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With Dodgers, Albert Pujols Finds A Function by Bashing Lefties

When the Angels designated Albert Pujols for project in early Could, it appeared as if the adorned slugger had reached the tip of the road, particularly given the rumors that circulated in February that the 2021 season may very well be his final. And on the time of the announcement, he was slashing simply .198/.250/.372 in 92 plate appearances and amid his fifth-consecutive below-replacement degree season. However after clearing waivers, Pujols drew interest from three to 4 totally different groups, with the Dodgers popping out of nowhere to signal him to a significant league deal on the minimal wage for the remainder of the season.

Jay Jaffe wrote about the Dodgers’ acquisition of Pujols on the time and the way he may very well be most successfully used: as a starter at first base, particularly in opposition to left-handed pitching. Nonetheless, Jay didn’t suppose the Pujols experiment would endure, particularly as Los Angeles’ lineup regained its well being, and predicted that the long run Corridor of Famer would find yourself taking his remaining cuts with the Cardinals in September. And although that may nonetheless be the case, Pujols has really produced fairly effectively for the Dodgers, offering a good-enough bat to warrant penciling him within the lineup, particularly in opposition to southpaws.

The Story of Two Pujolses

Workforce PA LHP% AVG OBP SLG HR wOBA wRC+ WAR
Angels 92 30.4% .198 .250 .372 5 .267 68 -0.5
Dodgers 131 55.7% .266 .298 .476 8 .327 108 0.3

LHP% = proportion of PA in opposition to left-handed pitching.

A .266/.298/.476 slash line isn’t world-beating by any means, however even placing up above-average manufacturing is a large success given the place Pujols’ offensive numbers have resided in latest seasons. In actual fact, he simply accomplished a 30-game stretch from Could 29 to July 16 through which he posted a 147 wRC+ on the again of a .313/.341/.588 slash line. It was the most effective output Pujols has seen in years, even in a pattern as small as 30 video games:

What fueled that surge was that, in that interval, Pujols posted an absurd .372/.413/.814 slash line in his 46 journeys to the plate in opposition to lefties. His total numbers have been depressed by a 56 wRC+ in opposition to right-handers in that point, however an .814 slugging proportion in opposition to any handedness of pitching seems like a blast from the previous. Total, Pujols has demolished southpaws this season, notably following his change in uniform, although his numbers even with the Angels have been lots helpful:

Pujols Is Crushing Lefties

Workforce PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Angels 28 .259 .286 .593 .369 136
Dodgers 73 .333 .370 .623 .416 166

None of that is to recommend that the Angels ought to have stored Pujols; at a sure level, he now not match into their plans. The one little bit of regret they might have at this level is the truth that they’re not platooning him with Jared Walsh, given the latter’s 47 wRC+ in opposition to lefties. However with Pujols nearly definitely gone after this 12 months anyway and the following transfer to Walsh taking part in first base full-time starting in 2022 in consequence, the transaction continues to be lots justifiable.

This does increase the query, although: How and why did such vital platoon splits develop for Pujols? These are notoriously fickle, not stabilizing till round 1,000 plate appearances in opposition to every hand and with practically 2,000 plate appearances wanted for right-handed hitters (like Pujols) to attract conclusions. So whereas it’s enjoyable to suppose that he may final a number of extra years within the massive leagues by solely serving as a lefty-masher, we should use warning. His most up-to-date season with a greater wRC+ in opposition to righties than lefties was fairly actually final 12 months:

Even when we have a look at Pujols’ final 5 seasons, going again to Opening Day 2017, there’s a significant cut up (a 97 wRC+ versus lefties and 80 wRC+ in opposition to righties) over a a lot bigger — although nonetheless arguably inadequate — pattern. It’s nonetheless nothing like what he’s doing this season, which brings up the query of luck. His Statcast statistics do recommend his efficiency has been warranted by his batted ball high quality; Pujols has a .397 xwOBA in opposition to left-handers this 12 months, rating twenty second out of the 181 batters with not less than 75 plate appearances in opposition to southpaws by way of July 21. In nearly each manner, he’s making higher contact versus lefties, notably posting extra splendid launch angles on balls hit within the air and avoiding popups, with 13 off of righties however simply three in opposition to lefties. And on all batted balls hit within the air, Pujols has a .667 xwOBA in opposition to lefties in comparison with a .336 xwOBA in opposition to righties.

All of this has yielded one of many largest platoon variations in baseball no matter handedness. In the same train to what I did when analyzing Jesse Winker, I calculated absolutely the variations in wRC+ for gamers by pitcher handedness. Pujols is close to the highest of the leaderboard on this cut up, and humorous sufficient, so is Walsh. I used the advisable plate look thresholds by our splits device: not less than 90 in opposition to righties, and not less than 40 in opposition to lefties. In whole, 281 batters certified right here:

Largest Platoon Variations, 2021

There’s one essential excellent query: Can Pujols hold this up, and can he have an outlined position with the Dodgers for the remainder of the season? These two questions are interrelated, however he appears to have in-built some cushion together with his good play up to now. Together with the newly-acquired Billy McKinney, right here is how Pujols’ total stats (from his time with the Dodgers) evaluate to the remainder of Los Angeles’ bench items:

Non-Beginning Dodgers

Title PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Matt Beaty 169 .259 .355 .374 .328 109 0.4
Albert Pujols 131 .266 .298 .476 .327 108 0.3
Billy McKinney 202 .213 .282 .415 .299 88 0.6
Austin Barnes 157 .209 .321 .328 .293 86 0.6
Sheldon Neuse 59 .172 .186 .345 .226 43 -0.5

Non-starters outlined by the RosterResource depth chart.

So it appears as if Pujols could have endurance, nearly definitely for the rest of the season and fairly probably into the playoffs. Whereas all of that is determined by his capacity to proceed producing, he’s put up adequate numbers up to now to warrant additional taking part in time, particularly when a left-handed pitcher is on the hill.

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