Albert: Slow Start, Or A Real Problem?

With the sixth week of the season starting, the numbers thus far from Albert Pujols definitely tell a story. But the story being told is a different one than any other in Albert’s career thus far.

Granted, he is second on the team in home runs with seven (Lance Berkman has 10) and third with 22 RBI. His batting average is obviously not Albert-like at .248, and neither are his on-base percentage (.322) and slugging percentage (.421). Yesterday he hit a double — his second of the season.

Even before reading the detailed article by Joe Strauss in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch yesterday, I’d been wanting to write about Albert. When looking at the overall picture of 2011’s first 35 games, his production obviously stands out. But I can’t pretend to know what’s going on with him, what he’s thinking or if his contract status is on his mind and affecting his play. I’m not a psychologist, nor am I a hitting coach.

Neither is my friend Michael, but he is a student of the game who watches more baseball and knows more about it than I can ever hope to learn. He offered an interesting thought on Albert’s struggles.

After watching Pujols at the plate, there’s obviously something wrong with his legs. He’s lunging after pitches, even the line drives he may hit once in a while. He no longer drives the ball with the strength coming from using a strong core and lower body. I wish I could show you side-to-side video, but I watched a game from 2005, and then Friday’s Garcia start, and it’s obvious. It’s like his legs are completely stationary now, while back then you could see the explosive power from the legs on up. He can’t get his hips out of the way soon enough this year compared to years past, so as a result, he’s swinging all from his shoulders and arms.

Reading that reminded me of something I saw from MLB Network a few days ago about Lance Berkman and his hitting this year compared with last. Sean Casey said in this video that when “you lose your legs, you lose your swing, and that’s the bottom line.” And MLB Network did have side-to-side video to illustrate their point — showing a healthy and productive LB in 2008, then last year when he struggled and now this season. It’s not surprising that his legs and swing this year match 2008, not last year when he was slowed by recovery from knee surgery. Fascinating to see the pictures from three seasons side by side.

But LB’s 2010 knee surgery offered an obvious culprit for his lack of production, and being healthy and strong in 2011 a reason for his rebound. Could Albert’s hamstring problem be hampering him?

Or could it be something else — like just his age? Michael made another good point, even though it was one I didn’t necessarily like reading.

I know it’s hard for people to believe, but star players used to hit the wall more frequently in the past than they did in the decade of the 2000s. Steroids have distorted our memories of what often happened to power hitters in the past. A slow decline wasn’t always the case. Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, Dwight Evans — when they all hit the wall, they hit it, and it pretty much was over.

This isn’t a slump. This is a real problem.

Maybe, and sadly, that will end up being the case. If so, what will this mean for his free agency at the end of the season? Probably nothing is my guess — one bad season won’t diminish the Hall of Fame numbers he’s accumulated through his first 10 years. Prince Fielder, also a free-agent-to-be, says that Albert “should command it all.”

But Albert’s production, or lack of it, does offer an intriguing continuing storyline to the 2011 season — and beyond.

Good luck, Tony

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is headed to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., today, to have his ailing right eye examined and an annual physical. The viral infection has affected him for nearly a month now.



Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email aaronmilesfastball@gmail.com. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.

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