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Saturday, May 06, 2006

King(s) Albert

Albert Pujols hit his major league leading 16th home run last night. There is no doubt that we are seeing one of the greatest players ever to wear a major league uniform. Baseball Prospectus has a nice little article on him which begins with this

Prince Albert seems a fitting name for the St. Louis Cardinals’ resident superstar. It’s a simple, regal name for a player who makes hitting look easy, whose presence at the plate inspires the kind of awe normally reserved for royalty.

But compare Albert Pujols’ performance in the first five years of his career to those of MLB’s other greats, and the name Prince starts to look inadequate. By the numbers, Pujols looks more like a king.
In one of my fantasy baseball leagues, there's been a little discussion on Pujols and how many home runs he'll hit this year and whether he has a chance at that rare baseball feat, the Triple Crown. Here's my take on that (stats are from The Hardball Times great stats database).

Pujols has made it clear that he is the best player in baseball. The only place Alex Rodriguez can even make a run at him is in fantasy baseball. (Though if he were still a shortstop, there might be still a small question as to who is more valuable in real life.)

Pujols current homerun rate is unsustainable for mortals. He's raised his home run per fly ball percentage this season from 21.7 to 32.7, that's got to drop a little. Still, the home run rate won't drop off a whole lot because he's also lofting the ball more; his ground ball percentage has gone down to 41.7 from 46 in each of the last two seasons.

He's also batting .500 with runners in scoring position; he hit .343 and .331 with RISP the last two seasons, so the RBI rate will come down a little too. Still, you have to figure his BA is only going to rise because he's actually been unlucky there this year: his batting average on balls in play is just .208; it was .308 and .314 the last two years.

Also his line drive percentage is down to 11.2 from 20 and 17.3, so that's going to rise; which should translate to more doubles for him, which in turn should keep his RBI rate from falling too much -- extra base hits move runners.

So yeah, I'd say he has a real good chance at the Triple Crown -- as good a chance as anyone has had in years -- because even though RBI are team-dependent, Pujols teammates get on base enough and he hits with enough power and for such a high average while making good contact often that he's almost custom-built for a Triple Crown title.

As for how many home runs he'll hit ... I'm going to make a stab in the dark and predict that he'll end with 58 big flys. And I'll throw in 53 doubles on top of the home runs, (because I'm thinking that some of those homers he's been hitting and some of those line drives he hasn't been hitting are going to turn into doubles as the season goes on).

Bonus King Alberts: Albert King, lefthanded bluesman; Albert, King of Saxony; King Albert Solitaire.

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