The Sports Daily > Monkey with a Halo
Will Albert Pujols really ‘rub off’ on the rest of the Angels lineup?

A lot has been made of the huge effect that Albert Pujols is going to make on the Angel lineup.  We all know he is going to put up big numbers, but what a lot of people are assuming is that he is going to “rub off” on the rest of the team.  In particular, his excellent plate discipline is apparently supposed to magically be transferred to the rest of the Angel hitters by the sheer virtue of them having their names written on the same lineup card as Albert.

So I have to ask, is that an actual thing?  Can Pujols really make the other Angel hitters more patient at the plate by some sort of weird baseball magic/osmosis?  I have a hunch what the answer is, but let’s see what the numbers tell us first.

There isn’t a perfect that I can think to pull up for this, but one that might give us a good hint at least could be what Bobby Abreu did for the Angels when he first signed back in 2009.  Like Pujols, Abreu has tremendous control of the strike zone.  If anyone can replicate the effect that Pujols is supposed to provide, it is Abreu.  Here is the change in walk rates for the main Angel hitters for the year Abreu joined the Halos and the year before.

Napoli 12.8% 9.3% 11.6%
Kendrick 3.3% 5.5% 4.2%
Aybar 3.7% 5.4% 5.1%
Figgins 11.9% 13.9% 10.0%
Rivera 5.7% 6.3% 6.8%
Hunter 8.2% 9.3% 7.4%
Guerrero 8.5% 4.7% 8.1%
Izturis 8.1% 8.0% 8.2%
Matthews 9.4% 11.1% 9.8%
Mathis 9.2% 8.1% 7.0%

(NOTE: Career-best numbers are in italics)

And now the number of pitches per plate appearance for those same players and time span.

Napoli 4.14 4.15 4.24
Kendrick 3.44 3.80 3.63
Aybar 3.26 3.47 3.44
Figgins 4.08 4.21 4.03
Rivera 3.36 3.63 3.52
Hunter 3.53 3.80 3.60
Guerrero 3.37 3.23 3.23
Izturis 3.76 3.82 3.82
Matthews 3.76 4.05 3.79
Mathis 3.66 3.84 3.64

And now their swing percentages.

Napoli 42.7% 43.5% 42.5%
Kendrick 53.5% 47.3% 48.9%
Aybar 49.8% 48.8% 48.9%
Figgins 37.9% 36.6% 40.2%
Rivera 49.2% 46.8% 48.2%
Hunter 51.1% 46.0% 50.1%
Guerrero 60.3% 60.7% 59.1%
Izturis 41.7% 41.4% 40.5%
Matthews 41.4% 41.4% 43.0%
Mathis 47.3% 47.8% 49.3%

Alright class, what have we learned?

For one, we’ve learned that this is a very small sample size, so it may not mean anything.  Second, we see that three (Napoli, Guerrero, Mathis) of the ten players actually got appreciably less disciplined while Izturis stayed the same.  The other six got better by varying degrees.  Of those six, Hunter, Aybar and Kendrick actually maintained (or close to it) their improved strike zone control for the two seasons afterwards.  As for the other three, Matthews quickly faded out of the league, Rivera has struggled but still shown somewhat improved plate discipline and Figgins imploded.

Conclusion, professor?  I’m going to go ahead and say that maybe this “rubbing off” can happen, but it isn’t a universal effect.  Players obviously need to be open to change and have a skillset that can support it.  Of course, Abreu’s arrival also caused a general organizational shift towards being more patient at the plate, so this could simply be a happy coincidence in terms of coaching philosophy versus Abreu’s effect himself, though one could also argue that Abreu sparked that change in philosophy.  Long story short, maybe two or three Angels will see the light and become a bit more disciplined.

Of course, we are assuming that Pujols has the wondrous ability to transfer plate discipline to others.  Perhaps we should see if Albert has a track record of such fantastical workings?  That was a rhetorical question.

In favor of fewer tables, here is the deltas on established players in their first year playing with The Machine.

(NOTE FOR THE MATH-DISINCLINED: negative numbers are bad for BB% and Pit/PA, good for Swing %)

PLAYER YEAR BB% Chg Pit/PA Chg Swing % Chg
Theriot 2011 -0.4% +.05 -1.7%
Berkman 2011 +1.9% +.18 +5.4%
Holliday 2010 +0.6% +.24 -1.2%
Glaus 2008 +0.3% -.32 +1.5%
Izturis 2008 +1.8% +.04 +0.3%
Kennedy 2007 -0.6% +.07 +1.0%
Miles 2006 +5.8% +.20 -7.4%
Encarnacion 2006 -2.3% -.15 +3.2%
Spiezio 2006 +3.7% -.41 +0.7%
Eckstein 2005 +1.5% +.24 -1.9%
Walker 2005 -4.3% -.36 +2.9%
Grudzielanek 2005 -0.8% +.17 +2.9%
Sanders 2004 -0.8% +.23 -1.3%
Womack 2004 +4.0% +.29 -4.1%
Rolen 2003 +1.7% +.14 -2.0%

Once again, the results are a mixed bag, suggesting that the effect, if real at all, only applies to certain individuals.  That bodes poorly for the Angels, unfortunately.  The Halos have had a relatively stable lineup since 2009, so the receptive members of the lineup have already been exposed to “the effect” by Abreu.  Kendrick, Aybar and Hunter almost certainly have now already hit their plate discipline ceiling.  Really, that leaves Morales, Bourjos, Wells and Trumbo as candidates to be influenced by Pujols in the way we all hope.  Based on the success rate in the anecdotal cases examined above, that most likely means that one, maybe two of those hitters will see improvement thanks ot Albert.  Heck, it might end up being zero since there isn’t enough improvements here for me to be sure that I am not misinterpreting randomness.

So, yeah, not so much with the Pujols effect it appears.  But, hey, at least the Halos still get his awesome production out of the deal.  That’s a pretty good consolation prize.