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Pujols and Three Ball Counts


Hubs

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I looked over his last few years and honestly what jumps out at me the most is his lack of plate discipline. He's not walking as much as in 2007-2010. I don't think he'll be back to the 100 walk seasons, but he could get 85-90. 

 

Why is he not walking? He's been much more aggressive, and unsuccessful, with three ball counts than ever before. (3-0, 3-1, 3-2)

 

2008- 186 Plate Appearances that featured three ball counts. He had 104 walks (55.9%), 29 hits (15.6%), and 14 strikeouts (7.5%). He only put the ball in play 67 times including 4 HR. He hit to fair contact 36% of the time and of those balls in play, hit to a .391 BABIP. He had a .715 OBP when he got to three ball counts, and 29% of his plate appearances resulted in three ball counts.

 

2009- 202 Plate Appearances that featured three ball counts. He had 115 walks (56.9%), 30 hits (14.9%), and 10 strikeouts (5%). He put the ball in play 77 times, including 9 HR. That's fair contact 38.1% of the time and of those balls in play, hit to a .309 BABIP. He had a .718 OBP when he got to three ball counts, and 28.9% of his plate appearances resulted in three ball counts.

 

2010 - 206 PA, 103 walks (50%), 37 hits (18%), 14 strikeouts (6.8%). He made fair contact 43.2% of the time (89 times including 7 HR) and hit to a .366 BABIP. He had a .680 OBP when he got to three ball counts, and 29.4% of his plate appearances resulted in three ball counts.

 

2011- 131 PA (big drop), 61 walks (46.6%), 15 hits (11.5%), 10 strikeouts (7.6%). He made fair contact 45.8% of the time (60 times including 2 HR). He hit to a .224 BABIP. He had a .580 OBP when he got to three ball counts, and 20.1% of his plate appearances resulted in three ball counts.

 

2012 - 127 PA. 52 walks (40.9%), 18 hits (14.1%), 8 strikeouts (6.3%. He made fair contact 52.8% of the time (67 times including 2 HR). He hit to a .246 BABIP. He had a .551 OBP when he got to three ball counts, and 19% of his plate appearances resulted in three ball counts.

 

2013 - 85 PA, 40 walks (47%), 10 hits (11.8%), 9 strikeouts (10.6%). He made fair contact 42.3% of the time (36 times including 1 HR). He hit to a .257 BABIP. He had a .588 OBP when he got to three ball counts, and 19.2% of his plate appearances resulted in three ball counts.

 

This is a huge drop off. First the number of times he gets to three ball counts goes down about 10%, whilst the percentage of walks drops dramatically as well. His BABIP numbers go down dramatically, and he's putting the ball in play more often with three ball counts. Strikeouts haven't increased significantly (except last years small spike).

 

This is the specific problem with Albert's numbers. Now why this is happening I don't know. 

 

Is he not being as patient? Certainly seems that way. Less three ball counts means less patience right?

 

Or are the pitchers the last three years just challenging him more?

 

Certainly some pitchers are going after him more, with his numbers being lower...Yet how often this happens, or if it's a result of a more effective result with a certain type of pitch (like changeups inside, curveballs away, etc.) Are pitchers pitching him in so he gets weaker contact, when he does hit the ball? Because his strikeouts haven't gone up, I don't think pitchers are challenging him more, but they may be approaching him differently.

 

Has his bat speed declined? Possibly, because if he's a little slow to the balls that used to be hitting into the gaps are now grounders to the infield or pop ups right? But that wouldn't explain his decrease in three ball counts overall. 

 

Is he seeing the ball as well as he used to? Does he need contacts?

 

Is it just bad luck?

 

If he had hit to his 2008-2010 numbers with three ball counts the last three years, there would be no measureable decline. 10% less of his PA's get  to three ball counts the last three years compared to the three before it. Say that's consistently 10% higher, in line with the previous three years.

 

2011- He'd have had 30 more walks and 7 more hits in 30 less AB's.

 

That would have been a .328 / .422 / .592 line.

 

2012- He's have had 28 more walks and 9 more hits in 28 less AB's.

 

That would have been a .314 / .397 / .566 line.

 

2013- He'd have had 20 more walks and 5 more hits in 20 less AB's.

 

That would have been a .286 / .386 / .485 line.

 

He's not that far off from being MVP Pujols.

 

There is an answer to why this is happening, and figuring it out is the difference between a MVP caliber #5 and what we've seen the last three seasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How could a guy who's going to waltz into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot feel any pressure at this point in his career?

 

Oh yeah...the $222 million the Angels are due to pay him.

 

Really, though, he should just relax and let it rip. He has nothing to prove here. It's our problem that we signed him to such an expensive contract. Let the chips fall where they may. 

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This is age related decline. His bat is slowing, pitchers are learning that they won't always get burned like they used to, thus they are less afraid of him. Pitchers being less afraid leads to fewer 3 ball counts, and the lessening success on those 3 ball counts reinitiates the process.

If pitchers were less afraid of him you would think he would be seeing more fastballs but in fact they slightly fewer than before.

What has increased dramaticly is his Oswing which climbed from 23% in 2008 to a high of 36% in 2012 then dropped to 34% in 2013.

He is not making it to ball four because he is swing at ball 3 and either missing or making weak contact. This could be compensation by over committing in pitch counts to make up for bat speed but it doesn't really point to pitchers challenging him as much as Al making them look like better pitchers.

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This is age related decline. His bat is slowing, pitchers are learning that they won't always get burned like they used to, thus they are less afraid of him. Pitchers being less afraid leads to fewer 3 ball counts, and the lessening success on those 3 ball counts reinitiates the process.

 

 

I don't think it's that simple ALF.

 

For him to go from around 200 to 125 plate appearances where he sees three ball counts on the average and to have all of the other stats take a huge dip? There's no way his bat just slowed that much in the span of one season.

 

Something he started doing differently during the 2011 season has led to this. It's not as if he can't still hit the crap out of the ball. In 2012 he had 50 doubles. That's one off his career high. In 2011 with the Cardinals he had 37 HR. 

 

In this article from Stltoday.com, the writer talks bat speed, bat speed, bat speed…and gives more detail. Except that he's using mid-season last years numbers, when no one knew that he was hitting on a flat tire. Still it's a relatively solid explanation. Except its also from a Cardinals beat writer, who doesn't want to see Pujols succeed away from STL the way he would if he were still there. It's not from a crazy fan point of view, but still.

 

http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/bernie-miklasz/bernie-bytes-explaining-pujols-decline/article_cb861bd0-5a74-55f3-81e0-cca9f24954db.html

 

If it were just bat speed, then we'd see an increase in strikeouts, as well, plus a change in where he hits the ball when he does make contact.

 

Adjustments to slowing bat speed can be made by a hitting coach, if the player is willing to listen.

 

This article really gets into the problem and discusses why.

 

http://www.chrisoleary.com/projects/baseball/hitting/rethinkinghitting/essays/AlbertPujolsStride.html

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Hubs, after presenting information you asked the readers 9 questions which were not answered.

 

If I knew the answers…I wouldn't have asked the questions. 

 

I'm hoping Don Baylor can help Pujols answer the questions.

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Based off how he's played it really seems like Albert has put a lot of the pressure for winning on his own shoulders these past 2 years. 

 

He feels like he needs to do too much. 

 

What's important is that he realizes that he can't do everything, and that getting on base is much better for the team than trying to be a hero by swinging out of the strike zone and turning into an out.

Edited by CaliAngel
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I'll read this when I get home but I did just want to compliment Hubs for always putting a ton of thought and effort into his threads/posts. I don't always agree with everything you say but you never have an argument that isn't worth reading.

 

Thanks tdawg.

 

I didn't start looking into this with the intention of saying he has a problem with three ball counts, I looked at the numbers to see if there was an issue which clearly pointed out what he is doing wrong. 

 

He's not walking enough. That's is the clearest indication of what the issue is. People point out batting average, OBP, etc. but really it all comes down to a lower walk rate.

 

Well, why isn't he walking enough? I looked into it and found the drop in the percentage of plate appearances that end in three ball counts. And the decrease in walks when he gets to three balls. And the decrease in his BABIP in those counts. 

 

It's clear that that is the statistical issue.

 

Why he's not getting there is not just bat speed. He could go to a lighter bat to combat this. 

 

If you look at the issue in 2011, stated by that guy O'Leary in his stride article….his stride has a lot to do with it. And that may have to do with his plantar fascitis. 

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If pitchers were less afraid of him you would think he would be seeing more fastballs but in fact they slightly fewer than before.

What has increased dramaticly is his Oswing which climbed from 23% in 2008 to a high of 36% in 2012 then dropped to 34% in 2013.

He is not making it to ball four because he is swing at ball 3 and either missing or making weak contact. This could be compensation by over committing in pitch counts to make up for bat speed but it doesn't really point to pitchers challenging him as much as Al making them look like better pitchers.

 

While pitchers are not directly challenging him more often they are IBBing him a heck of a lot less. This is happening because he is not hitting the ball like he used to. Certainly an overly aggressive Pujols is partially to blame (maybe even mostly) but he is also not hitting the ball as hard as he used to. His batted ball distance has declined every year since the last couple of seasons with the Cardinals. This implies his bat speed is not the same as it used to be, he has also forgot how to hit the ball the other way. What I see is a hitter who can't catch up with the fastball anymore, so he is cheating and getting out in front far too often, pulling balls to the left side and bailing out on off speed pitches - which explains the increase in breaking balls.

 

He even began lifting his front leg last season to compensate for his lack of power, but which diminishes the great balance he used to have that kept pitchers honest with their off speed stuff. He is trading his walks in order to mask the decline in power.

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Well, why isn't he walking enough? 

 

Hard to get into 3 ball counts if you're consistently swinging at pitches outside the zone. A decrease in walks when he gets to 3 ball counts is evidence that his patience is not what it used to be. 

 

….his stride has a lot to do with it.

 

I don't think this problem is so much mechanical, I really think it has to do with his approach.

 

 

He is trading his walks in order to mask the decline in power.

 

 

And I think what he needs to realize is he doesn't need to mask the decline in power...he just needs to have quality at bats and come through with singles and doubles when we need them most.

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If you look at the stride thing, you can see it makes a lot of sense.

 

His power declined the last two years based on two injuries to his forearm in 2011, his knee in 2012, and his left plantar fascia in 2013. (Which I think has been bugging him for a lot longer). In that stride article it points out that he is changing his stride in April of 2011, which is way before we knew about the plantar fascia injury. He was originally diagnosed in 2005, and while he had his best years after that, maybe it suddenly got really bad and he tried to play through it for years.

 

If you've ever had plantar fasciitis, you know you can barely put any weight on your foot. If you have to alter your stride to compensate, that would make sense. O'Leary states that sometimes it's his classic stride, sometimes it's not. Plantar fasciitis hurts a lot somedays, other days it's not as bad. 

 

Hopefully, Pujols can keep his stride and his swing consistent, which will lead to more consistent at bats. And more success at the plate will mean pitchers will pitch around him more often. And more walks will happen if he's not being challenged.

 

I don't care if he hits 20 HR or 35, as long as he is hitting .300+ and driving in runs. HR are not the end all be all.

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I agree with you Hubs as far as power is concerned, and I don't think there's any question that his decline in power is a mechanical thing (his stride, the weight he can transfer, the strength of his swing) caused by the pain he's been experiencing in his foot. 

 

But as far as the points you brought up, lack of walks and 3 ball counts, I think a lot of it has to do with the mental aspect of the game and the poor approach he's been taking at the plate. I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform. I've seen him swing at pitches I never thought Albert Pujols would swing at, pitches so far off the plate that its embarrassing. Overall I feel like the decline in walks and 3 ball counts has to do with the lack of quality at bats, and failure to work the count in his favor, which I really think has more to do with his head than anything. Like you mentioned I don't care if he hit's 30+ HR's anymore, and he needs to get over the fact that his power is declining, and he needs to focus on having quality at bats each time he steps up to the plate. I would much rather he work a walk or hit a single than try to be a hero and swing for the fences at a pitch way out of the strike zone that ends up being an out. 

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I agree with you Hubs as far as power is concerned, and I don't think there's any question that his decline in power is a mechanical thing (his stride, the weight he can transfer, the strength of his swing) caused by the pain he's been experiencing in his foot. 

 

But as far as the points you brought up, lack of walks and 3 ball counts, I think a lot of it has to do with the mental aspect of the game and the poor approach he's been taking at the plate. I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform. I've seen him swing at pitches I never thought Albert Pujols would swing at, pitches so far off the plate that its embarrassing. Overall I feel like the decline in walks and 3 ball counts has to do with the lack of quality at bats, and failure to work the count in his favor, which I really think has more to do with his head than anything. Like you mentioned I don't care if he hit's 30+ HR's anymore, and he needs to get over the fact that his power is declining, and he needs to focus on having quality at bats each time he steps up to the plate. I would much rather he work a walk or hit a single than try to be a hero and swing for the fences at a pitch way out of the strike zone that ends up being an out. 

 

Pujols is entering his mid thirties, I have a hard time believing that he'd be putting up similar numbers as he did in his mid twenties if only he had his head screwed on straight (and didn't have plantar fasciitis).

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^Similar numbers in his mid-20's like 30+ HR's per season? Agreed.

 

But similar numbers meaning .300+ BA and .400+ OBP? I think this is very possible.

 

He just needs to have a good approach at the plate, needs to not swing for the fences, needs to lay off the junk, and should concentrate on helping the team by putting the ball in play by having some nice contact on the ball and making as few outs as possible. As far as I'm concerned that's all we should be asking for from Albert at this point.

 

Teaching the young guys good habits by staying consistent.

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