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Albert Pujols And The Angels' Early Season Struggles

Posted: 04/23/2012 12:33 pm

The list continues to expand as Albert Pujols' name remains absent: Peter Bourjos and Kendrys Morales each have a home run for the Angels, and Chris Iannetta, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick all have two. Vernon Wells leads the roster with three. Albert Pujols, though, with a team high of 65 at-bats, is still searching for his first.

Power droughts in baseball happen, even for the game's elite. Pujols -- a three-time National League MVP who has hit 445 homers in his career -- went 27 games without a home run last season with St. Louis.

But pressure from an unhappy Angels fanbase is mounting with every at-bat and every loss. The Angels have lost 10 of their first 16 games and sit in the cellar of the AL West. Pujols -- who just signed a 10-year, $240 million contract -- is hitting a paltry .246, 82 points down from his career average of .328. Through 16 games, he has just 4 RBI. Neither he nor the team has admitted to overdoing things or trying too hard to succeed, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

According to Pitchf/x -- which tracks and digitally records the full trajectory of live baseball pitches -- Pujols has swung at 36.4 percent of the pitches he's seen outside the strike zone in 2012. Last year however, that number was 28.4 percent. His five-year rate of 25.2 percent is strikingly lower and shows significantly better patience at the plate.

Even so, not all of the blame for LA's slow start falls on Pujols. In baseball, it is often said that the biggest strength of any hitter is his protection in the lineup. With the world champion Cardinals last year, he hit in front of perennial All-Stars Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, who combined to hit .299 with 53 home runs, both well over the .900 OPS mark. Yet Torii Hunter and Morales -- the two Angels to hit behind Pujols this season -- have failed to crack a .700 OPS.

Let us not forget that Los Angeles also splurged on free-agent pitcher C.J. Wilson to team up with fellow ace Jered Weaver to form one of the premier one-two punches in the American League. Both have been very solid up top, but the other three pitchers in the Angels' rotation have combined to go 1-5 with an ERA north of 5.

Before the 1999 season, the Angels gave Mo Vaughn a six-year, $80 million deal which, at the time, was the richest contract in MLB history. Vaughn, like Pujols, was a power-hitting first basemen whose presence alone could change the fate of a lineup. The slugging lefty, though, only played two of those seasons with the club due to severe injuries. While he was eventually traded, he managed to combine for 69 homers and drive in well over 200 runs -- productive numbers, yes, but nowhere near the robust totals he was expected to produce.

This is not to suggest that the slumping Pujols is destined for the same fate as Vaughn, but his meager start and the team's struggles cannot be ignored. Pujols is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and widely considered to be one of baseball's greatest all-time hitters. But, at 32 years old, in a new league with new pitchers and a soft lineup surrounding him, is it perhaps time to curtail our expectations just a little bit?

Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related @206Child.

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