A lot has been made of the huge effect that Albert Pujols is going to make on the Angel lineup. We all know he is going to put up big numbers, but what a lot of people are assuming is that he is going to "rub off" on the rest of the team. In particular, his excellent plate discipline is apparently supposed to magically be transferred to the rest of the Angel hitters by the sheer virtue of them having their names written on the same lineup card as Albert.
So I have to ask, is that an actual thing? Can Pujols really make the other Angel hitters more patient at the plate by some sort of weird baseball magic/osmosis? I have a hunch what the answer is, but let's see what the numbers tell us first.
There isn't a perfect that I can think to pull up for this, but one that might give us a good hint at least could be what Bobby Abreu did for the Angels when he first signed back in 2009. Like Pujols, Abreu has tremendous control of the strike zone. If anyone can replicate the effect that Pujols is supposed to provide, it is Abreu. Here is the change in walk rates for the main Angel hitters for the year Abreu joined the Halos and the year before.
(NOTE: Career-best numbers are in italics)
And now the number of pitches per plate appearance for those same players and time span.
And now their swing percentages.
Alright class, what have we learned?
For one, we've learned that this is a very small sample size, so it may not mean anything. Second, we see that three (Napoli, Guerrero, Mathis) of the ten players actually got appreciably less disciplined while Izturis stayed the same. The other six got better by varying degrees. Of those six, Hunter, Aybar and Kendrick actually maintained (or close to it) their improved strike zone control for the two seasons afterwards. As for the other three, Matthews quickly faded out of the league, Rivera has struggled but still shown somewhat improved plate discipline and Figgins imploded.
Conclusion, professor? I'm going to go ahead and say that maybe this "rubbing off" can happen, but it isn't a universal effect. Players obviously need to be open to change and have a skillset that can support it. Of course, Abreu's arrival also caused a general organizational shift towards being more patient at the plate, so this could simply be a happy coincidence in terms of coaching philosophy versus Abreu's effect himself, though one could also argue that Abreu sparked that change in philosophy. Long story short, maybe two or three Angels will see the light and become a bit more disciplined.
Of course, we are assuming that Pujols has the wondrous ability to transfer plate discipline to others. Perhaps we should see if Albert has a track record of such fantastical workings? That was a rhetorical question.
In favor of fewer tables, here is the deltas on established players in their first year playing with The Machine.
(NOTE FOR THE MATH-DISINCLINED: negative numbers are bad for BB% and Pit/PA, good for Swing %)
|PLAYER||YEAR||BB% Chg||Pit/PA Chg||Swing % Chg|
Once again, the results are a mixed bag, suggesting that the effect, if real at all, only applies to certain individuals. That bodes poorly for the Angels, unfortunately. The Halos have had a relatively stable lineup since 2009, so the receptive members of the lineup have already been exposed to "the effect" by Abreu. Kendrick, Aybar and Hunter almost certainly have now already hit their plate discipline ceiling. Really, that leaves Morales, Bourjos, Wells and Trumbo as candidates to be influenced by Pujols in the way we all hope. Based on the success rate in the anecdotal cases examined above, that most likely means that one, maybe two of those hitters will see improvement thanks ot Albert. Heck, it might end up being zero since there isn't enough improvements here for me to be sure that I am not misinterpreting randomness.
So, yeah, not so much with the Pujols effect it appears. But, hey, at least the Halos still get his awesome production out of the deal. That's a pretty good consolation prize.
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The Pujols effect has been drastically overstated. I don't expect walk rates to increase at all with the guys in their prime. Sure, Kendrick will see more fastballs and Morales will have more RBI opportunities, which will inflate their value somewhat, but they can't completely transform. All in all, I'd say Kendrick puts up similar numbers to last year, maybe .290/.340 with 35 DB 15-20 HR and 15-20 SB. Not a breakout season by any means. Morales on the other hand should give what his career norms will be, which I suspect is .300/.350 30 DB and 25 HR.
The biggest benefactors will statistically be Trumbo and Bourjos. But if you think about it, will they improve because of Pujols or will they improve simply because they're getting older and more familiar with the league? My guess is the latter. Bourjos' stirkeouts will still be too high for leadoff, but we'll see his OBP jump up to .340 within the next year or two. As for Trumbo, his OBP was .291, so it really has nowhere to go but up. I think he'll end up being a .270/.330 and 30 HR type of hitter with full playing time in a year or two. But once again, probably not thanks to Pujols.
What Pujols mostly does, is hit the heck out of the ball and force pitchers to throw more strikes to the guys around him. That doesn't mean more patience or walks. It means more hittable pitches and a slight uptick in performance.