Albert Pujols

Projecting Albert Pujols’ 2012 performance for the Angels

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One of the most difficult factors to try to account for in projecting player performance is the league switch, particularly when it comes to hitters. We tend to think of pitchers having an advantage in facing a largely new set of hitters when they switch circuits. It generally works the opposite way with hitters. Still, I don’t follow any general rule of thumb here when I’m doing my annual projections.

In 2011, we saw Adam Dunn completely lose it upon switching leagues, turning in one of the worst collapses of all time. Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Reynolds, on the other hand, handled the jump from the NL to the AL just fine. Gonzalez obviously seems like a better comp for Pujols than the others. Miguel Cabrera is another. He got off to a slow start in the AL, hitting a modest .284/.349/.489 in the first half of 2008 after being traded from the Marlins to the Tigers. In the 3 1/2 years since, he’s been one of the AL’s very best hitters.

Of course, Pujols has been fading anyway. His OPS dropped from 1.101 in 2009 to 1.011 in 2010 to .906 in 2011. He did play a lot better after a slow start last season, hitting .322/.388/.623 in his final 369 at-bats. That’s the same 1.011 OPS he had in a full season in 2010.

There’s also the ballpark to take into account. New Busch Stadium has been tough on power hitters since opening in 2006. In fact, over the last three years, it has the worst park factor for home runs of any NL stadium, PETCO included. Plus, it’s been even more difficult on right-handed hitters than left-handed hitters.

Angel Stadium is no hitter’s park, but it should treat Pujols somewhat better than his old home did. Over the last three years, it’s ranked 11th of the 14 AL parks for run scoring, putting it about on par with Busch in the NL. However, it’s ranked sixth in the AL for homers and it’s somewhat favors right-handed hitters over lefties.

One more factor worth looking at is Pujols’ overall play versus the AL. He’s taken part in almost a full season’s worth of interleague games in his career and hit .348/.438/.632 with 39 homers in 541 at-bats. That’s slightly better than his overall career line of .328/.420/.617.

So, Pujols being Pujols, I think he’ll do just fine in Anaheim right away. At 32, his very best years are probably behind him, but he should contend for a couple of more MVP awards before he’s done. In 2012, at least a modest rebound seems likely. My projection last year called for him to .322/.435/.609 with 40 homers and 119 RBI. For 2012, I’ll go with a slightly lower average, but similar power numbers. I’m thinking something like .310 with 42 homers and 115 RBI.

Yu Darvish will report to spring training on time, hopes to begin mound work in March

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Rangers ace Yu Darvish missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery last March 17. Most starting pitchers take 13-15 months to fully recover from that procedure, and the Rangers aren’t counting on Darvish until sometime this May.

His rehab so far has gone on without issue.

Darvish offered some very positive updates Tuesday to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram …

Darvish, 29, boasts a 3.27 ERA and 1.196 WHIP in 83 career major league starts. He can also claim a whopping 680 strikeouts in 545 1/3 career major league innings.

Texas has him under contract for $10 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017.

Masahiro Tanaka throws off mound for first time since October elbow surgery

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According to the Associated Press — via Chad Jennings of The Journal News — Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka threw off a bullpen mound Tuesday for the first time since undergoing a cleanup procedure on his right elbow last October.

The throwing session took place in New York, and Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild later told the media in Tampa that all of the reports he heard were good.

Tanaka might be behind some of the Yankees’ other pitchers when spring training officially begins, but he should be ready for the start of the 2016 regular season.

The 27-year-old native of Japan posted a 3.51 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 139/27 K/BB ratio across 154 innings last season for New York. He owns a 3.16 ERA (123 ERA+) in 290 1/3 innings since becoming a major leaguer in 2014.

Tanaka is still pitching with a partially-torn ligament in his right elbow that could eventually require Tommy John reconstructive surgery. His surgery last October was of the arthroscopic variety and simply removed bone spurs.

Bud Selig to teach a class at Arizona State law school

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Before Bud Selig ultimately retired, he had a couple of false start retirement announcements only to have the owners beg him to sign on for one more term. In one of those false starts he talked about how the University of Wisconsin had set up an office for him in the history department and that he’d be doing some research and teaching a class now and again. And he has, in fact, taught some one-off seminars at Wisconsin’s law school and the like.

Now something a little more permanent along those lines is in the works for The Greatest Commissioner in Baseball History. The Arizona Republic reports that Selig will join the Sports Law and Business program at Arizona State University’s law school where he will teach and advise as well as start up a speakers series in which he will bring in high-powered guests. No word on how many speakers will talk about big, important historical sports law cases like, say collusion in baseball, which was orchestrated by an ownership class in the mid-to-late 80s, of which Bud Selig was far and away the most influential member. That could get sort of awkward, I suppose.

Either way, it’s a good way to keep busy. I mean, that’s what it has to be as he’s not hurting for cash, what with the obscene $6 million severance package the owners gave him to, I dunno, not give interviews about bad stuff that happened back in the day like Fay Vincent does all the time. Stuff like collusion. Maybe he gets the $6 million for some other purpose. Who can say, really? It’s never made any sort of sense otherwise.

Anyway, good luck in Tempe, Bud. Maybe I’ll stop by your office at ASU when I’m there next month — I always stay in Tempe — and we can chew the fat or climb that butte with the big A on it or something. First round at Four Peaks afterward is on me.

White Sox sign first baseman Travis Ishikawa

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First baseman Travis Ishikawa has agreed to a minor-league contract with the White Sox that includes an invitation to spring training.

Ishikawa was previously reported to have a minor-league deal with the Mariners last month, but the signing was never finalized. Now he joins the White Sox, who have Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche ahead of him on the first base/designated hitter depth chart.

Ishikawa had some big moments for the Giants in the 2014 playoffs, but he’s a 32-year-old journeyman with a lifetime .255 batting average and .712 OPS in 488 games as a big leaguer.

It’s possible the White Sox could keep him around as a bench bat and backup first baseman/left fielder, but Ishikawa seems more likely to begin the season at Triple-A.