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.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

Associated Press
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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.