Why the Los Angeles Dodgers signing Albert Pujols makes perfect sense

Jason Reed
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 26: Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels talk at first base during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on September 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 26: Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels talk at first base during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on September 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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The Los Angeles Dodgers shocked the MLB world on Saturday afternoon when it was reported that they agreed to a Major League deal with Albert Pujols for the remainder of the 2021 season. Jorge Castillo was first to break the news.

Pujols was unceremoniously released by the Los Angeles Angels two weeks ago in order to make room for Jared Walsh to play first base and Shohei Ohtani to DH.

It was the last year of Pujols’ record-setting 10-year, $240 million contract.

Pujols has regressed over the years and is nowhere close to being the player that he once was. It seems shocking that the Dodgers, who are the favorites to win the World Series in 2021, would sign a player that has produced as poorly as Pujols.

Pujols is hitting .198 this season with a .622 OPS. Since 2017, Pujols has hit .240 with a .694 OPS. Not necessarily up to the standards that the Los Angeles Dodgers have established in recent years.

However, like he often does, Andrew Friedman made a savvy move that actual makes perfect sense for the team.

Why the Los Angeles Dodgers signing Albert Pujols makes perfect sense.

Three words: left-handed pitching. While Pujols is nowhere close to what he was a decade ago, his numbers against left-handed pitching are actually much better than you would expect. This season alone Pujols is hitting .259 with three home runs in 28 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. He owns an .878 OPS.

Pujols ranks 65th in OPS against left-handed pitching among batters with at least 25 plate appearances against southpaws. That might not seem great, but consider this: there are only two Dodgers ahead of Pujols (Justin Turner, Chris Taylor) and there are 228 qualified hitters.

That puts Pujols in the 71.5 percentile this season. That is what we call in the business — checks notes — above average. His wRC+ numbers (via FanGraphs) tell the same story.

The 2018 number is below average but not terrible, the 2019 number is above average and the 2021 number is well-above average. Keep in mind that as a team the Dodgers have a wRC+ of 87 against southpaws this season, putting them 21st in the league.

He can start against southpaws, shifting Max Muncy (who can hold his own against lefties) to second base. If Muncy needs a day off then you start Chris Taylor at second with A.J. Pollock in left field. Pollock is banged up right now, but it should not be long-term.

The Dodgers always give their players rest days so there will always be a spot to maneuver around for Pujols to get ample playing time against left-handed pitching.

When he isn’t starting, Pujols gives the Dodgers another right-handed bat where they need it the most: the bench. Pujols is not going to start against right-handed pitchers, perhaps aside from a random off-day for Max Muncy.

He is going to be a veteran bat off the bench to put in during high-leverage situations against southpaws. That is certainly better than what the team currently has on the bench, which is why this need for someone like Pujols exists.

Here is a fun fact for anyone that thinks Pujols is a wasted roster spot: Dodger pinch hitters are hitting .189 (10-53) this season. That is ninth in the National League. Dodger pinch-hitters have no doubles, no triples and three home runs.

The three pinch-hit home runs were via Justin Turner (on an off-day), Keibert Ruiz (who is now in AAA) and Sheldon Nuese.

Speaking of Neuse, he has not been the right-handed bat off the bench that the Dodgers were hoping for. Neuse is hitting .189 with a .541 OPS this season. He is hitting .100 with a .200 OPS against Southpaws this season.

And let’s look at the rest of the bench, shall we? Edwin Rios, who was terrible, is out for the tear with a Labrum injury. Zach McKinstry will eventually be back but he is left-handed, we already touched on Neuse, DJ Peters is a cool 1-11 with six strikeouts and Luke Raley is hitting .194 with a .598 OPS.

There is also Matt Beaty and whoever isn’t starting at catcher. Will Smith off the bench is a solid bat and Beaty, like McKinstry, is left-handed. The Dodgers’ two best bench bats are left-handed.

So here is the game plan once everyone gets healthy, including Cody Bellinger, who should be returning in the next few weeks.

Against right-handed pitching you have a starting lineup of (and again, they always move pieces around and give off-days, but let’s ignore that for now):

  1. Mookie Betts, RF
  2. Corey Seager, SS
  3. Justin Turner, 3B
  4. Max Muncy, 2B
  5. Will Smith, C
  6. Cody Bellinger, CF
  7. Chris Taylor, LF,
  8. Gavin Lux, 2B
  9. Pitcher

If Austin Barnes is behind the plate then you hit Taylor fifth, Lux seventh and Barnes eighth. Everything else stays the same. The bench then looks like this:

  • Albert Pujols, RH
  • Austin Barnes/Will Smith, RH
  • A.J. Pollock, RH
  • Zach McKinstry, LH
  • Matt Beaty, LH

Against southpaws, the Los Angeles Dodgers can do the following:

  1. Mookie Betts, RF
  2. Corey Seager, SS
  3. Justin Turner, 3B
  4. Max Muncy/Chris Taylor, 2B
  5. Will Smith, C
  6. Cody Bellinger, CF
  7. A.J. Pollock/Chris Taylor, LF
  8. Albert Pujols, 1B
  9. Pitcher

With a bench of the following:

  • Chris Taylor/A.J. Pollock, RH
  • Austin Barnes, RH
  • Gavin Lux, LH
  • Matt Beaty, LH
  • Zach McKinstry, LH

And as already mentioned several times now, this is just the “best-case, nobody needs an off-day” lineup. As every Dodger fan knows, there is always going to be someone hurt or someone is going to get the day off.

Next. 3 midseason trade targets to focus on. dark

Adding Albert Pujols only adds more flexibility for a team that a) hasn’t gotten what it expected off the bench and b) has not been great against left-handed pitching this season.

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