“Albert Pujols is in the midst of a historic season” is a sentence we’ve heard many times. This year, however, it’s for entirely different reasons.
The Los Angeles Angels slugger is one of the greatest hitters of all time, a 10-time All-Star and a model of incredible consistency during the first decade of his career. The 37-year-old has declined in recent years, though, and is having a particularly rough 2017 campaign, entering Thursday with a .232 batting average.
Just how bad has Pujols been this season? Enough for data analytics site FiveThirtyEight to surprisingly declare him the “worst player in baseball” in a Wednesday article.
We know what you’re thinking: This seems like a stretch. Sure, his average and on-base percentage are down, but the designated hitter still has 21 homers and 83 RBIs. Yet FiveThirtyEight makes a pretty compelling case when looking at Pujols’ value to the Angels.
Pujols enters Thursday with a paltry .665 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), which is 26 percent below the league average and leads only Ben Revere among qualified Angels hitters. His OPS+ sits at 78, which ranks dead last among major league designated hitters. (The league average is 100.)
Pujols also contributes virtually nothing defensively, having played just six games at first base this season. As a result, his Wins over Replacement (WAR) of -1.99 is the lowest among all major league players, including pitchers. (For comparison, his teammate, Mike Trout, boasts a 5.8 WAR to date.)
That puts the once-mighty slugger in a unique position. If he finishes the season ranked last in WAR, he’ll become the first modern-era (post-1901) position player ever to have baseball’s highest and lowest WAR in separate seasons, having accomplished the former three times in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
Don’t tell that to Pujols, though: In his first game since FiveThirtyEight’s article went live, he went 2-for-4 with two home runs to tie Jim Thome for seventh on Major League Baseball’s all-time home run list with 612.
Thumbnail photo via Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports Images