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« April Fastballs | Main | Jake Arrieta's Sinking Walk Rate »

Soft Stuff Vexing Pujols

Unless you've been in a coma or decided to live like the Amish for a month, you probably know that Albert Pujols' Angels career is off to a hellish start. The $240 million man enters play Thursday with nary a home run in 107 plate appearances and a 55 OPS+ that, as Bob Uecker might say, is just a bit outside his normal range (Pujols' career OPS+ of 169 is seventh-best all time, ranking between Mickey Mantle and Ty Cobb).

Pujols isn't exactly scorching fastballs and sinkers this year, with a .404 slugging percentage against them that is 141 points below his 2011 mark. But that looks prolific next to his performance against "soft stuff -- curveballs, sliders and changeups. Pujols is batting -- and slugging -- .116 against breaking balls and off-speed pitches, compared to last year's .502 slugging percentage. That's one of the ten worst rates among qualified hitters this season:

Lowest slugging percentage vs. "Soft" pitches

BatterSlug Pct.
Mark Reynolds .040
Casey Kotchman .043
Brandon Crawford .048
Jason Kubel .067
Russell Martin .083
Freddy Galvis .097
Shin-Soo Choo .100
Albert Pujols .116
Clint Barmes .129
Carlos Pena .143
MLB Avg. .343


Pujols is scuffling and has yet to record an extra-base hit against soft stuff because he's chasing so many curves, sliders and changes of pace off the plate. Check out his swing rate by pitch location vs. soft pitches in 2011, and then with the Angels so far in 2012:

Pujols' swing rate vs. curveballs, sliders and changeups, 2011

Pujols' swing rate vs. curveballs, sliders and changeups, 2012He went after about 29 percent of soft stuff thrown out of the zone last year, below the 32 percent major league average. This year, though? 44 percent.

Pitchers have thrown Pujols slightly more soft stuff this year (38.8 percent of the time) than last (37.8 percent). Expect that rate to rise further if he keeps on going after so many breakers and changeups in the dirt.

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