Cardinals Offense Picking Up For Pujols

That the Cardinals lead the majors on wOBA is not that huge a surprise. They brought back an elite core of hitters in Colby Rasmus, Albert Pujols, and Matt Holliday, and then added a number of complementary pieces. The most prominent, of course, is Lance Berkman, who currently leads the NL in wOBA. But there is also David Freese, who, for April at least, was back on the field. And so the Cardinals offense, ripping through the league, currently sports a wOBA 16 points higher than the next closest NL team, and leads batter WAR by 3 wins.

What might surprise you is that they’re doing all this without a significant contribution from Pujols.

When the best hitter on the planet struggles, it tends not to fly under the radar. Pujols produced what was nearly the worst month of his career in April, a .332 wOBA in 118 PA. His June, 2006, was actually a bit worse, .306 wOBA, but he came to the plate only 45 times that month. True, that means the Cardinals had to trot out a replacement, so that month was probably worse. But this definitely ranks among them.

The biggest difference for the Cardinals has been how the team has handled the situation. During Pujols’s ineffective (and injured) June, 2006, the Cardinals went 9-16, going from 34-19 to 43-35. It didn’t stop them from winning the World Series, but it was still a significant setback at the time. This year the Cardinals went 16-11 in the first month as Pujols struggled, which put them atop the NL Central. This time, his teammates have picked him up.

While many of Pujols’s teammates have raked this season, none has done so as prolifically as Berkman. A few weeks ago Jesse Wolfersberger examined the early returns on the signing, and it was tough to come away anything other than impressed. At the time he had a .506 wOBA against righties, though that number was below .100 against lefties. Chances were he wasn’t going to hit well against lefties, as he’s been trending downward against them for a few years. Yet he’s managed to get that number up to .392. What’s even more impressive is his performance against righties. He has raised that all the way to .570, including a .405 ISO.

Berkman, then, is essentially replacing Pujols’s numbers in the Cardinals lineup — and then some. But he’s not the only one contributing to a greater degree than expected. Rasmus ranks third among center fielders with a .374 wOBA and is 13th in the majors with 1.5 WAR. Even Matt Holliday has exceeded his lofty expectations. He currently ranks second in the NL, third in the majors, with a .489 wOBA, greatly exceeding even his excellent .401 career mark. His 2.1 WAR ranks third in the majors, just 0.8 RAR behind Joey Votto, who ranks second.

If Pujols is going to turn around — and there’s no reason to believe he won’t — he’d do well to start tout de suite. That’s not just for the obvious reason that you always want Pujols hitting, but because the Cardinals just lost one of their biggest contributors. David Freese had produced 1.1 WAR, 32nd in the majors and fifth among third basemen, before he got hit with a pitch and broke his hand. His .382 wOBA will be missed, especially when Berkman and Holliday start to regress from their unsustainable paces. If anyone can help replace that production, it’s Pujols.

All is not lost for Pujols, of course. He actually started 2007 on a similar note, producing a .342 wOBA in 105 PA during April, 2007. That ended up being one of the worst seasons of his career, as he finished with a .414 wOBA. But that line alone should indicate what’s in store. His wOBA by month following that relatively slow start: .388, .434, .458, .393, .465. If he does that again this year the Cardinals will still be in good shape. It will help replace the torrid production of his teammates, who have stepped up in a big way while their biggest gun limped through the season’s first month.

Recently we’ve been running a series detailing what is wrong with various superstars. This was nearly a “what’s wrong with Pujols” article, but really, it’s nothing. He’s done this before, and it’s not as though he was going to produce a .380+ wOBA every month for the rest of his career. He’s also not going to have a .329 wOBA the rest of the season. But while he has struggled his teammates have stepped in and made up for his lost production. It could be that their performances in April save the Cardinals season.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

18 Responses to “Cardinals Offense Picking Up For Pujols”

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  1. JohnOrpheus says:

    Of course, their is always the possibility that Pujols is beginning to decline. He was still in his twenties in 2007, so it was reasonable to think he would start to hit after a bad April. Although I’m pretty sure this April doesn’t represent his present talent level, the fact his he may not be the same player anymore. Maybe the Cards saw this beginning last year and they purposely low-balled him with the contract offer in the offseason.

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  2. Garrett says:

    Why do you randomly start talking about Jose Bautista at the beginning of the 3rd paragraph?

    Kinda weird a >.500 wOBA would be struggling too. But then again he’s bound to regress to true talent.

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      i don’t see anything about bautista… I thought I was crazy for not catching it, so I did a search on the page for “Bautista” and yours is the only hit. sorry, buddy, no bautista here.

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      • Shattenjager says:

        I believe Garrett was referring to the fact that the third paragraph says it’s about “the best hitter on the planet,” saying that the title belongs to Jose Bautista.

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      • Garrett says:

        Shatten wins the “I am not illiterate award”.

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  3. phoenix2042 says:

    His poor performance is mostly coming from a .213 BABIP, down from his career .313 rate. On top of that, he is “only” walking in 9.5% of at bats, down from his career 13.4% career mark. his HR/FB% and K% are right at his career norms. even though he is hitting homers at the same rate off his fly balls, he is hitting fewer fly balls than last year and one of the lowest rates in his career, while hitting the most groundballs in his career, and the least line drives in his career as well. if this batted ball trend continues, it could be problematic for his BABIP (fewer line drives hurt) and ISO/power numbers, even with his normal HR/FB% (fewer fly balls=fewer homers). i doubt his batted ball types retain these changes though. It kind of looks like pujols is just “off” in that he is not hitting the ball on the nose as much and rolling over pitches he should drive. from watching sporadically, it looks like he is fouling back pitches that he normally hits, and that he won’t miss when he is hot again, but that’s just anecdotal. luckily, his plate discipline is as good as ever, so his walks should come back up, while his strike outs are and should continue to stay at his norm. it just looks like he is not feeling as comfortable as usual at the plate, and his timing is a little off, resulting in a few more ground balls and fewer hard hit liners. when he finds his rhythm, i’m sure he will mash again!

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    • chuckb says:

      It’s also interesting that his contact rate on balls out of the zone is a ridiculously high (for him) 86.0%. It’s much higher than in any other season in his career. Though he’s not swinging at more balls out of the zone, when he does, he’s hitting them. Because they’re out of the zone, he’s probably not hitting them very hard which is contributing to his low BABIP. His GB% is much higher than at any other point in his career and his LD% is much lower than at any other rate in his career. It’s like he’s taking weaker swings to avoid striking out so much (his swinging strike rate is also easily the lowest of his career) and making weaker contact. Unsurprisingly, he’s also hit into 10 DPs, 2nd highest in the majors.

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  4. Harold Reynolds says:

    Pujols is struggling because he doesn’t have line-up protection. And he has to go the other way. And hit the ball on the ground, use his speed. Improve his chemistry.

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    • gnomez says:


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    • ipscshooter says:

      No lineup protection? Really? What do you call Holliday and Berkman? The two guys batting behind Pujols are hitting .409 and .402. Both are tied for the league lead in scoring. Berkman is in the top 4 in the league in EVERY offensive statistic, except triples. I’d say Pujols has the best lineup protection IN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE…

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  5. CircleChange11 says:

    Berman’s pickup is reminding mr of when StL got Will Clark to replace an injured McGwire.

    The Cards started off very poor. Not only were they not winning, but they looked horrible … and early on, maybe right at the end of ST Berkman looked like he may have been injured coming out of the box. They looked so bad that I thought it might make decisions on AP5 and CC29 easy ones to make.

    Berkman, like Clark, may have saved the season.

    However he finishes the year, he has been a good pickup. I postulated that perhaps no other team (outside of Houston) was more familiar to what Berkman might be capable of, but what he is doing now is ridiculous.

    There was lots of talk about Berkmans and Hollidays contracts maybe not being such good ideas. I think Berkman throws many for a loop because he’s such an unortodox athlete, but he is highly skilled. Holliday (Aja, Urlacher Lite, 6,3 235-245) is just an exceptional athlete, that even with standard aging should be worth his contract.

    If we’re having HoF discussions about Berkman and Helton, we’ll certainly be having them (perhaps even more seriously) about Holliday.

    We don’t know how wain and carps careers will turn out, but I’m hard-pressed to find another Cardinal team that had this much star talent … maybe some of the teams from the 30s.

    Anyway, the turnaround for this season has been outstanding. With Wain’s injury and Pujol’s early struggles, the season could have went a very different way.

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  6. EliMarrero says:

    BABIP is not very telling in this case. Pujols has not really been unlucky in that sense this season. When pitchers are consistently jamming him and he hits soft ground balls to the left infield or infield flies, or reaches for the outside breaking ball and rolls it over, and considering his speed, his BABIP is going to be very low. Bottom line: he is swinging at bad pitches or just missing hittable pitches, especially in high leverage situations. The number of RBIs is meaningless because he should have much more. When is the last time we saw him with RISP and less than two outs, make weak contact / strike out/ hit into a DP on a regular basis and fail to get the RBI? At some points last season he started looking old, but I hate to say he is starting to show signs of age now. Nonetheless, I am sure he turns things around, maybe not as well as some believe, but I am a Cardinals and a Pujols fan. And it is unrealistic to expect him to remain a god his whole career. After all, every single good player has prolonged struggles. He has been so ridiculously consistent before, but this shows even he is not perfect.

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  7. Tyler says:

    I love the Cardinals, but I’m too poor and busy to watch their games consistently from Detroit, SO I haven’t watch Albert at all this year. BUT, looking at his plate discipline numbers, he’s getting a lot more first pitch strikes than normal. Perhaps he’s not being quite aggressive enough, falling behind in counts, and swinging defensively more often.

    I also noticed he’s swinging at less pitches overall than what is normal for him. I’m sure he’ll turn it around, but I do think (unfortunately) that he may be beginning a slow decline. :-(

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