It's often said that diminished bat speed does in aging sluggers. Thirty-something power hitters, who once made bleacher creatures duck for cover upon being challenged with a fastball, make meek contact or whiff entirely as their quick-twitch fibers fray. At first blush, Albert Pujols seems to fit this narrative perfectly. The 33-year-old, hobbled by a surgically-repaired right knee, has a mere seven homers and a .422 slugging percentage so far in 2013. Pujols is the best first baseman since Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx, but even Prince Albert can't stave off the effects of a slowing bat.
Problem is, that narrative couldn't be more wrong. An older, gimpier Pujols is still crushing fastballs. It's the slow stuff -- breaking balls and changeups -- that's proving to be his downfall.
Pujols' slugging percentage vs. fastballs, 2013
Pujols is slugging .565 against fastballs this season. That doesn't quite match his Herculean production in past years (he slugged .587 versus the heat from 2010-12), but it's still over 100 points above the MLB average (.443). Against slow stuff, however, Pujols isn't nearly so studly...
Pujols' slugging percentage vs. curveballs, sliders and changeups, 2013
Unless pitchers hang one over the heart of the plate, Pujols isn't punishing breaking and off-speed stuff. He's slugging a paltry .279 against soft stuff, a far cry from his .460 mark the previous three seasons and over 100 points below the MLB average (.392). Pujols' lone homer against on a slow pitch in 2013 came on a Pat Neshek slider on April 29.
So far, Pujols has seen only slightly fewer two-and-four-seam fastballs (45.6%) than the average MLB hitter (46.6%). That could change if he continues to make such weak contact on curves, sliders and changeups. Pujols may be on the decline, but the cause is slow stuff, not a slowing bat.