Did Albert Pujols deserve to be signed by the Dodgers?

On Monday, May 17th, the Dodgers officially announced that they had made a historic move. They had officially signed 10x All-Star and 3x MVP Albert Pujols to a one-year, $426,313 deal according to Spotrac.com. In other words, they are barely paying him above the Major League minimum. After being designated a free agent on May 6th in a rocky end to the relationship between the Angels and Pujols, he insisted that he wanted to continue to play baseball, no matter the role. In exchange for the transaction, the Angels have agreed to take on the remaining amount of his 30 million dollar salary this year. Through 4 games thus far with the Dodgers, Albert is hitting .273/.333/.545, with a 142 OPS+. I want to encourage the reader to take these numbers with a grain of salt, as throughout the entire season, he has only produced a pitiful -0.3 fWAR. Before this deal was done, many wondered if he would sign at all. After all, he was producing numbers below a replacement-level player. But with this acquisition now in effect, was this move an obvious publicity stunt, or did Albert deserve a spot on the arguably best team in the entire MLB? This question will be answered through his prior statistics and his impact on other prospects.

To begin, let’s take a look at what Albert produced this season before the signing. In his first 24 games with the Angels, Pujols carried a .282 wOBA, a 72 wRC+, and an fWAR of -0.4. On top of that, his ISO, which only averages in extra-base hits to calculate his isolated power, is .174. While this number has somehow improved with the Dodgers above the current league average, it has generally declined throughout his Angel’s contract and more than likely will continue to decline. On the bright side, he continued to maintain a relatively low strikeout rate of 14.1% despite a rising league average. But, he is hurting in the BABIP department, hitting .176. Although a decline is expected, one can assume a deviation of at most 65 points from his career average (.286), which has only been surpassed one time in his career besides this season. With BABIP being mostly centered on pure luck (besides a few factors), a team could assume that this number would naturally trend upward from its current point, returning closer to the average, producing better performance. And with his Barrel % of 9.6% above his last 5 year average and his Hard Hit % of 39.7% barely above that same average, one could point to his BABIP as the main reason he is underperforming. It appears that Albert could be on an upward trend for the season, but I would view the ceiling as very abysmal due to his declining power, an important element of his game.

Fig. 1. Albert Pujol's ISO compared to MLB Average. "Albert Pujol's Season ISO." www.fangraphs.com

The next aspect to keep in mind is that Pujols is taking away one of the coveted 26 roster spots on this team, which is not concretely justified. While this signing was made after several injuries such as Dustin May and Corey Seager, is Albert truthfully better than the current Triple-A players waiting for a chance? While it is almost possible to compare a small sample to a large sample performance, let’s view the competition. The first player worth bringing up is Catcher Keibert Ruiz. While in his brief 6 game stint he struggled with the Dodgers, hitting an 89 wRC+ and a wOBA of .294. He produced no fWAR during this time. But to that extent, rookie struggles can be expected when he was only given 7 Plate Appearances. A player cannot be expected to perform amazingly with such limited opportunity and trust. While the Dodgers currently have 2 catchers on their roster, the valuable hitter in that position is tough to come by. Another minor league worth mentioning is RHP Phil Bickford. Like Ruiz, Bickford did not get much of a chance at the Major League level, only pitching 1 inning. In that time, he walked one as well as gave up 2 hits, one of which was a home run. With such a small sample size, one can truly not even estimate what Bickford would’ve done with more innings. As a large supply of bullpen arms is necessary for any team, I would’ve liked to see his true skill level. Keeping these players in mind, Pujols having one of these roster spots will admittedly hinder their chance to gain an actual sample size of their performance, which will be detrimental to these players' overall growth as well as their overall value and skill as prospects.

To summarize, Albert Pujols was an interesting signing to the Dodgers roster. When viewing his statistics, he produced below league-average numbers and was a detriment to the Angels, producing a negative fWAR. After examining his impact on multiple Minor League players, his spot on the roster will hurt some of their top prospects from gaining enough Major League experience. From these facts and statistics, I believe that Albert did not deserve to be signed by the Dodgers. With little upside and a heavy downside on the future of the team, he should not have been signed to this club.