During the off-season of 2011 Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, and Adam Dunn all signed big money deals, and during the 2011 season they all had what could be called the worst years of their careers. This past off-season Jose Reyes, Prince Fielder, and Albert Pujols all signed big deals to change cities and Prince Fielder is the only one of them even having a decent season. Fielder’s .333 wOBA is down from his career average of .389, but it is no where near the pits that Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes find themselves in.
With this happening for the second year in a row it begs the question of there is something to a player changing teams and then not preforming as well as they have in the past. It is a question that really has no answer. Most players reach free agency right around the time they start to decline. Jose Reyes is 28 but has been the victim of a number of hip and back injuries while Pujols has reached the age of 32.
The under performance in the first year of a big deal may be nothing more than a coincidence. A player has a string of good seasons in their early to mid-20’s and then hits the open market marketing themselves as that type of player. The drop off in production might have nothing to do with the change of venue but instead everything to do with the timing of the deal, and even players with more good seasons ahead of them sometimes suffer through season long slumps.
Jose Reyes is a valuable short stop with a career wOBA of .345, but to start 2012 it is currently sitting far below that average at .277. Albert Pujols is one of the best baseball players to have ever played the game of baseball. His sharp drop in production is almost even more shocking as players of his caliber are often able to stay productive well into their late 30’s, but in 2012 Pujols is batting a crisp .232 in wOBA almost .200 points below his career average of .427.
Even if Albert Pujols is in decline. Decline doesn’t work like this. It isn’t a 90 degree drop off a cliff. It is more often a slow and steady drop until the player decides to hang it up or the game shows them they can’t play anymore. Pujols has gone from being the best hitter of a generation to having a wOBA worse than Yuniesky Betancourt.
It is hard to understand this type of sudden drop in production. People can talk about Pujols switching leagues or his age catching up to him, but none of that rightly describes what is going on with him. When Albert Pujols has a bad month it would still be considered a good month for most other ball players. Prince Fielder’s drop in production is enough that it can be described as switching leagues combined with playing in a pitcher’s park, but Pujols isn’t just showing signs of decline. He looks like a player that doesn’t belong on a major league field, and that isn’t Albert Pujols.