Albert Pujols is cheating.
No, he's not breaking any rules. Not any official rules, anyway.
Thursday night against the Mariners, Pujols went 3 for 4, including two RBI and his 450th home run. I saw a graphic somewhere that said Pujols had driven in 17 runs in his last 18 games.
Oh (the baseball scribe thought to himself) isn't that intriguing? Perhaps all those rumors of Albert's demise were greatly exaggerated and he's become himself this month.
The baseball scribe looked, and the baseball scribe discovered that Pujols has indeed driven home 17 runs in his last 18 games. Yes, it's an arbitrary starting point; one might almost as usefully point out that he's driven home 17 runs in his last 20 games, or 18 in his last 36. We might also point out that since the Angels fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, nine games ago, Pujols has hit four home runs after homering just once in his first 36 games.
Let's focus on those 18 games, though. It's a lot more than nine games, and was deemed worthy of a graphic.
In those 18 games, Pujols drew five walks and struck out eight times.
Which makes me think he's cheating. Cheating on the fastball, and afraid to get behind in the count. Which certainly is an approach that can work. It's just not what's worked for Pujols in the past. Not with these results as an end-point, anyway. One of the hallmarks of Pujols's past greatness was his virtually singular ability to hit the ball exceptionally hard with great consistency while rarely striking out and drawing a fair number of walks. Even when you subtracted the considerable number of intentional walks Pujols drew, he walked more often than he struck out.
He was consistent about it, too. From 2006 through 2010 -- and removing the intentional walks from the figuring -- Pujols drew walks in 15, 15, 17, 18, and 16 percent of his plate appearances; average of the five seasons: 16 percent.
In 2011, though? Ten percent.
Just a fluke, though, right? After all, he finished the season so strong!
But maybe it wasn't such a fluke. This season the figure is six percent. I don't think Pujols's walk rate will be stuck on six percent all season ... but I also don't think he's getting it back to 16 percent again. For whatever reason, he seems to have become a different, lesser hitter since 2010. Maybe it's just the natural aging process, but this particular part of his game has undergone an extreme decline, and it's necessarily impacted his overall production.
Albert Pujols has driven home 17 runs in his last 18 games. He's also posted a sub-800 OPS, after entering the season with a 1037 career mark. Maybe he'll still become the hitter the Angels thought they were hitting. But just looking at these last 18 games, he's still got a long way to go.