ANAHEIM, CA: Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim hits a three-run homerun against the San Francisco Giants at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
It's safe to say that Albert Pujols isn't mired in a terrible slump anymore. Feels weird to even remember that he was. So what can we see in his numbers, if we can see anything?
On May 5 of this season, Albert Pujols had zero home runs in 2012 to his name. It's not because Pujols had been hurt or anything -- Pujols started 27 of the Angels' first 28 games. The first one he missed was the 28th, on May 5. Pujols was in the lineup every day, batting a few times every day, and for a while he didn't have a homer. This was weird at the time, and this is weird to remember.
It's June 21 now, and Pujols has 11 homers to his name. That's not a huge amount of homers, but that's the same amount of homers as Prince Fielder has, and 11 is a hell of a lot better than zero. Albert Pujols hasn't been a problem for several weeks, because Albert Pujols has performed less like Jack Wilson and more like Albert Pujols, and the Angels signed Albert Pujols.
A slump is a difficult thing to measure. We like to give them starting points and ending points, but determining these points is hardly an exact science. Some people would argue that slumps don't even exist at all, and that everything's just luck or random chance. Since we don't pass our time living in other players' heads, we can't be certain how they're feeling. What we have to do with slumps is figure they're going when a player is bad, and over when a player is good. It's results-based analysis, but we can't do any better than that.
If we believe in slumps, then we have to believe that Albert Pujols was in a slump at the beginning of the year. He went a month without a homer, which isn't odd for some players, but which is extraordinarily odd for this particular player. When did the slump end? The automatic answer is "when he hit his first homer," but then, I don't know -- after Pujols homered on May 6, he didn't homer again until May 16, posting a .550 OPS in the meantime. How about we say that Pujols' slump ended on May 16? On May 15, Pujols batted 3-for-4 with three groundball singles. Productive, but not impressive. On May 16, Pujols homered, and on May 17, Pujols homered again.
That sounds good to me, which is convenient, since I'm the one writing this. Through May 15, Pujols owned a .536 OPS. Since May 16, Pujols has posted a .994 OPS. That slump is gone and might soon be nearly forgotten as the Angels try to sprint to the playoffs.
Okay, so Pujols isn't slumping anymore, everybody already knows that. What this post is about is comparing Pujols' numbers during the slump to Pujols' numbers after the slump. I don't mean OPS numbers; I mean more process numbers, more granular numbers. I'm not seeking anything out in particular. There's nothing specific that I'm looking for, except for information. Have you ever read a history book and wanted to be an explorer? Here we are exploring Albert Pujols' split 2012 statistics, which isn't like discovering new land, but which comes with a lower risk of dengue fever.
I don't know in what order to present these numbers so I'll just choose without a reason. We look first at batted balls:
Not a lot to look at here. Interestingly, as Pujols was slumping, his line-drive rate was elevated, suggesting good contact but unfortunate contact. Pujols' line drives have come down since, but his fly balls have gone up, and of course his home runs have gone up, from one. If somebody were to just look at these numbers without being aware of the context, though, they'd probably think they were backwards. More line drives in a slump than out of a slump?
Now we advance to some swing numbers:
One of the more frightening things about Albert Pujols is that he's always been an outstanding contact hitter. He's always been a power hitter, but unlike most other power hitters, he couldn't be exposed by, say, high fastballs, or breaking balls. He could hit almost any pitch and he could hit almost any pitch hard, leaving him with precious few weaknesses. Pujols made more contact during his slump than he has ever since. That post-slump contact rate is well below the lowest Pujols has ever posted since he was a rookie.
But contact rate isn't everything, as we see in the following columns. Pujols has trimmed his foul-ball rate by 12 percentage points, allowing him to increase his in-play rate by seven percentage points, even with a contact decline. Basically, Pujols has made less contact, but he's made better contact, the former of which should come as a surprise, and the latter of which certainly shouldn't.
Finally, let's look at one more table:
For anybody who doesn't know, O-Swing% refers to the rate of swings at pitches out of the strike zone, and Z-Swing% refers to the rate of swings at pitches within the strike zone. Since busting out, Pujols' approach hasn't changed much, by these numbers. He's swung at fewer balls by a little, but he's swung at fewer strikes by more. You can see hints of pitchers being more cautious, with fewer fastballs and fewer pitches in the zone, but that just makes sense on account of Albert Pujols figuring things out. Gotta be cautious with an Albert Pujols who knows what he's doing.
Have we learned anything from this? Not a ton, and not much conclusive. Albert Pujols began the 2012 season in a dreadful slump, and then he pulled himself out of it. He didn't manage to pull himself out of it because he started hitting the ball more, or because he started hitting far fewer grounders, or because he started swinging at far fewer balls. What the numbers say is that Pujols managed to pull himself out of it because he simply started hitting the ball better. Instead of not squaring the ball up very much, Pujols has been squaring the ball up more, and home runs have followed. Man, sometimes being an explorer sure is underwhelming.