Plain and simple, future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols is one of the greatest players of this era. In his career, He’s eclipsed 3000 hits and 600 home runs, made 10 all-star teams, won 3 MVP awards, and of course, has 2 World Series rings. The list of career accomplishments Pujols has put together is unrivalled by all but a few baseball players in major league history. He’s a legend.
You probably know what’s coming next.
For all his past accomplishments, the once great Albert Pujols is no longer the elite player he once was. He’s not good, or average, or even replacement level. He is, depressing as this sounds, worse. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, Pujols has put up a .243/.286/.391 slash line, a .215 wOBA, and -2.2 total fWAR. But to the Angels, this poor performance was more or less insignificant since they were out of contention. But now they’re playoff contenders, and Pujols is becoming an increasingly important hole.
Their offseason acquisitions of players such as Zack Cozart, Ian Kinsler, and most notably, Shohei Ohtani, have put the Angels into the postseason hunt. According to Fangraphs, the Halos currently have a 34.4% chance of making the postseason. To a team that’s so close to the edge of making and missing the playoffs, every win they could possibly improve should be worth it.
This inevitably leads to two questions. First, are there any signs that Pujols is destined to return to at the very least, the level of a passable major league first basemen, and second, are there any more capable replacements currently on the Angels roster.
To give Pujols the benefit of the doubt, he has been slightly unlucky in 2018. His xBA and xOBP are slightly above his actual BA and OBP, and his xBABIP is a full 23 points above his actual BABIP. However, this has had a negligible difference in terms of expected actual performance, as his .299 xwOBA (94.1 xwOBA+), slightly better than his actual .295 wOBA. Essentially, Pujols has been very slightly unlucky this season, but not enough to justify playing if there is a more capable replacement.
Of course, the question of if anyone can actually improve upon Pujols production is another matter altogether. Both Luis Valbuena and Jefry Marte are both capable of playing 1B and currently on the Angels active roster, so the question becomes whether they are better players.
Unfortunately for Valbuena, his performance has been objectively poor as well. His slash line isn’t even as good as Pujols’ at .220/.268/.326 and a .262 wOBA, yet even this modest performance is an overachievement. His xBA, xOBP, and xSLG are .165, .217, and .297 respectively, coming out to a .226 xwOBA (42.0 xwOBA+). Some of this poor performance could be attributed to small sample size, however since xStats use batted ball data instead of actual results when being calculated, the smaller sample size is largely unaffected by random batted ball luck.
However, Jefry Marte has had a very good start to the season, slashing .277/.338/.462, and putting up a .346 wOBA. Like Valbuena, he has also been lucky to a large extent, having put up xBA, xOBP, and xSLG which are all lower then his actual numbers. However his .314 xwOBA (104.6 xwOBA+) is still much better than that of either Pujols or Valbuena, and for that reason, he should be the Halos starting 1B instead of Albert Pujols.
At the end of the day, the Los Angeles Angels are in a position where every additional win makes a difference, and ultimately need to upgrade on Pujols, who’s currently one of their biggest weaknesses. More flashy upgrades may be available at the deadline, however the Halos should replace the struggling Albert Pujols with Jefry Marte in the meantime. Whether Pujols is getting played because of reputation or because of a need to justify his terrible contract, there’s a need to put all these things aside and play the Marte, not because Pujols isn’t a legend, but because he’s not the Angels best option as an everyday 1B in 2018.