Albert Pujols: The Bullet the St. Louis Cardinals Dodged

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals face the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a three-game series this week. It will be the first time Albert Pujols has faced the Cardinals in anything other than a spring training scrimmage.

Albert Pujols made the St. Louis Cardinals 25-man roster out of spring training in 2001 and took the league by storm. The rookie slashed .370/.431/.739 in April, .333/.402/.596 in May, and .330/.402/.567 in June. As the summer weather heated up in July, Pujols cooled down. He managed a .241/.333/.460 line that month, but rebounded in August (.375/.441/.696) and September (.311/.398/.583). Watching Pujols during his rookie season, you knew you were witnessing something special. He finished the year with a .329/.403/.610 line. Pujols's 1.013 OPS was good for a 164 OPS+.

Back in the heady days of aught-one, my little brother and I owned a PlayStation and our video game of choice was Triple Play Baseball. You may remember the game. Each batter had a circle that the gamer had to move to the pitched ball. The better the batter, the bigger the circle. Pujols wasn't on Triple Play--probably because he had taken 15 plate appearances above Double-A prior to EA Sports making the game. This meant I had to create Pujols from scratch. My little brother complained that I had cheated, that I had made Pujols's circle too big. He argued there was no way he was that good. In a way, my brother was right. Pujols wasn't as good a ballplayer as he showed in 2001. Pujols remarkably grew into one that was even better.

In his eleven seasons wearing the non-googly-eyed Birds on the Bat, Pujols played in 1,705 games, which ranks him seventh in Cardinals franchise history. As a Cardinal, Pujols hit for a .328 BA, which places him sixth all-time (and three points behind Stan Musial). Pujols's .420 OBP, .617 SLG, and 1.037 OPS all rank second in the storied history of Cardinals baseball. Pujols scored 1,291 runs as a Redbird, which ranks him third in franchise history. He drove in more Cardinals than any player not named Musial. Pujols's career home run total also places him second in Cardinals history to only The Man.

Given Pujols's place in and the Cardinals's celebration of their organization's history, it is somewhat confounding to say that they dodged a bullet when the future Hall-of-Famer opted to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim instead of re-signing with the Cardinals. Had Arte Moreno not come into the picture and swept Pujols off his feet, this week's series in Orange County may have only been remarkable for giving us an opportunity to revisit the Bottenfield-and-Kennedy-for-Edmonds trade. But Moreno did save Bill DeWitt, Jr. and John Mozeliak from themselves and, in doing so, spared the Cardinal faithful from watching as Pujols limps through his bank-busting ten-year contract.

For me, Pujols's decline has taken placed by and large only in statistics and Sam Miller's wonderful articles at Baseball Prospectus. Playing in the American League West, the Angels aren't often on T.V. here in the middle of the Middle-West. And so, every once in a while, I will bring up Pujols's Baseball-Reference or Fangraphs page and wince because I can't believe the Albert Pujols is putting up such unremarkable (2012) and bad (2013) numbers.

To be sure, there were indications of age and decline before Pujols hit free agency. From his all-time great 2009 season to the present, Pujols's production has seen a steady decline. Of course, it should be noted that MLB as a whole has seen an across-the-board offensive decline over this same time period. That's why it is helpful to look at OPS+ and wRC+, two stats that adjust a batter's production using park effects and compare it to the MLB average. With these "plus" stats, 100 is exactly average. The further above 100, the better; the further below 100, the worse. Here are Pujols's OPS+ and wRC+ for 2009-2013:


Year

OPS+

wRC+

2009

189*

180*

2010

173*

164

2011

148

146

2012

138

132

2013

112

105

*Led MLB


The rationale for signing an aging superstar to a long contract is that he will give the club surplus value with excellent performance during the early years of the deal. This surplus value will make the end years of the contract easier to stomach. For example, Matt Holliday produced 31.6 15.8* Wins Above Replaced (WAR) in the first three seasons of his seven-year deal with St. Louis. The Cardinals paid Holliday $51 million and, according to Fangraphs, got $67.6 million in value. This $16.6 million in surplus value will make the final years of the Holliday contract--in which the Cards will overpay for his services--easier to stomach because the contract as a whole will likely be about on par with the production Holliday provided.

*The original post had the wrong fWAR total for Holliday in the first three years of his seven-year contract with St. Louis. I'm not even sure how I typed in that incorrect fWAR total, it was so far off.

With Pujols, the Angels will be lucky to have gotten any surplus value out of Pujols's first two seasons with the club and they will have paid him just $28 million combined for the two seasons. Looking at the eight seasons from 2014-21 is not pretty. Pujols will make between $23 million and $30 million each year. Without Moreno, this overpayment would likely be the Cardinals' fate.

Perhaps the most jarring exercise regarding Pujols's rapid decline is to look at how the all-time great Cardinal's 2013 numbers with the Angels compare to those of the Cardinals' regular starting position players. For over a decade, Pujols led St. Louis in most every major statistical category. In 2013, Pujols's production is below (and oftentimes far below) the majority of the St. Louis regulars.

PUJOLS VS. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS - 2013 STATS

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

OPS

OPS+

wOBA

wRC+

Molina

.350

Carpenter

.394

Beltran

.535

Beltran

.234

Molina

.895

Molina

147

Molina

.386

Molina

151

Craig

.318

Molina

.392

Molina

.503

Pujols

.182

Beltran

.878

Beltran

139

Beltran

.377

Beltran

145

Carpenter

.317

Craig

.357

Craig

.470

Holliday

.165

Carpenter

.858

Carpenter

138

Carpenter

.376

Carpenter

144

Beltran

.301

Holliday

.353

Carpenter

.464

Molina

.154

Craig

.827

Craig

128

Craig

.359

Craig

132

Freese

.278

Freese

.353

Holliday

.437

Craig

.152

Holliday

.790

Holliday

118

Holliday

.342

Holliday

120

Holliday

.271

Beltran

.342

Pujols

.431

Carpenter

.147

Pujols

.755

Pujols

112

Freese

.332

Freese

113

Pujols

.249

Pujols

.324

Freese

.398

Freese

.120

Freese

.751

Freese

109

Pujols

.320

Pujols

105

Kozma

.247

Jay

.323

Jay

.332

Jay

.088

Jay

.655

Jay

83

Jay

.287

Jay

82

Jay

.245

Kozma

.293

Kozma

.313

Kozma

.066

Kozma

.606

Kozma

69

Kozma

.266

Kozma

68


*All stats current through play on Saturday, June 29, 2013.

The Pujols who will play host to the Cardinals this week in Anaheim is not the player his former teammates and Cardinals fans remember. The machine-like production has ceased. All that remains is an aging, injured first baseman/designated hitter whose pedestrian production as an Angel this year wouldn't even rank amongst the top five on the Cardinals in 2013 had Moreno not outbid St. Louis for his services.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Viva El Birdos

You must be a member of Viva El Birdos to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Viva El Birdos. You should read them.

Join Viva El Birdos

You must be a member of Viva El Birdos to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Viva El Birdos. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker