Los Angeles Angels: Just how bad is Albert Pujols this season?

By either version of WAR, the Los Angeles Angels’ Albert Pujols has been one of the worst position players in baseball, but there is a stat that favors him.

It was a nice moment when one of the greatest players of his generation, Albert Pujols, hit his 600th career home run in early June. More career milestones will come, including his 3,000th career hit and 2,000th career RBI, which will both likely happen next season. Unfortunately, when you look at certain value metrics, Pujols has been one of the least valuable players in all of baseball this season.

Pujols no longer plays in the field much. He’s played five games at first base, with the rest of his time as a DH, so he provides no value on defense. He’s also the slowest runner in baseball, even slower than lead-footed catchers Brian McCann and Miguel Montero. All of the value provided by Pujols must come from his bat and his bat has not been carrying the load this year.

Through his first 72 games this season, Pujols hit .239/.283/.381. He’s not hitting for average, not getting on base, and not hitting for power. With no added value on defense or on the bases, Pujols has been a below replacement-level player, according to both FanGraphs (fWAR) and Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement (bWAR). Baseball-Reference has him as the 10th-worst position player in baseball. FanGraphs has him as the third-worst (better than only Carlos Gonzalez and Ben Revere).

Despite the awful triple-slash line, Pujols has 51 RBI. He’s projected to drive in 50 more over the rest of the season, so he has a chance to have his 14th career 100 RBI season. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good season, though. There have been a handful of players with 100 or more RBI in a season who were still well below replacement-level, including 1990 Joe Carter (115 RBI, -2.0 fWAR), 1999 Dante Bichette (133 RBI, -2.1 fWAR) and 1993 Ruben Sierra (101 RBI, -2.6 fWAR). Pujols has a chance to join this group.

If you’re an Angels fan looking for a silver lining, there is one. Well, maybe more than one. Setting statistics aside, you can be confident that Pujols is a great guy in the clubhouse. He’s in his 17th big league season and has always been considered a good, hard-working teammate. He has the respect of his coaches and his fellow players. The totality of his career makes him a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer. If you believe in veteran leadership, you can assign plenty of veteran leadership points to Albert Pujols. It’s possible that his steady clubhouse presence has enabled the Angels to play above .500 baseball since superstar Mike Trout went on the DL.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a statistic that favors Pujols, you’re also in luck. No player in baseball has a higher clutch score than Albert Pujols. He leads the league in the metric (per Baseball-Reference.com). The other four players in the top five are Welington Castillo, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rizzo and Josh Donaldson.

Pujols has been at his best in high leverage situations, hitting .353/.414/.627 and knocking in 33 runs in 58 plate appearances. In medium leverage situations, he’s been terrible (.233/.260/.310). In low leverage situations, he’s also been terrible (.197/.246/.344). But in the most important situations, Albert Pujols has been vintage Pujols. There’s no guarantee that will continue, but it does suggest Pujols hasn’t been nearly as bad as his numbers say.

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