So, I posted this on Twitter:
Since May 4, Albert Pujols is hitting .312 and slugging .596.
In 2010, when Albert Pujols finished second in the MVP voting, he hit .312 and slugged .596.
I made the point only to say that things have evened out for the Great Albert and that his first 30 games -- when he hit .231/.298/.419 -- just represented a bad month, nothing more, nothing less. Maybe he was spooked and distracted by the contract negotiations. Maybe he was injured. Maybe he just had a bad month. Whatever. He's back.
Several people read this and wanted to point out something else about Pujols: He's not walking as much as he used to walk. And this is affecting his on-base percentage. This is undeniably true. For the season, Pujols OBP is .364 -- almost 60 points lower than his career total and 50 points lower than in 2010. Even over the 92-game stretch I referred to, Pujols is walking less and so his on-base percentage is .386 (compared to .414 last year, .443 the year before, .462 the year before that).
Pujols is walking less. But how much less? I think this is a place where the percentages and left-of-the-decimal numbers we use -- like on-base percentage -- can magnify very small differences. I mentioned that his on-base percentage over the stretch is .386 compared to .414 last year. That sounds like such a big deal. How many more walks is that? Over four months, it's 11 or 12 walks -- basically three more walks a month.
That's not a lot. But it gets trickier: This year, Pujols has been intentionally walked A LOT LESS than he has in years past. Last year, he was intentionally walked 38 times. The year before that: 44 times. The year before that: 34 times.
This year: He has been intentionally walked 12 times all year. I don't know if this is because managers don't fear Pujols like they once did or because Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman hitting behind him have had terrific years or what. But whatever the reasons, those intentional walks pretty much cover the difference in Pujols on-base percentage. The old Pujols would almost certainly have been intentionally walked another dozen times over the four month period we're talking about, and his on-base percentage might have been about where his career OBP is.
Even beyond the intentional walks, yes, Pujols has been a bit less selective in 2011. Fangraphs suggests he's swinging at 29.7% of pitches outside the strike zone, higher than last year (27.5%), which was significantly higher than at any other point in Pujols' career. I think this is the way he has been trending -- a bit more aggressive, a bit more certain of his ability to do something with tough pitches, a bit less willing to let pitchers work around him.
And then, to jump into the world of speculation, I do think there probably is a lot going on in his mind this year. The contract. The bad start. The wrist injury. The quick return. The Brewers charge. This has been a turbulent season and I think that probably has changed his approach at least somewhat.
But that's just guesswork. The main point is the main point: I think Albert Pujols is still Albert Pujols.