For all the consternation in Toronto about Jose Bautista’s slow start to the 2012 season, baseball fans in Orange County have much bigger worries.
Albert Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $240-million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this past off-season is off to a horrible start this season. The 32-year-old who was the most common rebuttal last year to the claim of Blue Jays fans that Bautista was the best hitter in the game has so far posted a slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of .208/.252/.287. As a point of comparison, Pujols’ career slash line is an amazing .327/.418/.612.
Now, we’re only a few days into May and Pujols is such a good hitter that he’s likely to turn it around — and turn it around soon — but Angels fans do have some reason to worry about their expensive new toy: He hasn’t yet hit a home run.
The most popular theory as to why Pujols is suddenly struggling at the plate has to do with the fact that this is his first year in the American League. It’s a well-known fact that when pitchers and hitters have never faced each other before, the advantage almost always goes to the pitcher. It’s one thing for a batter to know what a pitcher throws, it’s another to actually face the pitcher and see first hand what kind of stuff he’s got and how deceptive his delivery may be.
If Pujols’ offensive problems can truly be traced to his unfamiliarity with the pitchers he’s facing, he’s unlikely to turn it around this weekend as the Angels host the Blue Jays for a four-game set. Of the four pitchers Toronto has scheduled to start against the Angels, Pujols has only faced one — Brandon Morrow — and even then, Pujols only has three at-bats against Toronto’s No. 2 starter.
As for Toronto’s struggling slugger, Bautista has had good success against both Dan Haren and Ervin Santana — scheduled to start Games 1 and 2, respectively, for L.A. — over the last five years. In 14 at-bats against Haren, Bautista’s got an average of .357 and has hit two home runs. In 17 at-bats against Santana, Bautista’s got an average of .297 and has one homer.
Bautista hasn’t seen much of L.A.’s other two starters, but if he can leverage his past success against Haren and Santana and get himself in a nice groove, that might not matter.
Bautista and Pujols are the kind of hitters who, when they’re on a roll, can hit almost anything that’s thrown at them. But if one of the two struggling sluggers is going to turn it around this series, I’d put my money on Bautista.