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Filling Albert’s Shoes

Posted By David Gorsky On Aug 9 2012 @ 2:56 am In St. Louis Cardinals | No Comments

Albert Pujols shocked the baseball world when he announced that he was taking his talents to Hollywood.  The face of the franchise, winner of three MVP awards over eleven memorable seasons, was packing his bags for greener pastures.  The Cardinals had lost a baseball icon.  But the city didn’t panic.  Jerseys weren’t burned.  The team’s owner didn’t publicly denounce Albert’s departure.  After all, baseball in St. Louis is bigger than any individual player, even one of Albert Pujols’ stature.

The Cardinals simply weren’t willing to offer the 32-year-old slugger more than he would get from the Angels: $254 million over 10 years.  And for good reason.  Pujols, as incredible as he was during his eleven years in St. Louis, was showing signs of aging during his final season.  Albert’s once-elite plate discipline had become simply above-average.  From 2003-2010, Pujols drew a walk in 14.2% of his plate appearances, resulting in an on-base percentage of .433.  In 2011, however, his walk rate dropped to 9.4%  and his OBP fell to .366.  After averaging 8.6 Wins Above Replacement during the previous eight seasons, Pujols accumulated only 5.1 WAR in 2011.  His days of dominance were seemingly in the past.

So the Cardinals were ready to move on.  The task of the front office was to try to replace Albert’s value in the lineup.  They used the money they had saved by letting Pujols walk to sign Carlos Beltran to a reasonable two-year, $26 million contract. It has proven to be money well spent.  The 35-year-old Beltran has rediscovered his power stroke this season, hitting 26 home runs in105 games.  Carlos is on pace to hit 38 bombs, which would be his highest home run total since 2006.  He is on pace for 4.5 Wins Above Replacement, which would nearly replace Pujols’ production by himself.

Beltran hasn’t been the only pleasant addition to the lineup.  Allen Craig has stepped into Pujols’ vacated role as the regular first baseman and has performed admirably.  Craig is a bona fide run producer, with 58 RBIs in only 69 games played.  He has ripped an impressive 17 home runs while getting on base at a .362 clip.  Both Craig and Beltran have been able to stay relatively healthy for most of this season, which has manager Mike Matheny and all of Cardinal Nation knocking on wood for that to continue.  Both players have been known for their fragility; Beltran missed a combined 179 games during 2009 and 2010, and Craig missed the first six weeks of the season after undergoing knee surgery in November.  Yesterday, Craig awoke with pain in his ribs [1] and was given the day off.  Fortunately, X-rays on his chest revealed no structural damage and Craig shouldn’t miss much time.  Keep your fingers crossed, Cardinal fans.  With Craig and Beltran playing at their current levels, St. Louis has all but forgotten about one Albert Pujols.

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[1] awoke with pain in his ribs: http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/blog/mlb-rumors/19757834/injury-news-and-notes-allen-craig-rafael-furcal-lance-berkman

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