Five years ago, Beyond the Box Score was all about Albert Pujols. A total of five articles and one Fanshot were written about him in February 2011 alone, and can you blame us? At the time, Pujols was one of the best players in baseball, had just completed another incredible season (.312/.414./.596/1.101 with 42 home runs and 118 RBI in 159 games) and nearly captured his third National League Most Valuable Player Award in a row - he finished second to Cincinnati’s Joey Votto. He was on top of the baseball world. So I thought it could be fun to see how Pujols has done since that celebratory month on BtBS five years ago.
Right off the bat (pun intended), in a somewhat amusing twist, when you take a look at Pujols’ career numbers, you will see that his numbers begin to drop in 2011. It isn't a precipitous drop, at least not right away, but there is a noticeable decline. Maybe it was a BtBS jinx? (Sorry, Angels fans) Or maybe Pujols entered his 30s and his numbers naturally headed downward, which is what happens to most baseball players, even the elite ones.
During the 2011 season, which would turn out to be Pujols’ last in St. Louis, he batted .299/.366/.541/.906 with a .384 wOBA and a 147 wRC+. Now, those are still incredible stats, even if they were slightly lower than what we were used to seeing from him up to that point, and most baseball players would be thrilled with that slash line to go along with 37 home runs and 99 RBI. And it was those numbers, along with his previous 10 seasons of playing time, that helped Pujols land a 10 year, $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.
So what usually comes with monster contracts like that? Gargantuan expectations. And Pujols wasn’t immune to those expectations and he showed it by sputtering a bit at the start of his tenure with the Angels, only batting .217 with four RBI and no trips around the bases in April 2012. After that horrid month, both for Pujols and his team (who were 8-15 in April), the powers that be shook things up a bit by firing hitting coach Mickey Hatcher in mid-May, and calling up future AL MVP, Mike Trout. After that, Pujols’ numbers improved. In fact, from mid-May until the 2012 All-Star break, Pujols hit 13 home runs and batted .323.
On August 22, 2013, Pujols awkwardly slid into second base at Fenway Park, tweaking his knee and injured his calf, which led to him missing four games. He played the majority of his remaining games as the designated hitter. Despite a somewhat turbulent first season with the Angels, Pujols still finished his 2012 campaign with a respectable slash line of .285/.343/.516/.849 with 30 home runs and 105 RBI. He also hit 50 doubles which was good for second in the American League, behind Alex Gordon of the Royals who had 51.
After having what was described at the time as a very minor knee surgery during the offseason, Pujols was looking to come back in 2013 as good as new. Unfortunately for him and the Angels, it turned into a nightmarish season. Not only were Pujols numbers not great, his season ended early, in August, thanks to a partial tear in his plantar fascia. Because of his injury shortened season, Pujols only played in 99 games, which to this day, is his career low, and he also had career lows in hits (101), runs scored (49), doubles (19), home runs (17), RBI (64), walks (40), batting average (.258), on base percentage (.330), slugging percentage (.437), and OPS (.767).
Another thing you'll notice when you delve into Pujols' numbers these last five years is how as soon as he joined the Angels, his propensity to walk more than strikeout disappeared and it hasn't come back since 2011. Granted even those numbers took a bit of a dip during his last season with St. Louis, but he still finished with more walks than strikeouts. From 2012-2015 you see those numbers flip around.
Pujols returned to baseball healthy in 2014 and hit (pun intended again) a couple of big milestones. Up first was career home run number 500 which he hit in the same game as home run number 499, making him the first player to ever accomplish that feat. And not only that, Pujols actually called those home runs before the game. He had an 0-5 performance the night before and told reporters he was going to hit #499 and #500 that day. He became the third youngest player to ever reach the 500 home run plateau and the 26th player overall.
Later in 2014, Pujols finally hit his first walk-off home run as an Angels player, in an especially laborious, six hour and 31 minute, 19-inning marathon game against the Boston Red Sox. It was also his first walk-off home run since 2011. He hit two more milestones in the same game later on that season against the Minnesota Twins. He reached the 2,500 hit plateau with a two-run, go-ahead double in the ninth inning against Jared Burton, while also passing the 1,500 run mark.
Pujols became only the fifth player in major league history with 2,500 hits and 500 home runs while also maintaining a .310 lifetime batting average. The other players in that illustrious group? Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez, which is pretty nice company.
In 2015, his age 35 season, Pujols reached the 40-home run mark for the seventh time in his career - only Alex Rodriguez has done it more (eight times). He also passed Manny Ramirez on the all-time home run list when he hit home run number 556 on September 22. Pujols finished last season, which started off as slowly as 2012, batting .244/.307/.480/.787 with 40 home runs, 70 RBI, a .333 wOBA and a 116 wRC+. Our very own Joe Vasile looked at Pujols' 2015 because it turned out to be one of the worst 40-home run seasons ever.
Pujols is currently sitting on 560 career home runs so if he stays healthy, he could reach another milestone within the next couple of seasons.
So in the five year since Beyond the Box score went gaga over Pujols, he's made the All-Star team once, after making it eight years in a row, and nine years overall. The highest he's finished in MVP voting is fifth, which happened later that year when he was still with the Cardinals, and he's suffered through an injury shortened, "worst year of his career." But even after all of that, Albert Pujols will still punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame, once he calls it quits because he's an all-time great player.
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Stacey Gotsulias is a contributing writer of Beyond the Box Score. She also writes for The Hardball Times. You can follow her on Twitter at @StaceGots.