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It’s okay to admit signing Pujols is purely for nostalgia

There is zero statistical argument for signing him

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

zzzzzBefore I start, full disclosure: My current computer, which I’ve had since 2015, has officially broken down, but is still technically usable in the broadest definition of the term possible. I’m getting a new one tomorrow, but in the meantime, I’m writing this from the broken down one. Which requires that I type this whole thing up while holding onto the delete button, otherwise, my computer goes crazy and just keeps typing z’s on me. So, you know, I may be prone to mistakes or a random z that I miss.

(I wrote the entire thing before this story broke, but I think everything still applies with him signing here.)

So we’re doing this. Okay. I have extremely mixed feelings about this. In a perfect world, I completely understand signing Pujols. And would be very on board with that perfect world. Pujols ends up hitting fairly well against LHP, he gets to retire with two other Cardinal legends, and it will just make for a very memorable last season for him that we get to experience as fans. That all sounds great.

On the other hand, there’s really no questioning that he is truly not a good baseball player anymore. And the overwhelming odds are that it will be straight up depressing to watch him play baseball by the end. And speaking personally, his style of offense is possibly my least favorite, the guy who never walks and is overaggressive, and who will definitely get thrown out if a ball so much as touches an infielder. I loved watching the old Pujols bat, but that’s not what we’d be getting.

So that’s the battle in my mind, the idealized version of how this season can go and the version that will probably end up happening. I would love to enjoy one last season of Pujols’ career, but I suspect I would not actually enjoy watching him play. Make no mistake. I will be attending Opening Day and I’m absolutely going to get caught up in the moment and cheer him on. And I’ll do that every game I attend. Regardless of how well he plays. I just don’t really want my last memory of him to be dread at having to watch him bat, which if plays at all like he’s “projected” to do, eventually I will not enjoy watching him come to the plate.

Here’s my beef and I suppose why I’m writing this article. If the Cardinals sign Pujols, it will be for one thing and one thing only and I do appreciate people trying to convince themselves otherwise, but they’re just wrong. It will be for nostalgia. That’s it. For some people, that’s okay. Nostalgia only takes me so far. As I said, I don’t want to not want to see Pujols come to the plate, which feels like an inevitability if he ends up getting 200-300 plate appearances. I don’t want to feel that towards Pujols.

Signing Pujols is NOT for baseball reasons, or at least there’s no real argument for it. You may be saying “but Pujols was good against LHP last year.” And hey if you’re a person who thinks 146 PAs in one season is a good sample, well the following information I share probably won’t convince you of my point. But unfortunately Pujols is not a hitter who has shown especially strong splits in his career. He has a 9 point difference in wRC+ for his career. Since he has a projected 90 wRC+ by Depth Charts, that’s not even an average hitting line to expect against LHP.

More damning perhaps, he’s been a 98 wRC+ hitter against LHP since 2017. Below average. That is a much better sample than one year. There’s really no reason to think anything specifically is different that would suggest he’s better against LHP now. What changed in 2021? Nothing. He just hit well in a small sample. When we expand the sample, we see no reason to think he’ll be above average against LHP going forward.

If that was the end of the argument, that’d be one thing. There’s also a minor league player named Juan Yepez, who is almost certainly better than Pujols right now. Partially because he’s probably good, and also because the bar my friends is quite low for Yepez to be better. Yepez has a projected 111 wRC+ by Depth Charts, which not only makes him better than Pujols against LHP, but also gives Corey Dickerson competition for starting against RHP too. With Pujols in the fold, playing time for Yepez becomes much less clear for the entire year. We aren’t realistically releasing Pujols so when exactly does Yepez play? He had a 154 wRC+ in AAA last year. He doesn’t really have anything to prove.

I’ve seen from a few places that Yepez could start the year in AAA and that he’s not ready, and this belief has puzzled me. Is this because of spring training? Please tell me it’s not that. Let’s see he has a .188 average oh god it is because of that. He also has five walks to three strikeouts and it’s a grand total of 21 plate appearances. His OBP is .381. Juan Yepez is probably ready and spring training certainly isn’t evidence of anything and even if it was, he’s shown exceptional plate discipline. He’s had a good approach. It’s just the power. A home run and a double in his next two plate appearances makes his spring look great. If a homer and a double can do that, you do not have a good sample.

(It seems like Nootbaar is more accepted as someone who needs MLB reps which is a bit bizarre. Nootbaar has a combined 246 plate appearances in AA and AAA. He has hit noticeably worse than Yepez at those levels in half the plate appearances Yepez has. Yepez has a combined 146 wRC+ in AA and AAA (including his numbers back in 2019). Nootbaar is 124. Dickerson was signed because the Cardinals don’t want to rely on Nootbaar as the fourth outfielder.)

It’s okay to embrace that this signing is for nostalgia guys. There truly is no statistical reason. There’s no baseball reason. Pujols on the team definitely makes the team worse, however marginal. I don’t know how people saying Matt Carpenter was on the team last year is a valid retort. Everyone wanted him off the team. And it’s not like we’re signing Carpenter instead of Pujols. In fact, Carpenter has nearly the same projection as Pujols (89 wRC+). Nobody wants to sign another Carpenter, even Carpenter fans like myself, and what doing this is asking for is essentially asking for another Carpenter. It will be about as enjoyable to watch, at least the baseball part of it.

In fact, the same reasons Carpenter might be particularly poorly suited to Busch Stadium affect Pujols. It’s really difficult to hit a homer at Busch, especially if you’re right-handed. That’s pretty much all Pujols brings to the table is homers. He doesn’t get on base. He just homers. And I didn’t even mention that one thing this team 100 percent does not need is a guy who can hit lefties, even if I accepted that Pujols can hit lefties. We’re pretty well covered in that department!

Now if we do sign him, I will hope against logic that he has one last good year in him, that this will be the magical send-off we all imagine when we convince ourselves it’s a good idea. That would be truly amazing. But I would honestly not expect it.

UPDATE: Welp, had no inkling my speculative article would come true before I actually got to post this, so uh I’m going to focus on the fact that Opening Day will be awesome. I am lucky enough to be going and it will genuinely be more fun because Pujols signed. After that, we’ll see but this should be very interesting.

Update #2: I have fully turned around and support this signing because I did not calculate the “fun at others’ expense” element to this signing. Opposing fans are going to HATE this during the season and it will be insufferable with all the narratives it brings and folks I live for that shit.

Here’s his contract: