After hitting two home runs on Friday night in Los Angeles, Albert Pujols has officially broken out of his early-season cold spell. He's heated up in a hurry.
But I'm a numbers guy, so I can't help myself. Curious, I had to see if the statistics revealed anything interesting about Pujols' problems over the first two weeks.
With the help of STATS LLC, I took a look. All numbers cited here were complete through Thursday night in Los Angeles; Pujols' plate appearances in Friday's game aren't included.
And given that Pujols blasted two long homers Friday, it's clear that he's already rerranged some of the data presented here. He's already making the corrections. That's why he's such an extraordinary hitter.
And let us state up front that these numbers were culled from a small sample size.
• Pujols was hitting the ball on the ground with a frequency we hadn't seen from him before. His ground-ball rate was 66 percent. His career GB rate is around 49 percent. His highest ground-ball rate, 56 percent, was in 2002.
• Pujols was jumping on the first pitch more often than he has in a long time. He's swinging at the first pitch on 25.4 percent of his at-bats. That may not seem like much, but here, in order, are his first-pitch swing percentages beginning with the 2006 season: 18 percent, 12.4 percent, 17.6 percent, 15.6 percent and 12.4 percent.
• Pujols has been pulling the ball, on the ground, as never before. Against righthanded pitchers, 40 percent of the balls Pujols had put in play were grounders to the left side. He's never been over 31 percent in his career in this category.
• And Pujols' batting average on grounders (vs. righthanders) to the left side? It was .188. Pujols does not have a hit against lefty pitchers this season when he hits a ground ball to the left side.
• Pitchers were throwing more fastballs to Pujols, and he hasn't done as much with them. Through Thursday he batting .250 overall against fastballs. That included a .286 average on fastballs thrown by righthanders. In his previous five seasons Pujols has batted .352, .356, .361, .312 and .358 against fastballs from righthanders. And entering Friday's game, Pujols didn't have a hit this season on a fastball thrown by a lefty.
The numbers should normalize over time. In fact, they're currently on the rise considering that Pujols is 9 for his last 23 (.391) with three homers over his last five games. And we saw another good sign Friday: Pujols got away from the ground game and drove the ball into the air four times.
While only a sliver taken from the early schedule, the stats did tell us a few things. It's pretty obvious that Pujols has been more aggressive than normal. And that it doesn't help him to be pull-happy with his swings. And that he'd continue to do well by lifting the ball in the air more frequently.
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St. Louisan Jeremy Maclin (Mizzou) says he lost about 15 pounds this offseason while coping with a mononucleosis-like illness for six weeks. "It was off and on," said Maclin, the third-year Philadelphia Eagles wideout, in comments made to Philadelphia Sports Daily. "I went for a week where I felt good, and then all of a sudden the feeling would be back." Maclin says he's regained about seven pounds. He has been working out with fellow Mizzou football alums Danario Alexander (Rams) and Sean Weatherspoon (Falcons).
Another note on Pujols. For several years he's been widely proclaimed as the game's best player. But the respected Rich Lederer of The Baseball Analysts has a different opinion. "Move over Albert Pujols," Lederer wrote. "Troy Tulowitzki is now the best player in the game. The (Rockies shortstop) is nearly five years younger, plays a much more important defensive position — and as well as any shortstop in baseball — and, get this, has actually outhit Pujols over the past 365 days."
Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget was a guest on my WXOS (101.1 FM) radio show Friday. He said he had "a great visit" with Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo this week. If the Rams draft Liuget with the 14th overall pick April 28, he'd be happy. "I have my fingers crossed on No. 14," Liuget said. Rams GM Billy Devaney called Liuget "a neat kid. We spent a lot of time with him. He's a good player. He'd be a good one to get." But Devaney added that the Rams feel the same way about many other players under consideration at No. 14 overall.
Washington University is renaming its baseball field in honor of the late and legendary baseball coach Irv Utz. The dedication and baseball alum reunion is today at 11 a.m. in conjunction with the Bears' game against Principia College. ... And Lindenwood University will unveil and dedicate a sculpture of Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock at 3 p.m. Monday at (where else?) the Lou Brock Sports Complex on campus. ... Some draft pundits believe Mizzou QB Blaine Gabbert will fall to Tennessee, which drafts eighth overall in the first round.
New Mizzou coach Frank Haith warrants praise for hiring Tim Fuller, a highly regarded young coach and recruiter, as his top assistant. ... Belated congrats to Missouri State on the good decision to hire Paul Lusk to replace the departed Cuonzo Martin as basketball coach. Lusk has what it takes to be an outstanding head coach. ... The Arkansas Democrat reported that former Mizzou assistant Melvin Watkins will receive a hefty salary of $350,000 to follow Mike Anderson to Arkansas as the associate head coach.
I spoke with former Ravens coach Brian Billick this week; the Fox Sports analyst believes Gabbert is the best quarterback in this year's draft. "Obviously you have to project him a little since he's transitioning from a spread offense," Billick said. "But I think he's a franchise quarterback." Billick said it's important for the Rams to add a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver as soon as possible. "Sam Bradford has to have a go-to guy. It would make Sam a better quarterback. And a true No. 1 would raise the level of the entire group of receivers," he said.
Former Washington and Houston GM Charley Casserly, speaking on the NFL Network, also rates Gabbert as the best QB in the draft. Casserly says Gabbert is better now than USC's Mark Sanchez was when Sanchez entered the draft in 2009 and was the fifth overall pick, taken by the NY Jets. ... Draft pundits Todd McShay and Chris Steuber believe the Rams are trying to move up to the ninth overall pick (held by Dallas) to select Alabama wideout Julio Jones. ... Blues broadcaster Kelly Chase has been doing an entertaining job as an in-studio analyst for Versus during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
St. Charles native Josh Harrellson, who just completed his senior basketball season at Kentucky, is up and running with his own website. Check it out at www.jorts55.com. ... Alabama running back Mark Ingram, a potential first-round draft pick, originally signed with St. Louis-based agent Rocky Arceneaux. But ESPN reports Ingram has signed with a new agent, Joel Segal. Doesn't seem to make much sense. Arceneaux is a terrific agent; just ask Marshall Faulk and his other high-profile clients. ... Faulk and Bradford will participate in the NFLPA's rookie reception for the 2011 draft picks in New York on April 28-30.
The Nice Section
The 6th annual "Get in the Game" luncheon is 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 27 at Chaifetz Arena. The keynote speaker is tennis great Billie Jean King. There is no cost to attend the event, but the luncheon is a fundraiser for St. Louis U. female student-athletes majoring in business. This year's recipient is Jessica Van Nostrand, a freshman on the SLU softball team.
• Retired Rams great Isaac Bruce will host free football clinics at Sumner High School on Saturday, May 21. Each participant will receive a T-shirt and refreshments as well as have the opportunity to meet Isaac. Registration forms for the clinic are available at www.isaacbruce.org. Space is limited to the first 200 in each of two sessions: ages 8-10 from 9-11 a.m. and ages 11-13 from noon until 2 p.m. For more information, call 314-369-4074.