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.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.