The popular belief when it comes to Albert Pujols' stunning lack of production this year has been, "It's only a matter of time."
Given his past statistics, it's an easy argument to make.
There seems to be no lack of confidence in the man, and he's earned that. A .327 career average and 445 homers with over 1300 RBIs will earn you the benefit of the doubt. But what if all the experts and sports writers who assure us that Pujols will return to form sooner rather than later are wrong? What if we never see the Pujols we used to know?
Let's start with the obvious issue: age.
Albert is 32 years old, and while that's generally not too old as a hitter, it's not young. Including the 25 this year, the man has played 1730 games, and he almost certainly is not the same swinger he was. A younger Pujols may have been able to recover quite well, but I think that 12 seasons may have eroded that ability ever so slightly.
I'm not saying he won't put up good numbers this season, but I think that he may not meet the Pujols standard.
While that is pure hunch-work, there's some statistical evidence to suggest that the hitting machine is losing a little off the top.
Over the past five seasons, his batting average has progressively declined, from .357 down to .299 last season. His OBP has declined by at least 20 points every season since 2008, and over the past 3 seasons, his RBI totals have declined, to the point where last season, for the first time in his career, he missed the 100 RBI mark.
There is also something to be said about the fact that Pujols just signed the third largest contract in baseball and sports history.
There's been a long and storied history of players getting their contracts and losing their motivation. While I don't think that Pujols is that kind of player, I do think that the pressure placed upon a player by a gargantuan contract can cause some performance issues. A-Rod has gone on record saying that the pressure that came with his contract in Texas was stifling, and at times affected his play.
The Angels stepped outside of their comfort zone in signing such a high-profile player for such a large amount, and it's clear they want to win immediately and compete with the Rangers. There is a lot of pressure that comes with being that first type of signing for a franchise, perhaps it's getting to Pujols.
I'm not saying that Pujols won't continue to be a star in the league. He'll continue to put up great numbers, I do think, however, that we've seen the end of the .320 with 120 RBI Pujols season. At the very least, there is enough evidence to suggest he won't get there this season.
Last year might be a better indication of what to expect going forward.
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