"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pujols and the Concept of a "Decline Phase"

Three months ago, I wrote this in answer to the question "Is Pujols Worth It":

If Pujols' demand is for $30 million a year for 10 years, in a word, no.  Pujols will be 32 in the first year of his new contract.   If you pay him, you'll have a right to expect him to put up all-time great years for that amount of money.  But, of the 150 highest OPS years in baseball history for hitters (on base average plus slugging average), only 34 (roughly 22%) occurred when the player was 32 or older.  Of the Top 50 OPS years, only two happened when the player was 37 or older, and both were by Barry Bonds when he was, shall we say, doing some suspicious things.  And, the three players who Pujols' career most resembles through age 30 (again, through the miracle of online baseball statistics) -- Jimmie Foxx, Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey, Jr. -- had a grand total of 17 seasons between them with an OPS of 1.000 or more and none of them occurred when they were 32 years old or older.
As sad as it makes me to say this, I think I was prescient.  Pujols appears to now be officially in his decline phase.   He currently has an OPS of .725, and this with a red-hot Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman protecting the hell out of him.   His OPS in April of .794 was the lowest full month OPS for Albert since July of his rookie year, and it's only gone down since then as he's been slumping through the first week of May.  And, as weird as it sounds, this pattern give me some pause:

Year              OPS
2008               1.114
2009               1.101
2010               1.011
2011                 .725 (through May 5)

That pattern to me can be read as slight decline followed by significant decline followed by catastrophic-falling-off-the-cliff decline.   Now, while I fully expect Pujols to turn his season around and end up with an OPS that's decent, it wouldn't surprise me if he's going to finish with an OPS in the .900 range.   A very good player, to be sure, but not someone you want to sign to a $30 million a year contract.   He sure looks to me like he's in a decline phase.

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