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Pujols and the Pen

Not exactly Chico and the Man or Dylan and the Dead, is it?

I know, late post this morning. Sorry. My first thought after looking at the boxscore from last night’s game was, "Oh shit, Franklin…here we go!" But Perez had pitched in 3 of the last 4 games and may have needed a night off or two. I’m normally on the side of sticking the guy right back out there whenever he blows a save – particularly a younger pitcher (less time to think about it) – but it’s reasonable to believe he could use a day off. Besides, if Perez was really losing his status as the team’s non-closer closer, I cannot believe that Tony would go back to Franklin. I know Perez has blown two in a row, but Franklin’s been awful of late and, in fact, pitched MUCH worse than Perez did Friday night. No, I really do believe that it is just that – a night off. Besides, Perez has already thrown more than 60 innings this year – a career high. He may be tiring a little.

While we’re on the subject, the bullpen hasn’t exactly pitched wonderfully of late. If not Perez, who would Tony turn to? Here are the relievers FIP’s in August and September:

August September
Perez 1.81 6.10
Thompson 2.96 3.10
McClellan 3.20 11.60
Franklin 4.28 3.77
Springer 4.54 3.70
Villone 7.72 9.10

Not exactly great numbers, eh? I didn’t include Motte or Carpenter or Flores for September due to the paucity of numbers (though it is pretty cool to see Motte’s NEGATIVE 0.50 FIP!). Still, Motte’s not going to be the closer for the last 3 weeks or so. It’s not like anyone has exactly staked their claim to taking the job from Perez. The young guys appear to be tiring a little, and maybe the old guys too (Springer). Franklin’s just not good and Villone isn’t either. I think there’s still a lot to like in the pen for next year and down the road w/ the young guys – Perez, McClellan, and Motte. Franklin can be a decent middle guy, though he’s paid far too much ($2.5 M) next year for that sort of role. Thompson’s an OK guy to have around – eat innings, emergency starter, pitch the 6th when our starter can’t make it past the 5th. We could do worse, but the left side has to get better.

How about that Pujols character? If he’s not the MVP – and since we’re out of it I don’t think he will be – it will be a profound disgrace. Did anyone notice that his homer last night was #31? Not bad for an off season where pitchers seem to pitch to him less and less. He’s up to 93 RBI. Some of us thought that, since he’s been pitched around so frequently, he might not make it to 100. Barring injury, he’ll get there.

More stuff on Pujols. As of about 3 weeks ago, it appeared as though his streak of leading the team in HR’s was in jeopardy. He’s led the team in homers every season he’s been in the big leagues. Think about that for a moment – he’s been on teams w/ McGwire, Rolen and Edmonds several time, and Ludwick in a career year. He’s really not seen as a power hitter, either. He hits a lot of homers but I think of him more as a great hitter w/ power – more like Manny Ramirez than David Ortiz. More like Chase Utley than Ryan Howard. More like Lance Berkman than Carlos Lee.

Still, he’s led the Cardinals in homers each year of his first seven but it appeared as though this year his streak would come to an end. I, actually, thought that was a good thing b/c it spoke to what a great season Ludwick was having. Now he sits at 31 and Ludwick is just one ahead of him. Who’re you putting your money on? As good as Ludwick’s been this season, I’m going w/ #5.

Pujols has also led the team in batting average in each of his first 7 seasons – a streak that will continue this year as well. He’s led the team in slugging % every year as well. Interestingly, in 2002, his .561 tied w/ Edmonds AND Rolen (though Rolen only had 205 Cardinal ABs.) Still, all 3 of them exactly at .561? He’s led the team in OBP every year since 2004. Edmonds led in 2004, 2002, and 2001. He’s led the team in doubles every year but 2006 (Rolen) and is 3 ahead of Ludwick this year.

This year he’s sitting at 93 BBs and 47 Ks. One more walk and his BB/K ratio will be exactly 2:1. It’s far and away the best ratio in the majors. Did you know he led the majors in that category in 2006 and 2007? This year will make three in a row. Luis Castillo in 2005 was the last person to have a ratio as high as 2:1. Needless to say, it’s been some time since a guy who hits 30+ homers has finished w/ a Dimaggio-like ratio like this. Best player in the game? Can there be any doubt?

MVP? Can there be any doubt? The problem is that too many voters look only at RBI and their team’s wins and, in those 2 categories, Pujols will come up short. Voters need to remember that this team was in the race for the better part of 5 months. We’re still not eliminated, for crying out loud! We are 6 back of the Brewers and fading but most of the "fading" has come b/c of the Brewers surging. We haven’t played our best baseball of late but the Brewers have absolutely taken off and pulled away from us. The reason we’ve been close the entire season – when no one expected that we would be – is b/c of Pujols.

Yes, Ludwick’s been great. Lohse has been tremendous. Wellemeyer’s been a great surprise but, if Pujols was an average NL 1B – think Conor Jackson (yes, I know he’s been in LF for a good chunk of the season) or James Loney, – this team would probably be a .500 team – maybe a couple games over .500. This team’s been in contention b/c of Albert Pujols – that’s the very definition of valuable. BP has him at 11.6 WARP this year. He’s been 5 wins better than Derrek Lee! And that’s w/ 3 weeks or so left in the season. He’ll be near 13 WARP when the season ends. It would be a travesty for the MVP voters not to recognize what he’s accomplished this year.

Can you imagine Pujols going down in history as one of the least-recognized, greatest players in history? Fifteen years from now, it’s conceivable that people will be saying, as Albert’s name comes up on the Hall of Fame ballot, that he only won 1 MVP! The voters at the time only thought he was the best player in his league ONCE! Imagine that! Am I biased? I am. But I don’t have to be biased to praise Pujols’ accomplishments and the voters should recognize them as well.