Effects of the Pujols Injury

News came out about an hour ago that Albert Pujols has a fracture in his left forearm and will miss four to six weeks while recovering. Any time you lose the best player in baseball, it’s a pretty big blow, but given the short timeframe and the Cardinals options, this shouldn’t end up affecting the standings too much.

The obvious answer for St. Louis is to shift Lance Berkman back to first base during Pujols’ absence. While Berkman has been a revelation offensively, he’s been as lousy as expected in the outfield, posting a -4.8 UZR in just 463 innings out there. Historically, he’s been an average to above-average defensive first baseman, and it might be nice for the 35-year-old to get a rest from chasing down balls in the outfield for a while anyway.

Moving Berkman to first base opens up right field for Jon Jay, who has been producing enough to get a larger role on the team anyway. Jay is hitting .313/.364/.436 in limited duty, and while UZR hasn’t liked his glove so far, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t be at least a small upgrade over Berkman in right field.

The drop-off from Pujols to Jay in the line-up (and from Jay to whomever replaces him as the team’s fourth outfielder until Allen Craig gets healthy) is still significant (probably about half a win per month), but over just one month’s worth of games, the difference shouldn’t be so large as to really swing the NL Central race one way or another. Every game in the standings is precious to the Cardinals in their bid to hold off the Brewers and Reds for the NL Central title, but a going from Pujols to Jay for 100 or 150 at-bats won’t be the end of the world, especially with the benefit of getting Berkman back to first base for a little while.

If Pujols ends up missing two months and Jay is unable to sustain his BABIP-fueled batting line, this could cost the Cardinals a full win. That’s certainly a loss, but it’s one they are equipped to deal with.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


64 Responses to “Effects of the Pujols Injury”

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  1. Sandy Kazmir says:

    What if the injury takes 6 weeks to heal with a two week rehab and linger effects like power loss as we’ve seen in previous hamate/wrist injuries? You gave us the optimistic side, but what’s the pessimistic side look like?

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  2. NEPP says:

    How much potential future salary do you think Pujols has lost as a result of his slow start and now missing a big chunk of the season?

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    • gonfalon says:

      I’d guess that Pujols’ contract strategy changes completely… in other words, he’ll seek a 1-year deal with someone (even the Cardinals) for 2012, and hope his performance next year will better set him up for a long-term contract.

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      • thegeniusking says:

        Yeah, that’s never going to happen. This is one of the 10 best players of all time, he’s getting a massive contract next year.

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    • Hank says:

      I think it would only matter if he didn’t comeback and post career norm #’s. It would also be different if this had been at the end of the year and perspective suitors would not be able to see his performance after the injury

      A nondisplaced fracture is not something that should be a recurring problem… if he tore up some wrist ligaments or even broke his wrist there might be more concerns. Now if he comes back and posts below his normal #’s I think it may impact him (as people may wonder if he did some damage beyond the frectured forearm), but if this really is “only” a non-displaced fracture in the forearm I don’t how how this would be viewed as a long term risk.

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  3. Ryan says:

    Do you guys think a wrist injury makes Pujols more signable for St. Louis?

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    • somedude says:

      I it has been speculated that due to the injury the Cards will be able to low ball Pujols will may ultimately cause him to leave town.

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  4. PiratesHurdles says:

    Its fairly delusional to think that losing Pujols from your lineup will only result in losing one more game over a 30 game stretch. I know its heresy to suggest such a thing around here, but they just arn’t close to the same club without him.

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    • Xeifrank says:

      Show us your analysis. Make us believers that it is much more than one win over a 30 game stretch. We are all open to differing view points, but you need to show us your math if you are making such a strong claim.
      vr, Xei

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      • PiratesHurdles says:

        Xei, there is no math, that is the point. Baseball, no matter how good of a job we do with mathematical modeling, does not always perform to the model. There is a clear observational “superstar effect” in MLB that is not easily quantifiable.

        This has always been my issue with WAR, I like it as a means of comparing player values, but as an absolute measure of real life wins and losses I think it stinks. Just my opinion for sure, but I tend to believe that the difference between Paul Maholm and Tim Hudson in your rotation last year was greater than 0.7 wins.

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      • PiratesHurdles says:

        or the difference between having Pujols last year or Daric Barton at 1B was greater than 2.4 wins in the standings.

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      • Xeifrank says:

        Well tell us then, how many wins in your “esimation” would the Cardinals lose “on average” from missing Pujols for a 30 day period?

        We are talking “on average” here. Pretend you are taking bets and are setting the line. And at the end of the 30 days it was somehow measureable. What would you put the line at? 3 wins lost?

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      • Snoth says:

        I’m with PiratesHurdles on this one. If I had the time (and ability) to develop a simulation that replaces Pujols with Jay and all the other ramifications like Berkman going to first over the next month I would. I would run it in 1 million times and see the difference in the win-loss column between Pujols and Jay. Alas, I don’t know how to go about doing that nor do I have the time.

        But I feel if I ran these simulations under both scenarios 1 million times the win-loss records would be greater than 1 win.

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      • Snoth says:

        1 simulation being with Pujols still in the line-up over the course of the next month and the other with Jay and other slight differences like Berkman at first, I mean.

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      • PiratesHurdles says:

        Xei, I think 3-4 games sounds about right, again its just my opinion. Lets say they would have went 17-13 based on play to date, 14-16 or 13-17 sounds reasonable.

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      • Xeifrank says:

        Snoth, I have a simulator (link in screen name) that can do just that. Only hassle would be estimating who the starting pitchers for each game would be. But I think as long as you keep everything else constant, except for the Pujols WOWY it shouldn’t matter. I may look into this, but this thread may be off the front page by the time I do so.
        vr, Xei

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      • Xeifrank says:

        PiratesHurdle, if we split the difference on your 3-4 wins and call it 3.5 wins over 30 games, that is saying that Pujols is (3.5 * 5) 17.5 wins (per 150 games) over an above replacement level player. So if the Cardinals were a 91-71 team with Pujols, you are saying that without him over the season, they would be a 73.5 win team. Can you live with that?

        How many wins per 30 games for…
        1. Wainwright
        2. Holliday
        3. Berkman
        4. Rasmus
        5. Carpenter

        using your same methodology?

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Believe it or not statties, these are people and not just typed names with numbers afterwards. Pujols out may cause guys to lose confidence. Without Pujols, pitchers may not get as flustered or exhausted, other guys may not see as many good pitches to hit, their own pitchers may not feel as confidenct and may try to be too perfect, etc.

        In other words, sure, let’s assume Pujols would have amassed 4 WAR the rest of the season, youc an say “that’s only 4 wins”. However, what if it causes other guys’ production to go down too?

        What if they lose the 3-4 Pujols wins, plus 3-4 other wins from the other players not playing as well. just like losing wainwright will no doubt cause more long term issues (this season) as guys’ workloads get greater than before, the longer pujols is out, the longer other guys have to carry the team. So you could look at 6-8 more losses, which is quite a bit.

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      • My echo and bunnymen (Dodgers Fan) says:

        Pitchers lose confidence and hitters getting flustered, I know it’s not a point of view many wish to see, but these are just boys behind the typed names. They are grown ass men , they’re job security depends on their playing not Pujols’. He in no way will effect their ability to perform, sure they may see worse pitches to hit, but they have Holliday and Berkman hitting well too, so it seems offense won’t be their biggest concern. I won’t talk about the pitching because unless these men are complete fools (potentially true) than their pitching will remain virtually the same. Doing their best, and hoping.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        No, but it does effect how well the other team plays. If player X (say Ryan Theriot) is as good as value X. Then his output won’t change at all. However, if the quality he faces is better (less pitches thrown, less stress, less men on base, etc), then his numbers will be down.

        Just like if you take a hitter out of a hitters park and put him into a pitchers park, no, his ability doesn’t change, but what his ability does will change.

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      because…the person they play instead will help them win games too? its not like jon jay is juan pierre

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Pirates, I tend to think the same way. If losing him for 2 months will only cost them about a win, then why would they considering giving him $30MM/year (not that they’ve made him an official offer for that amount, but that seems to be the number floating around).

      That’s not to say that the impact is actually greater; it’s just that it seems like such a small number, considering we’re talking about an elite player.

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      • Matt says:

        Because WAR is ‘above replacement’, and they aren’t subbing replacement level players in his absence. I do think they woule lose closer to 1.5-2 wins if he’s out a full two months.

        Pujols at his absolute peak has been about a 9 WAR player, so 2 months is about 3 WAR. You’re essentially replacing him with Jay, who’s been a ~3ish WAR/full season player last year and this year (so 1 WAR for about 2 months). So 2 wins, gaining a slight defensive boost by shifting Berkman to first.

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  5. Eminor3rd says:

    Yeah, Dave, I don’t know how helpful WAR is here over such a small sample. Maybe they lose an average of 0.5 wins if you simulated it a bunch of times, but especially as hot as Pujols has been, the range of outcomes has to be vast. I mean, he would likely hit 5-8 more homeruns alone over 6 weeks than Jay, and any or all of those could be the difference in the games. They could, conceivably, lose 5 win over that period, worst case.

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      i mean you can use wpa instead if it makes you happy, but if you insist on phrasing it that way:
      yes, he might hit 5-8 hr more than jay in 6 weeks (although 7-8 HR in 6 weeks sounds like about pujols’ typical pace, so that seems like a bit of a knock on jay, who would probably hit 15+ hr in a full season’s ABs). yes, if he hit those HR, they could conceivably be a large factor in the team winning those games (hence, wpa seems to be what you are talking about, really), and yes, his WAR for the month could be above his average and above what jon jay provides.

      on the flipside, he could slump and hit poorly (for pujols, that is) and certainly would still be helpful, but add less than the projected WAR for the month. Or, jay could hit very well given regular ABs, or the move to 1B could make berkman a plus fielder, etc.

      so yes, he could have provided 5 wins in 6 weeks (though, that would be totally insane and a pretty awesome stat), but he could also provide less than the projection and provide 0 wins. even in a game where he homers twice including a walkoff HR, it’s not like he’s providing that win solo–he’s just providing the highlights.

      projections have to take all of this into account, and obviously short-term WAR projections have little likelihood of being exact, but there’s no reason to throw our hands in the air and say “hey, this might happen, so the projection is totally meaningless”.

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      • Snoth says:

        Well said Juan, you made me look at it in a different way. I still think on average though it would be more than .5 wins.

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      • juan pierre's mustache says:

        snoth–it’s certainly possible, i don’t know enough about WAR to be able to support or attack that specific figure. based on what i do know, it’s rare for a player to be worth even 1 WAR a month, and pujols is one of the even rarer players who can do it consistently. i think the problem is that it’s tempting to overvalue his performance in individual games and believe that he was worth more wins because we forget the pitching and fielding that put him in a position to have a chance to win any given game for his team. 1 WAR is a very significant positive contribution for any individual player to have, and the cardinals are lucky in this case to have good replacement options available such that the loss of pujols isn’t even more catastrophic than it already is.

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  6. CircleChange11 says:

    During his career, StL has a .561 winning %, .541 without him. Source: ESPN. Something like 61 total games.

    Obviously, there are 2 concerns:

    (1) How StL plays without him.
    (2) How he hits when he returns.

    In terms of offense, it won’t be drastic given that the Cards are getting very good seasons from other players and well, it’s the Central.

    The other concern is it’s a wrist injury. We could look at what affect hand/wrist injuries have had on (somewhat) comparable hitters such as Bagwell, etc. But even then, it’s still Pujols.

    As for the contract situation, he’s still going to ask for a major long term deal. The Cubs and likely another team (LAA, CWS?, NYY, etc) are at least going to drive the price up or keep it high. If AP5 is willing to come down to 6-7 years, he might remain in StL. If he keeps the 10-year 300M demand, he’ll be elsewhere.

    I don’t look for him to come down on the demand any more than I look for him to give StL a hometown discount. I also don’t think he’s going to settle for a one year deal.

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    • My echo and bunnymen (Dodgers Fan) says:

      It’s the central?! Jesus, Milwaukee and Cincinnati are shat upon.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I’m been a “Central Guy” every since it was formed.

      “It’s the Central” could also be interpreted as meaning that no single team is going to run away with the division. So, even if the Cards struggle without Pujols, they’ll likely be in striking distance when he returns.

      I don’t crap on the Central, but I also am realistic about it.

      I’m doubtful, the cards are going to be 4-10 games back when Pujols returns.

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  7. Garrett says:

    Since when is Pujols the best player in baseball?

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    • CMC_Stags says:

      WAR rank by season-
      2010 – T2
      2009 – 1
      2008 – 1
      2007 – 3
      2006 – 1
      2005 – 3

      That sounds like the best player in baseball until proven otherwise.

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      • Garrett says:

        Cool. I didn’t know you had a functioning flux capacitor. Seeing as I don’t I’d prefer to stick to the future rather than nostalgia.

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      • Deelron says:

        Unless you’re going to make the argument that “the best player in baseball” is relegated to the current season, then he clearly is, snarky replies aside.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        If he isn’t, who is?

        You don’t value recent past performance, so what criteria do you use to determine “best in baseball”?

        There are candidates for certain, but I don’t think anyone has “beaten the man” (hey Ric Flair reference) just yet.

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      • Garrett says:

        I’m probably use something like a predictive measure. Maybe something really wild like ZIPS.

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  8. Juancho says:

    LaRussa had one of his pitchers drill Alex Gordon in retaliation and nothing happened. No ejections, no warnings, nothing. Alex should have charged the mound, or even better, the Cards dugout.

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    • joe says:

      Yeah, the beaning was curious….the Cards seem to think the Royals have some blame when Betemit was in the runners box going to first and did not do anything other than run to the base. Not to mention Pujols for some reason decided to take the bounced throw much later than he needed (he could have went after it in front of the runner’s box but decided to let the throw get deeper so he could get a bit higher of a bounce.

      The Cardinals seem to take offense to some rather minor stuff… Pujols was staring down the pitcher earlier in the game when he got brushed back (as if to say how dare you ptich me inside?). He proceeded to homer in the AB and was a bit of a jackass about it, standing and watching the shot, and somewhat angrily throwing the bat away.

      I think Brandon Phillips had it right a couple years ago with his comments about the Cards.

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      • manbearpig says:

        The Cards do stuff like this all the time and then LaRussa climbs on a cross and claims they are the classiest club in the history of organized baseball.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        The Cardinals seem to take offense to some rather minor stuff

        Now, you know why the rest of the league hates TLR.

        Tony has an incredibly active mind, and always seems to have “something going”. He’ll use anything to get an “us against the world” mentality that the team can gel around.

        TLR has run his course, and when he leaves, I hope he takes Big Mac with him. I appreciate what TLR has done in StL (and hope Duncan doesn’t go with him), and recognize his managerial accomplishments, but he is annoying to pretty much everyone.

        Tony makes it rather easy for everyone else to hate the Cardinals, which is unfortunate because IMO, StL has been a class organization for quite a while.

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  9. BrewCrewBall says:

    Opposing pitchers are scared when Pujols steps to the plate, they aren’t when Jay and his ridiculous .370 BABIP step up.

    What was it, 2 weeks ago Pujols hit back to back walkoffs – those are the type of things that don’t show up in advanced stats. Jay hitting a solo shot in the 1st has just as much value statistically and to suggest that the Cardinals will only lose 1 game over a month without Pujols is asinine imo.

    TLR is a complete joke and he has definitely destroyed the reputation of the cards and their fan base as being classy and replaced it with a reputation of being a bunch of crybabies. There is a long list of things they’ve cried about over the past few years and most of them are pretty ticky tack things.

    This doesn’t even touch on the long history of substance abuse in his locker rooms – not just PED’s either.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Their commentators are bitches too. If there is anything in the world I’d bet my life savings on. It wouldn’t be that the sun will rise, that Derek Jeter will suck defensively but somehow get praised, that politicians are crooked, or any other generally accepted “that’s going to happen” happenings, it’d be that the Cards commentators are going to bitch about the World Series against the Royals and the blown call. No matter how bad that call is, it’s one call. If you lose a best of 7 series on one call, you don’t deserve the title. They never shut up about it.

      come to think of it, cards fans in general are very bitter, bitchy, whiny, us vs them people. At first I thought it was just my uncle, then I thought it was just the area I grew up in, but everywhere I move to in Missouri and any Cards or Springfield Cards game I go to, cards fans are always smug about how awesome they think the Cards are. If the Cards aren’t the best at something, there is an excuse or a reason it won’t last.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        O, and goddamnit for this injury. First the Phillies play the Marlins when they’re drowning while Atlanta plays the Muts when they’re heating up, now pujols gets hurt right before Philly plays them? This is what I mean when I say over the course of a season, some teams consistently get lucky in who they play.

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  10. Jeff says:

    Complaining about the Phillies’ schedule while saying Cards fans are whiny bitches?

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      yea, maybe some of it rubbed off. I do live in Missouri. It’s a trained instinct to complain and bitch when things feel unfair. It’s not like I’m complaining about one call in a 7 game world series that happened almost 30 years ago, so I’m still not as bad as they are.

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  11. My echo and bunnymen says:

    This effects my fantasy team, by me moving Zobrist to 1B, more than it affects the Cardinals’ team skill level.

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  12. Nate says:

    “and from Jay to whomever replaces him as the team’s fourth outfielder”

    This is a key sentence IMO. It isn’t only about changing Pujols to Jay on the lineup card. It has a trickle down affect on the entire bench/roster. No matter how you look at it, more PA’s across the board are going to be going to worse hitters now. Of course, part of this whole debate depends on if you think Jay (and ultimately guys like Craig as well) is legitimately any good once the PA’s skyrocket.

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  13. jozefk says:

    Cameron’s argument here assumes that Pujols will return to his regular “the machine” self after recovering. Based on several professional opinions, that’s a big assumption by Cameron.

    It also assumes Berkman keeps up his insane performance levels– something I’d argue he can’t sustain.

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  14. CircleChange11 says:

    Another possibility is that the Cards struggle during his absense, then surge when he returns. That would be a scenario that he and his agent use to justify his contract demands.

    The last time he was out for awhile with an oblique injury, StL ended up winning the division with 86 wins. A testament to both how good those 04-06 Cardinal teams were and to how there wasn’t another really dominant team in the division.

    Pujols has also stated he won’t be traded during the season. I bring that up because MIL has their own situation with Fielder. If they contend throughout the season, they may have to settle for picks if/when he leaves. There’s a chance that Votto finds himself as the only really good 1B in the division during 2012. Yikes.

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  15. CircleChange11 says:

    Garrett,

    If we use ZiPs to project the next 3 or so seasons based on recent performance plus aging curves, there’s likely 4-5 players that are candidates for the “best player” label.

    IMO, Pujols would be one of those guys.

    I think THT offers projections for up to 6 future years for players. It might be interesting to see who the top 5 might be from 2012-2016 or so.

    But when we say “best player in baseball” aren’t we generally considering current season plus recent past??

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    • EP says:

      By looking at a predictive measure of player performance it seems that you’re making the following statement: “Player X is the best player in baseball because he likely will be the best player in baseball in the future.” To me, assigning present “status” based on perceived future value is unfairly neglecting all of the things that got the player to this point.

      I think when most people talk about the “best” player in baseball they lean heavily towards past performance with a small consideration of perceived future ability. Because his past has been so dominant, and because he’d likely place in the top 10 of a 5-year-out projection, Pujols makes an extremely compelling case for being the best, at least using the somewhat colloquial definition that I think most people use.

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  16. BrewCrewBall says:

    I think the defense is also being overlooked here, Berkman used to be good at first – he hasn’t been since 2007 and hasn’t logged significant innings since 2008.

    Also assuming that Jay will be better than Berkman in the outfield just because Berkman is bad……….. Jay has been bad in the outfield, this year and last year, upgrading from bad to slightly less bad while your defense drops off drastically at 1B is a big downgrade.

    Couple that with the downgrade of losing Pujols’s bat in the lineup, and I see it costing the cards at least 3 wins per month.

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  17. CircleChange11 says:

    Is this discussion asking how many “wins above replacement” the injury costs the Cardinals or how many actual game “wins” they Cards will lose with Pujols out of the lineup?

    IMO, the WAR lost will be less than the actual number of wins. In terms of WAR, StL likely loses around 1.5 WAR. Going by winning % and the number of games missed, it may be closer to 3.

    The real key to the situation is how MIL and CIN plays while he is out. If they allow StL to hang around 1st place versus putting some distance between the teams in the standings, it will be an opportunity lost.

    I might look at all 3 teams’ upcoming schedules for the next 6 weeks, another significant factor. This would be a great time for StL to have some games vs. Hou and Pitt.

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  18. EP says:

    If WAR is context neutral, which I believe is one of its basic principles, then trying to predict actual wins from WAR is statistically foolish. We all know that there are a million factors that go into 6 weeks worth of games, and the Cardinals’ likely record over that span probably has a standard deviation of only a couple of wins regardless of if Albert plays or not.

    If the bullpen has an unfortunate streak (say 3 leads surrendered to games lost in 4 days) then the Cardinals will very likely lose a game or two more than they would on average, but that’s not Albert’s fault. If (for the M’s fans…) Carlos Peguero hits a groundball off of second base and two runs score, not Albert’s fault.

    If the context-neutral stats suggest the impact will be small, and the variety on which baseball games are won and lost is so large, then I think we need to set aside our bias toward superstar value and distribute that perceived value more appropriately. Every team in baseball will win games it “shouldn’t” and lose games it “shouldn’t” and sometimes these get bunched up more than normal. I don’t think we should read into it one way or the other with regard to Albert’s value on the field with this team for 6 weeks. They’re pretty good without him.

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