On March 28, the Cardinals' prodigal son returned home. It was a deal that some could argue was more fan service than team improvement.
Albert Pujols was not the same player he was when he left for Anaha... em... "Los Angeles" ten years earlier.
Pujols' first 10 seasons in St. Louis were historic. Only Ted Williams accumulated more bWAR than Pujols in a hitter's first 10 seasons (Williams had 82.7 bWAR while Pujols had 81.4).
However, from his departure in 2012 to last season, Pujols manages just 12.9 bWAR, tied for 142nd with Eddie Rosario, Paul DeJong, Wilson Ramos, and Mike Moustakas.
Pujols has been, frankly, bad since 2017, with his highest bWAR coming in 2017 at a lowly 1.7.
There are several reasons for Pujols' decline, from his abysmal speed that has allowed infield defenses to play way back, to his sudden drop off in walks (from as high as 16.4% in 2009 to 4.7% last season).
But the Cardinals knew there were two things Pujols could still do well prior to bringing him back on board: hit lefties, and hit dingers:
We are still very much in the overreaction zone when it comes to the 2022 season, and Pujols has only played 4 games (as of 4/18), but we're about to go way overboard on some SSSS (super small sample size).
Baseball Savant has already published percentiles on each player's profile, and with it, tons of areas to overreact to. Has Juan Soto (going from 95th percentile in HardHit% to 36th) lost the ability to hit the ball hard? Has Shohei Ohtani forgotten how to take a walk? Is Nester Cortes the best pitcher in baseball? (maybe, to the last one).
But the one that jumps out to me is this:
That's a lot of red. You might think I'm overreacting to the HardHit% or the xBA or even the K%. It's impressive, especially for a 42-year-old, but it's not the thing that caught my eye.
It's the BB%.
Since 2017, Pujols has only been above the 20th percentile in BB% once (in 2019 he was in the 39th percentile). Last season with the Angels and Dodgers, Pujols only had 14 BBs all season.
Of course, this percentile is a little deceiving. Pujols does have an 11.8 BB%, but that only comes out to 2 BBs, which have come in the past 2 games. Both were 4-pitch walks.
So, what exactly are we overreacting to? The SSS of 2 BBs?
So far, these walks are the only PAs he's had where he's faced a 3-0 count (or a 3-ball count at all), but it's a lot earlier than when Pujols saw his second 3-0 count in 2021, taking until the 18th game.
Last season, Pujols had a 219 wRC+ through 3-0 counts. This sounds really nice until you compare it to the rest of MLB.
Out of 337 hitters, Pujols ranked 222nd through 3-0 counts. In any 3-ball count, Pujols ranked 302 of 403 by wRC+.
If you were to look solely at BB%, Pujols had the 7th lowest BB% when in a 3-ball count at 25.9%. Where some batters are walking over 60% of the time, a 25.9 BB% is almost akin to not walking at all.
So what do these 2 BBs in 2022 have to do with a potential resurgence?
Since 2012, Pujols has the 8th lowest BABIP among hitters with at least 1000 PAs. At this point, it's not bad luck. His low BABIP isn't going to change unless the baseball gods adjust his speed sliders. Foolish Baseball figured this out 3 years ago.
So while Pujols will continue hitting homers, he'll also continue having a low AVG. In order for Pujols to be a league-average hitter, he'll have to get on via BBs.
If the 2 BBs are an indication of a renewed patience on Pujols' part, we might be in for one of the best farewell tours ever.
If not, it's simply an overreaction by a random sports fan on the internet.