Every year there seems to be a guy in fantasy baseball who was touted as a blue chip in the pre-season who ends up being a big bust. But none of us has ever thought that Albert Pujols could be that guy. Is he? Seeing as how it's just May, it's too easy to definitely tell, but my gut feeling is to say absolutely not. If you're a frustrated Pujols owner (like me), you may be ready to give up on a struggling player after a bad month, but I don't think it takes an entire article to make the point that Pujols is a special talent who deserves more time. Wait out on Pujols if you own him, but if some desperate managers dangle Pujols on the trade market, then now is the time to buy. At 31 years old, some may back away from Pujols and argue that he is human after all and that he's entering the decline phase of his career. To this I say nonsense. If you haven't deducted as much by now, yes, this is a fluff piece for frustrated Pujols owners. Don't give up hope, because he will pick up the pace.
First, let's take a look at Albert's batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. His career mark sits at .313, and in the past three seasons (ordering from 2010 to 2008), Pujols has finished with figures of .297, .299, .340. So far in this young season, his BABIP sits at a fledgling .254, which means that given his career norms, he will start to get luckier on the balls he puts in play. Barring a torrid streak, 2011 may be the first time ever that Prince Albert finishes a season batting under .300, but it's not too late to give up hope. Pujols is currently hitting at a .270/.342/.440 clip, which is respectable but nowhere near his career averages of .330/.424/.620. Troubling still is his OPS, which is sitting at just .781. Pujols' career low OPS is .955, which came in 2002.
Aside from BABIP, there are a number of other irregular ratios that are contributing to Pujols' ugly start to the season. Biggest of all, the first baseman is hitting less fly balls than ever, as his 34.9% flyball rate represents the lowest mark of his career, much lower than his 40% career rate. Conversely, Pujols has seen a huge spike in his groundball rate, which has been an anomaly to say the least. His 50.4% rate is much higher than his career 40.8% groundball rate, which is part of why he hasn't been hitting. Historically a flyball/line drive hitter, Pujols has struggled hitting the ball in the air, partially because his swing mechanics have been off as he tries to force his way out of the slump. Because he hasn't been hitting with his usual force, Pujols has also seen a walk-rate of 10.6%, second lowest of his career. His lowest mark was 10.2%, which came in his rookie year of 2001. His career walk rate is 13.4%, but in the past five seasons this rate hasn't been below 14.5%.
Since we don't want to be all about negativity, it's worth noting that there are positives and it hasn't all been a down year on Pujols. He has hit .343/.442/.400 to start the month of May, so he's obviously starting to find his sweet swing. Despite his ugly April, he's managed 7 home runs and 24 RBI to this point, while the leading home run hitter and run-producer at first base is Pujols' teammate Lance Berkman (he isn't playing first but still carries first base eligibility, a sweet bonus for his fantasy owners!) who has 10 home runs and 32 RBI. Now that Pujols is starting to get going, he should catch up to his peers with relative ease and still end up around that same .300 batting average, 30 home run, 100 RBI level we are accustomed to seeing out of Albert Pujols. At 31, he's just starting to come out of probably the longest slump of his career, but until he shows regression and wear-and-tear consistent with decline (not only this year but next year and the year after that, too), I'm convinced that it's just that—a slump.