Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Justin Upton were all taken in the top 20 picks in most drafts last spring. Now? Two of them arenâ€™t top 20 players at their position and the third probably wonâ€™t be a top 20 player next season. The meek keep inserting these guys into lineups based on name value alone. The bold might want to consider moving on or, in some cases, simply cutting these guys loose.
Pujols should absolutely be released at this point in the season. He wonâ€™t be back any time soon and it will be difficult for him to play without feet even if he does come back this season. Pujols appeared to be playing on one leg at the start of the season. The daily grind of the baseball season hasnâ€™t helped his condition. His wOBA has declined from .459 in 2008 all the way to .328 this season. To put that number in perspective, the eternally underachieving Brandon Belt also owns a .328 wOBA this year. 2013 Albert Pujols is essentially 2013 Brandon Belt at the plate.
2013 has been Pujols worse season by a wide, wide margin. Name a stat and itâ€™s likely Pujols worst in his career or his worst since his rookie year. What makes Pujols difficult to evaluate is the injury. Itâ€™s hard to know if this is a hitter suddenly falling off or if itâ€™s a good hitter hampered by injury. Pujolsâ€™ has been in decline for the last few seasons, but this is so sharp and so sudden that it makes the current numbers look like an outlier.
The swing metrics at Josh Kay favorite, BrooksBaseball.net, indicate that Pujols isnâ€™t struggling with the hard stuff. He is struggling mightily with the breaking stuff. His 13.42% whiff/swing percentage against fastballs is about league average and not ridiculously that far off of his 9.78% average since 2007. Heâ€™s whiffing on 33.33% of the sliders he faced in 2013. His average since 2007 is 25.49%. His overall 7.6% swinging strike percentage isnâ€™t that far off his 5.9% career average. Bat speed isnâ€™t necessarily the issue and the rest of the advanced numbers are so mediocre that the injury has to be a factor in Pujols awful 2013 season. Heâ€™s a decent buy low guy for 2014…assuming that heâ€™s able to get healthy and slide into a full-time DH role in Los Angeles.
The news isnâ€™t nearly as bright for Josh Hamilton. Hamilton is only one year younger than Pujols (assuming we trust Pujolsâ€™ birth cerificate) and much, much worse without an injury. Hamilton is posting a .295 wOBA in 2013 and 0.5 WAR. He had a .387 wOBA and 4.5 WAR as recently as last season. Hamilton wasnâ€™t even this bad in 2009. That was the year that he missed half the season with various ailments.
Hamiltonâ€™s 6.3% BB percentage is his lowest in any at the major league level. The same can be said for his .185 ISO.
Heâ€™s posting this mediocre season with a .261 BABIP. He owns a career average of .327. Hamilton always seemed like a guy playing above his head in regards to BABIP. His GB:FB ratio is usually around 1.00 and his LD percentage has been in the low 20â€™s every year of his career. Thatâ€™s not necessarily a recipe for a guy with a higher than average BABIP and he was due for a BABIP regression. He was also far out there with a 25.6% HR:FB ratio in 2012. His career average is 18.7%. He was a guy that was due for a power regression and itâ€™s not a surprise that heâ€™s struggled after a career year in 2012.
Hamiltonâ€™s swing metrics have calmed down a little after a shockingly reckless 2012 season. Heâ€™s only swinging at 56.5% of pitches instead of the monster 58.9% he swung at in 2012. Progress!
Hamiltonâ€™s 2013 season is what happens when regression meets skill erosion meets weird. The weird being his insistence that his lack of production stemmed from his decision to quit chewing tobacco. The skill erosion comes from his whiff/swing percentage on fastballs coming in at 23.98%. Thatâ€™s a four percent difference from his 19.98% career average. There might be a dead cat bounce next season, but the long term prospects for olâ€™ Hambone appear to be kinda bleak.
Justin Upton was among the league leaders in homers in April with 12. Heâ€™s sitting at 16 right now. Heâ€™s given fantasy GMs four homers since April. Itâ€™s August in about two days. Thatâ€™s only one more homer (four) than months since the end of April (three).
Upton is walking slightly more (12.2% BB percentage this year) than he has in his career (10.4%). The problem is that heâ€™s striking out at his highest rate (24.9% K % this year) since his painfully mediocre 2009 season. Heâ€™s also swinging and missing at a 13.0% clip. Thatâ€™s JUpsideâ€™s highest swinging strike percentage since 2008.
Upton is still only 26, but his plate discipline appears to be regressing. His z-swing percentage currently sits at 69.8%. Thatâ€™s slightly above his career average of 67.4%. The problem is that heâ€™s only making contact on pitches inside the zone 75.7% of the time he swings at them. This is his first year below 80.0% since 2008. His pitch f/x data indicates that heâ€™s struggling with the fourseam fastball. His career whiff/swing percentage is 24.70%. His whiff/swing percentage on the fourseamer this year is 36.13%.
A baseball player that canâ€™t get around on a fourseam fastball in the strike zone is a baseball player whose career could be in trouble. Itâ€™s time to start wondering if Upton is playing with a hidden injury given his youth and track record. Itâ€™s hard to understand why a guy who looked like a beast in April could look like a pussycat in July. His 38.7% HR:FB ratio in April was completely unsustainable, but Upton has yet to hit a homerun in the second half of the season. It wouldnâ€™t be a huge shock to learn that thereâ€™s more to this story than what is showing up in his FanGraphs page or being reported.