Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Can Albert Pujols make a comeback?

Date on which Albert Pujols hit 8th HR of season
2004: May 3
2005: May 9
2006: April 16
2007: May 25
2008: May 13
2009: April 30
2010: May 14
2011: May 23
2012: May 29
2013: May 23
2014: April 22

He's hitting HR again, but his average hasn't rebounded yet (.274 vs. .321 career).  It doesn't seem outlandish, though, that he could hit around .300 this year.  It seems unlikely that he's going to hit .330, but not that he might hit 40 HR again.  He also could finish with relatively low walk and strikeout totals for a power hitter.  Are there are historical precedents for this?  Yes, several great hitters from the past had similar seasons in their mid-30's.

1946 Hank Greenberg (age 35): .277, 44 HR, 88 SO, 80 BB
1964 Willie Mays (age 33): .296, 49 HR, 72 SO, 78 BB
1969 Hank Aaron (age 35): .300, 44 HR, 47 SO, 87 BB

Of these 3, Aaron is the only one that continued to be productive for years afterward.  Mays did win the MVP in 1965, but began to decline almost immediately afterward.  After 1966, he never again hit over.300 or 30 HR again.  Greenberg retired after another productive season in 1947.  Aaron continued having excellent seasons until he was nearly 40. 

Historical comparisons are imperfect because times have changed.  None of those players was able to take advantage of being a DH, which Pujols almost certainly will for plenty of years.  Being a DH has helped David Ortiz continue to hit well into his 30's, in addition to players like Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez.   

Pujols has maintained that he is "too young" to become a DH full-time.  I'm sure people in the Angels organization are wondering if he would be hitting better if he were a full-time DH.  If he sustains an injury playing the field this year, the talk about him becoming a DH will only intensify. 

They would probably be happy at this point with an average around .300 if he would hit 40 HR, although that would be below what I'm sure they were expecting when they signed him to that monster contract.  If he's healthy, he's young enough to have a bounce back, although it will probably never get back to where it was from 2001-2009. 

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