Over at Baseball Prospectus today, the estimable Sam Miller has a (free) piece on Albert Pujols’ slow start and whether it’s due to an expanding personal strike zone. He concludes that it just might be:
The Angels signed Albert Pujols for 10 years because even the decline phase of a .328/.420/.617 hitter should be pretty good. It turns out they’re getting a different hitter entirely. Probably a great hitter, maybe still the best hitter, and if there's anything you take from this piece, I really hope it's not that Albert Pujols is anything less than awesome still. He is awesome still, and I hate all of you who quit reading way up there and think that I'm giving up on Pujols. But he's a different hitter.
Are his eyes getting worse? Are his reactions getting worse? Is he guessing at pitches to compensate for slowed bat speed? Is he in his own head? Is this related to his wrist injury last June, the one he came back from with almost miraculous speed? Or is it all nothing, or even part of Pujols' evolution as a hitter, and will the next seven or eight years at least work out beautifully for the Angels? Quite possibly! But, man. Ten years.
Pujols has now gone 70 plate appearances without a home run to start the season, the longest such streak of his career. He has all of four RBI. He’s hitting .154 with runners in scoring position and .231 with men on.
So far, year one of the Angels’ investment in Pujols has been a disaster. Of course, year one is not very old. Unless there is a physical problem we don’t yet know about, he’s going to turn things around this year.
His providing value over the course of the rest of the contract is doubtful, but that was always going to be the case whether he hit .370 with 70 home runs, .270 with 20 home runs or anything in between. Age is inexorable both in the real world and in baseball, with the main difference being it strikes faster in the latter.
Paraphrasing a commenter in the article linked above, the list of the longest contracts in baseball history is almost identical to the list of the worst contracts in baseball history.
In the first blush of free agency, teams showered players with 10-year contracts. Most of them got burned in one way or another. Either the player (most often a pitcher) failed to perform, or the team’s and player’s needs diverged; rebuilding was required, but the former was stuck with the latter or had to deal him for pennies on the dollar in terms of talent returned.
That was a hard lesson learned, but it has been mostly forgotten now. Richie Zisk to the Rangers for 10 years? Who? Wayne Garland to the Indians for 10 years? Never happened. Larry Hisle to the Brewers for six years? Bud Selig would prefer not be reminded about that.
Now, whether the player is Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder or even the 30-year-old Ian Kinsler, those old foolish signings are being replaced with new foolish signings.
Thus, if you’re asking whether Pujols or any of these players will provide value throughout the years of their deal, the answer is hell no. In the short term? Maybe, sure, probably. In the long term? There is no way. The aging curve is too well established for us to pretend that it will be otherwise.
Don’t think of Pujols’ deal as a 10-year, $240 million contract; think of it as a five-year, $480 million deal, with anything coming after that as gravy.