use to the pitchers he's facing.
Except -- again, there are signs that Pujols' days of being baseball's best are over.
He's clearly not as patient at the plate as he once was. In 2008, he averaged one walk every 7.5 at-bats. In '09, it was up to one every 9 at-bats. Now, he's up to one every 23.
He's also now constantly chasing curveballs and sliders that are outside the strike zone. A classic example of an older player trying to speed up his bat against fastballs and being fooled by off-speed stuff. In fact, Pujols is hitting just .091 against those pitches this year.
In short, if you throw him anything besides gas, odds are he's not doing much with it.
Again, it's only 18 games into the season. Maybe it's just a slump, or maybe he is in fact pressing. But regardless, those 72 at-bats have reinforced the image of a hitter that opponents no longer fear. And if Pujols continues to be only a shadow of his former self, the next decade is going to seem like an eternity for Los Angeles fans.