What did Albert Pujols' 2012 tell us?
First of all, the negative signs are significant enough to make us perk our ears up a bit more and for mockers to wait him until closer to the end of the first mixed stanza to call his name.
Should he dip lower? His 30 homers and 85 runs, along with each piece of his .285/.343/.516 trio, were career lows. A safety-first approach in his first month as an American League regular produced a hesitant hacker that didn't clear a fence until May 6.
Luckily, things clicked not long after. From May 9 on, he hit .309-29-96 with a .944 OPS. Rediscovered comfort in his new league should help him avoid another tank like that. This lineup provides ample chances for him to produce runs in some form.
The hidden warning signs, however, rest in his outside-the-zone swing percentage (a career-high 36.4), contact on in-the-zone offerings (90.7, well below his typical output), and his 7.0 swinging-strike rate (7.0, his highest since 2003). He was guessing more than usual.
Watch out for signs of rust. How will he respond to a reportedly minor knife cleanup of his knee? He battled lower-body issues - health and mechanics - for much of the year, so that's something to watch. The soon-to-be 33-year-old is approaching the start of the traditional decline years - that hair of bat speed we should expect him to lose could do notable - if not team-crippling - damage.
Still, indicators say his demise on the whole won't take as drastic a fall for this year as it did last season. Ditching Mickey Hatcher as hitting coach apparently contributed to getting his feel back.
Pujols' late-season recovery says he has one or two more Machine-like campaigns left in him. He's no longer the fantasy first baseman, but this price leveling makes it more acceptable for him to fall short of 30 homers (as long as it's closer to that than 20), as long as his other faculties remain sound.
And of course, when healthy, he owns the 40-homer pace we demand from our chief corner infielder.
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About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, hear him every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. On Thursdays, he visits 106.1 FM WMTI in New Orleans and Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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