Can unfamiliarity be (at least part of) the problem? …
Many have tried to scrutinize, analyze and make some sense for why Albert Pujols is batting only .232, is homerless in his first 69 bats of a $240 million contract and is now hitless in four consecutive starts. Some have talked about the thick marine layer of Angel Stadium (guilty as charged), others have pointed to Pujols expanding his zone as part of his ever-diminishing walk rate (David Schoenfield did a nice job of that on ESPN.com), some have talked about frustrations and trying to do too much on a new team (hitting coach Mickey Hatcher indicated that to me yesterday) and many others (a lot of them residing in the Angels’ clubhouse) have simply pointed to the randomness of small sample sizes.
Most of that is fair — but none of it offers up a full explanation. Nothing can, really, because nobody — Pujols included — can really put their finger on exactly what is going on right now. All we can do is try to provide as much reasoning as possible.
In tune with that, here’s something else to consider: The inexperience Pujols has had against those he has faced.
Below is a list of the starters Pujols has gone up against through his first 17 games and the amount of plate appearances he had against each of them heading into the year (listed in no particular order) …
- Brandon McCarthy: 0
- David Price: 0
- Jake Arrieta: 0
- Nick Blackburn: 0
- Wei-Yin Chen: 0
- Bartolo Colon: 2
- Luke Hochevar: 3
- Hiroki Kuroda: 15
- Francisco Liriano: 3
- Brian Matusz: 0
- Tommy Milone: 0
- Ivan Nova: 0
- Carl Pavano: 10
- Tyson Ross: 0
- Jonathan Sanchez: 11
- Bruce Chen: 11
- Phil Hughes: 0
So, 10 of the 17 starters he has faced so far have been first-time encounters, and only four — all former National Leaguers — were guys he came in with double-digit plate appearances against.
“I’m a guy that I don’t like to look for an excuse,” Pujols said of facing all the new blood on Tuesday night. “I don’t want to blame the league, that I’m new on the league, or that that I’m struggling. I don’t play like that, and I don’t put excuses. It’s the same game. You come here and do the same homework. Does it help if you’ve faced the guy before? Yeah, of course, but you still have to get the same preparation.
“Yes, it is a new league, but I don’t like to get caught up into that. I don’t like to look at that for an excuse the way I’m swinging or the way I feel at the plate, because to tell you the truth, I feel descent. I mean, I feel good. I’m just not that far away from breaking this thing off.”
OK, so Pujols doesn’t want to make excuses, and he shouldn’t. He’s getting paid a lot of money to produce, and he simply isn’t. That’s the bottom line. But iPad videos and scouting reports can only tell you so much about an opposing pitcher. It’s hard to duplicate the experience of actually seeing what a guy has.
And so far, Pujols hasn’t really had that in his back pocket.
“There’s a slight advantage a pitcher has when there’s no match-ups, just because a hitter hasn’t seen his release point, hasn’t seen maybe the action from a batter’s box,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “But a guy of Albert’s talent usually makes a quick study of these things, and we know he will. We know he will.”