This past offseason, first baseman Albert Pujols signed a 10-year deal with the Angels worth $240 million dollars.
In the early goings of his adjustment to a new city, a new media market and a new league, his production fell off and he is currently batting an anemic .234.
“The Machine” failed to hit a home run in April for the first time in his 12-year career and is not feared nearly as much by opposing pitchers, only earning three intentional walks through 48 games. In his 2009 MVP campaign, Pujols received 44 intentional free passes.
Many experts now fear that the nine-time All-Star is on the decline after the 2011 season marked the first time he failed to hit .300 and obtain 100 RBI’s in his MLB career.
Here’s what the sensationalists fail to recognize: Pujols hit .299, knocked in 99 runs, led the Cardinals to their second World Series title in seven years and was fifth in the National League MVP voting.
Sure, he’s off to the slowest start in his career. Even Pujols would agree that a .190 batting average on May 8th is not deserving of $24 million dollars a year—few statistics are.
After all the criticisms of his sudden lack of power numbers, Pujols has seven home runs in the month of May. Extrapolating that total over the remaining four months of the season puts him at 35 on the year, well over his career minimum of 32 from 2007.
Making the adjustment to a new team is difficult for any player. Instead of being followed in the lineup by a force like Matt Holliday, Pujols has now been thrust in between Maicer Izturis, a player whose batting average is only slightly better than Pujols’ and Kendrys Morales, who is slowly returning to form after missing nearly two seasons due to a broken leg.
Even something as simple as location can make a difference. Beyond the centerfield wall of St. Louis’ Busch Field is a pasture of green grass and a dark green wall 100 feet further back. In contrast, Angels Stadium flaunts a light brown rock structure in left-center that can act as a distraction for new and visiting hitters.
It is small changes like these, in addition to the constant media pressure of Los Angeles, that often prevent aspiring West coast superstars from reaching their same level of production.
Pujols, however, is already a superstar and does not need a major media market to make himself known to the rest of the league. And he certainly doesn’t feel the need to use the excuses associated with big city slumps.
“El Hombre” is a solid June away from having jokes of his needing an AARP membership completely disappearing. Reading the box scores every day should let the rest of the league know Pujols’ confidence is slowly building—a nightmare for American League pitching.
If the Angels want to chase down the Texas Rangers and make the postseason, they are going to need to rely on Pujols’ bat and experience. Judging from their recent six-game win streak, it is clear that a change is already brewing.