Albert Pujols should have a monster 2012 season for the Anaheim Angels. Is it a guarantee? No. Is it very likely? Yes. Overall, I have been very impressed with Cardinal Nation’s response to Pujols heading out west. On one end of the spectrum are the fans who say they are taking the logical approach and applaud Cardinal management for not offering a huge 10-year contract. On the other end, are the fans who burned his jersey and anxiously await their opportunity to find his statue unguarded. Both the “we don’t need him” and “I hate him” attitudes are different expression of the same feeling of rejection. But you’ve already read that article. Oblige me a few minutes to prepare you as to what you should see from Pujols in 2012, and what that means to the Cardinals and their fans.
First, a general observation…those who have followed Pujols over the last 11 seasons know that he always plays better when he feels he has something to prove. At 32, he is at the tail-end of the prime of his career, but…he is still in his prime. Remember the 2008 season, when Pujols was the last standing member of the MV3 playing for St. Louis and the second best hitter in the lineup was Ryan Ludwick?
AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG OPS
524 100 187 44 37 116 104 54 7 .357 .462 .653 1.114
Remember Game 3 of the 2011 World Series? Pujols heard all the critics who said he had never done much of anything in his three World Series appearances. He proceeded to unleash 3 HRs, 5 hits, 4 Runs, and 6 RBIs.
You may be thinking, all that is well and good, but what about his three-year decline from 2009-2011? Yes, Pujols did experience a noticeable drop in HR, RBIs, walks, BA, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage over that three-year period. Even with the decline, he remained an elite hitter. And do not forget about the great second half numbers he posted last year.
After coming back from wrist surgery, Pujols posted the following stat line.
AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG OPS
299 53 95 18 20 54 27 33 4 .318 .378 .579 .957
Again, the point of this article is not to prove to you that Pujols is a good hitter. The purpose is to prepare you for a huge year from Pujols in 2012. Here is the biggest reason why…each ball Pujols puts in play has a 5% better chance of being a hit at Angels Stadium than at Busch Stadium, and each fly ball has a 27% better chance of being a homerun. (I used the 2009-2011 ballpark tendencies chart from baseballhq.com for these numbers). Said another way, Angels Stadium produces the league-average number of hits and home runs for right-handed batters. Busch Stadium decreases right-handed batting average 5% and right-handed home runs 27% more than the average MLB park. Busch Stadium is a much more pitcher-friendly park than most people realize. Pujols hit 10 fly balls last season that were outs in Busch Stadium, that would have been home runs in LA.
Quick side note: Ballpark factor makes the offensive numbers the Cardinals put up in 2011 that much more impressive.
I hope I have proven my point that Pujols is on track for a big 2012 season. What does this mean to Cardinals fans?
First, on an emotional level, being able to come to terms with this fact. I am not one that wishes bad performance on Pujols because he left the team I cheer for.
Second, even as you watch Pujols put up big numbers, realize the Cardinals made a smart baseball decision for the long-term, and made smart decisions with the money freed up for 2012. Long-term it is easy to see how the Cardinals would have been severely handcuffed paying Pujols 22-25 million during his age 38-41 seasons, when production will most certainly substantially decline. But I want to focus on the 2012 season and why Cardinals fans should not be worried.
Pujols had a 5.1 WAR (wins above replacement) in 2011. When he signed elsewhere, the Cards re-signed Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran. Beltran certainly would not have happened with Pujols still on the team, and Furcal is unlikely. While Furcal only a 0.5 WAR during an injury-shortened 2011, he posted 4.2 and 3.5 the two seasons prior. Here are the WAR numbers for Theriot, Schumaker, and Descalso over the last two seasons (the three guys who would most likely have seen most of the playing time at SS).
Schumaker 0.6, -0.2 Theriot .07, -0.1 Descalso 0.5, 0.4.
Tyler Greene has a lot of potential upside but has yet to produce at the major-league level.
If Furcal returns to career-average production, the Cardinals gain 3 to 4 WAR at shortstop by not re-signing Pujols.
Beltran posted a 4.7 WAR last season, just 0.4 below Pujols. Adam Wainwright put up 5.7 WAR in 2009 and 6.1 in 2010. I think you are starting to see my point. On paper, the Cardinals not matching the Angels offer to Pujols along with the return of Adam Wainwright, puts a better team on the field for 2012 than 2011. Throw in the fact that the team plays 92 of their 162 games against the bottom two divisions in baseball (AL and NL Central), and there is a lot to be optimistic about heading into spring training.
Cardinal fan, please remember these things when you watch Albert do what only he can do in another uniform for the first time.