SEATTLE — Albert Pujols has seen many of his numbers drop to unfamiliar territory, but not his spot in the batting order.
Manager Mike Scioscia on Thursday afternoon addressed the elephant-in-the-room question of whether Pujols is still the best choice to hit in the No. 3 spot, behind Mike Trout.
“Albert right now is not getting as many hits falling as we’re used to seeing, but he’s working hard at it,” Scioscia said. “I think he’s the best guy to hit behind Mike.”
Heading into Thursday’s game, Pujols is hitting .227 with a .270 on-base percentage and a .376 slugging percentage, all career lows by a wide margin for a player who is otherwise a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He also had the lowest walk rate (5.9 percent) and highest strikeout rate (16.7 percent) of his career.
Pujols, 37, was hitting .194 in the 141 plate appearances leading to Thursday’s game.
“If you look at batting average and OPS, they are not what you’re accustomed to, but there is no doubt, seeing him every day, he’s hitting the ball hard,” Scioscia said. “He’s leading the team in RBIs (68). I think there are still some positives. …
“You can look at some numbers and draw conclusions that might be a little skewed because they are small samples. In the big picture, he’s knocked in runs for us.”
Scioscia also said he believes Pujols still provides enough of a presence that teams can’t just walk Trout without reservations. Scioscia referred back to 2013, when Trout’s walk rate doubled once Pujols was out of the lineup with an injury.
“I think there’s a presence that Albert brings that is beyond his batting average,” Scioscia said.
One of the problems the Angels have with moving Pujols is finding someone to replace him. Andrelton Simmons is the only hitter besides Trout who is having an exceptional season. Other potential middle-of-the-order hitters like Kole Calhoun, Luis Valbuena and C.J. Cron have slumped. Yunel Escobar has been on the disabled list twice.
While Scioscia said he doesn’t believe now is the time to move Pujols, he said that, if that time comes, he believes Pujols would not have an issue.
“Albert would never put his personal goals ahead of the team,” Scioscia said. “This guy is an exceptional team player. I think he would hit wherever a manager thought would be the best fit.”
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