Seeing last week’s historical moment for Albert Pujols got me thinking about his departure from the St. Louis Cardinals and heading out west to join the Anaheim? Los Angeles? L.A. of Anaheim?…..The Angels. First and foremost congratulations to Albert Pujols on hitting the 600th home run of his Hall of Fame career.
Can we take a pause and look at the gaudy numbers that he will produce by the end of his career. Already with 600 home runs, just one of nine players to reach that mark, he should reach 7th place on the all-time list by the end of this season and has a good chance to finish in the top five all-time by the end of his career. He is just over 100 hits away from reaching the 3,000 hit mark for his career. Only 30 players have accomplished that feat, with only three players having reached both 3,000 hits and 600 home runs (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Alex Rodriguez). He is also just over 100 runs batted in away from the 2,000 mark, of which he would be just the fifth player all-time to reach that milestone. Know how many players have accomplished all three feats in the more than 150 years of professional baseball? Two. Just Hank Aaron and Alex Rodriguez. And despite his power numbers he was a great hitter, as evident by the career .308 batting average, and more impressively is that he has never, that is right NEVER struck out more than 100 times in a season. That is unheard of in today’s game.
Okay, so we have established Albert Pujols is one of the all-time greats. The likes of which fans only see once in a generation. So how did we come to a point where he would leave St. Louis, baseball heaven, for Anaheim? Let’s head back to the fall of 2011. The Cardinals were fresh off the team’s 11th World Series title. On October 31st Tony LaRussa, the man who had managed Pujols for the entirety of his 11 years in St. Louis had announced he was retiring from managing. A little more than a month later Albert announced he was signing a 10-year, $254-million deal with the Angels.
Belief at the time was that it was a smart move for the Cardinals, letting the then 31-year old star first baseman leave and not being tied to an aging slugger that would burden the team for years to come. And as time went on and Albert’s average dropped it only served as more proof as the right move. That move was further solidified in the Cardinals favor when Stephen Piscotty and Michael Wacha became mainstays in the Cardinals lineup. For those who do not know, Piscotty and Wacha were the two players the Cardinals drafted with the compensation picks they received for losing Pujols in free-agency.
Some will also argue that the Cardinals were able to extend Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina as well as sign Dexter Fowler with the savings from Pujols’ contract. But for our purposes today let’s only deal in reality and facts, Piscotty and Wacha are the only additions linked directly to the Pujols departure.
So last week as I sat here listening to people talk about Pujols’ milestone and almost always include the “yeah but” argument afterward, stating that it was a smart move for the Cardinals to let him go; I got to thinking…was it really a smart move?
I will concede that Pujols is strictly a DH now and has spent the majority of his time at first base in only three of his six seasons with the Angels so who knows how many games he could have played at first for the Cardinals or how playing the field would affect his numbers. But like I said earlier about Piscotty and Wacha, we can only deal in facts and numbers. So let’s take a look at those numbers.
Now I am not a huge fan of analytics but others are so let’s do a quick head to head comparison accoring to WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Albert has a 9.5 WAR in his six seasons in Anaheim. Piscotty has 3.9 in his three years as a Cardinal and Wacha an 8.1, although a pitcher’s WAR is skewed easier. Point in fact Wacha had a high WAR of 2.3 in 2015, which is lower than what Wainwright had last year (2.9), a season in which he was 13-9 with a 4.63 earned-run average. So that would put Piscotty and Wacha duo ahead of Albert head to head 12-9.5, but again a pitchers’s WAR skews higher. Also to point out that while yes Pujols is on the downside of his career, the once promising young careers for Piscotty and Wacha have both seemed to stall. Piscotty has no power to speak of (something the club was aware of when signing him to the six-year, $33.5 million extension this spring) while Wacha has a 4.97 E.R.A. over the last two years and seems to fade as the season, and innings go on due to his shoulder issue. So it seems as though thought of younger is better, might not be so appropriate here.
Now let’s take a bigger picture look at things. People talk about Pujols like he is an out of date, old-beloved uncle that was a star back in the day but just someone hanging on and of no value now. True he is no longer the constant .300 hitter that he was during his St. Louis tenure but he is a .265 hitter with the Angels. Do you know how many Cardinals starters are hitting above that mark this season? One (Jedd Gyrko), two if you include the recently promoted Tommy Pham. Oh that’s just one year you say, well do you know who has a higher mark over their Cardinals career during the six years Pujols has been gone, with a minimum of three years played? That would be just four players: Jon Jay (.282), Matt Carpenter (.280), Matt Holliday (.280) and Molina (.271).
We talked about Pujols being not just a hitter but a power hitter. So how about the power numbers? That group of four that was just mentioned. Do you know how many home runs they have totaled in the 21 combined seasons in the Cardinals uniform over that same six-year span? 250 total; an average of 11.9 per season. Albert alone has hit 155 in six years on the West Coast, an average of 25.8 per season.
Runs driven in? Something the Cardinals have struggled with the last couple of season. Albert is averaging 88.3 per season. Do you know how many players have had more than 88 runs batted in during a single season since 2012? Six. Only six times has a player reached that mark in a Cardinal uniform since 2012; three by Holliday, two by Allen Craig, and one by Carlos Beltran. And that is an average for Pujols. A yearly look shows he has topped 100 runs batted in three times and is on his way to a fourth this season.
So do you think could the Cardinals lineup use a .265 hitter with 26 home runs and 88 runs batted in? Someone that while on the downside of their career, still strikes fear into pitchers? I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t mind those numbers or a threat like that. So to those who are saying Albert Pujols is washed up and it was a brilliant move by the Cardinals to let him go. Don’t buy the easy narrative. Albert may not be the man used to be, but he is still The Machine.